Author's Bias: unknown

Did Eilat Mazar Find David's Palace? (A. Faust)

The possible discovery of King David's Palace is remarkable. Despite the significant role of David in biblical history, as late as 1993, there was no archeological evidence confirming (or denying) the existence of king David; there was considerable skepticism whether he really existed or whether he was a renown king.

In 2006, Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced her findings in Biblical Archaeological Review (32:1, January / February 2006) "Did I Find King David's Palace?"

Since then, there has been debate and criticism of her interpretation of the archaeological findings. Representative of the debate is this article by Avraham Faust in Biblical Archaeological Review (38:5, September / October 2012) "Did Eilat Mazar Find King David's Palace?"

This article can be seen in its entirety at The article is provided here so that you can learn of the raw archaeological data and gain a sense of the areas of dispute in its interpretation.

On some things all agree Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar is a careful, competent excavator who welcomes even her severest critics to her site. And, unlike many, she promptly publishes preliminary excavation reports, making available the details of her finds, as well as her interpretations. Criticism of her excavation in the oldest part of Jerusalem, known as the City of David, begins even with the way she decided where to dig—based on what can be inferred from the Biblical text about King David's palace. As her critic Ronny Reich, who is digging southeast of Mazar in the City of David, put it: "From the few verses mentioning [David's palace] in the Bible, Mazar was certain she knew where it was." (1)

David's royal city

DAVID'S ROYAL CITY. The narrow 12 acre ridge, still known as the City of David, lies south of the Temple Mount and just west of the Kidron Valley. It is the location of the most ancient settlement of Jerusalem. Perhaps the world's most excavated city since the 1960s, this area of Jerusalem has been excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, Yigai Shiloh and, most recently, Eilat Mazar. Mazar has uncovered a "Large Stone Structure" she believes was built by King David as his palace. Does the archaeology support her claim?

Mazar, it should be noted, did not rely on only the Biblical text in suggesting the site. In addition to her interpretation of some Biblical passages, she refers to a number of other considerations that guided her choice of a site to excavate. (*1) Near the site Eilat Mazar (I must now use both names to distinguish her from the other Mazar mentioned later in this article) had chosen, a previous excavator, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, had found (in her Square A XVIII) a handsome proto-Aeolic capital (redolent of royal architecture of the Iron Age) together with some imposing ash-lars (large rectangular building blocks). Additional ashlars had been uncovered nearby (in Area G of Hebrew University archaeologist Yigal Shiloh's dig in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Eilat Mazar sensibly reasoned that these must have come from a large public, perhaps royal, building nearby.

There was more: Kenyon had found a system of walls (in her Area H, just northwest of Shiloh's Area G - where the Stepped Stone Structure is located) that Kenyon dated to the tenth century B.C.E., the time of King Solomon; Kenyon thought this wall system was a double parallel (casemate) city wall; Eilat Mazar felt this wall could be part of the outer system of walls that belonged to the palace. If Kenyon's date was correct, this was clearly a possibility.

On the basis of these various considerations, Eilat Mazar suggested that King David's palace is located from Kenyon's area H northward, and above Kenyon's Square A XVIII. Almost ten years after she first published her suggestion, Eilat Mazar went into the field, and in two long seasons she uncovered many walls, some of which were very massive, covering the entire excavation area (which lies south of Kenyon's Area H). Some of the large walls clearly extend beyond the area of the excavation. Eilat Mazar understood the walls to be part of a large building, which she named the Large Stone Structure (LSS), parallel to the Stepped Stone Structure (SSS).

According to Eilat Mazar's reconstruction, the Large Stone Structure is a complex system of walls, some of which are extremely massive and some smaller. She has interpreted it as a palatial complex and attributed it to King David. (*2)

Moreover, the structure's eastern wall (more than 15 ft wide) is integrated into the upper courses of the Stepped Stone Structure! Both the Stepped Stone Structure and the Large Stone Structure seem to have been part of one building.


