Multiple theories attempt to explain the complex findings at the Gihon Spring on the eastern slope of Mount Moriah's City of David, the original Jerusalem. Ortal Chalaf, previous lead archaeologist recently wrote about the Iron Age discoveries he excavated. As interesting as that is, this article starts at least 2000 years prior. Controversy abounds about events on the bedrock especially over the first constructions, so I thought it may be useful to learn about this.
Caves on the eastern slope, immediately above the valley floor at the Gihon Spring (@634m above sea level) offered a glimpse into the first paleolithic through calcholithic residents on the mountain. In 2008 an opening to the cave was found, concealed by a fortified passage filled with rocks containing middle Bronze Age debris. Was the fill part of the original construction or was it dumped at a later stage?
Adjacent to and north of the first cave, above Warrens Shaft another opening to a second cave. Along the north-south running eastern face the bedrock falls 2-3 meters supporting these large cave entrances. The sheer drop of the geophysical eastern face may have been the direct result of the cavernous spaces that once formed behind the rock face. However slightly further south the rock face seems to have been cut or quarried.
|Eli Shukron stands at the cave entrance (@645m) in the|
fortified passage between wall 109 (left) and 108
|Lower and upper floor (@640m) and Warrens Shaft (lower|
right) that leads down to the floor below (@635m)
The original residents of these caves were elevated @645m and had limitless access to water from the Gihon Spring. However, growing a population in the caves was restricted by their small size. Further up the hill important people were entombed during the early bronze age and sophisticated artifacts were found in the burial caves @685m. The archaeology of all these caves and the first man-made structures does not suggest a large urban center, rather a small enclave and leaders with a degree of regional importance.
|Sophisticated Early Bronze pottery from burial caves|
Toward the end of the early Bronze Age the population on and around the mountain began to expand and the archaeology changed. The first break-away's may have lived on the lower valley floor around the Gihon Spring, but most of the growth was supported in caves and rudimentary building constructions, further south along the water line that followed the natural downhill slope of the Kidron valley. In any event there is little evidence of significant population expansion until the Middle Bronze Age from which time the archaeology begins to differentiate.
|Ronnie Reich on the upper floor (@645m) of the entrance to |
the cave that was blocked above Warrens Shaft
The fortified passage, built between walls 108-109 may have originally been filled, as it was when discovered with Middle Bronze age debris that blocked the cave entrance to support a walkway to a temple complex built of rock-cut-rooms. Alternatively fill was dumped into the passage at a later date in which case the purpose of walls 108-109 was to shield entrance into the cave and Warrens Shaft System. The rock-wall that blocked entrance to the second cave, immediately above Warrens Shaft was built to block entry to the Warrens Shaft System, but not necessarily constructed simultaneous with walls 108 and 109.
|Gray color denotes structures in or below bedrock|
Whether the fortified passage was filled or open, between walls 108-109 the rock-cut-rooms, adjacent to and below Area U (see map above) along passage XIX or via XVIII were the obvious destination. But, why such a massive building scale for the small local population? The temple complex built on the bedrock of the rock-cut-rooms is a significant structure and may answer this question.
|Rock-cut-room temple complex|
Unlike other cult sites in Israel the features of the rock-cut-rooms are very “Jewish”. By its design, priests would have to face the west, facing toward the altar platform, their backs to the sun while offering sacrifices. The altar platform terminates on the southeast corner (highly specific to Jewish mystical tradition) into a liquids channel, adjacent to a matzevah, oil press, grain press, animal pen and restraints. It's not so unusual that a Middle Bronze Age temple, one that preceded the Jewish nation under Moses could have Jewish characteristics. Religious scholars acknowledge documented practices included in the Bible that predated Moses, including the use of a matzevah, which was specifically disqualified by Moses toward the end of the Late Bronze Age.
A significant event that prompted construction of the rock-cut-room temple complex may explain why it was developed as well as the minimal archaeology on the mountain and areas surrounding the Gihon Spring. The temple complex must have originally been motivated by a spiritual heritage, an event or legendary figure that led to construction especially of the significant Middle Bronze Age walls 108-109. This expanding religious site, as the centerpiece of Mount Moriah during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages may be better explained by a small, priestly or religious residency and their archaeological remnant of this extended period.
On the mountain , the cultural heritage of ancient descendants who predated the Jewish nation would also support the actions of King David, as described in the Bible. After 7 years as king in Hebron, David felt sufficiently compelled to raid the Gihon Spring, enter Zion and move his kingdom to Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah. We are told the raid was via a "tzinor", a narrow pipe likely to have been Warrens Shaft. At that time the Warrens Shaft System was the main tunnel route for water transport into the city. Once David controlled that route, residents and their leaders were beholden to him. By the time David settled, well into the Iron Age religious worship at the rock-cut-temple may have already been abandoned, bedrock buried by debris and no remaining sign of his ancestral origins on the mountain. The rock-cut-rooms were next seen during the reign of King Hezekiah several hundred years later and are presently the subject of intense excavation by the Israel Antiquity Authority.