537 – 430 B. C. Part 3
The History of Jerusalem
The history and expansion of the Holy City can be considered under six major historical periods: Canaanite, Israelite, Post-Exilic, Intertestamental, Herodian, and Post-Biblical (A.D. 70 to Present).
Canaanite Period (2100 – 1010 B. C.)
The first historical mention of Jerusalem in Scripture is in Genesis 14:18 as Salem. It is recorded that Abraham honored Melchizedek by giving him a tenth of the spoil he had captured. On Mount Moriah, just north of the site, Abraham later offered up Isaac according to Genesis 22: 2. At the time of the conquest, Jerusalem’s King Adoni-zedek headed a confederacy of the southern Canaanite kings who opposed Joshua. The reappearance of names ending in ‘Zedek’ indicates that Jerusalem had been ruled by generations of kings who were also priests. Although Adoni-zedek was killed, Jerusalem does not appear to have been captured by the Israelites at this time. The city was later taken by the tribe of Judah, only to be reoccupied by the Canaanite-affiliated Jebusites. During this early period, only the small fortress of Zion was occupied.
Israelite Period (1010 – 586 B. C.)
Jerusalem remained a Jebusite fortress until David conquered the city and made it his capital, after reigning 7 1/2 years in Hebron. Zion – the City of David – was a choice location for the capital, since the site was not only easily defended but centrally located. David built a house for himself in the city and brought the ark there. He died and was buried in Jerusalem after reigning there for 33 years.
Solomon was responsible for the expansion of the city northward to include the geographical site of Mount Moriah. There, with the aid of Hiram and the Phoenicians, Solomon built the first Jerusalem temple. The walls of the city were extended northward to surround and protect the temple area. During the divided monarchy, Jerusalem continued to serve as the capital of the southern kingdom without significant changes until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B. C.
Post-Exilic Period (539 – 424 B. C.)
After the seventy year Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem was repopulated with Jewish exiles during their first return under the leadership of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel. Later, as we have already seen, the temple was rebuilt, the worship institutions were reestablished, the city itself was restored and fortified. But Jerusalem remained within the same basic confines established by the original Israelite occupation. From the restoration period has come the most complete description of the walls, towers, and gates of Jerusalem.
Intertestamental Period (424 – 40 B. C.)
The next text will give more general historical details of this period. It spanned the decline of Persian rule, Alexander the Great, Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule, Hellenization, the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean era, and the beginnings of Roman domination. Twelve years after the relatively peaceful entry of Alexander the Great into Jerusalem, Ptolemy I of Egypt partially demolished its fortifications. When the city was seized by Antiochus III in 198 B. C., virtually all of Palestine went from Ptolemaic to Seleucid control. Antiochus Epiphanes IV, in 168 B. C., reduced Jerusalem to the lowest point of its history when he destroyed the city’s walls and desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the holy altar, as part of his program of Hellenization. This was the incident that precipitated the Maccabean revolt, led by Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons.
After a succession of other military victories by Judas Maccabaeus, most of the Holy City was captured and worship restored in the temple in 164 B. C. Previous to this, the Hellenizers and their one-time Syrian-Seleucid allies had divided the city, with the Jews occupying the Lower City (Mount Zion and the temple mount), and the conquerors occupying the Upper City (Western Hill), protected by a fortress called the Akra. This Seleucid citadel defied capture by the Maccabees until 141 B. C., when Simon Maccabaeus demolished the Akra and lowered the hill on which it stood. He did this in hopes of preventing future domination of Jerusalem by foreign invaders. Protective walls were erected to safeguard the Upper City, and a palace was built on Akra’s ruins, with a bridge across the Tyropoeon Valley that linked the Upper City with the temple area.
During the land’s nearly hundred years as a nation following the Maccabean revolt, Jerusalem regained its importance as a Judean administrative and religious center. Eventually political devisiveness under the Hasmonean rulers weakened their control and paved the way for yet another period of foreign domination which was this time the dominant power of the Romans. Pompey besieged and captured Jerusalem in 63 B. C., and another Roman, Crassus, plundered the temple ten years later. Next would come the administration of Herod the Great.
Herodian Period (40 B. C. – A. D. 70)
The next text will also have more historical details about this period. In 40 B. C., the Roman senate appointed Herod, an Idumean, king of the Jews, his domain to include
Galilee, Perea, Judea, and Idumea. With the aid of Roman forces, Herod fought to take possession of this territory and did not secure his throne in Jerusalem until three years later. Herod immediately set about fortifying and embellishing the Holy City. Revenues from trade and taxes enabled him to construct a magnificent palace in the Upper City, also called the Western Hill. The palace was guarded by three strong towers named after Phasael, his brother; Mariamme, his Hasmonean wife; and Hippicus, his friend. Herod doubled the temple area and surrounded it with walls and covered porches.
