Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <sglick@iea.org.il>
Yisrael Shalem    2/12

History of Jerusalem from Its Beginning to David

Over a million years ago elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, water buffaloes and other animals now extinct here roamed the Judean Hills. In Bethlehem remains of some of these animals, thought to be 1.4-1.8 million years old, were found cut apart. These finds are the earliest signs of human existence near Jerusalem. 48 sites with stone implements have been discovered, most of them Paleolithic; as well as 23 Neolithic sites, near Jerusalem. The early dwellers around Jerusalem were hunter-gatherers living in forest-covered hills.

Jericho, 35 kilometers from Jerusalem, is thought to be the oldest city in the world. Some 7-8,000 years ago in Jericho, for the first time in history, people began to farm and settle down in one location permanently. This agricultural revolution probably affected nearby Jerusalem, which was on the road between Jericho and the Mediterranean Sea. Ceramic shards found near the Gihon Spring are the earliest remains found to date at the site of ancient Jerusalem, the small slope east of the Dung Gate known as the City of David. They are from the Chalcolithic period, close to 5,000 years ago (fourth millennium BCE) 97 the exact date is not known. It is not clear if the settlement then was continuous. Apparently the hill was resettled in the early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BCE).
Finds from this period include pottery, rectangular houses, and the first burial sites carved into the rock. Several other villages in the surrounding hills were established at the same time. However, there are no remains at the City of David for hundreds of years from the second half of the third millennium BCE Apparently Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuilt in the first half of the middle Bronze Age. Nothing is known about the conquerors except for a few graves from the period. Only in the beginning of the second millennium BCE do we see the origins of the Canaanite city-state at Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts (20-19th century BCE), when Egypt ruled Canaan. These documents illustrate one of the ways in which Egypt tried to keep its vassals loyal. The names of cities and their rulers were inscribed on clay bowls or figurines of slaves with their hands tied behind their backs. If a vassal revolted, the Egyptian magicians would break the image of the rebel in the hope that this would break his spirit. The names of two rulers of Jerusalem, Shas'an and Y'qar 'am, date from the 20th century. Texts a hundred years later preserve only the first syllable of a single ruler of Jerusalem, "Ba... " Many cities like Jerusalem were ruled by two leaders; a century later only one ruler is mentioned. Some see this as evidence that several tribes, each with its own leader, integrated within the city.

The exact pronunciation of the Egyptian name is not clear from the hieroglyphic, but it probably sounded like "rushalimum." The name resounds more clearly in later Akkadian texts, which refer to the city as Urusilimu. The original Hebrew name was probably Yerushalem. It is assumed that the name of the city reflected the worship of the god Shalem; it was common to name cites after the local god. Jerusalem's name probably refers to the worship of the god Shalem in the days of the Canaanites. The name might mean "the city of Shalem" or "founded by Shalem" (not related to the author of this text).

Shalem was a popular god in the western Semitic pantheon. He was the god of creation and completeness, and of the setting sun. It is very likely that the king of Jerusalem was called the king of Shalem. Abraham met Melchizedek king of Shalem after a military victory: "And Melchizedek the king of Shalem brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high god. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of the most high god, possessor of heaven and earth'" (Genesis 14:18-20). The book of Genesis does not record where this meeting took place, but most scholars agree that the king of Shalem was the king of Jerusalem. Perhaps zedek (the Hebrew word for righteousness) was part of the royal family name. The king of Jerusalem who fought Joshua in later times was called Adoni-Zedek. The biblical text reflects a kinship between the concept of the deity worshipped by Abraham and that of the king of Shalem.

Canaanite Jerusalem had two holy sites; both were above and outside the city walls. Shalem was probably worshipped in the area of the Temple Mount, which later became the holiest site for the Jews and the third most holy site for Moslems. The other Canaanite holy site was probably located near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the crucifixion. Jerusalem must have been an important town in Canaanite times; it and Shechem are the only two cities in the Judean and Ephraim Hills mentioned in Egyptian writings for 200 years. In the late execration texts (18th century BCE) only Jerusalem is mentioned. Modern excavations have uncovered some of Jerusalem's formidable defenses from the period, when the town was a typical prominent, fortified Canaanite city-state. Remains of the city wall and part of a tower were found near the Gihon Spring. The walled city was built on the hill, with the wall extending down and around the water source. The base of the tower near the spring was exceptionally strong and was part of the city wall throughout the First Temple period.

