The Wealth of Ancient Jerusalem

I came across this fascinating story recently and wanted to share it with you. It points out how archaeologists are helping to illuminate the historical record of early Israel. It gives a glimpse into the real world of professional archaeologists who use the most sophisticated methods available to modern science to prove certain aspects of their work.

This article below shows how archaeologists are using science to demonstrate something that we in the literary world of the Bible have known all along: that Jerusalem and its surrounding area in ancient times was a relatively wealthy area. Here is a quote from a book written by my father that shows some historical evidence with some interesting mathematic computations about the wealth entering ancient Judaea.

"Besides this prophetic expectation that caused Gentiles to gravitate to Judaism, it was then profitable in a monetary sense to do so. Jerusalem and the area of Judaea in the century before their destruction were highly prosperous regions and whoever were friends and clients of the Jews had many financial gains that others did not have. The Jewish people in Judaea were relatively wealthy during this time, and this especially applied to Jerusalem where the Temple was situated. The Temple was responsible for bringing into Jerusalem huge quantities of monies and other contributions from Jews and even Gentiles from around the Roman and Parthian worlds. Note the words of Titus the Roman general (and later emperor) in a speech to the Jews just before the fall of Jerusalem:

"We [Romans] have given you leave to gather up that tribute which is paid to God [the Temple tax], with such other gifts that are dedicated to him: nor have we called those that carried these donations to account, nor prohibited them; till at length you became richer than we ourselves, even when you were our enemies" (Josephus, Wars, VI.6,2).

This tribute was the annual half-shekel payment for the upkeep of the Temple which each Jewish male from twenty years of age upward had to pay each year. This money was collected from various sites all over the Roman Empire and conveyed in many instances under guard of the Romans themselves to the Temple treasury in Jerusalem. This tribute alone (besides all the other offerings of money and animals, etc.) that was sent to the Temple amounted to a prodigious quantity of revenue each year. Let us try to understand how much in 1993 U.S. dollars this might have been. The coin in the fish that Peter caught had the value of one shekel (called a stater in Greek). This would precisely pay the annual tribute for Jesus and Peter (Matthew 17:27). A stater was equal to four drachmae with each drachma being a little more in value to a Roman denarius. A denarius, according to Jesus, was what a common laborer would receive in one day (Matthew 20:2). Thus a half-shekel would equal about two days work. Since our minimum wage in late 1993 is just under $5 an hour, a twelve hour day would gain a person about $60 at the present. Thus, two such days would be $120. Based on our "work/pay" today, about $120 is what each Jewish male over twenty would have to pay each year to the Temple treasury. Since it is reasonably estimated that there would have been between 3 and 4 million Jewish males who would pay the tribute each year, this would amount to between $360 to $500 million U.S. dollars just for the half-shekel tribute alone. That is a lot of money!" (Chapter nine, The People that History Forgot by Ernest Martin)

Now, have a look at this article just published that scientifically confirms this historical fact. What this story shows is that we who are interested in the Bible are going to be amazed at how science is going to come to the fore to teach us things that we cannot even imagine today. Technological advances are going to help us to know more about that Good Old Book and this is especially the case in the archaeological field.

Silver found in 2,000-year-old Jerusalem pottery hints at city's wealth during late Second Temple period

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH -- Jerusalem Post -- Sept 27 2006

Unusually high concentrations of silver have been found during excavations in Jerusalem's Old City by Bar-Ilan University researchers in samples of different types of pottery from late Second Temple period some two millennia ago.

It was the first study ever conducted on the silver content of archeological ceramics, said the BIU team, which worked with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They published their results in the latest issue of the University of Oxford journal Archaeometry.

The research team, consisting of Prof. David Adan-Bayewitz of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at BIU in Ramat Gan and guest at the Berkeley lab, and Dr. Frank Asaro and Robert Giauque of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the California lab studied silver concentrations in 1,200 pottery vessels from 38 sites in Roman Judea, which is present-day Israel, dating from between the late first century BCE and 70 CE.

The major finding is that samples of pottery from late Second Temple period Jerusalem had anomalously higher concentrations of silver, as compared to samples from all other non-urban sites dated to the same period of time.

Many of the samples from Jerusalem and other rural and urban sites were otherwise indistinguishable in date, shape and chemical composition.

Anomalously high silver abundances were also detected in pottery found at other urban sites (Sepphoris, Dor and Beit She'an). But many of the Jerusalem samples had higher silver values (above 5.5 parts per million) than any of the samples from the other cities.

The geographical distribution of the samples with high silver cannot be explained by natural causes, said the researchers, who deduced that the origin of the silver is related to human activity. The team also concluded that silver was washed into the pottery by the action of groundwater - but it is possible that in some cases the high silver may have been related to the use of the pottery in antiquity.

The researchers suggest that the anomalously high silver concentrations they found in the Jerusalem pottery samples may be analytical evidence of the wealth of the city during the period. The findings from this study also suggest that the measurement of silver in pottery may be a useful tool for evaluating archaeological remains and patterns of urban contamination in antiquity.

The research team notes that Jerusalem and its Temple was the religious and national focus of Jews throughout the Roman Empire during the period, leading to substantial growth and accumulation of wealth by the city's inhabitants.

The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, who lived during this time, called Jerusalem "by far the most famous city of the East." Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem contributed to the city's wealth, and continual donations to the Temple made it a target for plunder. The archeological remains unearthed in the Upper City, today's Jewish Quarter, also attest to the wealth of the inhabitants in this period.

"Our findings," says Adan-Bayewitz, "showed that the silver concentrations in many of the late Second Temple-period Jerusalem samples are distinctly higher than those from all other sites, as well as Jerusalem samples of a later date."

The team developed a new analytical method for measuring silver concentrations in archeological pottery that they found is more reliable than available techniques.

This new method was used to check the results obtained with two other techniques employed by the team for silver measurements. The research was funded in largely by the US National Science Foundation and the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation.

-- By Samuel Martin.


Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.