Sunday, November 11, 2012

10th Century B.C.E. Egyptian Scarab, Ritual Baths Unearthed in Jerusalem Excavation

By Popular Archaeology Staff   Sat, Nov 10, 2012

Archaeologists discovered an Egyptian scarab dated to the 10th century B.C.E. during ongoing excavations in the Ophel area just south of the Jewish Temple Mount (or Islamic Haram-Ash Sharif).

Under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, a team of Israeli archaeologists, along with a group of archaeologists, students and volunteers from the Herbert W. Armstrong College in the U.S., uncovered the small but telling artifact, shedding additional light on ancient Jerusalem and the Ophel, an area adjacent to the Temple Mount that was central during the Judahite kingships described in the Biblical accounts. This small green hematite scarab, like a coin, fits easily into the palm of the hand and was used anciently to impress wet clay used to seal papyrus or parchment documents, such as letters and other forms of correspondence, including those of a governmental or royal nature. Artifacts of this type were plentiful in ancient Egypt and their presence in ancient Jerusalem during the 10th century B.C.E. suggests Egyptian influence or connections. One side of the scarab was sculpted, as is typical for scarabs, in the shape of a dung beetle. The other side depicted the ram's head, a symbol of the Egyptian god Ra. The scarab is modeled after the Scarabaeidae family of the dung beetle, which rolls dung into a ball for eating and laying eggs that are later transformed into larva, or life renewal. The scarab was thus considered an earthly symbol of the heavenly life cycle, which was incorporated into ancient Egyptian society as a symbol of the ancient Egyptian myth wherein the sun (Ra) traveled across the sky each day and transformed bodies and souls. 

Said Mazar, "The big question that we should really think about is to what extent the Egyptian cult influenced Jerusalem during the 10th century B.C.E. , during the time of King Solomon, for instance.  We saw several other items that expressed this Egyptian influence, as well."

The location of the scarab, well within the royal precinct of the ancient city near the Temple Mount, raises some tantalizing, albeit speculative, questions.

"We know that King Solomon married an Egyptian princess", said Mazar. "Was it hers?"

Other recent work in the Ophel included exploration of well-preserved remains of a number of ritual baths. Much of the plaster facing of the baths was still intact which, along with the descending steps, overall dimensions, design, and proximity to the Temple Mount, would be a telltale feature of a typical mikveh, a water immersion facility that Jewish pilgrims would use to ritually cleanse themselves before participating in Temple activities. One of the baths, a very large example, was built such that the pilgrims would have needed to ascend above ground level before entering the bath. It is the only ritual bath of its kind ever found.


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