About Jerusalem

The view of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turkish wall of the Old City
The view of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turkish wall of the Old City

The birthplace of Jerusalem is near the source of the Gihon Spring, between the Tyropoeon and Kidron valleys. In scientific circles, this is considered to be the cradle of the ancient city, the City of David. 

 

From here the city began to develop and expand to the west, most intensively in the 8th century BC. Today it is the territory of the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City.

 

During its peak of development, Jerusalem was built up both on the western and eastern heights, between the Kidron Valley and the Valley of Hell (Guy Ben Inom) and up to the territories of today's Russian Compound.


After the destruction of the Second Temple and through the end of the 19th century, Jerusalem remained within the Old City, surrounded by the ancient wall. In the 1950s, the assistance of Jewish organizations, patrons of the arts and various European Christian missions allowed Jerusalem to expand beyond its historical boundaries.

 

During this time period, the German Protestant Templars built a community which was known as the German Colony. The modern city of Jerusalem began to develop rapidly. The Arab regions of East Jerusalem (Musrara, Sheikh Dzherah, and Wadi Joz) were also settled and developed.


While under the British Mandate, the city expanded mainly westward and undeveloped areas between the inhabited quarters were populated. This period is characterized by the creation of a unified plan for the development of the city designed by the British government which included municipal laws aimed at preserving historical buildings and giving the city a single architectural appearance by cladding new structures with "Jerusalem stone", a light colored limestone.

The view of Hinnom Valley from the walls of the Old City
The view of Hinnom Valley from the walls of the Old City

After the formation of the State of Israel in 1948,  Jerusalem developed exclusively in the western region until 1967 because of the ceasefire line between the country of Jordan and Israel. This line divided East and West Jerusalem, including the Old City.

 

On December 5, 1949, the Israeli government issued a law on the status of Jerusalem, proclaiming it the capital of the state and the Israeli Parliament (The Knesset) was transferred from Tel Aviv. 

 

After the hostilities of the Six Day War (June 5, 1967–June 10, 1967), Jerusalem was reunited into a single city once again. Intensive construction began in the northern districts of the city. During this period, the areas of the French Hill (A-Giva A-Tsarfatit), Ramat Eshkol and Givat A-Mivtar were built and populated.


In 1971, the construction of modern residential areas began in the Gilo, Ar Ha-Tsofim, Ramot, Talpiet Mizrah areas. At the same time, intensive excavations began at the Temple Mount and in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The Jewish quarter of the Old City was completely restored and reconstructed.

However, back in 1800, only 9,000 people lived in Jerusalem with the population comprised of 2,700 Jews and 6,300 Arabs.  By 1870, there were 22,000 people in Jerusalem, of whom 17,000 were Jews. The population growth rate during this period was very high:

1880 - 32,000

1890 - 42,000

1910 - 70,000

1946 - 177,000 (89,000 Jews)

1961 - 244,000

1977 – 370,500 (268,500 Jews)

1980 – 407,100 (292,300 Jews)

1990 – 524,500 (378,200 Jews)

1998 – 633,700 (433,600 Jews)

Source: New Israel Guide Encyclopedia (2001)


Today, Jerusalem’s population is around 960,000 residents, comprised of Jews (66%), Arabs (34%) and Christians (2%). 

The Dome on the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount
The Dome on the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount

The foundational significance of this "eternal city” for people of all nations was laid down during the reign of Solomon, the outstanding Israeli king, sage and seer.

 

As far as is known in the history of mankind, he built the first Temple dedicated to one God. It was constructed around 957 BC and Solomon dedicated the Temple and asked in prayer that,

“Whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men), that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers.

 

Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name” (1 Kings 8: 38-42).

 

From the time the Temple was built in Jerusalem, it transcended the narrow national bounds of the Jewish people and was intended to draw in the entire human race. This precept was embraced and extended by the prophets, particularly Isaiah,

“…the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the        mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.

Many people shall come and say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob’" (Isaiah 2: 2-3).

 

In the Midrash, Jewish tradition predicts Jerusalem will become a light for the nations, in fulfillment of the Prophet’s words,

"Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.

For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people;

But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.

The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isaiah 60:1-3).


According to Isaiah, the word of the Lord will come from Jerusalem,

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house

Shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.

 

Many people shall come and say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem "(Isaiah 2: 2-3).

 

Zechariah, the last prophet of Judea said that ,

“everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).

 

According to the Jewish sages (Midrash Rabbah), “Jerusalem is the light of the world.” The Jewish tradition of Halacha teaches that the holiness of Jerusalem is higher than the holiness of the rest of the land of Israel (Mishnah, Kilim, 81).

 

During the building of the Temple, the Most High promised His presence to Solomon,           

“And the Lord said to him: I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated This House which you have built to put My Name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually’” (1 Kings 9: 3).

 
Despite the fact that the First Temple built by Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC ,  followed by the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the Jewish people have strong faith and continual hope that the Temple will be restored. This hope is strongly connected with their belief in the coming of the Messiah as foretold by Zechariah,        

“Behold, the Man whose name is the branch (Tsemach Zedek); from His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord” (Zechariah 6:12).

