by Gary Arvidson
Part 8 – Mysterious Markings
In November 1868, Captain Charles Warren of the British Royal Engineers dug a vertical shaft 80′ down to bedrock at the SE Angle of the Temple Mount Platform (TMP). He discovered mysterious markings on the lowest courses of foundation stones. They had been inscribed by someone nearly 2000 years ago — and then immediately covered up. This was a rather “strange” procedure.
These unusual symbols had remained hidden to human eyes since the massive blocks were set into place by King Herod’s workmen. What do the marks mean? Could there be a hidden connection with King David’s
Epic adventure movies are often based on discovering lost civilizations, ancient temples, hidden tombs, and buried treasure. In times past, archaeologists have been powerfully motivated by a magnetic attraction for King David’s tomb and its fabled treasure. One scholar admitted:
The conviction that somewhere on the little SE Hill the tombs of David and his successors during three centuries were awaiting discovery, has more than once been the decisive inducement for undertaking an excavation at Jerusalem, or at any rate for selecting this hill as the field of operations.1
The quest for the lost royal sepulchers of Israel’s kings inspired prominent theories by Clermont-Ganneau. Elements of his work have been quoted earlier. He proposed and defended his views in a number of articles, the most comprehensive being in 1897. Clermont-Ganneau was so totally sold on these ideas that his fullest report began with the words:
…the discovery of the royal necropolis, where David and most of his successors were buried, constitutes beyond any doubt the capital problem of Hebrew archaeology.2
This claim becomes more understandable in light of the French archaeologist’s conviction “that these tombs would be found packed with treasures.”3 Weill’s excavations in 1913-14 were conducted in an effort to test those theories. The results consummated in discovering tombs designated as T1-T8. Then T9 was found just 10 years later.4 But as archaeologists realize today, this did not solve the continuing mystery about King David’s tomb. Simons analyzed this problem succinctly:
Nobody has ever found the necropolis of biblical Jerusalem, nor even a group of tombs large enough to point out where the dead of that city were preferably laid to rest.5
Last time we saw reasons why this quest for King David’s tomb should be for a different kind of sepulchre. [Back copies of this series are still available and may be requested.] This data also suggested reasons for shifting the tomb’s hypothesized location to the SE corner of David’s own city. The idea was based on a wide range of circumstantial evidence about the SE Angle of the TMP. That initial discussion on this hypothesized alternate location for David’s “unique” tomb will be completed in this installment. It begins with results from the first excavation at the SE Angle.
First Excavation Drawing of Shaft at the Temple Mount
In November 1868, Captain Charles Warren sunk a shaft at a position about 20′ SE of the Angle. At 53′ a galley was cut toward the wall. Realizing the lowest courses of stones had not yet come into view, the shaft was extended downward until bedrock was reached at 80′. This daring adventure provided a breathtaking discovery. The noted archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon reported:
The shafts and galleries to the east of the Haram showed the level of the rock upon which the Temple had been founded. The spectacular point is the south-east angle, where the magnificent Herodian masonry descends to a depth of 80 feet below the surface….The discovery of a builder’s mark in Hebrew characters on the stones sunk into the pre-existing levels was hailed as a most exciting find.6
The bedrock upon which this cornerstone of Herod was placed, slopes gradually uphill to the North, but drops sharply toward the East. The British engineers searched around the cornerstone’s south side to see if there were any possible means to get under it.
They found this cornerstone measured 14′ long by 3’8″ high. The block is squared and polished with a finely dressed face. It shows above the bedrock about 2′ at the corner angle. The bedrock was soft for the top 2-3′, so these ancient builders cut it down by that amount to permit the foundation course to rest solidly upon hard rock. These workmen always dug into the native rock when laying the deepest substructions.
