Hebrew Voices #3 – Temple Mount Treasures (Rebroadcast)

Zachi Dvira holding a paving stone from Herod's Temple. This piece of bituminous limestone was smoothed by millions of Jewish pilgrims who visited the Temple in the First Century AD. Yeshua of Nazareth may have stepped foot on this very paving stone.In this episode of Hebrew Voices, Temple Mount Treasures, Nehemia speaks  with Zachi Dvira (Zweig), co-founder and co-director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Dvira relates the shameful history of when the Islamic Religious "Waqf" bulldozed 9,000 tons of material from the Temple Mount and dumped it in the nearby Kidron Valley. But the news gets better as we learn how Israeli scholarship, ingenuity, technology, and chutzpah are reclaiming the travesty and unearthing treasures—one bucketful at a time.

Nehemia Gordon gets to examine some of the most important artifacts that have been meticulously salvaged—a horseshoe nail from the Knights Templar, a rare Yehud coin, potsherds with Paleo-Hebrew inscriptions, a gold "Napoleon" coin, the finger of a smashed idol, and a bronze arrowhead that guarded King Solomon. All amazing, but you will really feel the chill as Nehemia holds a stone bearing burn marks from the destruction of the second Temple.

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Hebrew Voices #3 - Temple Mount Treasures

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkhot.

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon. I am here with Hebrew Voices at the lab in Jerusalem of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, with the co-director and founder of the project, Zachi Dvira, also known as Zachi Zweig. Shalom, Zachi.

Zachi: Shalom.

Nehemia: This is really an honor to be here with you. This is an amazing project you have. Tell the listeners, what do you do on the Temple Mount Sifting Project?

Zachi: Well, we are trying to learn as much as possible about the past of the Temple Mount by the small archaeological remains that survived the archaeological destruction that took place at the site about 15 years ago.

Nehemia: For me, as a Jew, the Temple Mount is the most important site religiously by faith in the world, and also archaeologically. I did my bachelor’s degree in Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and I consider this to be the most important site in the world. How many archaeological excavations have been carried out on the Temple Mount?

Zachi: Actually, no systematic archaeological excavation has ever taken place on the Temple Mount. There were two minor examinations by British archeologists during the British Mandate period, but that’s all. And it was very limited, and they were not published.

Nehemia: So I think that will be shocking to a lot of people - that the most important archaeological site in the world for Jews, and arguably for Christians, has never been properly excavated. I’m looking here on the table, and there are all kinds of interesting archaeological artifacts. I’m looking here at one artifact which appears to me to be some kind of Egyptian scarab. I see here, I guess, a cartouche, is that what that is?

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: The signature of one of the kings, or somebody like that, of Egypt. You have all these archaeological remains from the Temple Mount, but you say it’s never been archaeologically excavated. So, where did you get these things?

Zachi: First, this project is as close as anyone can get to excavating the Temple Mount. In 1999 there was large construction work. They renovated an ancient, unused substructure known as Solomon’s Tables.

Nehemia: Who did that?

Zachi: That’s the Islamic Waqf, the Islamic Trust that manages the Temple Mount and the…

Nehemia: Now, I know in Israel…

Zachi: …the Northern Islamic movement of Israel.

Nehemia: Now, I know Israel has really strict rules, like if you build anything in Israel, first you have to come and bring an archaeologist to do an excavation, or at least some kind of examination, right?

Zachi: If you want to construct in an archaeological site, you have to invite archaeologists to conduct a salvage excavation in order to document all the archaeological remains at the site, and only later the Antiquities Authority will release the site for construction.

Nehemia: So, did that happen when they…

Zachi: No.

Nehemia: …did the construction, the Waqf…? They didn’t do that, the Muslim Waqf?

Zachi: No, they just began constructing without…

Nehemia: Wow, oh wow.

Zachi: I mean, even their own archaeologist - the Waqf has his own archaeologist - they sent him away for a special vacation.

Nehemia: You’re kidding.

Zachi: They didn’t want him to interfere.

Nehemia: Wow. And this was in ‘99, it began. So, what did they do? I remember there’s a story with a bunch of dump trucks. Tell me about it.

Zachi: They excavated a very large pit, about 12 feet deep, and they removed about 9,000 tons of dirt.

Nehemia: 9,000 tons!

Zachi: In 400 trucks.

Nehemia: 400 trucks.

Zachi: And they dumped almost everything out of the Temple Mount in the nearby Kidron Valley.

Nehemia: So this wasn’t an archaeological excavation. What, did they come in with backhoes or something?

Zachi: They used bulldozers.

Nehemia: Bulldozers!

Zachi: Because it was very fast. In a day-and-a-half they finished it.

Nehemia: Wow. And you call this destruction. Why is this destruction?

Zachi: Because in an archaeological site, and especially in a site like the Temple Mount, you have to excavate it with a toothbrush.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: And because it’s very important, when you excavate first, to do it gently and delicately so you won’t destroy and break finds. But also you have to document the location and the contents of each artifact.

Nehemia: Yeah, wow.

Zachi: This is very essential.

Nehemia: So, you can’t just come in with a dump truck. Now, Zachi, you have a master’s degree in Archaeology from Bar Ilan University, and now you’re a professional archaeologist. I did my bachelor’s degree at Hebrew University, and I remember we did this summer excavation. And literally, I spent a summer cleaning off an ancient floor from the Persian period with a toothbrush, and it was dirt floor. [laughing]

And so I completely understand what you’re saying about how it has to really be done meticulously, and they just came in literally with a bulldozer to the most important archaeological site, scooped out the inside, put them in, you said, 400 dump trucks. They dumped them in the Kidron Valley outside of the Temple Mount. How did you get involved in this project?

Zachi: I was a student in those days, and I was curious to see what we can find in the dumps. So, I organized a group of volunteers, some friends and other students, and then we went over to the dumps and we started surveying. And then, surprisingly, we were stopped by inspectors of the Antiquities Authority, the Theft Unit.

Nehemia: The Theft Unit?

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: So, you’re doing legitimate archaeological research and they’re saying…

Zachi: Officially it wasn’t legitimate, because even in your backyard, if you find an archaeological artifact you have to report it to the Antiquities Authority, and if you want to excavate there you have to have a permit, you have to get a license.

Nehemia: Okay, so you were doing it without a permit.

Zachi: So, this was spontaneously, without a permit. But I visited the dump site two days before, and I realized that there were lots of artifacts over there. And I told them, “We have to put a fence around it, because they might dump garbage upon these dumps.” And they were very apathetic, they couldn’t really care less.

Nehemia: They were apathetic, they didn’t care.

Zachi: And when I reached over the site, then suddenly it’s important and then I have to have a license. And so, we managed to, in 15 minutes, collect many artifacts, and they tried to stop us and they summoned the police, and we were almost arrested. But eventually, I was invited to display our finds in an archaeological conference, and we spoke about it, and there was a very big storm following our lecture. And following this, they actually came to my house with a search warrant.

Nehemia: [laughing] Wait a minute. How many people were arrested from the Waqf for taking out 400 dump trucks worth of stuff?