DECADES OF DIGS. Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar's decision to dig in the City of David was informed by the biblical text and by the excavations that preceded hers (photo at top). In the 1970s and 1980s, Yigal Shiloh (above right; also of Hebrew University) excavated Area G on the eastern slope of the ridge, including the famous support structure known as the Stepped Stone Structure, and revealed imposing ashlars that had probably been the building blocks of an important public building. Before Shiloh, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon (right) had found similar ashlars of her excavation of Area H, just northwest of Shiloh's Area G, as well as an elegant proto-Aeolic capital (at bottom) suggestive of royal Iron Age architecture. Based on these earlier finds, Mazar thought that David's palace should be located nearby. When she uncovered the Large Stone Structure from the Iron Age, she proposed it to be David's Palace.

It was not long before Eilat Mazar's critics began weighing in. Four distinguished Tel Aviv University archaeologists — Israel Finkelstein, Ze'ev Herzog, Lily Singer-Avitz and David Ussishkin — published a detailed critique of her excavation based on the finds of the first season and a visit to the site. They concluded that all the walls may not be of the same period (which is true), and that most of the architectural components date to the late Hellenistic period (second–first centuries B.C.E.). (2)

This criticism was published after Eilat Mazar produced her preliminary report of the first season. While this dating was possible in light of the results of the first season (though in my view it was not plausible), the results of the second season, promptly published, refutes the lower dating suggested by these scholars. (3)

The results of Eilat Mazar's second season have resolved, in my view, the issue of the date of the structure in an almost final manner. As we shall presently see, it is clearly an Iron Age structure (i.e., from the Biblical period, not the Hellenistic period); or, in case not all of the walls belong to the same building, there was at least a large early Iron Age structure here. Although it is possible that some of the walls do not belong to this building, most of them do. It is immaterial if some of them do not.

We can be sure of the Iron Age (rather than Hellenistic) date of the Large Stone Structure for a number of reasons. Eilat Mazar exposed two (perhaps three) stratified Iron Age I layers within the building. This shows that the building, or at least the relevant parts, were built in Iron Age I, and not later. Furthermore, it should be noted that one of those layers abuts the massive wall (W20) that connects the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure. This clearly indicates that the Iron Age I remains were part of a large structure, even if some of the walls Eilat Mazar unearthed were not part of it. (4)

As we will see below, the date of the Stepped Stone Structure n the Iron Age is clear, hence proving the Iron Age date of the Large Stone Structure.

It was in her second season that Eilat Mazar connected the massive eastern wall of the Large Stone Structure (her Wall 20) to the Stepped Stone Structure. The connection between the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure has been substantiated beyond reasonable doubt. (5)

Huge walls

HUGE WALLS. Eilat Maza excavated a complex structure that includes a massive easter wall more than 15 feet wide (seen at left in this south-facing view of the building's northeast corner). Within this Large Stone Structure, as Mazar named it, were two or three stratified layers of Iron Age I remains, showing that it must have been built no later than the Iron Age I (c. 1200 - 1000 / 950 B.C.E.). Even so, Mazar identified the building as likely having been the palace that King David built for himself in the early Iron Age IIa. Archaeologist Avraham Faust argues that the archaeological evidence indcates a construction date before David's time.

But when in the Iron Age was the structure built? There are two possibilities: Iron Age I, as I believe; or Iron Age IIa, as Eilat Mazar prefers. It is important to keep the dates of these two archaeological periods in mind. Iron Age I extends from about 1200 to the first half of the tenth century B.C.E., the period of the Judges in Biblical terms. Iron Age IIa extends for about a century and a half thereafter. In Biblical terms this includes the time of the United Monarchy under David and Solomon and also much of the ninth century B.C.E. (6)

A date within the Iron Age I, and not Iron Age IIa, is supported first and foremost by the above-mentioned two (or three) levels with Iron Age I material unearthed within the Large Stone Structure.

