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The Mesha Stele of Moab

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Tel Dan Inscription verifies "The House of David".

In 1993 a discovery was made at Tel Dan (at the foot of Mount Hermon) which became the most significant artifact in the modern State of Israel. It is now regarded as a national treasure since it proves, irrespective of the Bible, that the House of David was an historic reality.

Excavations began at Tel Dan, Northern Israel, in 1966 under the direction of archaeologist Avrham Biran. After a few years of digging, a monumental mud-brick gate was unearthed, with an arch constructed by the Canaanites in around 1850 BC - long before the Israelites arrived in the region. In those times the Dan location was called Leshem (Joshua 19:47) or Laish (Judges 18:27). The Canaanite Gate is now a conservation project of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Also revealed, before cessation of the 33-year dig in 1999, were the city walls, an Israelite sanctuary, sacred pillars, a tomb and various artifacts.

The Canaanite Gate

Among the city ruins, in front of the Gate were found the remnants of a large basalt stele - the largest fragment of which is 32 x 22 cm (12.5 x 8.75 inches). On this, thirteen lines of Aramaic script are partially preserved from around 825 BC, soon after the time of King Ahab of Israel and David's lineal descendant, King Jehosaphat of Judah.

The inscription was created by King Hazael of Aram-Damascus in about 825 BC, and it relates to his father, Hadad II, being victorious in battle against Jehosaphat (c. 860 BC). The most important aspect of the text, however, is that it specifically relates to Hadad defeating the "foot soldiers, charioteers and horsemen of the King of the House of David".

The much prized Tel Dan Inscription now resides in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The House of David Inscription

The Moabite Stone

Another kingly stele boasting of conflict with the House of David is the Moabite Stone from about 860 BC. This 42 by 24 inch black basalt monument (107 x 61 cms) was discovered in 1868 at Dhiban, 20 miles east of the Dead Sea (across from En-gedi) and is now housed in The Louvre Museum, Paris. As reported in Time Magazine, December 1995, it is the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine.

The Moabite Stone contains 36 lines of Phoenician script which relate to the rebellion of King Mesha of Moab against King Jehoram of Israel and King Jehosaphat of Judah. This battle is recounted in the Old Testament 2-Kings 3:5-27.

Discovered by the German missionary, F.A. Klein, the Moabite Stone caused another battle when the Berlin Museum expressed an interest in removing it to the West. The Jewish Encyclopedia relates that, on hearing of this, local Arabs heaved it out of the earth, lit fires around it and doused it with cold water so that it fragmented. Mediation was subsequently conducted by the French Consulate in Jerusalem, whose conservators restored the artifact, while offering enough money to purchase the House of David Moabite Stone and placate the inhabitants of Dhiban.

House of the Lord

The Jerusalem Temple of David's son, King Solomon, was something of an enigma until the 1970s. Prior to that, no physical evidence had been discovered in respect of the Temple itself - the House of Yahweh or House of the Lord, as it was more correctly called (1-Kings 3:1, 6:1).

The Old Testament book of 1-Kings 6:2-38 gives details of the construction, which was demolished by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 400 years later in 586 BC. A new, larger Temple was built on the same site by Prince Zerubbabel of Jerusalem from 535 BC, and this was later extended by the Seleucid Kings, the Hasmonaeans, and finally by King Herod the Great in the 1st century BC.

In his 1st-century Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus described Jerusalem in the Gospel era, stating that the Herodian Temple was "incredible". Set within a complex of over 35 acres, where the El-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock now stand, it was the most magnificent construction of the era - far bigger than the Acropolis in Athens. However, the mighty edifice was demolished by the Roman legions of General Titus in AD 70.

Archaeologists, working from the middle 1800s, established the foundations of the second and third Temples (those of Zerubbabel and Herod), but it was not until 1973 that a concerted attempt was made to reveal the first House of the Lord - the Temple of King Solomon. The archaeological project was led by Prof. Benjamin Mazar of the Hebrew University, with field architect Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, who wrote up the account for the Biblical Archaeology Society.

