Other scholars who have toured the site are skeptical that the foundation walls Eilat Mazar has discovered are David's palace. But they acknowledge that what she has uncovered is rare and important a major public building from around the 10th century B.C. with pottery shards that date from the time of David and Solomon and a government seal of an official mentioned in the book of Jeremiah.
For nearly 10 years, Mazar thought she knew where the fabled palace built for King David, as described in the Bible, might be just outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Now she thinks she has found it, and if she is right, her discovery will be a new salvo in a major dispute in biblical archaeology whether or not the kingdom of David and Samuel was of historical importance. For that idea, the Bible is a relatively accurate guide, but some question whether they were more like small tribal chieftains, reigning over another dusty hilltop.
Her discovery is also bound to be used in the other major battle over Jerusalem whether the Jews have their deepest origins there and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians believe, the notion of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a religious myth used to justify occupation and colonialism.
Hani Nur el-Din, a professor of archaeology at Al Quds University, said that Palestinian archaeologists consider biblical archaeology as an effort by Israeli archaeologists "to fit historical evidence into a biblical context."
"The link between the historical evidence and the biblical narration, written much later, is largely missing," he said. "There's a kind of fiction about the 10th century. They try to link whatever they find to the biblical narration. They have a button and they want to make a suit out of it." Other Israeli archaeologists are not so sure that Mazar has found the palace the house that Hiram, king of Tyre, built for the victorious king, at least as Samuel II, Chapter 5, describes it. It may also be the Fortress of Zion that David conquered from the Jebusites, who ruled Jerusalem before him, or some other structure about which the Bible is silent.
But Mazar's colleagues know that she has found something extraordinary the partial foundations of a sizable public building, constructed in the Phoenician style, dating from the 10th-9th centuries B.C., the time of the united kingdom of David and Solomon.
Mazar, 48, is the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar, a famous archaeologist with whom she trained. She got her doctorate from Hebrew University, is the widow of an archaeologist and has worked on and supervised dozens of digs on her own.
"Archaeology is technical, but you dig with a mind open to historical sources, and anything can help," she said, as she clambered over huge stones at bedrock. "I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other, and I try to consider everything." Based on the chapter from Samuel II, but also on the work of a century of archaeology in this spot, Mazar speculated that the famous stepped-stone structure excavated previously was part of the fortress David conquered, and that his palace would have been built just outside the original walls of the cramped city, to the north, on the way to what his son, Solomon, built as the Temple Mount.
"When the Philistines came to fight, the Bible said that David went down from his house to the fortress," she said. "Maybe it meant something, maybe not. But I wondered, down from where? Presumably from where he lived, his palace. So I said, maybe there's something here," and in 1997 wrote a paper proposing a new excavation in the spot, which is in East Jerusalem.
Five months ago, with special funding and permissions from the Ir David Foundation, which controls the site (and also supports Jews moving into East Jerusalem), and academic sponsorship from Hebrew University, she finally began to dig, finding evidence of this monumental public building dating from the time of David and Solomon.
Amihai Mazar, a renowned professor of archaeology at Hebrew University, and Eilat Mazar's second cousin, calls the find "something of a miracle." He believes the building may be the Fortress of Zion that David is said to have conquered, and where he lived for a time, and which he renamed the City of David. "The interpretation will be debated," he said. "But the achievement is great. What she found is fascinating whatever it is."