The sanctuary itself was refurbished and beautified. In honor of Mark Antony, Herod built the Antonia Fortress at the northwest corner of the temple area. He also constructed a theater to entertain the wealthy Hellenistic Jews. A hippodrome, or race track, was also built probably in the Tyropoeon Valley.
This was the city of Jerusalem that Jesus and his apostles knew. He had visited this city on many occasions and was crucified there in 33 A. D. There are may sites today in Jerusalem that are traditionally considered to mark significant events in the life of Jesus. Some of these are the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was buried; the Via Dolorosa, which was the route he took to the cross; and the Grotto of Gethsemane.
It was probably during Herod’s day that the walls of Jerusalem were extended northeast from the Gennath Gate near Herod’s palace to the Antonia Fortress. A third wall was also built by Herod Agrippa which enclosed the residential area north of the second wall and the temple area, including the Pool of Bethesda. The present walls of the Old City of Jerusalem follow the lines of this third wall built in first century A. D.
Herod the Great built in a manner designed to immortalize his name and perpetuate his memory. He used very large stones that were up to 36 feet in length. They were prepared with a 2 to 4 inch margin for embellishment. Herodian stones can still be seen at the base of the walls around the temple area and at the lower portion of what was once the tower of Phasael.
Post – Biblical Period (A. D. 70 to Present)
During the last decade before Jerusalem’s destruction, Rome faced an increasing breakdown in law and order in Judea as the Jews began to assert themselves against foreign rule. After a clash at Caesarea, the Jews were forced to leave that city. When the news of this reached Jerusalem, the citizens broke out in revolt. Nero sent his best general, Vespasian along with three Roman legions, to Judea. After subduing Galilee, Vespasian marched on Judea. In the spring of A. D. 69, Vespasian left Judea to ascend the throne in Rome and sent his eldest son, Titus, to continue the campaign in Jerusalem. The city was surrounded and besieged.
The Romans entered and burned the temple on August 28, B. C. 70. It was another month before the Upper City was captured and Jewish resistance ceased. By order of Titus, the Jews were taken captive and many buildings of the city were leveled. The partially ruined city was placed under surveillance by the Tenth Roman Legion.
In the years following the destruction of Jerusalem, it was gradually resettled, but news of the Emperor Hadrian’s plan to found a Roman colony there sparked anew the Jewish struggle against Rome. After the Second Jewish Revolt in A. D. 131 – 135, Hadrian destroyed the city and rebuilt it in Roman style and named it Aelia Capitolina after himself. Today’s Jerusalem roughly follows the plan of Hadrian’s city, with intersecting north-south and east-west streets that divide it into four quarters.
Little is known of Jerusalem during two centuries from the end of the Hadrianic period until Constantine. He Christianized the land, and ordered the recovery of the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. One of the churches built during that time was the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In A. D. 469, Empress Eudocia commissioned the repair of the city walls and their extension to include the Pool of Siloam and added many churches, including one at Siloam and another above the reputed tomb of Stephen. Justinian likewise sponsored many building operations there, including the Golden Gate of the temple area and part of the church that later became the el-Aksa mosque under Moslem rule.
For the roughly 300 years of the Byzantine era, there was relative peace and prosperity in Palestine and the Holy City. It gradually became a destination for religious pilgrimages. This tranquility was broken at intervals by persecution of the Jews. This partially explains their loose alliance with Chosroes II of Persia when he swept through the land and eventually captured Jerusalem in A. D. 614. Although the Byzantines briefly regained control under Heraclius, a new threat to peace arrived with Caliph Omar. He brought the rising power of Islam to the entire area. His capture of Jerusalem in A. D. 638 marked the beginning of Moslem domination of the city. Except for brief periods afterwards during the Crusades, Jerusalem remained essentially in the control of various factions of the Islamic nations until its capture by General Allenby in 1917.
The present walls of Jerusalem were built during the years A. D. 1538 – 1540 by the Turkish ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. These walls cut across the Western Hill in the south, and omitted David’s City of Zion from the walled city. The contours of the enclosure follow the Hinnom Valley to the northern wall, which appear to be built over the wall of Herod Agrippa. The east wall follows and joins the eastern wall of the Herodian temple mount. Suleiman also commissioned a number of fountains, many of which still are in working order in the city.
After World War I, Jerusalem was the center of the British-mandated territory of Palestine, and its modern era began. A new water system was engineered and electric power was introduced. Despite the ever-present conflict between the Jewish and Arab adversaries, many public buildings and institutions of learning were erected. The end of the British mandate in 1948 and the establishment of the independent state of Israel brought little immediate relief from the violence, but an armistice established Jerusalem as an international city and divided it between the rival states of Israel and Jordan.
Jerusalem today is the seat of ecclesiastical authorities of many faiths. It is the third holy city of Islam, the residence of the chief rabbis of the Jewish community, and the seat of many Christian dignitaries, including Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox patriarchs and an Anglican bishop. The number of synagogues, churches, and mosques attest to the universal importance of Jerusalem, as does the variety of races and creeds crowding its thoroughfares.