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 24 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 were certain the Church is situated upon Mount Zion.
However, the real Zion until recently remained hidden underground and unnoticed by numerous property owners in Jerusalem.
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.
"Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, now the city of David." (1Chr.11:5)
The ancient city was rediscovered in the 19th century.
Historically, Jerusalem was conquered by King David around 1004 BC. At that time, it was a small fortress called Zion that 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 which is unchanged over thousands of years.
In Old Testament times, the fortress of Zion was inhabited by a Canaanite tribe, the Jebusites, and the city was named Jebus. At the beginning of King David's reign, it became a spiritual and political capital of the people of Israel and the site where the Temple was eventually built.
Jerusalem is a holy city in Judaism and in two other major religions, Christianity and Islam.
The heart of this ancient city where great kings and prophets once lived 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 able to be viewed by 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. These amazing discoveries are exhibited in The City of David Archaeological Park.
The famous British explorer, Captain Charles Warren, arrived in Jerusalem in 1867 to lead the second archaeological expedition of the British Foundation for the Exploration of Palestine.
Turkish authorities were suspicious of Warren and refused to allow him to excavate on the Temple Mount. Instead, Warren decided to dig mines around the perimeter of the Temple Mount, in the hopes of finding ancient artifacts.
Unexpectedly, Warren discovered the Iron Age fortifications of Jerusalem (Ophel) outside the 16th century city wall and rightly suggested that ancient Jerusalem did not originate within the walls later built by the Turkish authorities, but on the eastern hill south of the Temple Mount. Further research confirmed his belief was correct. He later discovered the City of David itself.
Through further excavation, incredible discoveries were made in this small area of the city which confirmed many biblical events. Among them is the underground water channel, built by the decree of the legendary King of Judah, Hezekiah, who built a channel to protect the city’s water source from the Assyrian army,
"Thus many people gathered together who stopped all the springs and the brook that ran through the land, saying, 'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?'"(II Chronicles 32:4).
It is possible that through this tunnel, the soldiers of the King David entered and conquered the city,
"Now the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land; and they said to David, ‘You shall not come in here, but even those who are blind and those who limp will turn you away, thinking, ‘David cannot enter here.’ Nevertheless, David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, ‘Whoever strikes the Jebusites is to reach those who limp and those who are blind, who are hated by David’s soul, through the water tunnel’” (2 Kings 5:6-8).
Raymond Weill (1874-1950), a Jewish-French archaeologist, came to Jerusalem twice in the beginning of the 20th century, (1913-1914 and 1923-1924) to excavate. He found the ancient chamber tombs of the kings from the house of David, dating roughly back to the Iron Age. This discovery shed light on the location of King David's tomb.
The font of Siloam described in the New Testament as the location where a blind man received his site was discovered during excavations in 2005.
“Therefore, the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, ‘Is not this he who sat and begged?’ Some said, ‘This is he.’ Others said, ‘He is like him.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Therefore they said to him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’ He answered and said, ‘A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, Go to the pool of Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and I received sight’" (John 9:9-11).
Finally, one of the most sensational discoveries was made by archaeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar (2008), who claimed to have discovered the foundations of the palace of King David himself, the conqueror of Jerusalem. For many years, archaeological finds in the City of David have amazed the world where the most intense and frequent excavations in Israel were carried out.
"As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever." (Psalm 125:2)
Indeed, ancient Jerusalem was, as it is today modern, surrounded by mountains on all sides. And the hill on which the City of David is located was also perfectly protected topographically, by deep valleys that surrounded it from three cardinal points. In the east, the Mount of Olives and between it and the City of David lies the Kidron Valley. In antiquity, it was much deserted than it is today. Burials dating back to the Iron Age were discovered in the valley, and on the slopes of the Mount of Olives - the largest active Jewish cemetery in the world, numbering more than 150 thousand graves.
"Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters and masons. And they built David a house." (2 Samuel 5:11)
The 21 ft x 98 ft structure of large hewn stones (some of which reach 4 ft in length) consists of peculiar stone terraces. And on them there is a superstructure made of rubble and large stones. It is built in the form of steps and reaches the height of a multi-storey building.
The excavations of this structure were carried out by archaeologists R.A. McAlister and J.G. Duncan in 1923-1925, Lady Kathleen Kenyon from England in 1961-1967, the Israeli archeologist I. Shiloh in 1978-1985. and Eilat Mazar in 2007-2008.
Today it is generally accepted that this building served as either a fortress or a palace, or a large administrative complex of buildings.
Eilat Mazar published a report in which she claims that the building is nothing more than the palace of King David himself (!)
Based on the analysis of ceramics and chemical research of organic remains, Eilat Mazar dated the building to the 10th century BC. And this is exactly the period of the reign of David.
The position of Eilat Mazar is disputed by historians and archaeologists of Tel Aviv's University, headed by David Usyshkin, and in particular by Professor Israel Finkelstein. In their opinion, there is no evidence of the existence of the kingdom of Israel during the times of David and Solomon, on the scale described in the Bible. However, the sensational finds at Khirbet Caiaphas partly confirm the biblical account.
Interestingly, the fortress and Mount Zion, identified with the stone structure, are located below the adjacent Mount of Olives, the Temple Mount and the Western Hill. One gets the visual impression that the frortress is located in the lowland. This also occurred because of the the accumulated over the centuries rubbish and ruins, which were compressed and turned into hills around the excavation site of the City of David.
Also worth noting is an interesting verse from 2 Kings 5:17:
"Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold."
Went down? Does this mean that the territories adjacent to the fortress were higher than it? Probably, because it does correspond to the modern topography of the large stone structure. How could such a fortress protect David and his followers from the enemies if they'd camped on a higher terrain, in a strategically more advantageous position?
The fact is that the distance from the hills of the Mount of Olives or the Western hill is greater than the flight distance of the arrow and therefore was not strategically advantageous. In order to get closer to the fortress, the soldiers had to go down to the valleys, which were below the fortress of David. Thus the fortress of Zion was in a very advantageous topographic location.