Jerusalem Through The Ages
Tomorrow's World Magazine
October 1971
Volume: Vol III, No. 10
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Jerusalem Through The Ages

Ever since David made it his capital some 3000 years ago, Jerusalem has been a "cup of trembling" and a "burdensome stone" to all nations. Read here the history of this city which is claimed as a holy place by Jew, Christian and Moslem alike, and the significant role Bible prophecy assigns to it in the WORLD TOMORROW.

JUST HOW important was Jerusalem in the beginning of Biblical history? Surprisingly, it was not important at all! For the first 2000 years, the Bible relates nothing of the site. Only in the time of Abraham do we begin to hear of it. It was at Salem, the later Jerusalem, that Abraham met the priest king, Melchizedek. A few years later, we find Abraham taking his son Isaac to the mountains of Moriah (always associated with the Jerusalem area), where he built an altar and intended to sacrifice Isaac. Though later traditions recognized Moriah as the site of the Temple, there was nothing in the Biblical record to suggest any special holiness to the locale. True, later traditions imagined that Jerusalem was the district where the Garden of Eden was placed, and that Adam and Eve were buried there (other traditions place their burial in Hebron several miles to the south), but it seems better to view traditions with caution and not to put unqualified confidence in them.

The Biblical Jerusalem

   Jerusalem finally comes on the Biblical scene in an important way in the time of Joshua. The city had become a Canaanite stronghold called Jebus (Josh. 15:8). Of all the Canaanite cities that Joshua and the Israelites were commanded to take, Jebus was probably the most formidable. The Jebusites had built a towering fortress on one of its steeper hills. The area was so strongly fortified with the citadel perched on top of a steep mountain ridge, that the Israelites failed to capture it until the time of King David.
   When David came to power, he found this Canaanite fortress an embarrassment. While Israel had been able to extend its influence from the River Euphrates to the River Nile, no one had been able to rout the Canaanites from the stronghold of Jebus — and it was located right in the heart of Israel's home territory. This humiliating spectacle became an almost intolerable situation to David. To resolve the problem, he commanded a full-scale attack on the fortress.
   The Jebusites were so certain of their ability to withstand any assault that they taunted David and his troops by saying that even the blind and the lame of the Jebusites could withstand the total onslaught of David and his armies (II Sam. 5:5-10). So incensed was David by this slur that he offered the position of "field marshal" to any of his officers who could ascend the Canaanite stronghold and capture it. This is when Joab, a nephew of David, climbed up via a water conduit and managed to gain entrance to the citadel. Other men followed, and soon David had gained control of the hilltop citadel — a feat which had eluded all attempts for over 400 years.
   Once David had secured this fortress, he adopted it as his capital city, naming it the City of David. Because of the site's majestic appearance and its towering eminence, he also called it ZION (a city resembling the impenetrable fortress of God in the heavens). The Ark of God was then transported to this elevated citadel. David was now sure that with the Ark in Zion no human power, no matter how strong, could capture the Ark, as had been done previously by the Philistines.
   This mountain citadel was situated south of what was to become the Temple Mount. It was flanked on the east by the Kidron Valley and on the west by the Tyropoeon Valley (the Valley of the Cheesemakers). When Solomon finally completed the building of the Temple on the knoll just to the north of Zion (the City of David), he removed the Ark of God from Zion and put it in the Temple. Because of this move of the Ark to the northern knoll of the ridge, the whole mountain ridge became known, symbolically, as ZION. It should be clearly understood, however, that the original Zion was the fortress which was taken by Joab and David, not the Temple Mount. (See illustration to understand this point.)
   After the time of Solomon, Jerusalem remained essentially the same for almost 400 years. Of course, many new buildings were constructed during this period and an extension of the city was made on the western hill opposite the City of David, but what occurred was mainly the natural growth.(and even decline in some areas) of the city. Nothing happened of any major consequence until the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. In his wars with the Jews in the sixth century B.C., he so utterly destroyed Jerusalem that the area looked like open fields where once there had been a city (Micah 3:12). The destruction by Nebuchadnezzar was so thorough that very little remained of David's and Solomon's Jerusalem.
   Then after 70 years of complete desolation, some 50,000 Jews returned from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the ruined city. They found the topography much the same as it had been in pre-exile days, but the site of the city was in shambles. Soon, however, a new Jerusalem was being built, and during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the city was completed.
   This Jerusalem was different. It had none of the former splendor that graced the city of David and Solomon. But little could be done. The Jews in Jerusalem were a mere remnant of a scattered people and they had little power or money to sustain a city like the previous Jerusalem. Still, though Jerusalem was smaller, it had become a living city once again.