The cornerstone is let into the rock apparently 2 feet; it is well dressed and has an ordinary marginal draft of about 4 inches at the top. It shows above the rock about 2 feet.7
Captain Warren studied this SE Angle in detail. He evaluated many aspects and then developed eight underground shafts. He measured each stone by himself. We have Warren to thank for any knowledge currently possessed about this area. In short, the first human eyes to observe these blocks in nearly 2000 years drew this reaction:
…these stones are in the most excellent preservation, as perfect as if they had been cut yesterday.8
It is a pity these great stones can no longer be examined for any new perspective they might provide about the Temple Mount. No investigation has occurred since Warren. All activity at the SE Angle stopped on January 25, 1869. The shafts became unsafe about one year after being dug and fell into disuse. They were subsequently filled in.
This would be an excellent site for future excavations. Don’t you think it is time for a thorough reexamination of these magnificent and highly symbolic foundation stones? Exposing them would reveal more of the wall’s original height as well as other capital benefits.
Mysterious Markings Drawing of the Mysterious Markings
The most intriguing aspect of Warren’s exploration at the SE Angle is not just discovering the foundation stones — or the chief cornerstone — but the unusual markings discovered on certain blocks. Captain Warren reported how this discovery “attracted a good deal of attention both among inhabitants and visitors.” The Pasha even called them “King Solomon’s Marks.9“
Nazif Pasha was very anxious to know about the “marks of King Solomon” on the wall, and I tried to persuade him to come and see them, but he would not hear of it.10
Some marks are incised characters, whereas most are painted. According to Warren’s report, the paint color is “apparently vermilion.” The most important fact is obvious. Why were the stones immediately covered over? We know it preserved the paint. Was it just a matter of convenience, or did the builders wish to obscure (and preserve) something? We know from the excavating engineers’ claims that this covering alone preserved the painted signs.
It is thought that the first four courses were buried in rich loam, and were never exposed to view after being laid deep in the foundations.11
The Most Curious Stone
The most curious stone is the 3rd block in the 2nd course, hereinafter called C2B3.12 Although other blocks have marks, none stand out as much (see: Drawing 7). C2B3 is just one of seven blocks that rest13 upon the chief cornerstone. C2B3 has the largest markings which total seven. One cannot help but wonder about the extensive Bible significance for the number seven.
The quotation cited earlier in Part 7 from The Jewish Encyclopediaabout early implications and celebrations over the cornerstone included the text of Zec 3:9.14 That verse contains a mysterious message: “upon one stone shall be seven eyes.15” Could there be a connection? Possibilities abound when attempting to anticipate biblical symbolism with an eye for hidden meanings.
Palestine Exploration Fund
The Palestine Exploration Fund immediately sought for a scholar who could interpret the mysterious signs. An official from the British Museum was secured by the name of Emmanuel Deutsch. He was asked to make a detailed examination of these writings. Deutsch appeared eminently qualified, having been schooled in Semitic and Oriental literature.
Upon descending the deep shaft and being directed to the huge foundation stones, he carefully examined them with the only form of illumination available at the time–a taper and magnesium light. He recognized most of the marks as familiar forms and declared them to be quarry signs or other marks of Phoenician masons. In his report he said:
I must now speak somewhat fully on a subject which has engaged public attention for some time, and has already given rise to many conjectures, namely, the “writings,” either painted on or cut into the stones….I have examined them carefully in their places–by no means an easy task. The ventilation at that depth is unfavorable to free breathing; nor is the pale glimmer of the taper or the sudden glare of the magnesium wire calculated materially to assist epigraphical studies. To add to the difficulty, some of the characters are partly hidden by the framework, which, let me add by the way, is about to be removed to some other shaft, in order to save expense–a process whereby the whole of these graffiti will be buried again, if not totally destroyed.16
Emmanuel Deutsch’s findings resulted in this conclusion: (1) the marks were cut and painted on the blocks during the time they were first laid, (2) they do not represent any inscription, and (3) they are Phoenician. This report indicated they were letters, numerals, and special mason’s marks. Having read the reports and summaries, those conclusions appear to be hypothetical. Consequently, we must ask: “Does this complete the story?” The mystery continues since the marks have not been decisively interpreted. One scholar noted:
The explanation of these signs as mason’s marks encounters the difficulty, that some stones have more than one sign and a few of them enough to make up a name or a word, while most blocks have none at all.17
Considering such uncertainty about the mysterious marks (especially on C2B3), how could anyone hope for a resolution? Are they numbers? Are they letters? Are they a combination of both? Could they be some kind of symbol? If so, what might they depict? That question will be examined later.
