Old City

New Holy Land Discoveries Since ’67: Temple Steps, Pontius Pilate & City of David

There have been some marvelous discoveries since my first trip to The Holy Land in 1967. Probably too many to mention, so I will offer just a few and let that suffice as we continue the discussion.

Holy Land Discovery: Pontius Pilate Inscription?


pilate inscription

For years skeptics questioned the accuracy of the Bible account by pointing at Pilate and observing that there was no mention of this Roman official outside of the New Testament. Surely they reasoned, one would expect to find mention of him somewhere else in the literature or on the inscriptions and monuments. Mystery solved: A stone containing the inscribed name of Pilate was recently found in Caesarea Maritime, the great sea port built by Herod the Great. A replica is on permanent display near the amphitheater for tourists to view while the original is safely tucked away in a museum.

Holy Land Discovery: The Steps Jesus Would Have Used to Enter the Temple

In 1967 following the war that brought Jerusalem under Jewish control, the Israeli archaeologists began excavating at the Southern wall of the Temple Mount (which is  also the Southern wall of the city). They uncovered an enormous flight of stairs that led up from the Ophal Valley to the South and the Pool of Siloam, into the Temple through a set of gates. This well preserved flight of steps would have been used by Jesus and the Disciples as they entered the temple on feast days.


Much of the present day gates at the top of the stairs, (some from the time of Herod and some from a later time) are walled up. Limited access isjerusalem steps available into the Temple Mount at this point but the good news is that, once inside, the original ceilings and walls appear just as they did when Jesus walked the Earth. This section survived the almost total destruction caused by the Romans in 70 AD. It is however difficult to gain access to the inside section of this discovery as access is controlled by the Muslim authorities and is rarely granted.


In addition to the steps, extensive digging along the entire Southern Wall of the Temple platform, has resulted in the uncovering of the foundations of homes and public buildings from the time of Jesus as the mountain of dirt has been systematically scraped away leaving the remains on view. The exciting truth is that there is much more to be uncovered all the way from the walls to the City of David  down in the Kedron valley. 

Holy Land Discovery: City of David

city of davidThe city of David was still much just a mound of dirt in 1967 but is now an extensive archaeological dig. Much of it, until recently was hidden below the paving of a parking lot. Buildings going back to the time of David are being uncovered and it is quite apparent now that this was not a huge city but more like a mud village perched on the side of the Kedron Valley at the Arab town of Silwan.


Stay tuned as I keep you updated on ongoing and new Holy Land discoveries and archaeological finds!


It is my intention to address a wide variety of issues related to the Holy Land. We cover the gamut of history, theology, current events, archaeology and the current political tides. As such we welcome and encourage your comments and healthy interchange as we continue to learn together. 








This is yet another in my series of special original articles written to keep my many friends up to speed on all things Holy Land related. A recent feature in Biblical Archeology Review brought this to mind.


In 1967 when I took my first of now 125 journeys to the Holy Land, I had done a lot of reading in advance and had made a list of experiences that I wanted to have when there. One of them was to go through the famous Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This unique structure was built by King Hezekiah, King of Judah around 700 years before Jesus. Even today it is a marvel.


It was April 1967 about 6 weeks before the 6 day war broke out and the Old City of Jerusalem was still in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  I was on the hillside of the then largely unexcavated dirt mound called the City of David, or better, the original city of Jerusalem.   Since my visit in 1967 the Israeli archeologists have been hard at work there and finding remarkable things.


As I recall It was a warm and sunny day and I was prepared to get wet. Just how wet I did not know what to expect but I at least knew, from my knees down.


Excited, I was about to enter a specific structure mentioned in the Bible as having been dug by workers commissioned to do so by King Hezekiah about 700 BC. I must admit that this was kind of a kick.


The historical setting for this tunnel is this: Israel had then for 250 years been divided into 2 separate nations: The 10 tribes in the North were now called Israel and the 2 tribes in the south were now called Judah. Since the death of Solomon in the 900s BC, when a civil war divided the once unified nation, they had remained separate and often at war with each other.


Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives


The capital of Judah was Jerusalem. Hezekiah was its king around 700 BC.


