The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The First Jewish–Roman War in Jerusalem: Recent Discoveries and New Questions

Josephus` The Jewish War provides most of the historical information on the events in Jerusalem during the First Jewish-Roman War. Josephus` credibility was a serious bone of contention amongst historians. The fact that Josephus composed his work under the auspices of the Flavians and testified for some events that he could not witness in person, makes the accuracy of his account, at the least, doubtful.

In recent decades, new excavations in Jerusalem shed light on the First Revolt. In comparison to the information from the ancient texts, the advantage of the archaeological record is that it, beyond a doubt, represents realia. However, every archaeological finding is a subject of interpretation for archaeologists. My paper will review the results of a few recent excavations and discuss the interpretation of these findings by archaeologists vis-à-vis Josephus` account. Among other sites, my paper will address the excavations at the Russian Compound (described as the “The Third Wall” by the excavators R. Avner and K. Arbiv), the Ophel excavations (by E. Mazar), the paved street and the Givati Parking lot excavations (by Y. Tchekhanovets and D. Ben-Ami). I argue that archaeologists often tend to approach Josephus` account without a needed caution which is applied by historians when analyzing historical sources. This approach requires a re-consideration. My aim is to present the methodological challenges that should receive the attention of researchers. I will discuss questions such as: How cautious should we be in offering historical-geographic identifications? What is the reasonable doubt that we should cast in an attempt to assign archaeological findings to descriptions in Josephus’ account? And, should we attribute the destruction to the Roman assault by default, or should we consider the internal conflicts in the city as a prime source of destruction reflected in the archaeological record?