The king sat up in his bed and wondered what mischief he could carry out today. He knew he was a bad man. In fact, he reveled in the reputation. His father, Hezekiah, had been known as the godliest of all Judah’s monarchs. Manasseh, however, would be remembered as the exact opposite. When you can’t live up to dad’s rep, you make your own.
He stood and walked to a window of his palace. The decorated sill was made up of a series of small capitals, each carved with the national symbol of a stylized palm. Leaning his arms on the stone, he stared at the Temple Mount and the City of David. His hatred for God welled up inside of him once again as he watched the priestly activity at the temple. They were so pious in their actions. Their very existence was a daily accusation against him. He’d have to change that. A bloody purge of the Levites was in order. Maybe he’d even set up an Asherah pole in the temple. Let’s see what the priests would do with that! Smiling, he turned away to begin his day.
Last November, as archaeologists were surveying an area ahead of the construction of a visitor center, a “discovery of a lifetime”i was uncovered. The remnants of a palace or a luxurious mansion dating to the 8th century B.C. were dug up revealing a trove of artifacts. This was the time of evil King Manasseh. Because of its size, ornateness, and prime city-and-temple-viewing location on a ridge south of the old city of Jerusalem near the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, many believe that this was the palace of the king.ii The structure is believed to have weathered numerous regimes, until finally being destroyed in 586 B.C. during the invasion of the Babylonians.
Included amongst the finds were numerous capitals – the broader sections at the head of a pillar or column. Two were large and several were small, and each was decorated front and back with the traditional “palmette” relief that can be found, along with the menorah, on the obverse of the modern Israeli five shekel coin.iii The large ones would have topped two of the many columns within the palace. The smaller ones had niches that allowed them to interlock, and are believed to have been part of an elaborate windowsill decoration.iv
There is a mystery surrounding the large capitals. When the Babylonians came in, they destroyed all they could, and they weren’t neat about it. These two large capitals were not just strewn about, as were the rest of the artifacts. These stone carvings were neatly stacked one on top of the other.v Anomalies always lead to speculation, and this one is no exception. When it was evident that the Babylonians were about to take over, were these two capitals buried for safe-keeping? Did a priest come and hide the capitals away in some secret niche in order to protect their sacred symbols? Unfortunately, in the world of archaeology, most mysteries are never conclusively resolved.
The Bible is the true Word of God. Archaeology is a tool that both backs up the historical truths of Scripture and brings its stories to life. Amazing ancient discoveries like the decorated windowsill capitals allow our minds’ eyes to take the players in the events of the Bible, give them actual flesh and blood, and watch them as they play out the words that are written on the pages.
i Schuster, Ruth, and Ariel David. “Ruins from First Temple-Period Palace Found in Southern Jerusalem.” Haaretz.com, Haaretz, 6 Sept. 2020, www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-ruins-from-first-temple-period-palace-found-in-southern-jerusalem-1.9125375.
ii Govier, Gordon. “Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.” News & Reporting, Christianity Today, 15 Dec. 2020, www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/december/biblical-archaeology-new-discoveries-2020-bible-artifacts.html.
iii “Mystery of ‘Magnificent Palace’ Found in Jerusalem.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Sept. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-54006773.
iv Ruth Schuster and Ariel David.