Zachi: None. No one was even fined for dumping it in an illegal dumping site.

Nehemia: Oh, wow. But they came to your house with a search warrant?

Zachi: Yeah, and they arrested me.

Nehemia: The Israeli Police arrested you?

Zachi: The Theft Unit, with the backing of the Israeli Police. These Theft Units, they have authority like the police, those archaeologists in this special department. The police were just backing them up, the policeman didn’t like this story at all, they told me…

Nehemia: Okay, they were just doing what they were told to do.

Zachi: Yeah, they have to...

Nehemia: Did they handcuff you and take you to jail?

Zachi: They took me into interrogation…

Nehemia: Oh, okay.

Zachi: …and fortunately, this broke into the media, and at the same time that I was interrogated by them, they were interrogated by the media, so they had to release me. They were about to actually let me stay a few nights in jail.

Nehemia: Okay, but they did release you.

Zachi: But eventually they also prosecuted me…

Nehemia: They prosecuted you.

Zachi: …and there was a trial.

Nehemia: Wow, there was a trial?

Zachi: There was a trial, and the judge right at the beginning understood it’s a political trial, and she dismissed it. She told them to pull back their charges. The reason that I did it…

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: …is that first, my action exposed their atrocity, their…

Nehemia: Would you say, their incompetence?

Zachi: Incompetence.

Nehemia: In other words, it was their job to make sure the Waqf doesn’t destroy artifacts in the Temple Mount…

Zachi: But also, the prime minister in those days, Ehud Barak, tried to keep this story as quiet as possible.

Nehemia: Oh, so this went to the highest levels of the government, potentially.

Zachi: This would have disturbed him a few months later in the Camp David Accords, where he had to negotiate the Temple Mount with the Palestinians.

Nehemia: Which weren’t successful, for those who don’t know history. [laughing]

Zachi: They weren’t successful, because this story eventually broke out into the media, and following this story, there was established a committee of very famous Israeli archaeologists and non-archaeologists, that is the Committee for the Prevention of Antiquities Destruction on the Temple Mount, and there was a big referendum, aztzumah, a petition in the newspaper that you had all the Israeli elite sign it, from all political wings, from extreme left to the ultra-Orthodox.

Nehemia: So this isn’t the pet concept of one political party. You’re saying everyone across the entire political spectrum of Israel agrees that the artifacts on the Temple Mount should not be destroyed?

Zachi: The antiquities on the Temple Mount should not be destroyed. And it disturbed Ehud Barak, and this is why in the negotiation with Yasser Arafat, Arafat told him, “Why do you want the Temple Mount? There are only Islamic sites over there.”

Nehemia: Is that what he said at Camp David?

Zachi: And Ehud Barak told him, “You’re right, but underneath the Islamic mosques there are remains of the Jewish Temple.” And this is why President Clinton came with this ridiculous idea…

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: …that you can divide the sovereignty horizontally.

Nehemia: Sovereignty.

Zachi: …vertically…

Nehemia: Okay. [laughing]

Zachi: …vertically, the sovereignty. Above ground will be the Palestinians, and underground will be the Israelis. And, you know, this was the reason why it exploded, and it broke down, this agreement. And the rest of the story is known, what later on...

Nehemia: You’re saying that basically you and your friends going and picking up some pot shards and other remains, that may have had international ramifications. Certainly, it affected what Ehud Barak had to say down the line in his negotiations, right?

Zachi: This was my impression in those days…

Nehemia: Wow. Meaning he couldn’t sweep it under the rug, because now everyone’s talking about it.

Zachi: I really noticed how they’re trying to keep this out of public awareness. The main media didn’t report about this. Only the small newspapers reported about it, and the big ones… I had a friend who worked in one of the biggest newspapers in Israel, Yediot Aharonot, and he saw the articles taken out by the editors.

Nehemia: So, they knew about it, they had written articles, and it was suppressed.

Zachi: There’s a secret, unofficial agreement between the main media and the Prime Minister that certain things they will take out in the request of the government, and they will get the other information. But when Barak said he’s resigning, and he’s going to elections, then suddenly the media started reporting it freely with no obstacles.

Nehemia: Oh, really. I see, so there was some kind of agreement, “You don’t talk about this and I’ll give you other information.” Once he doesn’t have the information, then they can talk about it. You know, this is a timely conversation, because this is prerecorded, and just a few weeks ago, they were talking about how ISIS, Da’ash, over in Iraq, is destroying really priceless archaeological remains. And we were talking about this before - the difference between what the Waqf did in 1999 and what ISIS is doing today, destroying Nineveh and Nippur and places. The world’s outraged at what ISIS is doing, and basically, the world, to this day, doesn’t really care about what the Waqf did.

Zachi: Well, ISIS is a different story, because what they’re doing is first, to get attention from the world. And they’re destroying images, idols, statues, and they’re not hiding it. They are the ones who are publishing this. In this specific case, the Islamic Movement and the Waqf, they did it because they couldn’t care less. It’s not because they wanted to destroy archaeological artifacts, they wanted to take control over more vacant areas on the Temple Mount in order to create facts on the ground. And they claimed that they didn’t destroy any archaeological artifacts, and that this is something legitimate that they did. But they even sent away - this is not known - their own archaeologist.

Nehemia: And they sent him on vacation, you were telling us.

Zachi: And they sent him on a special vacation. And they didn’t want him to be present at the dig, because they disagreed with him. You know, there’s lots of politics inside the Islamic Movement and the Waqf, and he disagrees to the claim that there wasn’t any Jewish Temple at the site. And you know that the new Temple denial movement in the last 20 years…

Nehemia: It’s gaining ground.

Zachi: It’s gaining ground, but the people who push this new claim, this new agenda, are mainly the Islamic leaders and politicians.

Nehemia: I see.

Zachi: Not Arab scholars. Any decent Arab scholar will not say such a thing.

Nehemia: Well, I know, I’ve read in some of the ancient Muslim sources, and they talk about how Jerusalem - they call it Al-Quds - and before that, they called it Beyt Al-Maqdis…

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: …which means Beit HaMikdash, the House of the Temple.

Zachi: Even the Islamic Waqf in 1989, in a booklet that it published, he wrote that “this is no doubt the site of the Temple of Solomon.”

Nehemia: But now there’s politics. You may say this is different, but to me the result is the same. Meaning, in one case they’re deliberately destroying, and in the other case they’re saying, “Look, we don’t care about this and we don’t want people to believe that there was a Temple here, so the two go hand-in-hand, and we want to take more control over more territory, so we’ll destroy the remains.”

So, you went on trial. How did you get from there to where I’m sitting, looking at all these artifacts? I’m looking at the scarabs and I’m looking at the coins. You didn’t collect this on your own - now you have a permit, right?

Zachi: Yeah. Well, it took us about four years until we got an official archaeological permit from the Antiquities Authority.

Nehemia: So, now you’re a legitimate archaeological project.