Judah was then under threat of invasion by the conquering armies of Assyria under its  king Sennacherib. (The story is found in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32.)  (An interesting aside: The modern descendants of the ancient Semitic Assyrians  are now called Chaldeans or Aramaeans and they are primarily Eastern Orthodox Christians.)


One of the necessities that often dictates the location of proposed cities is ready  access to water. Without water you cannot withstand a siege. Such sieges could go on for months if not years.


Those who have traveled with me to Megiddo will remember how its residents solved their need for a safe source of water by use of a tunnel and camouflage.


The source of water for the city of David was and is a freshwater spring called the Gihon. It still provides water for the Arab  villages that cluster deep in the Kidron Valley south of the Old City of Jerusalem.


In previous articles I have mentioned the Arab village of Silwan where my old friend Ali the taxi driver still lives which is really the location of the City of David and it still relies on the Gihon for irrigation now some 2800 years later.. The Psalms mention this water source without actually naming it when they celebrate the crops and vineyards in Jerusalem  of the time, and speak of walking beside the still water. All of which were dependent upon this one bubbling dependable spring.


Hezekiah faced a formidable challenge. He knew that the invasion by the vastly superior Assyrian forces was inevitable. He knew the importance of water for his people as well as for the Assyrian army. That army was  presently attacking and laying siege to Lachish and that successful siege would be memorialized in a famous stella later discovered and now on display.


It is estimated that the construction of this secret water tunnel would have taken about 4 years working 6 teams of workers around the clock, 3 from each end, and some  Biblical scholars have argued as to whether there was enough time for Hezekiah to complete this task or if someone else deserved credit such as his son Manasseh.


I began my wet walk by purchasing a candle. No lights or electricity and, though spooky, there is just no way you can get lost as there is no other way out except straight ahead and ahead is up to 1750’ ahead and so you just plough on and the new now becomes somewhat  boring and seemingly all the same . It is, of course, interesting to contemplate the significance of the marks of the picks as this tunnel was laboriously carved out 2800 years ago.


At the midpoint, the shape of the marks of the picks left behind  change abruptly as you are now in the section completed by the other team heading towards you.


The mystery of the place can be quickly lost on you it seems as you concentrate on not stumbling on the submerged floor of the tunnel as you make your way in the dark with flickering candle in hand.


What particularly struck me was the fact that the completed tunnel does not go in a straight line and I wondered about that. In fact its course has now been plotted on paper using modern technology and it is rather serpentine in its meanderings.


Hand hewn by teams of workers, its sides and roof and floor are rough and uneven.


It was not built to be beautiful but to be functional.


But how on earth did they find each other in the middle??


Hezekiah’s strategy was twofold: (1) to not only provide water for Jerusalem but also (2) to deny it to the Assyrians.


In order to accomplish these goals  he had to cover over the natural spring source of the water outside of Jerusalem’s walls so the Assyrians could not locate it and then he had to cause to be dug a subteranean  tunnel to connect the outside-the-walls spring  to what we call the Pool of Siloam. Yes the same pool of Siloam where 700+ years later Jesus told the blind man to go wash off the spit/clay mix he had applied to the blind man’s eyes and he was healed miraculously. Imagine that and this is where I emerged into the sunshine after my adventure in the tunnel. You can do the same if you wish.


The two teams of ancient diggers, armed with iron picks, somehow navigated their way underground, blind as to where the other team actually was and somehow after years of digging they miraculously met in the middle.


I remember seeing where that joyous event had occurred and could share their joy.


That under ground meeting of these two teams was memorialized by an inscription in the wall of the tunnel describing the event.


Money got in the way as it often does and around 1880 some Arabs chiseled this inscription off the wall and sold the inscription on the black market and it ended up in Istanbul where it is currently on display. It is called the Siloam Inscription.


Well, as often happens,  the dating of this famous tunnel has come under challenge of late with some scholars questioning its accepted dating to the time of Hezekiah and offering other possible creators,  some predating Hezekiah and some as late as the Hasmonean period in the 200s BC.


Such challenges are not infrequent in the Middle East. Trying to come up with alternative explanations for famous places and items is common and part of the game.


Want to get noticed?


Challenge an established theory about a famous place or event or item and make your case! That is how the game is played.