With the aid of records from the Greek historian, Strabo (64 BC - AD 21), the team worked on site for five years, making many new discoveries, among which (at the lowest course level) were the original footings of King Solomon's Temple, with masonry quite different to that of the later periods. Also, to their astonishment, in the floor of the Holy of Holies above was the carved rectangular depression (48 inches by 31 inches), where the Ark of the Covenant once stood (1-Kings 8:6).

It transpired that the Solomonid footings had actually been logged some time previously by the Palestine Exploration Fund, but the information had not become widely known. It was known however that, in the tunnels beneath, a British military expedition had made a significant discovery in 1894. There, in the labyrinthine complex of arched corridors and cisterns, they discovered a 12th-century Templar cross, a broken Templar sword and other related artifacts. These were remnants from the early 1100s, when the Knights Templars excavated for the Ark and the secreted treasures of Jerusalem.

Ostracons and the Pomegranate

There are a few archaeologically discovered artifacts from the first Temple's operative era which make specific reference to Solomon's House of the Lord. One of these is known as the Temple Ostracon, which resides in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. This pottery shard from about 800 BC (in the Jerusalem reign of King Joash of Judah) clearly mentions, in old Hebrew, the Temple of the 'Bayit Yahweh' - the Jerusalem House of the Lord.

House of the Lord Inscription

Another ostracon referenced by the Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December 1997) is a tax receipt written on a clay tablet in respect of a subscription of 3 shekels to the House of the Lord. It comes from much the same period as the Temple Ostracon, when the Jewish people were obliged to contribute towards the House of Yahweh's infrastructure by way of a Temple tax.

A particularly interesting artifact from the Solomon Temple reign of King Uzziah of Judah, c. 750 BC, is a small ivory pomegranate - vase shaped with a long neck and petals. Around its shoulder, in an early Hebrew script, is inscribed "Sacred donation for the priests of the House of the Lord ". Like the Temple Ostracon and the David Tablet, this item is also held at the Israel Museum.

                            
The Temple Pomegranate                            The Joash Tablet

                                                  

The Joash Tablet

Recently, the press and media have been discussing another inscribed tablet that was discovered in the summer of 2000 at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The find was made by Islamic Trust renovators of the El-Aqsa mosque which occupies part of the Haram el Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) site, and the tablet is know held by an Israeli collector.

Partially broken, the Arkosic Dead Sea sandstone tablet measures 31 x 24 x 7 cms, and carries 15 lines of text written in ancient Hebrew with elements of Aramaic and old Phoenician. It describes repairs to Solomon's Temple as ordered by Solomon's descendant, King Joash of Judah in the 9th century BC.

Joash (Jehoash) reigned about 839-799 BC and, in accord with this, carbon-14 dating by Israel's Geological Institute, under Shimon Ilani, has authenticated the inscription as being around 2,800 years old. The Institute's director, Amos Bean, reported that they had discovered flecks of gold burnt into the stone, indicating that it was probably in the Temple when the building was destroyed by invading Babylonians in about 586 BC.

In line with the Bible text of 2-Kings 12:1-6 and 11-17, the tablet describes how the King instructed the priests to "take holy money … to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labour to carry out the duty with faith."

The Vessel and the Vine

In the header graphic of this page are two Jerusalem coins from the distant BC years - one which bears a chalice, and the other a bunch of grapes.

From around 3500 BC, a chalice (or ceremonial cup) was the hereditary symbol of the Mesopotamian "Gra-al" - the royal bloodline of the ancient kings and queens. In subsequent Israelite times, the descending family line (which became the dynasty of the House of David) was classified as The Vine. Psalm 80:8 reads, 'Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it'. In the New Testament Gospel of John 15:1 Jesus states, "I am the true vine".

Hence it was that, the concept of the Grail (Gra-al) bloodline was romantically symbolized as the Vessel (female) and the Vine (male). The fruit of the vine is the grape - and from the grape comes wine. In this respect, the symbolic elements of the chalice and the vine coincide, and this tradition sits at the very heart of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) sacrament.

From Mesopotamian and Israelite foundations the Grail customs moved westwards into both Pagan and Christian lore, but notwithstanding this it is interesting to note that following the latter-day reinstatement of the State of Israel in 1948, these old emblems of the Royal House of Judah - the dynasty of David and Solomon - were brought back into play on newly introduced coins that replicated their originals in times long before.

 

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