2,200-year-old tiles found in Jerusalem provide direct link to the history of Hanukkah

A man holds two ceramic tiles.
Two of the roof tile fragments found during excavations at the City of David National Park in Jerusalem. (Image credit: Israel Antiquities Authority via Facebook)

A pile of ancient ceramic roofing tiles found at a national park in Jerusalem may be linked to the history of Hanukkah.

Archaeologists made the discovery during excavations at City of David National Park, located outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, according to a Facebook post by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announcing the finding.

The 16 tile fragments — which date to around the second century B.C., during the Hellenistic period — are the oldest roofing tiles ever found in Israel and were brought there during the reign of the Greek Hellenistic king described in the Hanukkah story. According to the story, Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem, defiled the temple and prevented Jews from practicing their religion, which ultimately led to the Maccabean Revolt. The event is commemorated as part of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.

Related: Ancient Israel: History of the kingdoms and dynasties formed by ancient Jewish people

The new finding confirms the presence of Seleucid Greeks in the city during this time period. 

"Until now, we had little material evidence for the presence of the Seleucid Greeks in Jerusalem," Filip Vukosavović, a senior archaeologist and researcher with the IAA who was part of the excavation, wrote in the post. "The new roof tiles discovered in the City of David provide tangible remains of the Seleucid Greek presence in the region, linking us with the story of Hanukkah. It's very exciting to encounter the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV 'face-to-face' almost 2,200 years after the events of Hanukkah."

As part of the invasion, the Greek king built a fortress using the ceramic tiles, which would have been considered foreign building materials at the time, since their fragility would have made them susceptible to the elements, according to the post.

"Tiles were very rare in our region during this period, and they were alien to local construction traditions, indicating that the technique of using tiles to roof parts of a tower or a structure inside that famous fortress was brought from Greek-controlled areas by foreign rulers," they wrote in the post.

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.

  • 7%solution
    This reminds me, I've come across a theory that Greeks were present in Galilee around the time Jesus was supposed to have been active. The theory goes that well to do Greeks built homes in Galilee where Jesus and his family worked as carpenters. Naturally, Jesus had contact with Greeks, which could explain his views about many subjects. According to the NT, Jesus was rebelling against the temple priests who lived off believers buying their way into the inner sanctuaries of the temple. The more you paid, the deeper your access into the temple. Jesus had a democratic idea about how temples should be run. He rebelled against the fact that the Hebrew God had to be corrupted with money. He wanted equal access for all worshippers. Of course, that would've put the temple priests out of business, the reason they didn't look kindly on the ideas of this uninvited preacher from the hinterlands. Galilee, around the beginning of the common era, had not been fully integrated into the Roman Empire. That's what attracted Greeks to live there. Presumably, there were no Roman tax collectors in that province. It's possible that Jesus learned about Greek philosophy while growing up, such as cynicism. He may have been taught in philosophies by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, perhaps even Pythagoras. That’s how he could've formed ideas that humans are made of flesh and a soul, an eternal part of humans. His connection to Greeks could also explain why many NT texts were written in Greek. There's also an informal backstory that Jesus traveled to Egypt as a teenager where he met with some highly educated priests. Perhaps they weren't priests, they could've been Greek philosphers who lived in Alexandria. Assuming Jesus was some kind of natural spiritual prodigy, all this could make sense. In those times, it was common that young talents had older tutors who dedicated themselves to teaching young apprentices. If someone like Jesus existed, he must've had teachers. At that time the Greeks were far ahead in philosophy and sciences. Add to that, in most communities priests were the most educated people. It would be natural, that if Jesus became interested in spiritual matters, he would've sought getting tutored by the best wisemen of his time. In the wake of Alexander the Great, Greek culture was spread from India to North Africa. Of course, Greeks probably also absorbed cultures of their conquered people. This created huge opportunities for new ideas and concepts to travel across the Greek Empire. There's no doubt, the Jesus story was revolutionary in that time. After all, back then Hebrews still sacrificed animals in their temples. Jesus put a whole new twist on the relationship with his God, who he also named his father. It's fair to assume, such ideas were unheard of in Palestine, let alone among Romans. In Roman culture, during the post Julius Caesar period, there was only one God in Rome, and that was the current Caesar. That's how Jesus was badmouthed into being executed. His insistence that he had some kind of authorization by his father, the God he worshipped, was in direct conflict with the fact that in Rome there were no Gods that existed without the authorization by the Caesar. That would've been considered heresy. Heretics had short lives under Roman rule. Whether or not Jesus lived is immaterial in this context. Important is that the NT spread ideas that eventually led to a split between feudal rulers and religion, among other profound changes in the social order.
  • Alexasaurus Rex
    While it is entirely possible that Jesus (if real) had contact with Greeks you are very wide of the mark on Roman religious tolerance. Rome co-opted the gods of other cultures, reframing them as either aspects of existing gods or just, basically accepting (stealing them) if they filled a niche and weren't 'problematic' The Emperors were part of an Imperial cult but with one or 2 exceptions they did not declare themselves the only god. Until (and for a good while after) the death of Constantine (1st Christian emperor, died in 337AD) Roman religion was still Polytheistic and didn't really have the concept of Heresy. Basically Rome did not care what its subject people believed as long as they didn't cause trouble.
    Put it another way... why would Rome execute Jesus for claiming his was the only god when the entire Jewish Faith basically agreed with him and were quite vocal about it?
  • HolyHannah
    Great timing on the article, not sure if that was planned or coincidental lol
  • HolyHannah
    Adding to the above comments:

    "Ye are Gods, children of the most high"

    Jesus never claimed his god was the only one, he informed humanity that they too are gods.
    Gods that will die like men and fall like princes, because that's the identity they embody and serve.

    And according to all the stories from various cultures about where Jesus has been and who he was in contact with, the real question becomes where didnt he go and who didnt he have contact with?

    Furthermore, your description of the violation of in the temples is extremely downplayed & misunderstood, that was merely a tipping point in something that extended far beyond that; society was replacing the divine economy with a false economy.
    "Render only to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's!"

    That being said, I can fully appreciate how you connected some of his ideals with the greek philosophers.
    Regardless of whether they were in the area or he happened across them elsewhere, I fully believe he was familiar with those teachings.