The Maccabean Period

   For 300 years, from the time of Nehemiah to the Maccabean Wars (the middle of the second century B.C.), there were no essential changes in Jerusalem. But with the Maccabees some very definite alterations took place.
   The Maccabean Wars developed as a result of the Syrians conquering and taking over most of Judaea. A resistance to the Syrians by the Maccabean brothers, and those Jews who followed them, finally resulted in the vanquishing of the Syrians from Judaea. Albeit, the victory wasn't a complete one. The citadel of Jerusalem still remained in Syrian hands. Just as earlier, when the Jebusites' control of the city had proved such an embarrassment to David, so Simon (the last of the Maccabee brothers) experienced the same humiliation. While he had carved an independent Jewish state out of Palestine, his enemies were still firmly positioned in the citadel of Zion. But the embarrassment didn't last long. The fortress was finally starved into surrendering, and once more the main citadel of Jerusalem fell into Jewish hands.
   This time, however, a decision was reached by the inhabitants of Jerusalem which profoundly altered the topography of central Jerusalem. Instead of continuing the use of the citadel, as Josephus the Jewish historian informs us, the people decided to tear down its walls, its buildings, and to cut down the very mountain itself! This was to prevent any Gentiles from recapturing the citadel and harassing the future population of Jerusalem. They then went to work on cutting down the mountain. This undertaking was so gigantic that it took the population of Jerusalem, working day and night, THREE YEARS to accomplish the task (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, 6, 7).
   Josephus stated that this mountain the Jews demolished was located in the Lower Quarter of the Old City, which was, of course, the Zion of David's time (Wars of the Jews, V, 4, 1). If this be true, and Josephus claims that it is, we can better understand why the Bible calls the fortress "Mount Zion." This must have been the mountain, with its fortress on top, which was completely levelled by Simon and the people of Jerusalem by 139 B.C. It can now be understood why there is no longer a "Mount Zion" on the ridge south of the Temple Mount.
   It must be admitted, however, that some scholars feel Josephus is right in telling us about the destruction of the mountain, but he must surely be wrong as to its identity with the City of David. The main reason for their doubt is Josephus' statement that from this citadel one could look down into the Temple enclosure (Antiquities of the Jews, XII, 9, 3). If the fortress were situated on the spur south of the Temple Mount, it would have had to be a very tall mountain indeed to view the Temple enclosure. But that's where Josephus puts it and the historical Book of Maccabees implies the same thing (I Macc. 1:33, 34; 14:36). After all, it took the population of Jerusalem THREE YEARS, working day and night, to demolish the mountain. It surely must have been a very large one. At the present state of our knowledge, it seems better to acknowledge Josephus' location of the fortress as being on top of the City of David.

Herod — Builder Extraordinary

   A hundred years after the levelling of Zion, a tremendous building operation began in Jerusalem which certainly helped to alter the topography of the city. This was the time of Herod the Great in the first century B.C. One of Herod's primary projects was the enlargement of the Temple and the platform on which it stood. To do this, he had much of the area around the Temple scraped down to bedrock. He then cut channels into the rock and placed in them his foundations for the massive walls he was to build around the Temple platform. He even extended the platform westward across the Tyropoeon Valley. For the water that seasonally flowed in the Tyropoeon, he constructed new conduits. Then in the valley, south of the Temple Mount, he built a gigantic hippodrome (where horse races and other spectacles could be held). On the upper hill to the west, he constructed many fine buildings, including a sumptuous palace for himself. All these building operations required the destruction of quite a lot of the older Jerusalem — the Jerusalem which had existed from Nehemiah's time and throughout the Maccabean Period. It was this "brand-new" Herodian Jerusalem that Christ was familiar with. It had strong Hellenistic (Greek) overtones in its architectural style and looked nothing like the typical Middle Eastern city that we are acquainted with today.