These splendid walls should be brought into the light of day once again. Would a renewed excavation here reveal more facts? Contemporary archaeologists have been unable to get a second look. A spirit of renewed inquiry with 20th Century technology might surprise society with additional understanding. Is there a message18in these stones that has not been discerned yet? In 1891 King declared:
I think all attempts to determine the exact meaning of each and all of these technical signs would, at least at this stage, be premature…I venture to predict the occurrence of similar signs on corresponding rows…may contain not only a full explanation…but also solve perhaps some other vital question regarding the plan of the whole building…must be left to the future to decide.19
What would it take to spur a renewed interest in these unusual corner stones at the SE Angle? There are several factors under consideration here: (1) the marks were made in King Herod’s day, (2) Herod was the one who raided King David’s tomb, (3) David appears to be buried at the SE Corner of the City of David, (4) the marks are at the SE Corner of the TMP, and (5) there may be a hypothetical connection among these elements.
What if the marks are some form of code pointing to something hidden? We don’t know if that could be possible, or if so, what it might be. But a conceptual relationship among these five points could exist if a literal interpretation is absent. Is that worth exploring? In a partial answer, we read from The Laying of Cornerstones by Ray Harris:
In God’s good time further knowledge of the past is certain to be uncovered for our enlightenment, and as we have already learned: knowledge previously unknown is capable of altering the meaning and significance of what we now know.20
We should not feel restricted to tenuous explanations about the marks from long ago. We are not limited by speculations 120 years old. That thinking is not the last word.
Since there is no clear-cut purpose defined for the marks, or their arrangement, the aura of mystery remains. Could they be location markers for something that is unrelated to the foundation blocks? This idea considers what is known from history about cornerstones. Messages were often concealed in the cornerstone area of ancient buildings. Therefore, further insight into the ancient use of cornerstones is worth discussing before a final conclusion is reached.
The laying of cornerstones today has significance beyond ceremony and symbolism. The cornerstone of many buildings is hollow so that when sealed into place, important records will be preserved as a time capsule.21 The Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that a cornerstone is:
A ceremonial building block, usually placed ritually in the outer wall of a building to commemorate prededication. Sometimes it is solid with date or other inscription. More typically, it is hollowed out to contain metal receptacles for newspapers, photographs, currency, books or other documents reflecting current customs, with a view to their historical use when the building is remodeled or demolished.22
Modern cornerstones often perform a superior function. They are known to contain architectural and engineering data about the structure. This storage serves a genuine need. If the records of plumbing, electrical circuitry, junction boxes, ducting, and other systems were to become lost or destroyed, a “fail-safe” record of last resort would remain in the cornerstone. These purposes can be shown to have roots in ancient times.
The cornerstone tradition began in the distant past. Ancient legends speak about a “Stone of Foundation” which goes back to Adam’s time in the Garden of Eden. We are told this stone descended to Seth and then by regular succession to Noah, who supposedly took it with him in the Ark.
Further legends carry the tradition down to Abraham, Jacob, and finally to Solomon. Although it must be obvious this story should not be taken literally, it nevertheless indicates some kind of symbolic meaning is intended. Furthermore, it illustrates the ancient nature of this tradition — and the effect on subsequent civilizations.
The cornerstone custom was strong in ancient Egypt long before Moses. Archaeology has revealed the extent to which we find the practice employed in ancient Assyria and Babylonia.