Zachi: The government tried to prevent this, and they didn’t want any stealing, any trouble at the Temple Mount, but things gradually changed. Also, because of all of the media protests about this, and today there’s much more supervision on Temple Mount by the Israelis, by the Antiquities Authority. And we have an official license from the Antiquities Authority, so it’s different today.

We’ve been working for 10 years already. We started in 2004, the project of sifting the debris from the Temple Mount. We transferred the dumps from the site in the Kidron Valley to a new site in the Emek Tzurim National Park, which is on the slopes of Mount Scopus.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: And we began sifting the dumps with small groups of volunteers, archaeologists and students. We thought we’re going to work for a few months…

Nehemia: [laughing] 10 years later…

Zachi: …sift a sample of the dumps, and publish our finds. And you know, this was very exciting, because this was the first time that archaeologists had access to the hidden treasures, the buried treasures, in the Temple Mount and they could publish them. Not even one single pot shard was published from the Temple Mount.

Nehemia: Wow!

Zachi: And we were also skeptical about what we could say about it, because the artifacts are out of context, they’re not in situ.

Nehemia: And for those who don’t know, archaeology deals with a lot of what we call “strata” or “stratigraphy”. There are different layers, you find this piece of pottery in that layer and you dig down - it’s like a layer cake - and you go down to another layer. And what you’re saying is, all this is mixed, there are no layers, because it was taken out in dump trucks.

Zachi: Yeah, but still we could date most of the finds and identify them, because we know of other similar finds, because of parallels in the other excavations that are well-dated. So, if we find a pot shard with a special decoration, and we find the same material, the same fabric and the same decoration in other sites, then we know, “Okay, this is from the late Roman period. This is early Iron Age.” So, you have to be very professional and you have to have a lot of knowledge, because once it’s out of context it’s more difficult, but it’s possible. So, it’s more work. So, we thought we’re going to get a general idea of the Temple Mount…

Nehemia: In a few months. [laughing]

Zachi: Like, usually you get an archaeological survey. In an archaeological survey you go to a site with a group of people and you collect artifacts from the topsoil.

Nehemia: You don’t dig, you just collect from the surface.

Zachi: And the surface has a sample of artifacts from all of the periods that the site was occupied.

Nehemia: What are some famous surveys that were done in Israel, or in the area?

Zachi: Every archaeological excavation starts with a survey today, because you have to…

Nehemia: That’s the prework.

Zachi: That’s the prework, you have to know where to excavate and what to expect in this site.

Nehemia: I know two famous ones that I’ve heard of at least. One was in the Sinai Desert, right before they gave it to Egypt, and the other one they did a survey in Judea and Samaria.

Zachi: Yeah, because this was an emergency survey, because they didn’t know when it’s going to be given, and you get a lot of spatial information about where the settlements were in each period. And it’s a lot of information, and if a site is not excavated, this is much better than nothing.

Nehemia: It’s the best thing you can do. So, this was the plan for the remains that were scooped out in the Temple Mount and dumped in the Kidron Valley.

Zachi: But we gradually understood that we can study more. First, we realized the educational and tourism potential of this project, because although we kept this project in a low profile because we didn’t want lots of political forces to try and disturb and stop us, people didn’t know what we were doing. But we had our own circles, but still, the rumor spread around and lots of groups offered their help and came to volunteer.

And then we realized that there’s a whole potential for involving the public in this work. And after about eight months of working and the Ir David Foundation…

Nehemia: The City of David Foundation.

Zachi: City of David, they visited the site and saw the potential and they offered to fund the operating of the sifting until we finish all of the dirt.

Nehemia: Wow, what a blessing.

Zachi: Because they were very interested in exposing this project to the people. So, we are saying that maybe our biggest find is the people who actually come and experience this and get a tangible connection to the Temple Mount, and also have the opportunity to be part of this duty. I mean, we believe it’s a duty to save this dirt and to sift it and to save the artifacts, and not just let this crime and actually this scar, because this dump is a scar, to the way that we treat our heritage. And we had more than 150,000 people…

Nehemia: 150,000!

Zachi: Participated in this site. Now we are actually in the process of having it as a Guinness World Record, because no other archaeological research in the history of archaeology have so many people that participated in it.

Nehemia: And it’s very common in archaeology to have volunteers come and, frankly, do the grunt work, being supervised by archaeologists, and I’ve actually brought groups over to the sifting project and they give a little introduction and they explain, “These are the different types. You’ll be looking for glass, you’ll be looking for pottery,” and they walk you through it. Then they actually give you the opportunity to take a bucket full of dirt. And then you take the dirt and you sift it out and you find what the remains are, and you call over the supervisor, and this is how you’ve done this work for the last 10 years.

And it really is amazing to me, because on the one hand you’re doing this scientific research uncovering the remains, and on the other hand, as you said, you’re getting people involved and participating and getting a connection to what’s going on in the history of Israel, and the history of the Temple Mount. It’s really an amazing combination that you’ve come up with.

Zachi: This actually reminds us of a very famous verse in Psalms - Psalm 102.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: “You will rise and redeem Zion.” Why? Because, “For thy servants have pleasured its dust and redeemed its stones.”

Nehemia: Can you say that verse in Hebrew, the verse?

Zachi:Ata takum terakhem Tzion, ki et lekhenena,” because the time has come, “ki ratzu avadekha et avane’ha ve’et afara yekhonenu.”

Nehemia: Wow. Because there’s a reference there to the dust, and that’s what you’re doing - you’re sifting through the dust and getting out the artifacts and the stones.

Zachi: Yeah, you know, it’s giving people thought – and especially the Arabs that live nearby the site of the project - they thought that we are looking for gold. I mean, why would you put so much effort to sift something that looks like debris? But once you understand the whole significance of this is because it comes from the site of the Temple inside the Temple Mount, this transmits a very strong message about our deep connection to this site. And, you know, when I say 150,000 people, half of them are Israelis and half of them are tourists from all over the world.

Nehemia: Wow. So, it’s an international project.

Zachi: And we had people from all nations take part in this, even some Muslims. Very few, but some.

Nehemia: Really? Wow.

Zachi: But we had people from the Far East, even, from Singapore and from Japan, from China. So, this is the most exposed archaeological project in the world.

Nehemia: That’s amazing, that really is amazing, how this has become an international effort. And in a sense, to minimize the damage that the Waqf carried out by just scooping out in such a damaging way all these archaeological remains, basically minimizing the damage. I guess you can’t completely undo the damage of what they did, but at least you’re going to get the artifacts. And I love that verse you brought, where it’s talking about “salvaging the dust and the stones,” and wow, that’s what you’re doing.

Zachi: The thing is that as long as we proceeded with the sifting, then we realized that the different areas of the dump, there is a different distribution of the finds. And when we came and we transferred the dumps to the sifting site, we partitioned it into different sections.

Nehemia: So, you documented where it came from? That’s very interesting.

Zachi: And every partition has a different distribution of finds. And now we realized, two years ago, that finds that we could presume that come from a similar context. For example, we have all sorts of finds that we could connect to the Knights Templar that used Solomon’s stables for the horses.

