JERUSALEM -- An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the legendary citadel captured by King David in his conquest of Jerusalem, rekindling a longstanding debate about using the Bible as a field guide to identifying ancient ruins.
The claim by Eli Shukron, like many such claims in the field of biblical archaeology, has run into criticism. It joins a string of announcements by Israeli archaeologists saying they have unearthed palaces of the legendary biblical king, who is revered in Jewish religious tradition for establishing Jerusalem as its central holy city -- but who has long eluded historians looking for clear-cut evidence of his existence and reign.
The present-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also wrapped up in the subject. The $10 million excavation, made accessible to tourists last month, was done in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem and financed by an organization that settles Jews in guarded homes in Arab areas of east Jerusalem in an attempt to prevent the city from being divided. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future independent state.
Mr. Shukron, who excavated at the City of David archaeological site for nearly two decades, says he believes strong evidence supports his theory. "This is the citadel of King David, this is the Citadel of Zion, and this is what King David took from the Jebusites," said Mr. Shukron, who said he recently left Israel's Antiquities Authority to work as a lecturer and tour guide. "The whole site we can compare to the Bible perfectly."
Most archaeologists in Israel do not dispute that King David was a historical figure, and a written reference to the "House of David" was found in an archaeological site in northern Israel. But archaeologists are divided on identifying Davidic sites in Jerusalem, which he is said to have made his capital.
Mr. Shukron's dig, begun in 1995, uncovered a massive fortification of five-ton stones stacked 21 feet wide. Pottery shards helped date the fortification walls to be 3,800 years old. They are the largest walls found in the region from before the time of King Herod, the ambitious builder who expanded the Second Jewish Temple complex in Jerusalem almost 2,100 years ago. The fortification surrounded a water spring and is thought to have protected the ancient city's water source.
The fortification was built 800 years before King David would have captured it from its Jebusite rulers. Mr. Shukron says the biblical story of David's conquest of Jerusalem provides clues that point to this particular fortification as David's entry point into the city.
In the second Book of Samuel, David orders the capture of the walled city by entering it through the water shaft. Mr. Shukron's excavation uncovered a narrow shaft where spring water flowed into a carved pool, thought to be where city inhabitants would gather to draw water. Excess water would have flowed out of the walled city through another section of the shaft Mr. Shukron said he discovered -- where he believes the city was penetrated.
He says no other structure in the area of ancient Jerusalem matches what David would have captured to take the city. The biblical account names it the "Citadel of David" and the "Citadel of Zion."
Ronny Reich, who was Mr. Shukron's collaborator at the site until 2008, disagrees with the theory. He said more broken pottery from the 10th century BC, presumed to be King David's reign, should have been found if the fortification had been in use then.
Mr. Shukron said he found only two shards that date close to that time. He believes the reason he didn't find more is because the site was in continuous use, and old pottery would have been cleared out by David's successors. Much larger quantities of shards found at the site date to about 100 years after King David's reign.
Mr. Reich said it was not possible to reach definitive conclusions about biblical connections without more direct archaeological evidence. "The connection between archaeology and the Bible has become very, very problematic in recent years," he said.