In a corner of the tower, Taylor found a perfectly preserved clay cylinder of which duplicates were found in the other three corners, a plan that proved to have been commonly followed in the case of other edifices in Babylonia as well as Assyria.23
Take special note of those words “commonly followed.” From the earliest recorded times, mankind has felt some kind of inner compulsion to utilize the cornerstone for data storage. Historically, many reasons are not completely clear, unless we are to assume: (1) it is a logical position because of its recognized importance, (2) future generations would always know where to search, or (3) there might be some “divine instinct” which has impelled men to do this.
A central fact is obvious. If any part of two walls (or even the foundation) can be located, a straight line can be drawn leading directly to the cornerstone. So if men wished to communicate their most valued information to future generations, this would be the place.
One of the most complete, yet concise perspectives about cornerstones continues from the Encyclopaedia Britannica account above. Although lengthy, it will be quoted almost in entirety because of (1) the quality of content and (2) applicability to our topic.
Exploration of ruins of ancient cities in the valleys of the Tigris, Euphrates and Nile rivers point to origins of the cornerstone custom in earliest civilizations of the near east, running back possibly 60 centuries. The earliest prototypes may have been the fragile earthen pots found at corners of royal tombs excavated in sites at the prehistoric head of the Persian gulf. At one stage of the custom, stone slabs were joined with bitumen to form a box to contain holy tablets or historical records. Contents discovered in ancient Babylonia, Chaldaea, Assyria and Persia varied from terra-cotta cylinders or prisms to plates of gold, silver and other metals….In Egypt, although cornerstones have been found in pyramids and numerous temples, rulers often laid inscribed foundation deposits in various shapes similar to figurines, amulets and sacrificial relics found in Mesopotamia. …Buildings were laid out with astronomical precision in relation to points of the compass, with emphasis on corners. Cornerstones symbolized “seeds” from which buildings would germinate and rise. Various religious rituals and Bible references spread and perpetuated the cornerstone custom.24
For this custom to go back 60 centuries takes us to the dawn of human civilization. No wonder this had such a powerful influence upon the TMP builders. Who really knows the full story about the cornerstone dedication ceremony at the TMP, and what might eventually be discovered there? A more complete perspective of ancient customs can be obtained in the published works of Lewis Burdick25 and Clay Trumbull.26
Could a “time capsule” have been placed in the ground at, near, or even under the chief cornerstone? Might there be some connection with markings on the lower blocks? We just don’t know. But this should not lead to despair. The noted Israeli archaeologist, Meir Ben-Dov said, “Questions, even more than answers, are the building blocks of research.”27
History shows there was a gradual progression in state-of-the-art development of the cornerstone custom. It occurred when ancient Israel became a world power. In his book, The Laying of Cornerstones, Harris said:
As the art of architecture progressed over succeeding centuries, the practice of deposits and of special attention to foundation and cornerstones, far from being discarded, underwent a series of refinements and increasingly invited the attention of the builders themselves. By the days of the Old Testament the terms cornerstone and foundation stone had become commonplace, so much so they were used in a figurative as well as a literal sense.28
That statement should be enough to stir curiosity in the Jerusalem Temple’s cornerstone. But what about the TMP cornerstone? We don’t know where the Temple cornerstone was located–but the TMP is a different matter.
SE Corner Hypothesis
Now it is time to suggest reasons why the SE Corner of David’s City was chosen as the most promising site for an archaeological expedition to uncover King David’s tomb. The details and map are not published here–but are reserved for Part 11 – The Treasure Map. [Drawing 8 (a topographical illustration of the Temple Mount area) and Chart 13 (a four-page listing of factors pointing to a SE Corner location) are the only guides offered at this time and will be sent to interested readers upon request.] The details will come later with full disclosure of the hypothesis and attendant reasons.
It will also be shown how certain marks on the blocks, their position, and grouping at the SE Angle of the TMP correspond to specific geographical characteristics at the SE Corner of the City of David. Therefore the location of David’s tomb can be approximated within a range of 100-150′ (+/-). The reader can probably appreciate the sensitive nature of this information, especially in the context of current events in the Holy Land. That is why the details are being held back for now. However at this time, the following general information will be stated.