Nehemia: These were the Crusaders who came and occupied the Temple Mount for a time.

Zachi: Yeah, in the 12th century. And we have horseshoe nails, we have arrowheads from the time, we have coins and we have armor scales. And what we realized is that these finds are distributed among the different partitions very similarly. And then we developed a statistical method to each frequent find - I’m not speaking about the unique finds that we have only one example of them. Those that we have dozens of them, at least. Just by looking at the distribution among them, we have about 18 different areas. So, these finds, just by comparing the distribution among the partitions, we could see clustering of different types of finds and we could assume that they come from the same content.

Nehemia: So, you’re learning things about the statistics of the distribution. You showed me a stone before, can you grab that stone and I’ll get a photograph of this, if that’s allowed afterwards.

Zachi: Sure.

Nehemia: I absolutely love this. This is a stone slab, and it’s blackish, you can see some white in there. On one side it’s really, really smooth. It looks like it was smoothed out by a power tool, and the other side is kind of rough. What is this stone here, Zachi?

Zachi: This is a paving tile…

Nehemia: A paving tile, yeah.

Zachi: …from the time of Herod.

Nehemia: So this was up on the Temple Mount, and if people were walking up on the Temple Mount they would’ve walked on this stone?

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: And this is what you call bituminous limestone.

Zachi: Yes.

Nehemia: What is bituminous limestone? That’s a big word.

Zachi: It’s asphalt.

Nehemia: It’s basically asphalt.

Zachi: It comes from the Dead Sea.

Nehemia: Wow, but this is natural.

Zachi: It was quarried near the Dead Sea. And we found, we have more than one thousand pieces of fragments of tiles from all sorts of geometrical shapes and different colors.

Nehemia: So they’re not all black.

Zachi: We realized that according to matching tiles from Herodian palaces, we know that this is a very elaborate technique that is known as “opus sectile”, which is a Roman way to pave floor in a very, very fancy way.

Nehemia: With different colored stones and making a diagram, right?

Zachi: And usually it’s in very small sections, very small areas like bathing houses or special rooms in palaces. But Josephus tells us that the open courts that were open to the sky between the porticos that surrounded the Temple and the Temple were paved with stones from all sorts and all colors. And until this, no one really knew what he’s referring to.

Nehemia: This is amazing to me, Zachi, because Herod renovated the Temple, and anybody who would’ve walked up there, he may have walked on this stone. The High Priest on his way to perform the Yom Kippur service may have walked over this stone. And actually, probably without shoes, so he could’ve walked just with his bare feet on this stone.

And I know some of my listeners will be thinking that there was a man who maybe sometimes around 12 CE or something like that, named Jesus, or Yeshua, he may have walked on this very stone. And who knows who also walked on this stone? Anybody who would’ve come to the Temple Mount could have stepped on this stone.

Zachi: You could feel how smooth and how pleasant it is.

Nehemia: Like I said, it feels like it was made by a power tool, but you’re saying no, this wasn’t made by a power tool.

Zachi: But it’s very soft and comfortable to walk on it barefoot, and also not cold. I just question if it wasn’t too hot in the summer.

Nehemia: And that’s because the Temple Mount was a holy place, and people would’ve taken their shoes off.

Zachi: We are finding we could reconstruct the patterns of these floors. And we have also this technique in later periods, which also surprise us in the Byzantine and Crusader periods. And the thing is that these artifacts, as long as we go on with the research, they’re like a gigantic puzzle and things come into place. We are starting to see the whole picture.

Today we are working in an archaeological lab, and we are sitting now in the archaeological lab. We’ve been working here for the last three years, and at the same time, the sifting is going on, and we have about another 10 years of sifting, because we’ve sifted only half of the debris.

Nehemia: Wow! So, you thought at first that it would be a few months, and now it’s going to be 20 years. [laughing]

Zachi: Yeah. Actually, there’s more debris on the Temple Mount that wasn’t removed yet. It will take about another 5 to 10 years to sift that. It wasn’t removed because of a court ruling. But anyhow, today the frequency of discoveries in this project is even higher in the lab than in the sifting, because as long as we study these finds more, we understand more and more and more interesting things from all types. We have so many types of finds and from so many categories, we are actually hiring today 30 scholars from different fields. I mean, it’s not a fulltime job, but everyone is working on his field and his specialty, and it’s very complex work.

Each one of them will deliver his final catalogue of identification of each of the types of his special finds, we’ll have a very large database. My background is also statistics and computers and datamining techniques, if some of the listeners know what datamining is. It’s a very sophisticated technique to do quantitative analysis with artificial intelligence in order to discover or reveal hidden patterns in large amounts of data. And people are asking us, “You are doing a whole lot of effort for this, for studying…”

Nehemia: A dump truck full of garbage.

Zachi: “I mean, why won’t you go and put this effort in a regular archaeological site that you have control over and you have everything in context?”

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: And my answer to people is that it’s like a police investigation, you know, a crime site. And we actually have here a crime site.

Nehemia: So, you’re like CSI. They come and they use forensic techniques to basically sift through the remains, and a crime site isn’t ideal. The criminal doesn’t say, “I’m gonna leave this in a way that everybody could find it.” No, he’s trying to hide his crime. And despite that, CSI comes and they can reveal what really went on, and that’s what you’re doing. It’s amazing.

Zachi: Yeah, because in a crime scene where you have a lot of evidence, you don’t need the CSI. In this case, where you have evidence that’s very difficult to work with, then you have to have more sophisticated tools, and then you can study a lot. It all depends on the methodology. At this stage, we could tell that we have finds from the 10th century BC, from the time of King Solomon.

In the recent year there was a debate about this period. Some scholars tried to minimize Jerusalem and say that the Temple Mount wasn’t even annexed at that time to Jerusalem, and it was just a small village. And King David and Solomon were chief leaders of a chiefdom.

Nehemia: Like they were some kind of local chieftains. And I’ve heard people make this argument, that David was maybe like King Arthur, maybe he didn’t do all the things that are attributed to him, they made these stories up later. And you’re telling me, you’ve got these remains from the Temple Mount and you’re finding remains from the period of King Solomon.

Zachi: And we have a significant amount of remains from the time of King Solomon. Now, usually, peaceful periods don’t leave many remains. Usually, in archaeology, most of the finds come from destruction layers. But if you do very precise and meticulous work, then you find this stuff.

Nehemia: Can you show us some of the remains? We’re sitting here in front of these amazing things.

Zachi: Recently we found a very unique artifact. It was a seal. Unfortunately, I don’t have it here, it’s my partner, who is founder and also director of this project, Gabriel Barkay…

Nehemia: Gabriel Barkay is known to a lot of my listeners. He was the one who discovered the two silver scrolls containing the Priestly Blessing over in what’s called “Ketef Hinom”, or what today is the Begin Center. I talk about that in my book Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence.

Zachi: Yeah, you forgot to mention that…

Nehemia: He’s the guy who discovered that.

