In the heart of the Jewish Quarter, where a modern day visitor would least expect it to be, there is a remnant of a wall that is impressive in its height and especially in its breadth. What is the purpose of such a massive wall, who erected it and why is it so broad? These are just a few of the questions that immediately come to mind. In fact, the excavators who discovered the wall were surprised, and the answers were not easily found.
Initially, due to its breadth of approximately 7 meters, the excavators who revealed it believed that it was the “broad wall” mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah (King James Version, Nehemiah 12:38). Later on, following the analysis of pottery fragments and other findings, the wall was dated to the First Temple period. It is part of the ramparts of Israelite Jerusalem, and in light of this some call it “The Israelite Wall”. Others call it “The Avigad Wall”, after Nachman Avigad, the archeologist who unearthed it.
This find put to rest a long-running scholarly debate over the size of the city of Jerusalem during the First Temple period. Until the Broad Wall (in Hebrew: HaHoma HaRehava) was discovered, most scholars believed that the capital of the Kings of Judah, up to the destruction of the First Temple, spanned an area not much larger than the city had been in the time of King Solomon. This view, which limited Jerusalem of the First Temple period to the Temple Mount and the City of David to its south, was discredited by the Broad Wall being discovered so much further to the west.
There is a consensus among archeologists about dating the Broad Wall to the First Temple period, but which of the Kings of Judah was the one to build it? There are a number of different theories. One theory ties the wall to the prophecies of Jeremiah and claims that it was built by King Jehoiakim. A different theory holds that the Broad Wall was built by King Hezekiah at the end of the 8th century BC. Both of these theories are based on biblical references.
The western part of the Broad Wall cuts through the remains of a house, apparently one of a group of houses built outside the original walls of the city as it expanded (perhaps this was where the “new quarter” of Jerusalem repeatedly mentioned in the Bible – 2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22, Zephaniah 1:10 – was located). The house appears to have been evacuated by royal decree and destroyed in order for the Broad Wall to be built in its place, while some of its stones were used to fortify the new wall. In modern terms, this would be called evacuation and expropriation for public purposes.
The fact that the Broad Wall stands on the foundations of a destroyed house illustrates the words of the prophet Isaiah, “And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall.” (King James Version, Isaiah 22:10). Isaiah was referring to King Hezekiah’s fortifications, which may have included enclosing the unwalled houses on the western hill within a defensive wall, against an Assyrian invasion. This fits the theory that the Broad Wall was built by King Hezekiah.
Alternatively, the house that was destroyed in order to build the Broad Wall could be a demonstration of the prophet Jeremiah’s words, “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong” (King James Version, Jeremiah 22:13). Jeremiah was possibly referring to King Jehoiakim, who built his palace in Jerusalem at the expense of houses that had been there previously. This reading fits the theory that the Broad Wall was built by King Jehoiakim.
Nowadays it is widely accepted that the Broad Wall dates from the 8th century BC and was built in the time of King Hezekiah. During his rule, the Assyrian Empire attacked Judah and pressed Jerusalem to surrender. The great drama that then unfolded is recorded in the Bible in the books of Kings and Isaiah, which emphasize how Judah and Jerusalem stood up to the Assyrian Empire.
The 7 meter wide Broad Wall was exposed for a length of 65 meters. Of these, a 45 meter section from north to south is currently visible. The Broad Wall continues to stretch westward, buried beneath the Jewish Quarter’s new houses, until it reaches today’s HaYehudim Street. There may have been a gate in this section of the Broad Wall.