Jerusalem Destroyed by the Romans

   The Jerusalem of Christ's time, which had been built by the Herodian family, was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The Roman destruction was exactly like the previous one by Nebuchadnezzar. So total was its ruin that Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the devastation, said that no one coming upon the place could have believed there was once a city in the area (Wars of the Jews, VII, 1, 1). The rubble that remained was used to fill in parts of the valleys that surrounded the city. Erosion also set in and quite a lot of the Upper City was washed down to fill in the valleys below. The result was the complete disappearance of the city (with the exception of a part of the Temple walls and a few remnants of towers) which Christ and the early apostles knew.
   In its place, the Romans allowed a smaller and quite modest Jerusalem to be built. But even this rebuilt Jerusalem was not to last long. Between 132 and 135 A.D., the Romans once more warred against the Jews in Jerusalem. Again the city was conquered. After this second war, the Romans were so incensed over Jewish rebellion that they destroyed all the buildings of Jerusalem (which had been built since the 70 A.D. destruction), and the records claim you could plow the ground where once there was the city of Jerusalem. One can easily imagine how the topography must have been altered in and around Jerusalem after the two destructions of 70 A.D. and 135 A.D. were over. The site was utterly devastated and looked very little like it had appeared in the days of Christ, let alone what it looked like in the time of David.

Aelia Capitolina

   The Roman Emperor, Hadrian, after the 135 A.D. desolation, decided to obliterate every bit of Jewish influence from the site of Jerusalem. He forbad any Jew, no matter who he was, from approaching within 20 miles of the locality. He also built a new town on its site and named it "Aelia Capitolina." This was a completely pagan town where the Roman gods were to be honored and worshipped.
   In the building of this new town, the quarters with which Christ and the apostles had been associated were so changed that many of these older sites were completely lost from memory. In fact it would have been very difficult to locate any of them, with the exception of the general location of the Temple, a few towers, etc. This is why Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great (who, 200 years later, was trying to locate the sites linked with Christ and the apostles), sometimes had to rely on guesswork and even so-called visions to establish them. There is still much debate among scholars whether she and her assistants really did find the proper places after all. The fact is, the previous cataclysms were so ruinous that little evidence remained.

Byzantine Jerusalem

   With the advent of Catholic Christianity, a new interest in Jerusalem took place. Churches, hospitals and pilgrims' hostels began to spring up. Though the quality of the buildings was not the same as in previous centuries, the Byzantine era did produce an abundance of structures, some of which are partially visible to this day. There was even an abortive attempt by the Jews of this period to rebuild the Temple (about 360 A.D.). Only the foundations of the intended Temple were constructed before arson and the Roman authorities put a stop to its building.
   Justinian, a later Byzantine emperor of the sixth century, was so interested in the construction of churches and other buildings in Jerusalem and elsewhere that his contemporaries called him a new "Solomon." (Solomon was famous throughout the East as the greatest builder of all time.) Justinian sent his chief architect to Jerusalem to build new churches and to redecorate those already there.
   It was Justinian who helped make Jerusalem a new "Byzantine" city — different from the previous Jerusalem's.

The Arabic Conquests

   When new buildings go up, it is customary that the older structures are either torn down or modified. In the Roman and Byzantine periods, Jerusalem's appearance was drastically altered from that which existed in the time of Christ. But with the coming of the Arabs, a further alteration occurred. Mohammed, inspired by both Jewish and Christian teaching, plus some original theology of his own, developed a religion that caused his followers to conquer the entire Middle East in the middle part of the seventh century A.D. Jerusalem was conquered in 638 A.D. and because of its holiness (to the Mohammedans), it became the third most important holy city in the Moslem world. Thus, the Moslems concentrated on building up Jerusalem — this time in classical Arabic style.
   Helped by Byzantine architects, the Arabic leaders began constructing holy places and many other buildings all over Jerusalem. The present Dome of the Rock, built over the site of Solomon's Temple, and the Al Aksa Mosque just south of the Temple Mount, were built or modified during this time.
   Our excavations in Jerusalem have uncovered a tremendous Ommiad (Arabic) building just to the south of the southern Temple wall. Many of the building stones that the Arabs used in their constructions were formerly old Herodian ashlars (square hewn stones) which made up the Temple and its walls in the time of Christ. These early Arabic structures were elegant creations.

