Apologetics, Archaeology, Main, z60
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What do the remains of two dead dogs tell us?


Credit: Ezio Melotti/Flickr/Creative Commons (Modified)

Credit: Ezio Melotti/Flickr/Creative Commons (Modified)

There is a verse in the book of Nehemiah that I have always found a bit odd.

After Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, it basically assimilated the Israelis who were in exile under the Babylonians.

The Book of Nehemiah records how the Persians allowd Nehemiah — a cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes I (also known as Longimanus 465-424 BC) — to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.

Three days after he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah decided to inspect the walls. Because of the various political factions in the city, he did it under the cover of darkness to hide what he was doing.

Then we read this puzzling verse:

“And I arose in the night, I and a few good men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting in my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal which I was riding. (Nehemiah 2:12-15)

Nehemiah rode a horse, but then specifically adds he took no other animals with him. It always puzzled me why he mentioned taking no other animals. What was he referring to and why was it so significant that he included it in the text?

The answer to this question may have been discovered 22 years ago.

Despite resistance from a several factions in the city, Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem, including the wall.

On November 8, 2007 at a conference held on archaeology at Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Dr. Eilat Mazar —  a top Israeli archaeologist — stunned the crowd when she announced finding a remnant of Nehemiah’s wall.

Two years earlier, Dr. Mazar had uncovered the remains of King David’s palace. Near the wall of the palace was the remains of an old stone tower. Built on a slope, Mazar’s team noticed it was starting to slide indicating imminent collapse. This forced the group to restore the tower resulting in an exciting six-week dig.

Mazar said:

“Under the tower we found the bones of two large dogs — and under those a rich assemblage of pottery and finds from the Persian period [6th and 5th century.]”

The pottery

According to Mazar the discovery of this much older Persian pottery shows the tower was constructed much earlier than previously thought — 500-400 AD — during the time Nehemiah served in Artaxerxes’ court.

Archaeologist Todd Bolen reported on his blog that one piece of pottery had a Persian seal imprinted on it from the fifth century. Seals were traditionally used by Royalty, those in government or with wealth to signify ownership.

Nehemiah returned to Israel with a large contingent of people from the Persian captivity. They undoubtedly brought Persian pottery with them and since Nehemiah worked for Artaxerxes, this included items from the Royal Persian household.

Mazar added “no later finds from that period were found under the tower.”  She said to hold the view the tower was built later — say in the second or first century — would leave a chronological discrepancy of 400 to 500 years.

The dogs

Perhaps just as significant as the pottery was the discovery of the remains of two dogs.

The Persians had a tradition of burying dogs. A cemetery consisting of the remains of 800 dogs was found in a Persian cemetery in the city of Ashkelon used between 500 BC and 400 BC coinciding with the time of Nehemiah. The Persians buried the hunting dogs in shallow graves and all seemed to have died of natural causes. According to archaeologist L. E. Stager, the burial of the hunting dogs may have had a cultic or religious significance for the Persians.

The discovery of dog bones at the site of the old wall suggests a similar tradition corresponding with the Persian practice common in Nehemiah’s day.

We know from the Biblical record that Nehemiah had a Persian military escort when he made the journey (Nehemiah 2:9). The hunting dogs were undoubtedly part of this group serving as both hunters and watch dogs or they may even have been owned by Nehemiah and his family.

If you were doing a secretive midnight inspection of a wall, and wanted no one to find out about it, the last thing you would do is take along dogs. We have owned dogs for years and if my experience with the animals is any indication, at night they would be barking at everything real or imagined announcing your presence to everyone in the city.

The graves of these two dogs tell us a man with Persian connections built this wall.

The tower

Prior to this discovery of the Persian artifacts beneath the tower, archaeologists generally believed it dated somewhere between 142 to 37 BC. However, Mazar’s discovery puts the tower or at least its base clearly in Nehemiah’s day.

After his arrival, Nehemiah focused his attention on rebuilding the walls and repairing the gates. Nehemiah also specifically mentions working on various towers including the Tower of Furnaces (3:11), the angle and tower (3:25), water gate tower (3:26), the great projecting tower and the Ophel wall (3:27) and the tower of Hananeel (12:39).

Towers were necessary to protect the gates which were the most vulnerable areas of attack. It’s probable this tower was one of those mentioned in Nehemiah.

Sources:

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