Jerusalem through the Ages
“I was glad when they said to me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord;
When our feet stood within thy gates, O Jerusalem;
O Jerusalem, builded as a city that is compact together; ….
… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee;
Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces; …
… Peace be within thee.” (Psalm 122, The Holy Scriptures, Sinai Publishing)
Jerusalem is mentioned over one hundred times in twenty of the thirty six books of the Hebrew Scriptures and thirty times in the New Testament. (NIV Study Bible). Apart from a brief mention of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, king of Salem, (Gen 14:18) it is not mentioned in the Torah (Pentateuch) in which the historical narrative ends with the death of Moses prior to the entry of the Twelve Tribes of Israel into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.
Although we are told in Judges (1:8) that “the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it” and that it was to Jerusalem that David brought the head of Goliath (I Sam 17:54), it was only after ruling from Hebron, (burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), for seven and a half years that David was able to conquer Canaanite Jerusalem and make it his capital.
The ongoing excavation of David’s City has revealed the previously unknown, formidable Canaanite walls, tunnels and multiple water systems going back more than three thousand years. Although still too early to say whether the monumental structure now being excavated is indeed King David’s palace innumerable bullae (seals) are inscribed with names which appear in the biblical narrative.
It was David’s son, Solomon, who built the Temple on Mount Moriah, which was not within the walls of David’s city. Much of I Kings describes the Temple, its architecture, the materials used and the accoutrements, both functional and decorative. The culmination was the seven day feast attended by “all the men of Israel” when “the ark of the covenant of the Lord” was brought from the city of David, and when, for the first time, sacrifices were offered.
After serving as the religious center for the children of Israel for almost five hundred years, during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, “the captain of the guard came to Jerusalem; and he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem … and brake down the walls of Jerusalem … and the rest of the people that were left in the city did the captain of the guard carry away.”
Archeological excavations Jerusalem have revealed biblical Jerusalem, its walls and buttresses, including the Broad Wall built by king Hezekiah where one can clearly see the partially destroyed house described by Isaiah, “Ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall“. (Is 22:10).
During the next fifty years, while Jerusalem lay abandoned and desolate, Babylon faded from history and was replaced by the Persian Empire. “In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia“ Cyrus proclaimed “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah“. A clay cylinder with the words of the proclamation, discovered in 1879 the in the foundations of the main temple of Babylon, can be seen in the British museum.
This proclamation heralded the return of the Jewish exilees from “the waters of Babylon” (today the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq) where they “wept when they remembered Zion” and promised “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning; If I do not remember thee let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy“.
These words from Psalm 137 are read at every Jewish wedding before the traditional breaking of the glass by the groom. The yearning for Jerusalem never ceased to be a part of the Jewish psyche.
In both Ezra and Nehemiah we learn of the difficulties the returnees face. Slowly Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt.
“And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the father, who were ancient men then, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted for joy“.
The Persian Empire too faded from history, replaced by the Greek Hellenist Empire. Desecration of the Temple by the Seleucids in 165 BCE led to the Hasmonean (Macabean) revolt and the rededication of the Temple, which was enlarged and enriched by the Hasmonean dynasty, rulers of an autonomous Judea.
The Greek Hellenist Empire too faded from history, replaced by the Roman Empire and, after the conquest by Pompey, Judea became a vassal Roman kingdom. The Hasmonean dynasty came to an end with the appointment of Herod as king of Judea.
As Herod was not a Jew he was not allowed access to much of the Temple area itself but, according to the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, he was determined to make the entire complex a monument to himself. Josephus describes the extensive work undertaken and the materials used. He describes the gates, the colonnades, the southern platform, the market place, the northern citadel, the bridges to the upper city and ends “during the time that the Temple was building , it did not rain in the day time, but that showers fell in the nights, so that the work was not hindered“. (Antiquities of the Jews, book XV, chapter XL)
Josephus, who was probably witness to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, on the same day that the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the ninth day of the month of Av, describes how the city burnt for days. (War of the Jews, book VI, chapter IX).