It was in her second season that Eilat Mazar connected the massive eastern wall of the Large Stone Structure (her Wall 20) to the Stepped Stone Structure. The connection between the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure has been substantiated beyond reasonable doubt. (5)

It's all connected

IT'S ALL CONNECTED. In Eilat Mazar's second season of excavation, she demonstrated that the broad easter wall of her Large Stone Structure (W20) was in fact connected to the Stepped Stone Structure in Shiloh's Area G (see photo and drawing at right). Since the Stepped Stone Structure had been dated to the Iron Age I, this further solidified the date of the Large Stone Stucture's original construction to the same period. The photo at right shows the Stepped Stone Structure and later Israelite dwellings before Mazar's excavation atop the ridge. The drawing below incorporates the connecting walls she revealed, including the Large Stone Structure, which Mazar believes was King David's Palace.

In addition, the date of the Stepped Stone Structure might also help us determine the date of the Large Stone Structure within the Iron Age. The date and nature of the construction of the Stepped Stone Structure has been intensively studied and debated. Some scholars identify two elements in its construction, and date them separately, while others see them as part of one structure. (*3) As far as the dating is concerned, those who see it as composed of two elements date the first phase to Iron Age I (the time of the Judges) and the second phase to Iron Age IIa (the time of the United Monarchy or slightly afterward). Those scholars who see it as one structure date it to Iron Age I (the time of the Judges). Because of the findings from the early Iron Age IIa within the floors that were built on top of the Stepped Stone Structure, it is quite clear that its construction predates this period, and an Iron Age I date seems plausible. The Iron I date for the Stepped Stone Structure seems therefore to support an Iron I date for the Large Stone Structure (it cannot be later than that). (7)

If one accepts the historicity of the Biblical description of David's conquest of Jerusalem, even in its most general outlines, it is quite clear in light of the above dating that the complex was constructed in the period before this, and prior to the establishment of David's capital in Jerusalem.

But even if, as I and others believe (this view was expressed most notably by Eilat Mazar's cousin Amihai Mazar, another leading Hebrew University archaeologist), the Large Stone Structure dates to Iron Age I, the period before David's conquest of the city according to the Bible, David may still have used the structure as his palace or as a fortress.

Indeed, pottery evidence (especially from Room B) shows that the building was expanded and used (though not constructed) in Iron Age IIa (the time of the United Monarchy)


Tyred out? According to the Bible, the Phoenician
king Hiram of Tyre "sent envoys to David with
cedar logs, carpenters, and stone masons; and
they built a palace for David" (2 Samuel 5:11). Eilat
Mazar uncovered evidence of Phoenician culture,
including this delicate Cypriot juglet (above) and
ivory inlays, during her excavation of the Large
Stone Structure. As Avraham Faust points out,
however, the layer with these finds come from a
later phase of the building - not its original
construction. Faust agrees with Eilat Mazar's
cousin, archaeologist Amihai Mazar, that the Large
Stone Structure was likely built by the Jebusites in
the Iron Age I. When David conquered Jerusalem in
the early Iron Age IIa, he may well have adapted and
renovated the building as his palace / fortress, but
it is unlikely that he built it.

It is therefore quite possible, as already suggested by Amihai Mazar, that the building was the Jebusite stronghold (metzuda) that David captured when he conquered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:7), and that he used the building after he settled in the city.

Eilat Mazar nevertheless continues to maintain that David constructed the palace - even though she recognizes the evidence for an Iron Age I construction. She does this by fudging a little. There is no exact date - certainly not January 1, 1000 B.C.E. (or any other year for that matter) - on which the change from Iron Age I to Iron Age IIa occurred. There was a period of transition; the change, how-ever short, was gradual.

Moreover, the date of David's conquest of Jerusalem cannot be fixed with precision either. We cannot say that on January 1, 1000 B.C.E. David conquered Jerusalem.

Thus, Eilat Mazar argues that the Large Stone Structure - built in Iron Age I, as she recognizes - was built during the later years of that archaeological period — or rather in the transition period between Iron Age I and Iron Age IIa. And David captured Jerusalem, she contends, at the beginning of Iron Age IIa - or rather in the transition period between Iron Age I and Iron Age IIa. In short, both occurred during the transition between the two archaeological periods. Voila! David built the Large Stone Structure.

