Israeli study dates Jerusalem expansion to before Assyrian exile

Researchers achieved an unprecedented level of accuracy in dating First Temple period findings in the City of David.

The wall of Jerusalem as uncovered in the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with, from left, Ortal Chalaf, Dr. Filip Vukosavovich and Dr. Joe Uziel. Photo by Kobi Harati/City of David Foundation.
The wall of Jerusalem as uncovered in the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with, from left, Ortal Chalaf, Dr. Filip Vukosavovich and Dr. Joe Uziel. Photo by Kobi Harati/City of David Foundation.

An Israeli scientific study has linked biblical events to archaeological findings at the City of David in Jerusalem for the first time using accurate dating methods, challenging understandings of the extent of the Judean capital during the reigns of the kings.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot conducted the joint research. The findings were published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

“For the first time, we are harnessing together hard sciences, archaeology and biblical historiography in order to reconstruct more accurately the history of the city in its most crucial times,” said Tel Aviv University professor Yuval Gadot.

The research involved nearly a decade of excavations at the City of David National Park just south of the Old City walls, where King David established his capital and many pivotal biblical events occurred. The work was funded by the City of David Foundation (Elad).

More than 100 radiocarbon dates were taken from four different excavation areas on the eastern and western slopes of the City of David that came from organic material samples such as grape seeds, date pits and bat skeletons. In the lab, advanced technology was used in the form of a particle accelerator to separate the carbon-14 from the organic material.

Furthermore, researchers at the Weizmann Institute used ancient tree rings from Europe to establish a precise timeline of single-year dates, adding an unprecedented level of accuracy to dating the findings.

Archaeologists Joe Uziel (left) and professor Yuval Gadot from the research team. Photo by Yaniv Berman/City of David Foundation.

The process allowed the researchers to precisely reconstruct the First Temple period of Jerusalem from 1,200 BCE to the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE.

Major timeline discoveries include a wall built by the Judean King Uzziah after a major earthquake referred to in the Book of Amos. It was originally thought to have been constructed 100 years later by King Hezekiah as part of preparations to fortify the city against the Assyrian invasion of Jerusalem.

Notably, the research suggests that there was widespread settlement in Jerusalem during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, challenging conventional thinking on the extent of the city during this period, which points to its expansion as a result of refugees from the northern Kingdom of Israel during the Assyrian exile.

Already in the 10th century BCE, extensive activity was carried out in Jerusalem.

“During the 10th century BCE, the days of David and Solomon, this research has shown that the city is occupied in different areas and seems to have been larger than we thought previously,” said Joe Uziel of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

He added that “we can pinpoint specific buildings and relate them to specific kings mentioned in the biblical text such as Uzziah, Hezekiah, Menashe and others.”

Gadot explained: “The new findings strengthen the view that Jerusalem grew in size and spread towards Mount Zion already in the ninth century BCE, during the reign of King Jehoash, a hundred years before the Assyrian exile. In light of this, the new research teaches that the expansion of Jerusalem is a result of internal-Judean demographic growth and the establishment of political and economic systems.”

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