Archaeological Evidence for the Conquest of Jerusalem

Archaeologists from The Mount Zion Archaeological Project and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have found layers of ash, arrowheads, lamps, a gold and silver tassel, and pieces of ceramics which they have dated to the time the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C. According to a news report, “The nature of the artifacts and the layer of ash point to a bloody chapter in the city’s history.”

The Mount Zion Archaeological Project is co-directed by University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor of history Shimon Gibson, Rafi Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College and a fellow of Haifa University, and by James Tabor, UNC Charlotte professor of religious studies.

The following is an excerpt of the press release put out by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte:

The team believes that the newly-found deposit can be dated to the specific event of the conquest because of the unique mix of artifacts and materials found – pottery and lamps, side-by-side with evidence of the Babylonian siege represented by burnt wood and ashes, and a number of Scythian-type bronze and iron arrowheads which are typical of that period.

“For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things,” Gibson said. “It could be ashy deposits removed from ovens; or it could be localized burning of garbage. However, in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction. Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse.”

A Scythian-type arrowheads found on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion (Credit: Mt Zion Archaeological Expedition/Virginia Withers).

“The arrowheads are known as ‘Scythian arrowheads’ and have been found at other archaeological conflict sites from the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. They are known at sites outside of Israel as well. They were fairly commonplace in this period and are known to be used by the Babylonian warriors. Together, this evidence points to the historical conquest of the city by Babylon because the only major destruction we have in Jerusalem for this period is the conquest of 587/586 BCE,” he said.

“I like to think that we are excavating inside one of the ‘Great Man’s houses’ mentioned in the second book of Kings 25:9,” Gibson speculated.

You can read the press release by clicking here.

Gibson’s mention of the destruction of the great houses of Jerusalem indicates the complete devastation of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. According to the book of 2 Kings, the siege of Jerusalem lasted sixteen months. This long siege meant that the people of Jerusalem lost the equivalent of two harvests. The loss of the harvest caused untold suffering to the inhabitants of the city. With the depletion of the food supply, the people of Jerusalem were starving: “The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything” (Lamentations 4:4). In desperation, some people were forced into cannibalism, “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food in the destruction of my people” (Lamentations 4:10).

The writer of the book of Kings provides some of the events that preceded the looting of Jerusalem:

In the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siegeworks against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city wall; the king with all the soldiers fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; all his army was scattered, deserting him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon. In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month – which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon – Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1-10).

These archaeological discoveries are small reminders of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem and of the horrific devastation caused by the Babylonian invasion. They are also mute witnesses of the immense pain and suffering the people of Jerusalem had to endure at the hands of their enemies.

Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to Archaeological Evidence for the Conquest of Jerusalem

  1. James says:

    I’m sure that Jim West will be overjoyed.


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