With recognition and notoriety comes fame and often fortune.


So bottom line, is this something visitors to Israel should put on their to do list?


By all means if you have the time.


Just take a taxi from your hotel to the pool of Siloam and the City of David south of the Old City walls and you will even find locals there who will guide you through the tunnel for a few dollars. Be sure to wear rubber soled shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Shorts are probably a good idea as well. The depth of the water will vary according to the season.


On our forthcoming February 2014 journey to Turkey, Jordan and Israel we have planned an entire day at leisure to allow our traveling friends the opportunity do something on their own and this is certainly a candidate for that experience. Taxis will take you there and are usually readily available to take you back to your hotel.




This is yet another special article written for you by Dr. Robert Grant the Holy Land Guru.


We invite you to consider traveling with Dr.  Grant and wife Judy.

We also encourage you to PLEASE LIKE     Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru     where you will find all of the previous articles Dr. Bob  has written.




For more information you should Google Siloam Inscription and  Hezekiah’s Tunnel and also check out the Biblical Archeology Review.

August 31, 2013



Even though I have been to the Holy Land innumerable times over the past 46 years I have never personally participated in a dig. Sounded like hot, hard work and did not intrigue me all that much. Not my cup of tea.

My wife Judy, on the other hand, is possessed with a kind of curiosity that she always wants to dig when we visit sites like Megiddo .


I well remember one time we were in Philippi (the New Testament book of Philippians) in Northern Greece and she was only stopped from giving in to this compulsion when one of the guards stopped her.

Archeology sounds so glamorous. Just to consider the thought  that you might uncover the ultimate hidden treasure. Think of the Indiana Jones movies and their appeal.

But archeology is just not as glamorous as all that I have found. Much of it has to do with digging in dirt and finding tiny clues from the past, coupled with the skill to recognize when a fragment of pottery ( a shard as it is called) was made, by its historic characteristics. Pottery is the main way that dating is determined. Sometimes major structures, like a 200’ long section of wall recently discovered outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, are uncovered, but that is the exception not the rule.

A recent publication by the Biblical Archeology Society, (BAS) entitled Jerusalem Archeology: Exposing the Biblical City caught my attention as it focused on the daily grind of the detective work we call field archeology.

Since 1967 when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the 6 Day war, there has been a lot of digging around the temple area. I have written in earlier postings about the discovery there  of the steps leading up to the temple from the southern valley, up which Jesus most assuredly must have walked.                                             (Go to      Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru  for the many articles I have posted in recent months to keep my friends up to speed on all things Holy land related)


But there is much more that has been uncovered there  including parts of walls and foundations of buildings that go back 1000 years before Jesus to the time of Solomon the builder of the 1st great temple to stand in that area.

The original City of Jerusalem called the City of David, is located downhill from the walls of the current Old City and is a nondescript muddy mound . It is an active archeological site.

The archeologists have now determined how David’s son Solomon enlarged Jerusalem and enclosed the area from the City of David all the way up to and including the current Temple mount, in his Jerusalem’s environs.

Solomon built his glorious temple on the same general area where the current Golden dome of the Muslim shrine now sits  where also  his great palace probably once stood. The massive current platform we now see was built by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus (later restored by Suleiman the magnificent in the Middle ages,) and is much more extensive than the area used by Solomon 1000 years earlier.

Moved by this account in BAS  I turned to the Biblical account of this event in 1 Kings 6 and, upon re reading it for the umpteenth time, was fascinated by the detail that it contained even tying the date of this construction by King Solomon  to the Exodus from Egypt  480 years earlier. (A side benefit of this is to offer us guidance as to when the Exodus from Egypt actually occurred as well as when the Temple was built)

It took Solomon 7 years to build his temple and 13 years to construct his nearby imposing palace that was 150’ long by 75’ wide and 45’ tall. Among the details incorporated in this grand building was the casting of 2 massive bronze columns 27’ tall and 18’ in circumference.

I find that when I read such Biblical passages against the background of having actually traveled to the place itself, this all takes on a new dimension of reality.

That is why I especially urge pastors to have the experience of travel to the Holy Land such as we offer each year.