The SE Corner was considered by Yeivin as a promising site for David’s tomb “…near the southern apex of the triangular City of David.” This was discussed earlier.29 To augment his claim, Yeivin suggested that Ne 12:37 had been altered to disguise the location of David’s tomb. He gave reasons why it should read:
They went up by the stairs of the City of David, at the going up of the wall, above [(the) sepulchers (of)] the House of David, even unto the water gate eastward.
If this is true, then we have a more precise means of locating David’s tomb in the SE Corner of David’s City. It would be close to “…the well-known stairs of the City of David near the apex of the SE Hill….”30 There is an additional fact. The word for “chiefest” relative to Hezekiah’s tomb (2Ch 32:33) is the same as “going up” in Ne 12:37 (request Chart 13). Simons described these ritual processions under Nehemiah’s direction and where they went in relation to key geographical points along the wall. The stairs were a critical benchmark in this procession.31 The importance becomes obvious. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible tells us:
The notice relative to Hezekiah in 2Ch 32:33 states that his tomb was “in the ascent” [Heb. maaleh] of the burial ground of the kings. This piece of information ought to be pieced together with the topographical data of Neh 3:15-16, where the sepulchers of David are mentioned in geographical sequence after the “stairs [Heb. maaleh] that go down from the City of David.”32
It was also in this particular locale where we find the “King’s Pool”33 and the “King’s Garden.”34 A corollary appears with the TMP SE Angle. We find “The King” is stamped on this place. But there are other prime considerations. This small area seems to contain a list of important items relative to the king, such as: (1) the king’s house [royal palace]35 (2) armory, (3) barracks of royal bodyguard36, (4) gates, (5) doors, (6) bars, (7) locks [“key of David” symbolism here?], and (8) sepulchers (see: Ne 3:10-19 for the listing).
Realize this is a tiny section of land between the fountain gate and dung gate. It contains a highly concentrated complex of royal installations. The hypothesis suggests that David’s sepulchre is in the midst–but toward the foot of the royal palace. You might say it is a deep sublevel under the basement of David’s house. This would place David’s tomb at the lowest point (near the wall) of David’s City. This implies the tomb is nearest to the land of Judah, David’s own tribe of Israel. Simons called it “the Pointe Sud” (point South).37 The land of Judah was “to the South” (Jos 15:20-21).
This “Point South” is the lowest position in David’s City above the strategic landmark of Enrogel (Dragon’s Well) inside the border of Judah’s land and just beneath the apex of the SE Corner of the City of David (which is in Benjamin’s land). This is where David’s son Adonijah tried to usurp the kingdom from Solomon. He held a celebration feast there prior to David’s death as part of his ploy to seize the kingdom (1Ki 1:9-11). This plan was foiled by Bathsheba (vv.15-31).
Josephus said this well (or spring38) of Enrogel was near the fountain that was the king’s paradise. Near it was Zoheleth, a large stone (serpent’s stone39) where Adonijah offered his coronation sacrifices. So this was the closest approach in Judah to David’s “Rock City” (see discussion: Part 2)–but on legal turf for Adonijah (not in Benjamin’s land).
The top peak of the SE Corner was a superior view overlooking the junction of two valleys. Earlier, it was suggested that David’s house was located here.40 Logic suggests David’s tomb would have been on the same parcel of land, but below the royal house. This location compares to the SE Angle in various ways–such as from perspectives of theology, symbology, mythology, and philosophy. There is an intrinsic kinship between these two geographical points–and not just because of panoramic viewing.
King David’s capital city was unique in the annals of Biblical literature. Part 2 contained a two-page topical summary that listed 15 major points about David’s city. One main feature was the concept of a “rock fortress.” This is symbolic to God who is like a “mountain fortress.” In numerous texts, David drew this comparison.41 Though David dwelt upon this “rock” and was safe in it, he compared all its supreme features to God (e.g. Ps 18:2).