I don't think it works. Eilat Mazar's excavation has uncovered at least two layers from Iron Age I (and perhaps a third), proving that the building could not have been constructed at the end of this archaeological period. The building is likely to have existed for a considerable time in Iron Age I.

Similarly, Eilat Mazar's effort to push David's accession of Jerusalem back into the later years of Iron Age I seems forced: If we push the emergence of the Israelite monarchy to the end of Iron Age I, this will date it before the appearance of the Iron Age IIa pottery, which was unearthed in strata all over the country where evidence for the emergence of the state was uncovered. (*4) (8)

It is thus very unlikely, archaeologically, that King David was the builder of the Large Stone Structure. The finds show very clearly that it was built in Iron Age I, years before David's time.

I have not dealt with Eilat Mazar's effort to connect the Large Stone Structure to the Phoenicians who, according to the Bible, built King David's palace: "King Hiram of Tyre [of Phoenicia] sent envoys to David with cedar logs, carpenters and stone masons; and they built a palace for David" (2 Samuel 5:11). Eilat Mazar uncovered a number of elements in the Large Stone Structure reflecting Phoenician culture — for example, ivory inlays and a fine Cypriot imported jug. As she notes, the Phoenicians were "renowned, among other things, for their maritime commerce on the Mediterranean shores and their expertise in ivory carving." (9) But all the finds that she suggests reflect Phoenician influence come from (in her view, as well) a later phase of the building - the time in which the building may have been modified and changed - not the time of its erection.

It is in this phase of changes in the Large Stone Structure that the imported Phoenician pottery is found in the structure (whether indicating direct connections with Phoenicia or not). Since it is likely that the Large Stone Structure was still in use in David's time, it is not surprising to find Phoenician elements at this time.

While it is thus clear that David did not erect the Large Stone Structure, he may well have used it after his conquest of Jerusalem, perhaps as his palace / fortress. Eilat Mazar found no evidence that the Large Stone Structure was occupied in the Iron Age subsequent to Iron Age IIa. This dearth of later remains maybe the result of modern archaeological activity (most of the area was excavated prior to Eilat Mazar's excavations). More likely, however, the function of the area may have changed after David's time. It appears that when Jerusalem expanded to new areas, the area of the Large Stone Structure changed function and lost its royal / stately character, as happens very often in ancient cities. (10)

It is possible, therefore, that when a new palace was built in another place (either by King David [2 Samuel 5:11] or, more likely, by King Solomon [1 Kings 7:1–12]), the Large Stone Structure (and the Stepped Stone Structure) declined in importance, and after a while perhaps even ceased to function as a public building.

But if one wishes to end on a more optimistic note, we may suggest - at least to those who think King David existed - that it is quite possible that in an earlier period, the structure built by the Biblical Jebusites in Iron Age I served as David's palace. (11)


*1. See Eilat Mazar, "Excavate King David's Palace," BAR January / February 1997. One should note, however, that all the evidence Eilat Mazar referred to when she first suggested the palace can be excavated referred to the area north of where she finally excavated. This can be seen clearly in the plans and reconstructions she published (including the major reconstruction of her 1997 BAR article. Clearly, even if all the evidence she brought forth in 1997 were impeccably (and they are not), there was no reason to expect the palace where she excavated.

*2. See Eilat Mazar, "Did I Find King David's Palace?," BAR January / February 2006.

*3. See Jane Cahill, "It Is There: The Archaeological Evidence Proves It," BAR, July / August 1998, and Margaret Steiner, "It's Not There: Archaeological Proves a Negative," BAR, July / August 1998.

*4. See Avraham Faust, "Pottery Talks," BAR, March / April 2004.

1. Ronny Reich, Excavating the City of David: Where Jerusalem's History Began (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Biblical Archaeology Society, 2011), p. 265.

2. David Ussishkin et al., "Has the Palace of King David Been Found in Jerusalem?" in E. Baruch, A. Levy-Reifer and A. Faust, eds., New Studies on Jerusalem, vol. 13 (Ramat Gan) (2007), [Hebrew], p. 42ff.; Israel Finkelstein et al., "Has King David's Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?" Tel Aviv 34 (2007), pp. 157-161.