This should not be considered a luxury but a source of important knowledge necessary in order to be an accurate teacher of the Word.

Also I might add, reading this Biblical account in a modern language translation like the New Living translation makes this massive project so easy to picture.

So much for background.

This BAS  article on archeology in Jerusalem reports that in 1999 the Muslims who now control the Temple Mount, decided to dig some steps down through the floor of the plateau near the al Aqsa Mosque and connect to an area below mistakenly called Solomon’s Stables.

This is a vaulted area below the South Eastern corner of the temple mount (perhaps the  pinnacle of the Temple as described in the temptation of Jesus by Satan) .

Solomon’s Stables consists of a lower area with a series of columns that support the platform above where the modern mosque is situated.

Dating for Solomon’s Stables is difficult to ascertain as some date this to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (about 130 AD) when he rebuilt Jerusalem (his city was called the Aelia Capitolina ) following its destruction by the 10th Legion 40 years earlier  in 70 AD.

After the rise of Islam in the 600s AD this lower area was made into a Muslim prayer room. Later the Crusaders turned It into a stable and then it reverted back to being a Muslim sacred place.

In order to provide convenient access for visitors to the Al Aqsa Mosque, to this subterranean place now called the Marwani Mosque, the modern Muslim rulers of the Temple mount area decided to create a flight of stairs by opening up a hole in the present  platform and providing step access from above.

In the process of doing this they created stress on the Southern wall and this threatened the collapse of the entire structure. An unsightly emergency repair can now be seen in white on the Southern wall as the result.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

The BAS article reports how the Muslim diggers just dumped truckloads of artifact laden dirt taken from the excavations, into the Kidron Valley below.

They were oblivious to the damage they were doing and the value of what they just discarded, as their only focus was the building of this set of stairs.

Others had different plans for this pile of dirt: Israeli archeologists viewed this dirt pile as a potential treasure trove and established a nearby  location on Mount Scopus where they began laboriously trucking the dirt and washing down the debris and sifting it for the tiny treasures that subsequently were uncovered and have now added a great deal to our knowledge of the area.

Among the treasures found is a fragment of a 3400 year old clay seal containing the oldest Hebrew writing ever discovered in Jerusalem. It is a part of a clay tablet written in cuneiform (ie with a wedged shaped stick in soft clay that is then fired) that is thought to date back to about 400 years before Solomon when the Canaanites had a city there.

This fragment is thought to be a file copy  of a letter of appeal sent by the Canaanite king who then ruled over this area, (remember this was well before the time of David and Solomon) sent from Jerusalem  to the weird pharaoh Akhnaten, the monotheistic pharaoh from the 1300s BC, asking for help against some of his enemies.

A trove of such correspondence was earlier discovered in Egypt and is called the Amarna letters. Apparently just like us they made file copies of important documents so that they could later refer back to what they had said. How modern does that sound?

And so  truckloads of dirt are brought in and washed and sifted and tiny treasures such as these are retrieved from time to time.

Such is the not so romantic and dirty drudge work that is much of the lot of the modern archeologist.

Bill's corrected Holy Land Pics 299

If you should be one who travels with us on a Holy Land Tour you will see many such digs and excavations.

We invite you to come along with us on one of our personally escorted journeys to Turkey, Jordan and Israel in 2014 and add this rich experience to your bucket list for sure. Special arrangements available for pastors as well.

By Dr. Robert Grant aka The Holy Land Guru   written  August 18, 2013.



So picture this:
You are a guide in Israel and you stop with your group to catch your breath and you lean on a piece of a column jutting out of the ground and suddenly …..What is this thing? And again, suddenly it becomes a really big deal with archeological and political ramifications.
And that is what happened recently in the tiny Arab village of Silwan.
So Silwan aka as the city of David,, is again a center of attention with the recent discovery of an impressive ancient column jutting out of the ground.
It is thought that, when the dirt is cleared, it will lead down to the foundations of, and perhaps even more of, a structure of some importance. As often is the case, political sensitivities play an important role.
This would be  an Israeli led archeological dig. The discovery is on privately owned Palestinian land.
So when or if this new find is excavated remains to be seen and the Israeli’s are shushing up the matter hoping to keep a lid on it as they try to negotiate its uncovering with the Arab land owners. .Also a case of follow the money i would assume.
The location of this find is quite significant.