Jerusalem is not mentioned in literary sources for the next 500 years. However, archaeological evidence indicates that the city remained intact, though very small, only 30-40 dunam (7.5-10 acres). Despite its size Jerusalem was an consequential city, exerting influence over the surrounding towns. Several finds from this period support the picture portrayed in the El-Amarna letters (1405-1350 BCE) of Jerusalem as an influential town in the Judean Hills. A large platform was built on the northern side of the city with retaining walls ten meters high. The structure apparently served as a base for a fortress or large building. Such defenses would only be built by an important town. (The northern side of town was the most vulnerable, as the Canaanite town did not extend to the hill 's summit.) An Egyptian libation tray was found that might have been part of a temple for the local Egyptian garrison. A piece of an Egyptian stele from this time was found north of the present city walls. These finds indicate the importance of Jerusalem to Egypt. Beyond the city walls, the king of Jerusalem controlled an area extending from near Shechem in the north to Jericho in the east, west towards the coastal plain and perhaps even including Hebron to the south. It eventually grew so powerful that rival city-states from as far away as Ashkelon joined forces to defeat the mighty king of Jerusalem (just as Jerusalem had earlier joined a confederation of cities to weaken the king of Shechem who had expanded his sphere of influence). The Ashkelon confederation conquered a town that had belonged to Jerusalem and hijacked a caravan en route to Jerusalem. Greater Jerusalem was also under attack by the Apiru, whose identity is still a mystery. The Egyptian texts refer to them frequently as raiders of Canaanite cities. Were they bands of lawless robbers, or perhaps the Hebrews?

Many political and military events of this period are recorded in the El-Amarna letters. This archive includes letters from the warring Canaanite city -states to Egypt. All proclaim their devoted loyalty to the pharaoh and beg for military assistance against his adversaries. Of the 350 letters, six were sent by Abdi-Hepa, a king of Jerusalem. He apparently knew personally many influential people in Egypt and pleaded with them for aid. He presented himself as the only one Egypt could really trust, but to no avail. Egypt did not look favorably on the rise of Jerusalem, and helped her adversaries. The Egyptian garrison in Jerusalem was transferred to Gaza. With his defenses weakened and under constant attack from the Apiru and from his rivals in Canaan, the king of Jerusalem complained in his last letter that all was lost. Then the letters stopped. We do not know what became of him and his city. Was Jerusalem conquered or did it survive? Some scholars contend that the verse in Judges (8:1) describing the burning of Jerusalem refers to an early conquest of Jerusalem by some of the Jewish tribes in the 14th century. The issue is not clear at all.
However, 100-200 years later, when Joshua enters Israel, we again see Jerusalem as a major force in the Judean Hills. After Joshua 's initial victories it was Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, who united the kings of the south against Joshua (Joshua ch. 10). He and the others were killed after a battle that took place west of Jerusalem. However, the book of Joshua does not tell us what happened to his city after the battle. The city was apparently occupied by another people, the Jebusites, who spoke a language related to Hittite. The Hittites were a people that lived in Asia Minor and parts of Canaan and spoke an Indo-European language. The book of Joshua tells that Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites: "As for the Jebusites settled in Jerusalem, the tribe of Judah could not drive them out; the Jebusites lived beside the tribe of Judah in Jerusalem to this day "(Joshua 15:63). Who were the Jebusites? The prophet Ezekiel described the origin of Jerusalem in the following way: "Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: your origin and your nativity is of the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite " (16:3). The Amorites were western Semites. In the Bible the word Amorite is often used as a general term for the people in Canaan or those that lived in the Judean Hills. The origin of the Jebusites is not clear, but they lived among the Hittites and Amorites in the Judean Hills (Numbers 13:29).

The Jebusite city was very small but well fortified. It had two main strong holds, one on the north side and one protecting the water. One of them was called Zion (scholars are not sure which), the meaning of which is not known. (The word Zion was later used to denote other parts of Jerusalem: the Temple Mount, and later Mount Zion, neither of which were part of the Jebusite city.) The Jebusite city was surrounded by Jewish settlement for some two hundred years. Most of its land was allotted to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:16). The first Jewish king, Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, never attacked Jerusalem even though it was so close to his home town. That was left to the second king, David. His conquest and the transformation of Jerusalem to the capital of Israel will be the subject of the next class.


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