For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been subject of men's strife, wars and fanatical zeal. Every ambitious ruler in the past desired to own it.
When I arrived in Jerusalem 20+ years ago, I began working at the small guest house run by the Anglican Church's CMJ Ministry situated in the Armenian Quarter of The Old City. While working there I heard many arguments between the current British owners of this piece of Holy Ground and the prior Armenian owners. Both sides are certain the Church is situated upon Mount Zion. However, the real Zion remains hidden underground and unnoticed by numerous property owners in the Holy Land. All this may remind you of the epic movie from Dreamworks called The Matrix. In it, the only free human city Zion also laid underground, close to the core of the earth.
The ancient city founded by King David was discovered in the 19th century. Historically, Jerusalem was conquered by King David around 1004 BCE. At that time, it was a small fortress called Zion which surrounded and protected the only source of water in the city, the Gihon Spring. Throughout history and today, the spring is still flowing into a stone hewn channel unchanged over thousands of years.
In the Old Testament times, the fortress of Zion was inhabited by a Canaanite tribe called the Jebusites and the city was named Jebus. Beginning at the time of King David's reign, it became a spiritual and political capital of the people of Israel and later the site where the Temple was built.
Jerusalem is a holy city in Judaism and in two other major religions, Christianity and Islam.
The heart of this ancient city where the great kings and prophets lived in the past was eventually covered by debris and forgotten by generations. As though by God's providence, it was discovered again. Incredible and totally unexpected archaeological discoveries were found there during numerous excavations which are now presented before the public.
A special fund called The City of David Foundation was established for the purposes of scientific survey and exploration of the site. Many famous archaeologists conducted excavations there, among them Professor Ronny Reich, Professor Shukron, Dr. Eilat Mazar and others. The amazing discoveries are exhibited in The City of David Archaeological Park.
Ancient Jerusalem was located between Kidron Valley and Tyropoeon Valley.
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 chapter 14 of the book 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 as well and told about the Habiru tribe as they were about 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. And most importantly, Jerusalem 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 but the tribes of Israel formed another political center in Samaria which 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 flew to Jerusalem and as a result the city grew to the west. King Hezekiah fortified the city and secured the main water source, 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 in 586 BC.
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.
In the time of Great Revolt against the occupation of the Roman Empire, the city and the Temple were totally 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.
The location of Jerusalem from the time of David and Solomon was forgotten over the hundreds of years.
The British explorer, General Sir Charles Warren arrived in Jerusalem in 1867 to head the survey of Palestine Exploration Fund. He was the first to discover the Biblical area called Ophel and then later the City of David itself.
A short time later, by chance, a young man found the famous Inscription of Siloam, which told the story of how King Hezekiah of Judah built a channel to protect the city’s water source from the Assyrian army which is recorded in the Bible (II Chronicles 32:4).
In 1909 to 1911, the expedition of Montague Parker and Father Louis-Hugues Vincent discovered remains of ancient fortifications that surrounded the area of City of David, further proof of the belief that this was the heart of ancient Jerusalem. In 1913 to 1914, Ronald Weill found the ancient chamber tombs in the area dating roughly back to the Iron Age, the time of the Kings of Israel.
( to be continued...)