Zachi: He was my professor at the time when I was a student…

Nehemia: Oh, okay.

Zachi: …and this is how we got together and collaborated and started this project. So, now he’s working on the seal.

Nehemia: He’s the co-director.

Zachi: We found a seal from the time of King Solomon.

Nehemia: What does it say in it?

Zachi: Unfortunately, it’s just an epigraphic. There are no letters, only drawings of two animals.

Nehemia: What are the animals?

Zachi: I think that one of them is a lion and the other one is the gazelle.

Nehemia: Interesting.

Zachi: But we’re still not absolutely sure. We’re studying it. But this is a first of its kind that was found in Jerusalem. It’s very rare, this type of find. Recently, we also found a very unique arrowhead, I’ll show you it.

Nehemia: Yeah. Oh, wow!

Zachi: Arrowheads from this time of 10th century BC are very rare in Israel.

Nehemia: What is this material made of?

Zachi: This is from bronze.

Nehemia: Can I hold it? Oh, wow.

Zachi: Yeah. First, this is very rare to find in Israel and to find it from the Temple Mount.

Nehemia: An arrowhead from the Temple Mount!

Zachi: From the time of King Solomon.

Nehemia: So, I’m holding something that came from the Temple Mount, from the time of Solomon. How did it get there, do we have any idea? What would be your guess?

Zachi: The palace of the king was on the Temple Mount, and the king had guards. There’s a famous verse that says, “Shishim giborim saviv lemitato shel Shlomo.

Nehemia: “60 heroes, or strongmen, are around the bed of Solomon.”

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: So, the Temple Mount had the Temple, but it also had the palace of the king, you’re saying. And that’s because Herod expanded the Temple Mount, right?

Zachi: No, in the first Temple period it was a palace of the king, there was a high court over there. And in the Second Temple period, in some of this period it was also a palace of the king, but later on it moved to the western area of the city. But you had also the Sanhedrin over there.

Nehemia: The Sanhedrin, in Second Temple times.

Zachi: The supreme council, the court, and you had a large market. The biggest commercial center was on the Temple Mount. Someone did a PhD, she combined history and psychology, and she showed that people lost the meaning of life after the destruction of the Second Temple, because all the significance of all things came from the Temple. It was the center of everything, all aspects of life. Even of the commercial life - they derived the significance and meaning from the Temple, because the Temple and the spot in the center of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, was considered as a place that was chosen by the Almighty, and not by any human group, any political group. So, it was something objective that represented divine choice.

Nehemia: There are people today who are starting to claim that the Temple Mount wasn’t on what we call today the Temple Mount, that it was in some other location. As an archaeologist, as someone who actually deals with the remains from the Temple Mount, what’s your position on that?

Zachi: It’s ridiculous to say that it’s not the site of the Temple.

Nehemia: There it is. Ridiculous. From the archaeologist.

Zachi: You wouldn’t even hear this even from Muslim scholars, they wouldn’t claim that.

Nehemia: Muslim political leaders would say it, but not Muslim scholars.

Zachi: Yeah. Over here you can see a very rare coin. It’s a silver coin from the end of the Second Temple period. It’s a half shekel coin. It says on it: “khatzi hashekel”.

Nehemia: Is this from the time of the revolt?

Zachi: Yeah, and it was minted as part of the Temple tax, inspired by the Biblical command in Exodus…

Nehemia: To give a half shekel.

Zachi: Everyone had to give a half shekel of silver, not less and not more, for the Tabernacle. And this is a very rare coin.

Nehemia: And it has writing in Paleo-Hebrew, can you tell us what it says?

Zachi: Yeah - “khatzi hashekel”, half a shekel.

Nehemia: Half a shekel.

Zachi: And on the other side it says “Yerushalayim hakdoshah”.

Nehemia: Jerusalem the Holy. Wow.

Zachi: Holy Jerusalem. Now, I want to show you this, I’ll take this out.

Nehemia: Yeah. Oh, that’s from the First Revolt, 66 to 73 AD.

Zachi: This is a very rare, a very significant find. This is the first ever direct evidence for the administrative activity that took place in the First Temple.

Nehemia: Is this the seal impression?

Zachi: It’s a seal impression, it’s a lump of clay that was sealed, a sack, a fabric sack. We know it’s fabric because the back print is a back print of fabric, and it’s sealed, a sack that contained precious metals like silver or gold.

Nehemia: Oh wow. And this was sealed by a scribe or something?

Zachi: It was sealed by an official, and it’s broken and it’s burnt. If it wouldn’t have been burnt it wouldn’t have been preserved, because…

Nehemia: So, it may have been burnt, but when the Babylonians destroyed the city…

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: …or maybe there was just a fire.

Zachi: Yeah, it was burnt in a destruction.

Nehemia: Oh, it was, okay.

Zachi: According to the shape of the letters, it’s from the end of the First Temple period.

Nehemia: And what does it say on it?

Zachi: It says, the word here ends with “leYehu”, “son of Imer.” Imer, he’s…

Nehemia: With an Alef?

Zachi: Yeah. Imer is a very famous family of priests that existed at the end of the First Temple period and in the beginning of the Second Temple period, and we hear in the book of Jeremiah about Pashkhur son of Imer.

Nehemia: So, this can be Pashkhur ben Imer, the scribe.

Zachi: No, the brother of Pashkhur.

Nehemia: Oh, the Pashkhur who’s something-yahu, we’re missing the beginning of his name, right?

Zachi: LeYehu. Maybe Galiyahu or Atzalyahu, because it might be a Tzadi over here. And he was a priest from this family.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Zachi: Pashkhur is mentioned to be the “pakid nagid beveit Hashem”, he’s the high official, the general manager, the CEO of the Temple.

Nehemia: Wow. And this is his brother, possibly.

Zachi: This might be his brother.

Nehemia: Because they have the same father. It’s family business, being a scribe, I guess.

Zachi: We know that the Priests were in charge of the Temple treasury.

Nehemia: So, this could be a seal of a bag of gold or silver from the Temple treasury, is what you’re saying?

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: Wow! And it was found on the Temple Mount, so it makes sense.

Zachi: This is the first ever evidence that witnessed the First Temple. We don’t have anything else.

Nehemia: [laughing] Can I hold this? Can I hold the actual thing? I’m taking it out of this little plastic container, and I’m gonna touch it, I’m just gonna hold it…

Zachi: Be very, very careful.

Nehemia: …very careful. I want this for generations to come. Oh wow, I’m excited. [laughing]

Zachi: The Israel Museum is waiting for this, for many years already.

Nehemia: So when the Israel Museum gets this, it’s going to be behind glass, I won’t be able to touch it.

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: Wow. I’m getting chills. I just touched something that was in the Temple, sealed by one of the officials, possibly of some gold or silver. Maybe that was the half shekel of silver that was given in the original First Temple, which wouldn’t have been coins, right? It would’ve actually been maybe lumps of silver that weighed out to be a half shekel in the earliest period.

Zachi: Yeah, they didn’t have coins in those days.

Nehemia: Wow! So this is the first direct evidence from the First Temple, is that what you’re saying?

