Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.
The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.
This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.
The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.
The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.
The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.