Dr Eilat Mazar, queen of archeology of Jerusalem, has died
PProminent Jerusalem biblical archaeologist Dr Eilat Mazar has died today at 64, after a three-year battle with serious illness. Dr. Mazar leaves behind a rich legacy of biblically significant discoveries, including the discovery of King David’s Palace, Nehemiah’s Wall, the Solomon Islands Gate in Jerusalem, as well as numerous finds related to biblical figures.
An indomitable woman of strength and determination, Dr. Mazar unabashedly believed that the Bible was the most important source of the excavations of ancient Jerusalem. And when the findings on the ground matched the content of the Scriptures, Dr. Mazar never shied away from “letting the stones speak”. As such, Dr. Mazar was a champion of true scientific discovery in ancient Jerusalem.
During Dr. Eilat Mazar’s archaeological excavations in ancient Jerusalem, four biblical figures were confirmed as historical figures. In the City of David, Dr. Mazar discovered the seal imprints belonging to two of the accusers of the prophet Jeremiah, Gedaliah, son of Pashur and Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, both mentioned in Jeremiah 38: 1, and discovered in 2005 and 2006. In 2009, while digging on the Ophel, an area just south of the south wall of the Temple Mount, Dr. Mazar discovered the seal impressions of King Hezekiah of Judah and Isaiah.
The seal print of King Hezekiah, which was made public in 2015, remains the only biblical king of Judah ever discovered in controlled scientific excavations. His discovery was also the personal highlight of Dr. Mazar’s long career in excavating Jerusalem, which spanned five decades.
As a child, Eilat worked alongside his grandfather, the late Professor Benjamin Mazar, on the excavations of the Temple Mount. Benjamin Mazar was a founding father of the modern Jewish state; he played a central role in the creation of the Hebrew University and the Israel Exploration Society, as well as many other intellectual and public institutions.
As a child, Dr. Mazar visited archaeological digs all over Israel. Together with her sister (Tali), young Eilat served tea and coffee at her grandfather’s weekly meetings in the living room of Israel’s most important figures. When Eilat finished her tenure in the military, she literally ran to the admissions office at the Hebrew University. She studied archeology and the history of the Jewish people.
In 1981, after obtaining her baccalaureate, Eilat participated in the excavations of the City of David led by Professor Yigal Shiloh from 1981 to 1985. A few weeks after the start of the work, she was given her own area to supervise. For her master’s thesis supervised by Professor Nahman Avigad of the Hebrew University, Eilat studied findings from the First Temple period during earlier excavations in the Ophel area, just south of the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
In 1986, Eilat convinced her grandfather to return to the field and join her as the co-director of a small dig in the southernmost area of the Ophel. Benjamin agreed and almost immediately the couple discovered remains of the First Temple-era gatehouse (the first ever found in Jerusalem). In 1997, Dr Mazar obtained his doctorate. of the Hebrew University for a comprehensive pioneering study of the Biblical Phoenicians based on its ongoing excavations (which began in 1984) at the key Phoenician site of Ashziv (northern shores of Israel).
In 1997, Dr Mazar wrote an article for Biblical archeology journal suggesting the location of King David’s palace based on the description in 2 Samuel 5:17 that King David “came down” to his city. She speculated that the ruins of David’s palace must have been in the northern part of the City of David. In 2005, she received funding and permission to start an excavation. Within weeks, Eilat had discovered massive walls, indicating the presence of a large structure, which dated from the time of King David.
Dr Mazar conducted three phases of excavations in the City of David between 2005 and 2008. She found more evidence of David’s palace, as well as other notable artifacts supporting the Biblical account, including the seal imprints of two Biblical figures mentioned in Jeremiah 37 and 38, as well as part of the wall hastily constructed by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:15).
In 2009, Dr Mazar returned to the Ophel to excavate. This excavation and three other excavations (2012, 2013, 2018) revealed an extraordinary story. The finds include a massive city wall from the time of King Solomon, the Menorah Medallion Treasure, dozens of coins relating to the first century Jewish uprising, and two biblical seal imprints: one belonging to to King Hezekiah of Judah and the other belonging to Isaiah.
With the death of Dr. Mazar today, Jerusalem loses its queen of biblical archeology. Nonetheless, the significance of his findings will resonate for years to come. She will be dearly missed during the excavations of ancient Jerusalem and in the hearts of all those she touched with her passion, sincerity and grace. More particularly, his sister, his daughter and his three sons.
At Watch Jerusalem, we are deeply saddened by his death, but we will strive to maintain his legacy as well as his archaeological method and let the stones of ancient Jerusalem continue to speak.