Zachi: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean that other finds here are not from the Temple. It just means that this is based on the name and location, it’s a very high probability it comes from the Temple. There are other things we don’t know if we can affiliate them with the Temple or with other surrounding structures.

Nehemia: Like maybe the Palace of Solomon…

Zachi: Because most of the area of the Temple Mount of today was occupied by other structures, and not by the Temple. The Temple was only part of it.

Nehemia: And again, that’s because Herod doubled the size of the Temple Mount, right?

Zachi: He doubled it, yes.

Nehemia: So, before he doubled it that was a palace or some other structure.

Zachi: I mean, he doubled it relative to what it was before his period, but even in the Second Temple it was enlarged.

Nehemia: Versus the Solomon period.

Zachi: Yeah, and the idea of a square of 500 cubits is just from the Second Temple period.

Nehemia: It’s interesting that the Temple keeps getting bigger and bigger, and if you read about Ezekiel’s Temple in Ezekiel chapters 40 to 48, it’s even bigger that the Second Temple.

Zachi: Yeah.

Nehemia: I mean, all of Jerusalem is sanctified, basically. So, wow, it’s an ever-expanding Temple.

Zachi: I just want our listeners to realize we have about half a million finds that are being studied.

Nehemia: Half a million artifacts!

Zachi: And I’m just selecting a few over here. And with many of them, sometimes only in the research we realize the significance. And now we are working on studying them, and we have three more years of work to do.

Nehemia: Zachi, if somebody’s out there and says, “Wow, you’re digging up remains from the First Temple, the Second Temple and other periods.” How can they support the project?

Zachi: There is information on the website, templemount.wordpress.com

Nehemia: Templemount.wordpress.com.

Zachi: And we’re going to go out in a crowdfunding campaign with a special website that will give this information, and people could even get, as a reward for their donation, a replica of this half shekel.

Nehemia: Can I get the original? [laughing] No? So if you give enough you can get a replica.

Zachi: Just collect randomly something…

Nehemia: All right.

Zachi: …and I’ll tell you, you can choose what to speak about.

Nehemia: Okay, what’s this? This is so exciting. [laughing]

Zachi: This is another seal impression.

Nehemia: From First Temple times.

Zachi: From First Temple time.

Nehemia: And what material is that? Is that also clay?

Zachi: It’s clay, but it has symbols, Phoenician symbols with Phoenician influence, and also Egyptian symbols. Over here you can see Uraeus, it’s a winged snake. It’s very small.

Nehemia: So, how did that end up in the Temple or the palace?

Zachi: There is a new theory that these things came with refugees from the Northern Kingdom of Israel as a result of the Assyrian pressure. Because these things you usually find them in northern Israel, in the Northern Kingdom. In Judah they were less popular, these kinds of motifs, and we have two seal impressions, even three with this style.

Nehemia: Just to remind the people, the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom. There were two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of about 10 tribes and the Southern Kingdom of 2 tribes, of Judah, and the Assyrians invaded. The first invasion is usually dated to around 732 and then 722 or 721. And it’s actually mentioned in the book of Chronicles that refugees came and they settled here, and you’re saying that this type of decorative motif is more common in the north, and so that may have actually been brought by the refugees. Wow.

Zachi: It had more Phoenician influence.

Nehemia: All right, so this Egyptian thing that we looked at before, what’s this?

Zachi: This is older, this predates the First Temple period, this is from the Late Bronze Period.

Nehemia: So, this could have potentially been when the Jebusites were here, the Yevusim.

Zachi: I’ll tell you something, we’re just before Passover, Pesach, and recently we have some more Egyptian-style objects from the time of the Canaanites, from the time of, you can say, the 14th or 13th century BCE. This is 13th century BCE, just on the eve of the Israelite conquest of the land, just on the eve of the Exodus. In those days the Egyptians ruled this land. And there’s a theory, a theory that is advanced by Gabriel Barkay, my partner in this project. Many years ago he suggested that there was an Egyptian temple north of the Temple Mount.

Nehemia: Okay. This, potentially, could be remains of it.

Zachi: And we are finding in the Temple Mount, which was probably the road that led from the city to this Temple. You know, the city was concentrated around the Gihon Spring, below the Temple Mount. And the Temple Mount was…

Nehemia: Up on the top of the hill.

Zachi: It was an agricultural site. We know about Araunah the Jebusite, when there was a threshing floor.

Nehemia: Right, that’s in 2 Samuel 24. People that’s homework, go read that chapter.

Zachi: So, we have these Egyptian scarabs, they probably fell from people’s pockets. They were used as amulets.

Nehemia: Oh, they were?

Zachi: But last week we found a part of an Egyptian statue.

Nehemia: Really, an actual statue?

Zachi: Actually, a finger of a statue, from Egyptian stone, black stone. And this is very interesting. These things exist, we know them only in that time in the Canaanite period. But I have to emphasize, our finds before the Iron Age II, which is the First Temple period, are very scarce. Maybe about one tenth of a percent of our finds come before the First Temple period.

Nehemia: Okay, but you have found some things. And then from the First Temple period then you’re finding a lot of stuff, you’re saying?

Zachi: From the First Temple period we have about 15 percent of the finds.

Nehemia: 15 percent? Wow. So, what is the most interesting thing here that you can show me that you haven’t showed me yet, from these special artifacts, these special finds?

Zachi: Let’s look for something else here interesting. Things that I cannot speak about yet, because we are still researching. There’s something here…

Nehemia: We want to hear the classified information. [laughing]

Zachi: There are a few things that we suspect them to be as tokens given to people who brought sacrifices. They didn’t come with sacrifices, they exchanged them with money, and this was a custom in the Second Temple period.

Nehemia: Huh, really?

Zachi: Maybe even in the First Temple period.

Nehemia: This was like a chit, they call that in English. Some kind of exchange for a sacrifice.

Zachi: You know, in the sifting - we are doing also sifting services for other excavations - they realized that we are very professional in this, and we managed to find many, many significant things. So, some of them send their dirt, and we are working as contractors…

Nehemia: To sift through other people’s dirt. [laughing]

Zachi: This helps fund the site when there are no groups. And we found a few years ago, in debris that came from the bottom of the sewage tunnel along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, there was an excavation there by the City of David Foundation led by Eli Shukron. And Eli Shukron sent us his debris from there, and we found a seal impression that was… it wasn’t attached to anything. According to the fingerprints and its shape, it was given by hand as a token, and on it there was in Hebrew letters, but in Aramaic, the letters Dalet-Khaf-Alef-Lamed-Yud-Hey, which reads like “dakha leYa”.

Now, there was a Professor of Talmud in the Hebrew University that suggested that this is according to a memory of tradition that was reserved in the Talmud, that during the Second Temple period, people who came from a long distance came with money – and it’s actually mentioned in the Mishnah, but also in the Talmud it’s elaborated - they payed money to get this token - they call it a seal - and they exchanged it for their sacrifices. In this case it was wine, “nesakhim”.

