When I first started this series, I aimed to discover more about the lesser-known towns and cities in the Bible. As time went on, however, I moved on to the more familiar names leaving me with one key city to investigate: Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned approximately 1000 times in the Bible and is considered holy by three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is currently the capital city of Israel, although it has changed hands so many times throughout history. According to records, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, captured 44 times and attacked 52 times. Ironically, its name can be translated into “The City of Peace”, deriving from Yireh (the abiding place) and Shalem (place of peace).
Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Book of Joshua: “Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies.” (Joshua 10:1) From here until the very end of the New Testament, Jerusalem crops up in the majority of the books of the Bible, eventually reaching the Book of Revelation and the city’s final mention: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10)
Some scholars have pointed out that Jerusalem may have been mentioned in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14, after Abram has rescued Lot from four powerful kings, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” Salem may have been the previous name of the city of Jerusalem.
The oldest non-Biblical written reference to Jerusalem is found on an inscription in the Judean lowlands of Israel. Dating from the 6th or 7th century BC, it translates as “Yahweh is the God of the whole earth. The mountains of Judah belong to him, to the God of Jerusalem.” There may, however, be earlier mentions to the city under a different name, such as Urušalim in the Amarna letters of 1330s BC and Rušalim from 19th century BC Egyptian texts.
Before Jerusalem formed as a city, shepherds regularly used the land, camping there around 7000 years ago. They were attracted to the area by the Gihon Spring, which was once the main water source for Jerusalem. Permanent dwelling places began to appear around 3000 BC and the first settlement was inhabited by Canaanites. In the Late Bronze Age, it became a small Egyptian garrison and began to prosper during the reigns of Seti I (r. 1290-79 BC) and Rameses II (r. 1279-13 BC). This period corresponds with the time of Joshua’s invasion, however, most scholars agree the Book of Joshua is not historically accurate.
The Bible tells us that when the Israelites conquered the land of Israel, Jerusalem belonged to the territories allocated to the Tribe of Benjamin. “Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth, Mizpah, Kephirah, Mozah, Rekem, Irpeel, Taralah, Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath—fourteen towns and their villages. This was the inheritance of Benjamin for its clans.” (Joshua 18:25-28) But, they “could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem.” (Joshua 15:63) King David, however, succeeded during the Siege of Jebus, which is written about in 2 Samuel. “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here.’ Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.” (2 Samuel 5:6-7)
During the 40-year reign of David, Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. King Solomon, who succeeded his father as king, built the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in what is now considered the Old City of Jerusalem. This was the First Temple, which was stripped around the time the Assyrians conquered the kingdom in 722 BC and fully destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Second Temple was started under the reign of the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 538 BC and completed in 516 BC when Darius the Great was on the throne.
Jerusalem remained under Persian control, albeit with a few besieges, until Alexander the Great conquered the Empire, bringing the city under Macedonian control. Ptolemy I gained control of Jerusalem in 305 BC, however, Ptolemy V Epiphanes lost it to the Seleucids in 198 BC. The Seleucids then lost it during the Maccabean revolt in 168 BC and it was established as the capital of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 152 BC. Pompey the Great captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, bringing it under the influence of the Roman Republic, as it was when Jesus was born. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1) Herod the Great was responsible for extending and beautifying the city. He erected walls, towers and palaces, plus expanded the Second Temple, doubling it in size.
The Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem for the purification rights required by the Law of Moses. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26) Simeon blessed the young Jesus in the temple and Anna, an elderly prophet gave thanks to God about the child.
The next recording of Jesus in the temple is also in the second chapter of Luke. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” (Luke 2:41-42) When it was time to return home, Jesus was no longer with his parents. After three days of searching, he was found in the temple asking the teachers questions. Jesus returned to the temple during his adult life and cleared out the courts, which were being ill-used. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers.”’” (Mark 11:15-17)
The Last Supper is believed to have taken place on Mount Zion, which is a hill in Jerusalem. The “upper room” or Cenacle is supposedly the same place as King David’s burial. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, is also in Jerusalem, however, it may have been outside of the city walls at the time.
The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War, which ended in 73 AD with the destruction of the city. Fortunately, Jerusalem was rebuilt and remained under Roman rule until the beginning of the 7th century. Those who have read previous articles about cities in the Bible will know many people conquered them over the following centuries. Jerusalem’s fate was no different. From the Roman period onwards, Jerusalem has been part of the following empires: Byzantine, Persian, Byzantine (again), Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Abbasid (again), Ikhshidid, Fatimid, Seljuq, Fatimid (again), Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ayyubid, Kingdom of Jerusalem (again), Ayyubid (again), Mamluk Sultanate, and the Ottoman Empire. Apart from the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Byzantine and Persian Empires, all have been Muslim empires.
The Battle of Jerusalem, which took place during World War One, left Jerusalem entrusted to the United Kingdom until 1948. During this time, the population rose from 52,000 to 165,000 and relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians began to deteriorate, resulting in recurring riots throughout the 1920s. Between 1948 and 1967, Jerusalem fluctuated between Jordanian and Israeli rule until the Six-Day War. Since then, Jerusalem has belonged to Israel.
Today, Jerusalem is known for its religious significance, however, there are plenty of other culturally important venues. Just for fun, here are a few:
· The Israel Museum
· The Bible Lands Museum
· The Rockefeller Museum
· The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
· The Jerusalem Trail
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon