537 to 430 B. C. Part 2
The mere mention of the Jerusalem stirs thoughts and memories of sacred history. It has been the Holy City through the ages, and sacred to three faiths that have been founded in the Middle East – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is difficult to select a specific historical period in which to study Jerusalem since its importance extends throughout the entire biblical era. There was no time during biblical history, though, when Jerusalem was more the center of focus than the restoration period.
The exiles returning from Babylon were intent on rebuilding the temple and reestablishing the city as their religious and cultural center. In this section, we will seek to better understand and appreciate the experience of the psalmist who declared: “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem !”
Location of Jerusalem
The name Jerusalem means “foundation of peace.” The abbreviated form of the name is Salem, and it appears three times in Scripture – Gen. 14: 18; Ps. 76: 2; Heb. 7: 1. The city is situated 33 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea and 15 miles west of the north end of the Dead Sea and stands at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. It is located at the crest of the mountains of the Judean hill country and was originally included in the tribal inheritance of Benjamin.
The city lies just east of the north-south watershed of the hill country and was selected with three primary reasons.
The site has an unfailing water source in the Gihon Spring.
The site was very suitable for defense under the conditions of ancient warfare because deep valleys protected it from the east, south, and west. It was only accessible from the north, where the spur on which the city is situated continues without any change in elevation.
It lay just east of the north-south travel route that stretched south to Beersheba and north to the Valley of Jezreel. Routes also extended northwest to Joppa and east to Jericho.
One thing that Jerusalem did not have in its immediate vicinity was rich agricultural land. Yet its political and religious importance were sufficient compensation for this lack of agriculture.
Mountains of Jerusalem
Psalms 125:2 declared that “As the mountains are around Jerusalem, so the Lord is around his people…” This is indeed the case, as mountains totally surround the city, and the city itself is situated on a 2,200 foot mountain known as Zion. This was the home of Melchizedek, king of Salem, who brought out bread and wine to Abraham. It was also the site of the Jebusite fortress captured by David and made his capital – “the City of David.”
Just north of Mount Zion is 2,425 foot Mount Moriah, which is traditionally identified as the mountain where Abraham offered his son Isaac. It was also here that David bought the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite and erected an altar. Solomon later built a magnificent temple on this site. Even though Mount Moriah is several hundred feet higher than Mount Zion, the mountain itself is almost indiscernible now, for Herod erected a 23 acre platform that artificially leveled the mountaintop when he built his temple there.
West of Mount Zion is what is known as the Western Hill, or traditional Zion. When David’s original city was abandoned because of its small size, the name Zion was transferred to the Western Hill because of its higher elevation of 2,550 feet and its dominant position. There the crusaders located the supposed sites of David’s tomb, the “upper room”, and Mary’s death. The hill also may be the “Gareb” of Jeremiah 31:39, and was also the site of the Acra fortress that commanded the temple area during the Maccabean Period. It was during this time that the Western Hill became enclosed within the walls of Jerusalem.
Just east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley is the Mount of Olives which is 2,700 feet. The “mount” is actually a north-south ridge that parallels the valley. The Mount of Olives was first mentioned in the Old Testament when David is seen ascending it as he flees from Jerusalem during Abasalom’s revolt. Solomon built high places for Chemosh and Molech, gods of his foreign wives, here also. It is for this reason, that the southern section of the ridge has been known as the mount of “offence or corruption”. Jesus frequented the mount, prayed there in the Garden of Gethsemane at its foot, and ascended from its summit into heaven.
Several miles south of Jerusalem is another hill, on which is now situated a modern U.N. Complex. This hill is traditionally known as the Hill of Evil Counsel. From its summit is a splendid view of Jerusalem and the temple area.
Valleys of Jerusalem
The mountains in and around Jerusalem are separated by three valleys which form the shape of a lopsided pitchfork. The left fork is the L-shaped Hinnom Valley, which curves around the western and southern base of the Western Hill. This valley had an evil reputation in the biblical period, for it was there that Ahaz and Manasseh carried on child sacrifice to Baal and Molech. The center fork is the Tyropoeon Valley that is mentioned by Josephus as being the valley of the “cheesemakers.” It runs in a southeasterly direction between the Western Hill and Mount Zion, joining the Hinnom just south of Zion, the City of David. This valley has just about been obliterated in the course of time, as it filled with the rubble from the periodic destructions of Jerusalem.
The right fork is the Kidron Valley, which runs north and south between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. The pitchfork is considered lopsided because the right fork, or Kidron Valley, continues on southward to become the handle. South of Jerusalem, both the Hinnom and Tyropoeon Valleys join the Kidron, and then they extend southeasterly through the Judean desert to the Dead Sea. David crossed the Kidron as he fled from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt. It was also in the Kidron that Josiah burned the idols of Baal and Asherah. Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley after leaving the upper room to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Climate of Jerusalem
Jerusalem has such a pleasant climate that many of today’s Israelis work in Tel Aviv and live in Jerusalem. A warm sun penetrates even the winter chill, and a mild Mediterranean breeze reaches the city about noon and brings cooling relief from the hot summer sun. The city receives about 23 inches of rainfall annually.
The highest temperatures are reached in July and August and average 74° F. The lows come in January and February and average around 48° F. When visiting modern Israel, Jerusalem is probably the most pleasant and convenient place to find accommodations. Most biblical sites, except for those in Galilee, can be reached within an hour and a half of travel time from Jerusalem.
Water Sources Of Jerusalem
The ancient water sources of the Holy City included springs, cisterns, and pools. The Gihon Spring issues from the Kidron Valley just below the City of David. It was the main water source of the ancient city. It was here that Solomon was anointed and declared king by Zadok and Nathan. It still yields clear, cool water. Just south of the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys is Enrogel, which is a spring just on the outskirts of Jerusalem. This was the coronation site for Adonijah when he attempted to usurp the throne of Judah.
In preparation for this rebellion against Assyria, King Hezekiah of Judah blocked access to the Gihon from the Kidron Valley and constructed a 1600 foot tunnel to channel the water beneath the City of David to a reservoir he built on the south end of Jerusalem. This reservoir was called the Pool of Siloam. It is referred to in the Old Testament as Shiloah, or Shelah. It was the place where Jesus sent the blind man to wash and regain his sight. The construction of the tunnel and the strategically located Pool of Siloam ensured a water supply for Jerusalem during the Assyrian siege and prevented the enemy from using the springs. An exciting adventure for the more adventurous visitor to Jerusalem is to wade through Hezekiah’s tunnel from the Gihon Springs to the Pool of Siloam. You must wear old clothes, though, and be sure to carry a flashlight.
In ancient times the springs near the city provided sufficient water supply for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. As the population grew, though, they had to be supplemented. This led the Israelites to construct cisterns that were dug into the limestone and plastered to ensure that they were watertight. The mouth was usually about 2 feet across and the pit about 15 to 20 feet deep. Rainwater was channeled into the cisterns during the winter, and the stored water could be used during the long and dry summer. The city of Jerusalem is honey-combed with ancient cisterns, with many of them still functional today and holding a reserve of water for times of emergency.
There were also many pools in Jerusalem during the biblical period. The Old Testament mentions the upper pool, the lower pool, the old pool, the King’s Pool, and the Pool of Shelah. In the New Testament, there was the Pool of Bethesda, located near the Sheep Gate and north of the temple area. The double pool was noted for its five covered porches, and was the place where Jesus healed the lame man who had been sick for 38 years. The Solomon’s Pools were built about nine miles south of Jerusalem during the second temple period to store the water that came forth from the strong springs in the vicinity. This water was then channeled from the three pools via stone conduits to Jerusalem.
The next text will cover the history of Jerusalem.