Nehemia: A libation.

Zachi: A libation.

Nehemia: A wine libation. So, they would pay the money they brought, and they would get this token and then they’d exchange that for a sacrifice?

Zachi: Yeah, and in order for people to not forge these tokens, they had the name of the day, the name of the priest’s shift. You know, there were 24 shifts of priests, families of priests that had shifts in the Temple, and the type of sacrifice that the libation goes with. So, “dakh” means “zakhar”, which means “ayil”. Ayil is…

Nehemia: A ram.

Zachi: No, “ayal” is a ram. Ayil is the sheep male, I forgot the name.

Nehemia: I believe that’s a ram.

Zachi: That’s a ram?

Nehemia: But I’m a city slicker, what do I know? [laughing]

Zachi: Okay, ayil, I have to check it in English. And Alef is the day of the week.

Nehemia: Sunday, in English.

Zachi: Sunday, and “leYa” means “leYehoyariv”. Yehoyariv was one of the families of priests.

Nehemia: Oh wow, so this was like a little representation of “this is what you purchased, now go bring it to the priest” or something?

Zachi: Here we have something similar, and there are more things on it, but in Greek. We’re still studying it. I don’t want to talk about it too much, but it’s very interesting.

Nehemia: So, you’re teasing us, you’re showing us this thing, and it has a whole story and maybe had to do with Jews coming from the diaspora, who knows? And I love this, you’ve got the statistical study on the computer and the datamining, but you also have the individual artifacts. Oh wow, is that like an idol of some sort?

Zachi: Yeah, it’s a goat figurine from clay and it had two horns…

Nehemia: One broke off, okay.

Zachi: But it didn’t…

Nehemia: It looks like a sheep to me.

Zachi: And he’s from the late Roman period.

Nehemia: He’s cute. Was that like a god or something?

Zachi: It’s like the god Pan.

Nehemia: Oh, not so cute. The god Pan.

Zachi: Probably from the late Roman period, when the Temple Mount was controlled by the pagan regime.

Nehemia: Okay. What’s this?

Zachi: This is also from the same period, from the late Roman period.

Nehemia: Also, a figurine of some sort?

Zachi: It’s very interesting, because it’s a tiny flask, and you can see here…

Nehemia: Oh, my.

Zachi: …it was molded and there’s a design of a woman with a Roman hair…

Nehemia: And did they offer to the gods something in that, or something?

Zachi: …with Roman dress, with a Roman hair dress. On the other side, you can see a soldier with a Roman helmet, and inside there’s a small hole. We think it was used as an amulet. Maybe it had some significance, or maybe it had some kind of a perfume or a potion, maybe it had some romantic attributes, or a love potion, who knows.

Nehemia: Okay, a love potion.

Zachi: It’s a very unique…

Nehemia: And you found that up on the Temple Mount, or from the Temple Mount.

Zachi: We didn’t find any parallels to this object.

Nehemia: Wow. What is that?

Zachi: Over here you can see a pot shard with the letter Mem in ancient Hebrew inscribed on it, and this is from the First Temple period. Now, there is no continuation to this letter…

Nehemia: That’s a Paleo-Hebrew Mem from the First Temple period, wow.

Zachi: And unfortunately, we don’t have the rest, if there was a rest of this inscription. But we have to mention that in the Second Temple period the tradition - and it was preserved in the Mishna - that if someone finds a pot shard on the Temple Mount…

Nehemia: A pot shard is a broken piece of pottery.

Zachi: With the letter Kuf or Tav or Tet or Mem, it has different meanings about the contents of this vessel. And Mem means ma’aser, the tithe.

Nehemia: Oh, the tithe.

Zachi: Tithe.

Nehemia: So, this could’ve been a vessel that was marked potentially as holding the tithe.

Zachi: Who knows, we have to still study this, because this is First Temple and this tradition.

Nehemia: Very interesting. Oh, what’s this? This looks like a gold chain. Oh, that’s beautiful.

Zachi: This is a gold chain, now look. This is very funny.

Nehemia: Yeah, this is modern. So, it says, “Orit”. So, that’s a modern gold chain…

Zachi: We are looking…

Nehemia: Orit, if you’re listening to this and you lost your gold chain up on the Temple Mount, or maybe…

Zachi: Send us a picture. If it’s the same one, we’ll give it back to you.

Nehemia: [laughing] So, you’re finding modern artifacts as well, okay.

Zachi: Yeah, we found a very nice coin of Napoleon III.

Nehemia: Napoleon III, from like the 1870s or something like that?

Zachi: Yeah, 1858.

Nehemia: 1858, oh okay, that was called a Napoleon, that kind of coin. I’ve heard of those. That was like an international coin, wasn’t it?

Zachi: Yeah, it was traded all over.

Nehemia: Okay, and what’s this?

Zachi: Here you can see a very rare coin…

Nehemia: Oh wow, is that a Yehud coin?

Zachi: Yeah. This is one of the first minted in Israel, and this is from the type Yehud coin, which means the province of Judah. It was in the time of the Persian period, when the Persians controlled the land after the destruction of the First Temple. And you can see an owl on it. This is a coin that’s very, very rare.

Nehemia: That’s one of the earliest Jewish coins, isn’t it?

Zachi: Yeah, it’s the earliest.

Nehemia: The earliest, okay.

Zachi: And sometimes we even find architectural fragments.

Nehemia: This is like a piece of stone he’s holding, and it’s got like a flower kind of motif, or leaf.

Zachi: This is an acanthus leaf, and this is in Herodian style. You can see it’s a bit burnt, it was…

Nehemia: So, this was burned in the destruction, potentially.

Zachi: Yeah. It probably exploded from the…

Nehemia: So, I’m holding here in my hand a piece that was up on the Temple Mount. And it has still the burn marks from when the romans came and destroyed the Temple.

Zachi: And this even might have been in the Temple itself.

Nehemia: Wow, what makes you say that, that it was in the Temple itself?

Zachi: It might have been, I mean it’s very…

Nehemia: You don’t know. Okay. Meaning, it was in the Temple or one of the surrounding structures on the Temple Mount.

Zachi: The engravement here is in a very high quality, and it was in a part of an architrave of a very important building.

Nehemia: Wow, that is beautiful. That’s exciting.

Zachi, this has been an amazing conversation. This has been such a special experience, to talk to you about these. Any last comments or thoughts you want to share with people?

Zachi: There are many other finds I would like to share if we have time, but…

Nehemia: We’ll have to do a follow-up, because this is really amazing. This has been really a special experience. And to me, this is so amazing that these things were buried here for thousands of years. The Jewish people have come back to the land, and people who have been trying to get their foothold in our land and scooped out these archaeological remains and dumped them as garbage, but now that we’re back in our land we can go and we can sift through and find these remains, remains from the Temple and from other periods.

Zachi: And our listeners could read more on our website. We have many more finds, such as figurines that were smashed during the First Temple period.

Nehemia: Oh, wow, idols that were smashed. I love that.