The Later Periods

   After the initial construction work of the Arabs, Jerusalem did not change drastically for the following 900 years. True, during the time of the Crusades, when Europeans held Jerusalem off and on for about 100 years, there were some modifications to buildings and new constructions were made, but there were no major developments until the Ottoman Turks took over control of Jerusalem in the early sixteenth century. The present Old City of Jerusalem and its walls (so familiar to tourists who visit Jerusalem today) is really the city of Suleiman the Magnificent — the Turkish ruler of Jerusalem who flourished around 1540 A.D. It was the Turks who made Jerusalem into the city that we know today. Of course, since the arrival of many Jews from around the world in the last seventy years, and the general increase in the Arab population within that period, two new sections have grown up around the old Turkish Jerusalem (the Old City of today) — one to the north, which is essentially Arabic, and one to the west, which is Jewish. In fact, since the 1967 War, which saw Jerusalem once again a united city, the Jerusalem area has been growing by leaps and bounds. Already the population is just under 300,000 persons and it is projected that 750,000 people will be living there by the turn of the century.

Jerusalem and Prophecy

   We have seen in this brief survey of Jerusalem's history that the appearance of the city has changed dramatically over the centuries. David wouldn't know the place if he were brought back to life. Indeed, even those who lived in the time of Christ would have great difficulty recognizing the Jerusalem they once knew. After all, Jerusalem was levelled to the ground in the time of Nebuchadnezzar (sixth century B.C.). There was the levelling of the major hill and the filling in of valleys in the time of the Maccabees (second century B.C.). The destruction of many buildings by Herod for the construction of his Jerusalem also changed the city's appearance. The Romans completely destroyed the buildings and filled in part of the valleys (first and second centuries). Then, there was the building up of Jerusalem in the Byzantine Period, the building in the Arabic Period and more especially the construction in the time of the Turks. And we must not forget the developments which have occurred in the last seventy years. Thus, it should be no surprise that the city of Jerusalem has changed beyond all recognition from that of David's time. Yet, there is a happy turn of events which is prophesied to occur to Jerusalem in the not-too-distant future. A greater Jerusalem is soon to arise.

The New Jerusalem of the Future

   In Zechariah 14, there is a prophecy telling us that "living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea [the Dead Sea], and half of them toward the hinder sea {the Mediterranean Sea): in summer and in winter it shall be" (verse 8). These streams will appear once a major topographical change takes place in the area of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem, will be split into two separate mountains and a valley will be formed between them (verse 4). Then, apparently at the same time, a further topographical change takes place. "All the land [near Jerusalem} shall be turned as a plain [levelled out] from Geba [5 miles north of Jerusalem] to Rimmon south of Jerusalem [about 30 miles south] : and it [Jerusalem Itself] shall be lifted up [a large mountain will rise on the site of Jerusalem], and [Jerusalem shall be] inhabited in her [usual] place" (verse 10).
   Jerusalem will become a new "Mount Zion" around which the redeemed tribes of Israel will gather (Jer. 31:6-9). On this mount will be built a new city. Streams will issue from a new Temple which will be there (Joel 3:18). The Prophet Ezekiel further tells us that the eastern stream coming from this newly elevated Jerusalem will flow into the Dead Sea, making it a fresh sea with an abundance of fish (Ezek. 47). This is the new Jerusalem of the future — the coming joy of the whole world.
   And though Jerusalem has suffered terribly from human rampages over the centuries, a glorious Jerusalem is soon to emerge which will make all other cities of the world insignificant by comparison. God will demonstrate how He can take the "worst" in man's opinion and make it into the "best." This is what He will do to His Jerusalem — the Mount Zion of the future! God speed that day.

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Tomorrow's World MagazineOctober 1971Vol III, No. 10