Brief history of Jerusalem

Iron Age

Ancient Jerusalem was located between  the Kidron and Tyropoeon valleys. 


The Temple Mount (then called Mount Moriah) is higher than the surrounding area and believed to be the place of Abraham’s binding of Isaac:

"God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham! And he said, ‘Here I am. ’Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’ "(Genesis 22:1-1-2).


Jerusalem may also have been the city of the high priest and King, Melchizedek, as it is described in Genesis,

"Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.  And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all" (Genesis 14:18-20).


In addition to the Old Testament, Jerusalem is mentioned in Egyptian sources. Shards excavated in the 19th to 18th centuries mentioned the city Ur Shalimum (Jerusalem). El Amarna correspondence of the 14th century spoke of Jerusalem and told about the Habiru tribe as they were poised to conquer Canaanite cities of the future land of Israel.


The Bible tells us that King David was the first to conquer the city for the Israelites and to turn it into the capital of the Kingdom. He chose Jerusalem perhaps because of a few reasons. First, it did not belong to any of the Israeli tribes so unnecessary competition amongst the people was avoided although it was within the boundaries of Benjamin's tribe.


Second, Jerusalem was chosen because of the special geographical and topographical location providing it with more security. It stood on the ancient trade routes and had a well-protected source of water.


Most importantly, Jerusalem had already acquired the glory of the religious center of the whole area, The Ark of the Covenant, which King David brought from Hebron and set on top of the sacred mountain. This was the most sacred object of the people of Israel. Around 957 BC, King David’s son, Solomon, built the first Temple in history dedicated to one God, the Creator of the Universe.


After Solomon's death, his Kingdom was divided into two because of a fight for control of the throne. Jerusalem remained the capital of Judea; however  the tribes of Israel formed another political center in Samaria.


Unfortunately, the division weakened them and they became easy prey of stronger empires such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia. The Kingdom of Israel fell in 8th century BC to Assyria.


The Holy Scripture tells us:

"Now it came to pass in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it.  And at the end of three years they took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away captive to Assyria" (2 Kings 18:9-11).


Prior to the fall of Israel, refugees fled to Jerusalem which caused the city to grow westward. King Hezekiah fortified the city and secured its main water source, the Gihon spring. Hezekiah channeled it into the underground tunnel and thus hid it from the enemies who threatened to capture Jerusalem.

"Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller's Field" (2 Kings 18:17).


Unfortunately, Judea fell and was captured by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC and Jerusalem was pillaged and burned (586 BC).

Return to Zion

Around 444 BC, Nehemiah rebuilt the destroyed walls of the Holy City. During the Hasmonean period, the city expanded and regained the title of the capital of Judea.


At the time of the Great Revolt against the occupation of the Roman Empire, the city and the Temple were destroyed.  Another Jewish revolt in the 2nd century was finally crushed by the mighty emperor Hadrian and the Jewish people were expelled from the city and their country.

"When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream...."

(Psalm 126:1)

In the 6th century BC, the political situation suddenly changed and the king-reformer, Cyrus, ascended to the throne of the powerful Persian Empire, who conquered Babylon, hated by the Jews.


Thanks to his vision and respectful attitude toward the Jewish people, the dream of generations came true and they were allowed to return to the homeland of their fathers and rebuild the holy city.


Although only a few daredevils and dreamers decided to return, it was they who, at the cost of incredible efforts and the opposition of enemies, succeeded in building the Second Jerusalem Temple.


From that moment, a new page in the history of Jerusalem was turned and the  Second Temple period began.


The viceroy, Nehemiah, was appointed by Cyrus as a satrap ( governor of the province) in 444 BC.


From this period, revival began in the kingdom of Judah. The independence of Judea lasted until the period of the conquest of Alexander the Great in 333-32 BC.


At this point, Jerusalem faced a new misfortune;  the spread of the cosmopolitan pagan Greek culture, the so-called "Hellenization".  The new trends were opposed by conservatives and embraced by modernists of the day, consistent with the history of most nations. 


The opposition to the Seleucid Greeks turned into a full-scale Maccabean revolt, which lasted from 167 to 160.  (See the article,  The meaning Hanukkah).

As a result,  an independent kingdom of Judea was created which was ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty, the descendants of the Maccabees who started the rebellion.


During the Second Temple period, construction began on the western hill of Jerusalem where the holy places of Jews, Muslims and Christians are today, including King David's Tomb and the Last Supper Room as well as others.  The Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City are also located on the western hill. Numerous excavations confirmed the belief that the upper class of Jerusalem society and priests had settled in this area during the period of the Second Temple.


Nearby was the Hasmonean palace, later rebuilt by King Herod the Great, and probably the palace of the Jerusalem high priest. Poor people huddled in the Lower City, as is indicated on the famous model of Jerusalem of the Second Temple period, created by historian Professor Michael Avi-Yona.


However, modern discoveries shed light on the fact that buildings of wealthy and influential people were also found in the lower city. For example, this is the location of the complex where the palaces of Queen Helena of Adiabene who converted to Judaism. Also located here were the synagogue for the pilgrims and the hospice, built by Theodotus, the son of Vetren. 


The Siloam pool was discovered in 2005 by archaeologists, distinguished by the richness and splendor of its decoration.


In 70 AD, Jerusalem and its magnificent Temple were destroyed as a result of confrontation with the most powerful militaristic power of the time, the Roman Republic.

"And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem."

(Zechariah 8:4)

"Old men and old women shall again sit

In the streets of Jerusalem,

Each one with his staff in his hand

Because of great age"

(Zechariah 8:4).


In 132 AD, another uprising of the Jews began against Rome, the Bar Kokhba Revolt, named for its leader.  After it was suppressed in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian founded a Roman colony on the ruins of Jerusalem which was named Aelia Capitolina.


The ruins of the ancient city were reused to build the new city. During the period of the Byzantine Christian Empire, famous Christian temples were built on the places where the Jews lived. The fortress walls were moved and rebuilt during the Muslim and Crusader Periods. By order of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent during the reign of the Turkish Ottoman Empire (1537-1561), the Temporary Wall surrounding the Old City was built.


The presence of Jews has always remained in the city, but it reached its peak in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, Jerusalem is the city where the majority of Jews live alongside the large Muslim and small Christian communities (See the Universalism of Jerusalem article).