For millennia, the Jewish people have dwelled within and cherished the Land of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the first independent Jewish nation-state over three thousand years ago. But throughout antiquity, multiple empires—including the Persians, Greeks and Romans—conquered the territory and subjugated its Jewish inhabitants. In 70 CE, the destruction of the Second Temple and mass expulsion resulted in the majority of the world’s Jews residing outside Israel in what is called “the diaspora.”
Despite their physical separation, the dispersed Jewish people maintained their connection to the land of their ancestors, longing for 2,000 years to be a free, self-governing people in the land of Israel. This hope that was finally realized with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. Since then, archaeologists continue to unveil new clues and deeper insights into Israel’s past, piecing together its historical ties to the Jewish people.
Despite these strong historical and biblical connections, detractors have continually attempted to rewrite history to diminish the ties between Israel and the Jewish people. Most recently, in October 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution aiming to undermine the historic Jewish ties to the Old City of Jerusalem. “The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” resolution sought to alter Jerusalem’s history and erase Jewish links to their ancient capital.
Fortunately, a number of recent archaeological discoveries provide additional proof to refute such assertions, verifying the concrete connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Twelfth Dead Sea Scroll Cave Discovered
In February 2017, researchers announced the discovery of a new cave in Israel that they say once housed Dead Sea Scrolls—the 12th such cave found to date.
“This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea Scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea Scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave,” said Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation.
The cave was pillaged before the archaeologists discovered it, but they still found evidence, like jugs and string to tie parchment, which they say definitively points to the storage of scrolls there at some point in the past. “Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,” said Gutfeld.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of Jewish religious literature dating from the Second Temple period. The scrolls contain partial or complete copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible (except the Book of Esther), other religious writings from the period as well as texts that describe differences in Jewish religious practices across various communities.
First Temple-Era Scroll and Artifacts Found
In October 2016, the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered an ancient papyrus from the First Temple period that has the earliest Hebrew reference to Jerusalem, apart from the Bible.
Dating back to seventh century BCE, the document is one of three existing Hebrew papyri from that era and, the first non-biblical source to mention Jerusalem from that time period, predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by several centuries.
Around that same time, archaeologists revealed that they had discovered relics on the Temple Mount dating to the First Temple period, including pottery fragments and animal bones. This new revelation marked the first time archaeologists had discovered artifacts from the First Temple on the Temple Mount itself. The excavations were carried in collaboration with the Muslim Waqf, the Temple Mount’s custodial authority.
“It’s the first time that we’ve found artifacts from this period in situ on the Temple Mount,” said Yuval Baruch, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Jerusalem region. “As far as the biblical period is concerned, the Temple Mount is a tabula rasa, nobody knows anything.” He added that while the finds are “very limited,” they further demonstrate that Jewish history “exists” in the Temple Mount.
Second Temple Flooring Restored
In September 2016, archaeologists restored sections of floor tiling from the Second Temple courtyard from fragments found in debris removed from the Temple Mount. The team believes the decorated tiles adorned porticos (roofed colonnades) atop the Temple Mount during the reign of King Herod from 37 to 4 BCE. One-hundred of the approximately 600 floor tile pieces have been dated with near-certainty to the Second Temple period.
Ancient Biblical Text Reconstructed
In September 2016, scientists formally announced that they had restored a 2,000-year-old biblical text, known as the Ein Gedi Scroll. The scroll, which contained the Book of Leviticus, was found in the burnt-out Holy Ark of an ancient synagogue in Israel. It is the oldest biblical text that has been unearthed since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the earliest copy of one of the five books of Moses to be found in a Holy Ark.
“I think we can safely say that since the completion of the publication of the Corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls about a decade ago…the Ein Gedi Leviticus Scroll is the most extensive and significant biblical text from antiquity that has come to light,” said Michael Segal, a biblical scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to National Geographic, the scroll “bridges a centuries-wide gap in the history of biblical text.”
Second Temple-Era Synagogue Unearthed
In August 2016, archaeologists discovered a synagogue in the Galilee that predates the destruction of the Second Temple. Seven other such synagogues have been discovered, but this was the first one unearthed in a rural setting. Unlike synagogues built after the Second Temple’s destruction, those built before were not used for regular worship, but were instead utilized for Torah readings, meetings and text study.
Hiding Places for Jewish Villagers, Rebels Discovered
Also in the Galilee, scientists discovered in September 2016 hundreds of limestone caves from 2,000 years ago into which Jewish villagers burrowed during the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE). While hiding from the Roman troops, the inhabitants made extensive embellishments to the caves, including water cisterns, ritual baths and candle niches carved into the rock, indicating they lived there for extended periods of time.
In May 2016, archaeologists also uncovered the last hideout of Jewish rebels in Jerusalem during the Great Revolt. They concealed themselves in drainage channels beneath the main street for quite some time, as evidenced by the presence of cookware. Eventually, the hideout was discovered and Romans ripped up the paving stones covering the sewer system.
These discoveries offer further proof of the millennia-long connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Israel’s detractors and international organizations like UNESCO continue to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, but these ancient dwellings and artifacts provide the latest evidence in support of historical and biblical truth.
The reconstructed floor tiles from the Second Temple; synagogues and caves in the Galilee and Jerusalem; and ancient scrolls that mention Jerusalem and contain Hebrew prayer all tell a different story: The history, culture and religion of the Jewish people are inextricably tied to the Land of Israel, especially Jerusalem.
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