History of Jerusalem

(Psalm 132.13) "For the Lord has chosen Zion;he has desired it for his dwelling place."


(Psalm 125:2) "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore." 


The words of the psalmist brilliantly capture the unique situation of the city of Jerusalem. Although it is located on the Judean ridge of mountains, it was, in fact lower than the surrounding hills such as Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives, the hill that would later be known as the Hill of Evil Counsel and the Western Hill. This image readily evoked the idea that the city was under divine protection. The ancient city was, in fact, spread over a couple of hills, naturally fortified by the Hinnom Valley and the Central Valley (later known as the Tyropoeon Valley) on the west and south and the Kidron Valley on the east. It was the presence of the Gihon Spring that made settlement possible in this area, so far from the main trade routes and so close to the desert. The name of this perennial spring derives from a Hebrew root which means "to gush forth", which is exactly what this water source does intermittently throughout each day.


The City of Melchizedek ~ 2,000 B.C.


(Genesis 14:18) "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High."


During the time of the Patriarch Abraham, the city had a king called Melchizedek, which means King of Righteousness. It was on the winding path leading down from the city to the Gihon Spring that the great meeting between him, Abraham and the King of Sodom took place. This meeting happened after Abraham's rescue of his nephew Lot from the northern confederacy of kings who had taken him captive. The details of this period are scant in the Biblical record, but archaeological excavations have revealed remains of houses in a city devoid of any fortifications, appropriately enough for a city whose name, Salem, meant "peace."


The City of David 11th cent. B.C.


(2 Samuel 5:7) "David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David." 


The Israelite King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, successors to the Canaanites. In a far-seeing political move, he chose it, a city which had not belonged to any one of the twelve tribes of Israel, as his capital, thus uniting the tribes of Israel and Judah. He added a new element of fortification to the existing city walls by including offsets at regular intervals and built his palace on the highest point of the eastern hill, dominating the city, just like the Jebusite citadel used to do. When he brought up the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites had constructed in the wilderness under God's direction, he pitched a tent for it in the grounds of his palace. During this period, the Gihon Spring was protected by a massive 30 foot high tower known as the Spring Tower, already in existence since the Jebusite period.




The City of Solomon 10th cent. B.C.


(2 Chronicles 1:15)."And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah."


David's son, Solomon, built the Temple that his father had longed to build in his lifetime. The permanent dwelling that he constructed for the Ark of the Covenant was described as "exceeding magnifical" (1 Chronicles 22:5). A new royal complex was built to the south of the Temple with new city walls constructed to connect this area with the City of David. He also repaired the Millo or stone terraces originally constructed by David, thereby greatly extending the area upon which it was possible to build on the eastern slope of the city.




The City of Hezekiah 727 - 698 B.C.


(Isaiah 22:9) "You saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool."


The greatest builder in the time of the Divided Monarchy was King Hezekiah. When the city was under threat of Assyrian invasion, he built a tunnel diverting the waters of the Gihon Spring, which lay outside the city walls to the Siloam Pool, which was inside the city. He also built the Broad Wall, a massive 23 feet (7 m.) wide wall which formed part of the expanded fortifications that enclosed the Western Hill which was settled by refugees from the Assyrian invasion of the land.




The City of Nehemiah 444 - 420 B.C.


(Jeremiah 29:10) "For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place."


After the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C., the city lay in ruins for 70 years. In 538 B.C., King Cyrus the Persian issued an edict encouraging the Jews to return to their homeland. In 516, a group of exiles under Joshua and Zerubabbel rededicated the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra the scribe led a second group of returnees in 458 B.C., and in 444 B.C., Nehemiah rallied the people to repair the city walls that were broken down. The Western Hill, however, lay outside the area repaired by Nehemiah as the city contracted in size during this period.




The City between the Testaments 4th - 1st century B.C.


(1 Maccabees 1:14-15 extra biblical literature) "So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil."


In 332 B.C., Jerusalem submitted to the Greek King Alexander the Great and a process of Hellenization began to take effect throughout the city. With the rise to power of the Syrian Seleucids, things became intolerable for the city's inhabitants and they revolted seeking the purification of the city and Jewish autonomy, under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee. Between 141 - 63, the Hasmoneans (family name of the Maccabees) ruled as kings and priests. In 63 B.C. the Roman Emperor Pompey was called in to settle a dispute over succession within the family, an event which resulted in the Romans taking control of Judea.


The City in the time of Jesus 30 A.D.


(Matthew 21:10) "And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?"


From a city that had struggled under the Hasmonean dynasty to regain its original boundaries of the First Temple period, the city that Jesus knew had grown into a sophisticated Graeco-Roman metropolis. The imprint of Herod the Great was everywhere to be seen. Appointed King of the Jews by the Romans, he was renowned for the magnificent buildings he made to adorn the city. Among these were his own palace, guarded by the three towers of Mariamne, Phasael and Hippicus, a theatre and a hippodrome, all encircled by a new city wall called the Second Wall. However, it was his spectacularly beautiful reconstruction of the Temple that he regarded as the crowning glory of all his achievements. It was over such a dazzlingly transformed city that he so poignantly lamented with the words:


(Mathew 23:37) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"