Old City of Jerusalem view
Old City of Jerusalem view

Jesus was apparently familiar with these words and  said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

 

According to traditional evangelical belief, this is foretelling His own death and resurrection.


The tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem dates to Old Testament times. During the three main feasts of the Tabernacle, Passover and Pentecost, the children of Israel were to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem, as instructed in the book of Deuteronomy,

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed" (Deuteronomy 16:16).


The Most High also provided instruction when He said,

“Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel.  Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel’” (2 Chronicles 6:5-6).


The theme of Jerusalem as the sacred place for the people of the world continues in the book of Psalms. Out of 150 Psalms, 50 of them glorify Jerusalem. These Psalms are called songs of ascension, because prior to appearing before the face of the Lord, it was necessary to complete the ascent in a geographical as well as a spiritual sense.

"As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the Lord surrounds His people

From this time forth and forever" (Psalm 125:2).

 

Today, when you view the city of Jerusalem from the observation deck of the City of David Archaeological Park, the outlines of the now built-up mountain peaks are clearly visible with the Mount of Olives to the east, Mount Zion to the north and Armon ha-Natsiv hill to the south (named in honor of the British government building located there).


In the post Temple era, pilgrimages remained an important custom. The Gospels record that Mary, Joseph, Jesus and His disciples routinely came to Jerusalem during religious holidays. Compared with his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus did not perform many miracles in Jerusalem with only two healings documented. Instead, He encountered disbelief of His own people and the contempt of religious leaders.

“His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41-42).

 

“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13).

 

“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” 

(John 5: 1).

 

“Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand… then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret” (John 7: 2,10).

 

Lastly, since His life was in danger, the Easter feast or the Last Supper was secretly celebrated by Jesus and His disciples in the Upper Room which is one of the most visited holy places in Jerusalem.

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat’…Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready. So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:7-11).


The death of Jesus on the cross, His Resurrection, Ascension, the promise of the Second Coming and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the Disciples on the feast of Pentecost were events which took place in Jerusalem. 

 

For millions of Christians from all denominations around the world, the most sacred place is the famous Church of the Holy Sepulcher (also known as the Resurrection of Christ) the traditionally accepted site of the crucifixion on Golgotha, burial tomb and the place of Jesus’ resurrection. The church was built in 335 by order of the Emperor Constantine. In total, Jerusalem has more than 150 churches representing the entire spectrum of Christian denominations and over 1000 synagogues and religious schools.

Jewish cemetery on the slopes of Mt. of Olives
Jewish cemetery on the slopes of Mt. of Olives

 

 

According to Jewish tradition, the most important holy places in Jerusalem are Temple Mount,  The Western Wall, the tomb of King David and the kings of Israel, the cave of Shimon the Righteous,  Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley Cemetery.

Al Masjid Al Aqsa compound
Al Masjid Al Aqsa compound

In the religion of Islam, the holiness of Jerusalem is based on the teachings of the Koran as written in Sura 17 (1) Al Isra,                                                                               "Let us praise Allah and exalt His greatness, rejecting from Him everything that is not befitting of Him!

 

It is He who assisted His servant Muhammad to make the journey from the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca to the“ remotest ”mosque (al- Masjid al-Aqsa) in Jerusalem, where we bestowed a blessed inheritance on the inhabitants of its surroundings, in order to show him through Our signs that God is one and He is Almighty.  Truly, Allah is One - All-Hearing and All-Seeing!" (Note: the word Jerusalem is absent in the original text).

 

According to this narrative, Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount and henceforth it was named Al Haram al Sharif and considered a sacred site. At this place, Solomon built the Temple to the Most High and where Jesus stood, a mosque was built by Caliph Omar, the first Islamic conqueror of Jerusalem.  

 

A short distance away, another mosque, Al Masjid Al Aqsa, was built by Caliph Abd Al Malik and completed by his son Al Walid in 705 AD. The mosque was destroyed in 786AD as a result of an earthquake then restored and destroyed again by a powerful earthquake in 1033AD. Two years later it was rebuilt by the Muslim ruler Ali Az-Zahir and it appears today as it did then. Al Aqsa Mosque is revered as the third shrine of Islam after Mecca and Medina.

 

According to the story from the Koran, Qubbat As-Sakhra Mosque (or Dome over the Rock), from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, was built between 687-691AD by architects Yarid Ben Salam and Raja Ben Hiva under the direction of Caliph Abd Al Malikom.

 

Islamic tradition also includes references to the city of Jerusalem,

"Whoever goes to worship from Mecca to the Far Mosque, may all sins be forgiven ...."

"The one praying in Jerusalem is like the one praying in heaven."

"Living in Jerusalem as one who fights in a holy war."

 

In accordance with the oral traditions of Muslims (Hadiths), the sacred stone Kaaba (building) will be transferred to Jerusalem from Mecca on the Day of Judgment. Today, there are more than 70 madrassas (Islamic religious schools) and mosques in Jerusalem.