David had an excellent precedent for this because God had been compared to the “Rock” of Israel by Moses (Dt 32:4,15,18,30). Then 1000 years after David’s time, Simon Peter (Gk petros) comes along and is contrasted (Mt 16:18) with the “Rock” (Gk petra).42 So, both before and after David, we find this “Rock” comparison with a supreme spirit-being. Peter spoke of the spiritual “Rock” (2Pe 2:4-8) as a primal entity. So did Paul (1Co 10:4). David dwelt upon the rock (fortress), and was finally buried at the appropriate place in this same43 rock fortress (Ac 2:29).
So where does David’s tomb appear to be located? What about toward the bottom of the hill at the foot of this royal residence? It would not be located toward the hilltop like with T1-T3. We must consider drainage and purity. Furthermore, Rabbi Akiba’s “conduit” statement should be considered. Frankly, I think David’s tomb is linked with T9–if it is to be linked with any tomb at all. T9 is much closer to this critical area under discussion. Therefore, the stairs44mentioned earlier could play a key role in helping to determine the exact location.
It is true that the situation of T9 on the southern tip of the hill and not far from the “stairs of the City of David” perhaps agrees well with the location of the royal necropolis according to Nehemiah, who mentions the stairs immediately before the necropolis.45
Although Simons makes this claim, he goes on to allow it in the broader sense to include T1,T2,etc. even if they are some distance away to the North from T9. But evidence suggests you cannot permit this much land surface to be included. Besides, that location is opposite Hezekiah’s tunnel, whereas T9 is South of it.
Primary indications from Nehemiah suggest this “much sought-after royal necropolis”46 is nearer the SE Corner. It cannot be in the Kidron because of drainage. But realize the Kidron is now filled with tons of debris because of destruction from the wars. The Kidron of King David’s time was much deeper than today.
Besides a few additional points outlined in Chart 13, this completes for now my hypothesis for locating King David’s tomb at the SE Corner of King David’s City. The map will come later.
Is this believable? More than that, is it possible? You must decide. The prominent Peter Sturrock, President of the Society for Scientific Exploration, made a profound statement that leaves a lasting impression. This Professor of Astrophysics and Space Sciences at Stanford said:
There is a great benefit in proposing hypotheses and theories as rapidly as possible. It’s not necessary that any one be correct. They help organize and analyze data and provide a great stimulus for further research. Astronomers are not bashful about rushing into print with conjectures when new discoveries are made, and that’s the way it should be.47
A new age is approaching called “the times of restitution of all things” (Ac 3:19 cf. 1:6). This includes restoration of the walls of Jerusalem with all that implies (Isa 60:10-12). The foundations are going to be repaired so there is no more breach (Isa 58:12). Lost knowledge will be brought back. Breaches exist in (1) physical reality as well as in (2) spiritual truth. Foundations depict both.
Jerusalem was placed “in the midst of the nations” (Eze 5:5) for a reason. There is no city on earth quite like Jerusalem, the holy place for three major world religions. The massive walls of the TMP stand clearly in focus as the future center for world attention.
If we are going to admit David prepared for every eventuality about the Temple and Mount, then minimally we should consider that he planned the original TMP of 500 cubits square that was discovered by Leen Ritmeyer. In all this, the SE Angle stands supreme for reasons specified in the text. Does it affect our understanding about where King David’s tomb might be located?
Regardless of any effect this installment may have–or what might be accomplished by an authorized archaeological endeavor–huge limitations would be placed upon any potential exploration because of political, cultural, and religious pressures. Any attempt to resolve these questions by scientific means may be thwarted until Messiah’s arrival. Till then, the SE Angle stands as a silent sentinel awaiting the day of its restoration.
Part 9–In the next installment we will begin to examine texts in Daniel that appear to discuss some of the contents that had been removed from King David’s Tomb by Herod the Great. Expect several surprises as we launch a detailed examination of texts that have been misunderstood for ages. This claim is based upon an authority to be disclosed. But that is getting ahead of the story. You will have to be the judge of this critical material.