Signs of this destruction can be seen in excavations throughout the Old City, particularly in the Herodian and Burnt Houses and the Southern steps and also in the excavations in David’s City. In the Western Wall tunnel the splendor of the Hasmonean and Herodian building is breathtaking. The Kotel, also known by some as the Wailing Wall, is but part of the Herodian support wall for the expanded Temple Mount platform. Over the centuries Jews have prayed at the Kotel and mourned the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem.
All archaeological remains of the Temple itself and the arched entrance from the southern steps to the Temple Mount, under the El Aqsa mosque have been systematically destroyed by the Moslem Wakf who deny there ever was a Jewish Temple. For Christians, this of course raises the question: where then did Jesus sit among the elders where he displayed his knowledge and understanding and where did he overturn the tables of the money-changers? (Luke 2: 41-49; Mat 21:12)
For more details of the unsupervised archaeological destruction please see two articles on my website www.ratzer.com – No. 3) “Temple Mount Excavations” and No. 8) “Ramp to the Temple Mount”.
During most of the Roman and then Byzantine rule Jews were not allowed access to Jerusalem and for the most part the Temple Mount lay desolate once again. The rock on which the Dome of the Rock was built in 691 by the Caliph Abd El Malik, sixty years after the Arab conquest, is probably part of the Temple itself, if not the Holy of Holies.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran but a later tradition tells that it was from this rock that Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse, Buraq. Although Churches throughout the land had been destroyed during the Arab conquest, no harm came to the Dome of the Rock during the Crusader period.
With the departure of the Crusaders, and the almost total destruction of their churches, Moslem rule returns, first under the Mamelukes and then as part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. According to detailed description of the Holy Land published in 1716, Palaestina ex Monumentis, most of the population, Jewish and Christian, was to be found in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Jaffa. The Moslem population consisted of nomadic Bedouin.
Interestingly, despite the current Palestinian historical claims, nothing had changed when Mark Twain visited Palestine in 1867. (See Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain). Although the Jews were the majority, their freedom was limited by the Moslem rulers.
This continued when the British Mandate rule began after the end of WWI. Jews were still not permitted to pray freely at the Kotel. When the British forces left in 1948 the Jewish Palestinians declared the State of Israel. The Arab Palestinians, who did not take the opportunity to do the same, now look back on what was for them the Arab Nakb’a, disaster.
Jerusalem became a divided city, one part under Israeli control, the other part, with most of the Holy places, eventually annexed by the Jordanians together with the West Bank, an annexation totally rejected by the UN and therefore not recognized by international law.
During nineteen years of Jordanian rule neither Israelis nor Jews were permitted to visit Jordan, not Jerusalem and certainly not the Kotel. Although not politically correct to mention right of entry to Christian holy sites was not as unrestricted as it now is. Free access to all Hoy Places did not exist.
The change came in June 1967. Ignoring international diplomatic calls not to join Egypt and Syria in their war against Israel, Jordan opened fire on Israeli cities, including Nathanya, Herzliah, Tel Aviv and divided Jerusalem. Jordan lost the war she had begun. Within six days the entire West Bank came under Israeli control and the wall dividing Jerusalem was taken down. Once more Jerusalem was builded as a city that is compact together; ….
Despite the joyous call “the Temple Mount is in our hands” and contrary to all expectations, Israel decided to leave the de facto control of the Temple Mount area and its mosques to the Jordanian Wakf (Moslem religious authorities).
Over one hundred thousand Israelis, my family and I among them, went up to Jerusalem to pray at the Kotel, freely for the first time in centuries. All restrictions on all holy places, Jewish and Christian alike were removed.
That is what we are celebrating tonight and tomorrow. In the words of Zechariah (8:3-8)
“Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem …
… There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem …
… And the streets of the shall be full of boys and girls playing …
… I will save my people from the east country and the west country,
And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.”