Zachi: And stone weights, shekel weights and maybe even we might reconstruct the holy shekel weight as standard. And we are revolutionizing what we know about the Byzantine period on the Temple Mount, and we have the first evidence of the Knights Templar in the Crusader period. And there are so many things to tell, and this is just a glimpse.

Nehemia: This really is just a tiny little taste of archaeology. This is amazing. And I’ve got to say, to me this is the most important archaeological project going on in Israel. And I want to thank you for doing this and putting yourself in danger and putting yourself out there and going against the stream, and nevertheless prevailing. And now having a world record, a Guinness World Record of archaeology. Thank you, Zachi. Shalom.

Zachi: You’re welcome.

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Show Notes:

Zachi Dvira is an Israeli archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University who directs the Temple Mount Sifting Project and a renowned researcher of the Temple Mount. He is noted for having been the first person to recognize the archaeological importance of the debris that was illegally removed by Islamic authorities from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and initiated a project for the only archaeological examination of remains from the Temple Mount.

The photo at the top of this page shows archaeologist Zachi Dvira holding a paving stone from the Second Temple. This piece of naturally occurring asphalt was smoothed by millions of Jewish pilgrims who visited the Jerusalem Temple in the First Century AD. Yeshua of Nazareth may have stepped foot on this very paving stone.

Verses Mentioned:

Hebrew Voices #3, Temple Mount Treasures1 Chronicles 24:14, 2 Samuel 24, Archaeology, Archeology, Beit HaMikdash, Beth HaMikdash, bulla, coin, Exodus 30:13, First Temple, half shekel, Hebrew, hebrew voices, Herod, Herodian, Israel, Jeremiah 20:1-3, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Temple, nehemia gordon, paleo-Hebrew, Palestine, Palestinian, Psalm 102:12-15, Second Temple, shekel, Sifting Project, Solomon, Temple, Temple Mount, Zachi Dvira, Zachi Zweig, Zerubbabel, בית המקדש, הר הבית, יצחק דבירה

In this photo, Nehemia is holding a fragment of a frieze that decorated the facade of the Second Temple. It contains burn marks that scorched it when the Romans burned the Temple in 70 CE.

Hebrew Voices #3, Temple Mount Treasures1 Chronicles 24:14, 2 Samuel 24, Archaeology, Archeology, Beit HaMikdash, Beth HaMikdash, bulla, coin, Exodus 30:13, First Temple, half shekel, Hebrew, hebrew voices, Herod, Herodian, Israel, Jeremiah 20:1-3, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Temple, nehemia gordon, paleo-Hebrew, Palestine, Palestinian, Psalm 102:12-15, Second Temple, shekel, Sifting Project, Solomon, Temple, Temple Mount, Zachi Dvira, Zachi Zweig, Zerubbabel, בית המקדש, הר הבית, יצחק דבירה

This 7th century BCE seal impression is the first ancient Hebrew inscription ever found on the Temple Mount. The inscription indicates that it belonged to the priestly family Immer mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1 and 1 Chronicles 24:14.

Hebrew Voices #3, Temple Mount Treasures1 Chronicles 24:14, 2 Samuel 24, Archaeology, Archeology, Beit HaMikdash, Beth HaMikdash, bulla, coin, Exodus 30:13, First Temple, half shekel, Hebrew, hebrew voices, Herod, Herodian, Israel, Jeremiah 20:1-3, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Temple, nehemia gordon, paleo-Hebrew, Palestine, Palestinian, Psalm 102:12-15, Second Temple, shekel, Sifting Project, Solomon, Temple, Temple Mount, Zachi Dvira, Zachi Zweig, Zerubbabel, בית המקדש, הר הבית, יצחק דבירה

An arrowhead fired during the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.

Hebrew Voices #3, Temple Mount Treasures1 Chronicles 24:14, 2 Samuel 24, Archaeology, Archeology, Beit HaMikdash, Beth HaMikdash, bulla, coin, Exodus 30:13, First Temple, half shekel, Hebrew, hebrew voices, Herod, Herodian, Israel, Jeremiah 20:1-3, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Temple, nehemia gordon, paleo-Hebrew, Palestine, Palestinian, Psalm 102:12-15, Second Temple, shekel, Sifting Project, Solomon, Temple, Temple Mount, Zachi Dvira, Zachi Zweig, Zerubbabel, בית המקדש, הר הבית, יצחק דבירה

A half-shekel from the time of the Jewish Revolt in 66 CE. Every Jew would contribute a half-shekel to the Temple based on Exodus 30:13 in order to be counted as part of the Congregation of Israel. Decades before this coin was produced, the only silver accepted at the Temple was the Tyrian Half Shekel bearing the image of Melkart, the god of Tyre. In the First Century, Jews making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem were forced to exchange their perfectly good silver for that pagan coin. This was opposed by a preacher from Nazareth named Yeshua who turned over the tables of the money-changers. The dominion of the money-changers finally ended with the production of this Hebrew coin that bears the inscription in Paleo-Hebrew חצי השקל "The Half Shekel." The back of the coin says, ירושלם קדשה "Holy Jerusalem."

Help support uncovering treasures from the Temple Mount Sifting Project .

Next time you are in Jerusalem, make sure to get your hands in the archaeology of the ancient Jerusalem Temple by volunteering for the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Nehemia Gordon's blog on The Hidden Treasures of the Temple Mount

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  • Roberta says:

    Thanks so much for rebroadcasting this! I had not heard it before. Nehemia, I am sure you must have said ‘Wow!’ a hundred times, and I was right there with you in your delight! Wow! What a blessing from our Father!!

  • Russell Budlong says:

    is an update coming for 2019 ?

  • Thank you for sharing! I especially enjoyed the part you shared about Yeshua and the money changers. I wish I knew of more resources that would give more insight into things like this.

  • Heiki Henrichsen says:

    Amazing, archaeology is so interesting! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • מאמין שיש רק אלהים אחד says:

    כִּי-אֶבֶן, מִקִּיר תִּזְעָק; וְכָפִיס, מֵעֵץ יַעֲנֶנָּה
    חֲבַקּוּק ב:יא

  • Shoshannah says:

    Fascinating. Wish I was there.

  • Jose says:

    Amazing! Thank you for such encouraging, enthusiastic, archeologically sound proof and teaching. I’m enjoying the Hebrew Voices show more and more. We cannot thank you enough. Shalom from Florida

  • Cheri says:

    Can you suggest a tour for a couple of Torah observing followers of Yeshua??? Blessings from Texas, Shalom…>

  • Cheri says:

    Awesome!!! Can’t wait my husband and I will be in Israel for 2 weeks in March and I already sent an email to reserve a spot…Thanks for the post (link)…Shalom >

  • Mary Yeh says:

    Incredible! You are doing what is your love! I enjoyed the article “Hidden Treasures of the Temple Mount.” Keep up the momentum and your passion!

  • Anthony says:

    Holy Jerusalem Batman! That is awesome!

  • Loren says:

    Very interesting Nehemia, thank you. May I pick the word s for today? ….WOW! Oh Wow! 🙂