Jerusalem Ophel

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The location of the Jerusalem Ophel, meaning fortified hill or risen area, of the Hebrew Bible is easy to make out from the references from 2 Chronicles 27:3; 33:14 and Nehemiah 3:26, 27: it was on the eastern ridge, which descends south of the Temple, and probably near the middle of it.


Benjamin Mazar and Eilat Mazar have excavated in the area between Herod's boxed-in Temple Mount and what is known as the City of David, consisting mainly of a saddle between the Southern Wall of Herod's Temple and the steep ridge of the City of David, stretching down till the Siloam Pool termed this area "Ophel".

Notable structures found during these excavations include architectural remains and a variety of movable objects, some dated to the First Temple period, many to the Second Temple period, as well as the Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, the latter including major findings from the Umayyad and Fatimid periods.


Today the Ophel is part of the Eastern Hill that sits between the City of David and the Temple Mount. The southern side of the temple mount was built and fortified from the Iron/Israelite period. The site was referred in the Bible as the "Ophel" (the high place) - meaning the upper city (acropolis) of ancient Jerusalem. Parts of the Biblical walls and rooms were found in the archaeological excavations at the site.



Josephus, writing about the First Jewish–Roman War (66–70 CE), uses the Graecised form "Ophlas", and places it slightly higher up the eastern ridge from the First Temple-period Ophel, touching the "eastern cloister of the temple" (Jewish Wars, V, iv, 2) and in the context of "the temple and the parts thereto adjoining, .... and the .... 'Valley of the Cedron'" (Jewish Wars, V, iv, 1). This takes us to the area of the saddle right next to the southeast corner of Herod's Temple Mount.

Archaeological Remains


Hulda Gates
The Huldah Gates, are the two sets of now-blocked gates in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. The western set is a double arched, and the eastern is a triple arched gate. Other than two Huldah gates there's another crusader era gate, which is now blocked. The southern wall gates were used to enter the temple and the western wall gates were used to exit the temple and descend from Temple Mount. The tomb of Huldah, the Jewish priestess, was probably located in front of these gates, hence the name.


Southern Steps
The partially reconstructed Southern Steps, or the broad staircase once led to the massive double and triple Hulda gates of the Temple Mount. The total width of the steps may have extended up to 200 feet along the southern wall. There were orignally 30 steps of alternating width, to make the approaching pilgrim ascend respectfully. Part of the staircase has not been reconstructed so we can see the structures beneath it.

circa 710 BE

The Large Mikvah
This large mikveh was probably used by priests for ritual bath during the Second Temple period. The design of mikveh is unusual in size i.e. 10x10 meters and is above ground. In contrast to the other mikvat in the Ophel area, the Large Mikvah is fully built and plastered structure. The mikvah has two circumferential flights of stairs, and was constructed at the center of the Ophel area on top of massive Iron Age architectural remains.


Fatimid Fortifications
Interior of the southern tower (believed to have been built by Fatimids) provided direct access to the Haram al-Sharif area from the residential and adminstrative area along the southern wall.


Royal Building
View looking north northeast at the reconstructed Royal Sturcture located north of the Gate House. Pottery shards discovered within the fill of the lowest floor of the royal building near the gatehouse also testify to the dating of the complex to the 10th century B.C.E. Found on the floor were remnants of large storage jars, 3.7 feet (1.15 meters) in height. The large replica storage jars are placed in positions where they were found. This structure and the vessels were destroyed when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586 BCE.


Mikvah Trail
This ritual bath (miqveh), one of the several others in the Ophel area, is located just south of the Huldah Gates. It is one of over forty ritual baths that Benjamin Mazar discovered in his excavations south of the Temple Mount. These baths were used by worshipers who purified themselves prior to entering the temple area — via the Double or the Triple Gates.

Notable Artefacts


The Ophel Inscription
The Ophel inscription is one of the several significant artefacts found in the Ophel excavations. It is a 3,000-year-old inscription on a fragment of a ceramic jar. It is the earliest alphabetical inscription found in Jerusalem. Eilat Mazar has dated the potsherds on which the inscription was written to the 10th century BCE.

circa 700 BCE

Hezekiah Bulla
The King Hezekiah Bulla was discovered in 2009, during the Ophel excavations. The small mud-seal was found in a cache of 33 ancient bullae in a refuse dump that was adjacent to a royal building that stored food. It was the first one to be recovered from an archaeological excavation. It is very likely that the winged-sun bulla was made late in his life.

Hezekiah, who reigned 727-797 BCE, would be known for his religious reforms and revival rejecting the apostasy of his father Ahaz (2 Kings 18:1-6), the defense of Jerusalem against Sennacherib and the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:7-19:37), and the repentance of his sin of pride (2 Chronicles 32:24-26).

circa 700 BCE

Isaiah Bulla
Dubbed as the "Bulla of Isaiah" it may not have belonged to the Biblical prophet Isaiah. According to Mazar "Without an aleph at the end, the word nvy is most likely just a personal name." The rear of the bulla of Isaiah is very rough and not finished (inspect).

circa 700 BCE

Akkadian Tablet Fragment
The small fragment is part of a Late Bronze Age cuneiform clay tablet discovered in the 2009-10 Ophel excavations by Eilat Mazar. It is a small fragment from the left edge of a letter in Akkadian. The Jerusalem letter fragment, called 'Jerusalem 1' contains no more than parts of only nine lines. The fragment is too small to allow an estimate of the tablet's original height and length.


See Also


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