3. Finkelstein recently attempted to defend his criticism (Israel Finkelstein, "The ‘Large Stone Structure' in Jerusalem: Reality versus Yearning," Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 127 [2011], pp. 1-10). While accepting that some elements might be early (in contrast to his first publications), he claims that the evidence for the early dating is limited to half a room. In his discussion Finkelstein ignores much of the data, including, for example, the Iron I crucible layer which abuts the massive W20 - this means that W20 should also be dated early (below). He also challenges the connection between the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure.

4. As claimed by some of Eilat Mazar's critics. Finkelstein, for example, attempted recently(above) to claim that her Iron Age I remains are insignificant, local in nature (less than half a room), and cannot therefore date the entire building. This clearly refutes his claim.

5. Eilat Mazar, The Palace of King David: Excavations at the Summit of the City of David. Preliminary Report of Seasons 2005–2007 (Jerusalem, 2009), pp. 56-57, 63 and the photograph on p.56; see also Amihai Mazar, "Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative: The Case of the United Monarchy," in R.G. Kratz and H. Spieckermann, eds., One God - One Cult - One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 405 (Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), pp.38-39; contra Finkelstein's article "The ‘Large Stone Structure' in Jerusalem."

6. Iron Age IIb and Iron Age IIc follow, taking us down to the Babylonian destruction of 586B.C.E. Israel Finkelstein's low chronology would extend Iron Age I to the end of the tenth century B.C.E., in contrast to the conventional (or modified conventional) date which most archaeologists continue to defend, but that debate is irrelevant to the issue here and need not detain us here.

7. Reich (Excavating the City of David [p. 266]) suggests that the Large Stone Structure might date to the Middle Bronze Age – 400-500 years earlier: "I will not be at all surprised if it turns out that this building actually dates to the Middle Bronze II." In light of the above, this is very unlikely, if only due to its connection with the Stepped Stone Structure which (and this is accepted by practically all scholars) cannot be earlier than Iron I.

8. Such evidence relates to change in settlement patterns and form, to major architectural works in various sites such as Gezer, the Negev "for-tresses," etc., and even the pottery of this phase by itself might be indicative of social change. For the architectural finds, see the various discussions of the Solomonic gates, for example (regardless of what one thinks of their "Solomonic" nature); for the Negev fortresses and more, see also Amihai Mazar, "Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative"; for the pottery, see, for example, A. Faust, "Burnished Pottery and Gender Hierarchy in Iron Age Israelite Society," Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 15, vol. 1 (2002), pp. 53-73.

9. Eilat Mazar, The Palace of King David, p. 53.

10. The changes in the Large Stone Structure are paralleled in the changes in the Stepped Stone Structure. Both were, after all, part of the same complex.

11. For a fuller treatment, see A. Faust, "The Large Stone Structure in the City of David: A Reexamination," Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 126 (2011), pp. 116-130.


Győző Vőrős


("Machaerus," p. 30) is research director of the Hungarian Academy of the Arts in Budapest and has served as director of the Machaerus Project in Jordan since July 2009. A specialist in architecture, he has led excavations at Thebes, Alexandria and Paphos. He is the author of Egyptian Temple Architecture: 100 Years of Hungarian Excavations in Egypt, 1907–2007, and editor of Taposiris Magna.

Morten Hørning Jensen


("Antipas—The Herod Jesus Knew," p. 42) is associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Aarhus, Denmark. His research focuses on Galilee in the Roman period, and he is author of Herod Antipas in Galilee (Mohr Siebeck, 2006, 2010).

Avraham Faust


("Did Eilat Mazar Find David’s Palace?" p. 47) is chair of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University. In addition to participating in numerous digs and surveys in Israel and abroad, since 2006 he has directed the excavations at Tel Eton (Biblical Eglon).

Avishai Margalit


("Josephus vs. Jeremiah," p. 53) is George F. Kennan Professor Emeritus of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Schulman Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2010 he was awarded the Israel Prize for philosophy.

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