Kedron valley excavations

Much excavation is taking place in Israel


Silwan is an nondescript Arab village that clings to the sides of the Kedron Valley to the south of the present Old City walls of Jerusalem, extending from the Dung Gate where people now enter to visit the wailing or Western wall of Temple Mount, south, into the Kedron valley and the excavations of the ancient city of David.

One could make the case that Silwan is part of the remains of David’s ancient capital beginning about 1000 BC.
It was to this place David first brought the Ark of the Covenant. And this is where it was stored until his son Solomon built the 1st temple to the north on the plateau of Mount Moriah. So for Old Testament scholars this is sacred ground

In the area of Silwan is the Pool of Siloam where Jesus brought sight to the blind man by spitting in the dirt and putting the mud on the man’s eyes. He told him to “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam” Also see my blog about Hezekiah’s marvelous tunnel. Fascinating story.
This is also where David, 3100 years ago, first captured the then Jebusite city which became his capital . The nearby Gihon Spring is probably where David planted his gardens and it still yields fruit. Remember when you read about water and Jerusalem in the Old Testament it is probably refering to this same spring that continues to pump out water today
Also this is where King David, the first King of Israel, was finally buried.

So this discovery could be of major importance, but we will just have to wait as politics plays out its role and we probably get, to follow the money, as they say.

But now, a more personal story about Silwan that might interest you.
Ali has been my taxi driver for more than 40 years. He is a rotund little arab man who, when I first met him, was not a very good Muslim.
He favored Araq, a popular local liquor too much, and we used to tease him when he appeared to be in his cups, with ”Ali drinks too much Arak”. To which he would remonstrate “No, No, Ali not guilty”
In more recent years, Ali has gotten serious about life and Allah. He has now gone to Mecca and so is now called Haj and now refuses to drink Araq …….unless, that is, he has back slidden since I last saw him.

Ali lived and still lives in Silwan in a humble little mud walled home with his plump little wife and, probably now, grandchildren.
About 40 years ago, Judy and I were accorded the honor of being invited to have dinner in their home and we went, not quite knowing what to expect.
As I recall there were 2 small rooms sparsely furnished. In the one there was a small kitchen table with oil skin on top and with a sheet of clean butcher’s paper and on that paper was the full carcass of a roasted lamb. Three kitchen chairs were available. . Knives and forks were not provided or expected. Around the corner just out of sight in the other room sat his little wife cross legged on the dirt floor as we ate.
She did not join us nor was she expected to do so.
The meal began with Ali bringing a cleaver to the table and beginning to chop up the carcass with the fat flying in all directions, Judy reminded me.
It was a meal to be remembered. Culture shock. .
But it was an act of friendship and respect that we sincerely appreciated. Difficult for Judy as she does not like to think of where meat comes from and prefers to think of it as falling off a tree rather from a living creature. There was no escaping the fact that we were then consuming an animal that some hours ago had walked around.

Flash forward 40 years. By contrast I had dinner February in the lovely home of Bethlehem’s George Nissan who owns a large restaurant where we take our groups to eat and a large shop. It too was a meal to be remembered but for a different reason.
The Arabs are beautiful and hospitable people who treasure friendships whether they are affluent or struggling.

Herod built things to last

The huge stones at the base of the western wall of the temple mount were placed there by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus

We appreciated Ali’s hospitality as it was important for him to offer this gesture. But, as I stated,  it was a struggle for Judy to eat the lamb as it looked too much like an animal, and besides, that was all that was on the table. No salad or vegies or anything else. Just the lamb.
Well, we got it down. What else we could do?

We thanked our sweet hosts profusely and stored this tale up so that I could share it with you here and now.
Travel to other cultures sure does broaden our understanding of the world. Everybody does not live like we do in America. For some first time travelers to the Holy Land this comes as a bit of a shock.

Dr. Robert Grant has been traveling to the Holy land for more than 46 years and has gone there on more than 125 occasions as he hosts groups of friends on holy land tours. As a result he has also been dubbed  “The Holy land Guru”

written  6/24/13