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

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <>
3 March 1997
Yisrael Shalem     3/12

Jerusalem in the First Temple period (c.1000-586 B.C.E.)

When David began his reign in Hebron c. 1007 B.C.E. he ruled only over the tribe of Judah (southern Israel). After several years of civil war against the tribes supporting Saul's son, Ish-boshet, he was acclaimed king of all the tribes. Though his first act as king of all Israel was to conquer Jerusalem, Jerusalem first appears much earlier in David's life. After defeating Goliath he brought the giant's head to Jerusalem (I Samuel 17:54). It is unclear why, but obviously Jerusalem was important to David at a very early stage. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan suggests that Goliath's attack violated a treaty or modus vivendi between the Jews and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. David's purpose in bringing his head to Jerusalem was to emphasize that as the peace had been violated, the Israelites were now free to attack Jerusalem. The story of David's battle for Jerusalem appears twice in the Bible (II Samuel 5:6-9 and I Chronicles 11:4-7). Several aspects of the story are unclear. The Bible relates that "the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land. The Jebusites said to David, 'You cannot come in here except by removing the blind and the lame.' They thought, 'David cannot come in here.'" (II Samuel 5:6-7). Maybe this was a Jebusite taunt; i.e. the city is so strong that even the blind can defend the walls. Perhaps it is an example of the Hittite custom of cursing their enemies (a custom known from other sources as well), in which case the text suggests a magic spell: "if you dare to attack us, you will become lame and blind."

Jerusalem's defenses, natural or supernatural, stymied David, and he sought help from volunteers, proclaiming that whoever led the attack would be named commander in chief of the army. By use of the "tzinor" his relative Yoav successfully conquered Jerusalem. The meaning of this word is unclear. Until recently it was thought that tzinor ("pipe" in modern Hebrew) referred to the shaft, a secret Jebusite tunnel connecting the city to the Gihon Spring. Perhaps Yoav discovered the tunnel and infiltrated into the city. Recent studies contend that the shaft was dug long after the time of King David, though the date is not certain. Tzinor might also be a kind of weapon, a musical instrument (like the ram's horn in the conquest of Jericho) or a magic wand to ward off the Jebusite curse!

Why did David choose Jerusalem to be the political capital of Israel? He had secured the crown of Israel through civil war. To consolidate his gains, heal the wounds of the conflict and unite the tribes he chose an extraterritorial location for his administrative center. Jerusalem, then outside the tribal territories, was a neutral site (somewhat analogous to the choice of Washington D.C. as the U.S. capital, a compromise between the northern and southern states).

How did David come to make Jerusalem, and in particular the present-day Temple Mount, a religious center for the Jews? From the start there were several sites in Israel holy to the Jews. When the Jews first returned to the Land of Israel under Joshua's leadership, they built an altar to God at Mount Ebal near Shechem (Joshua 8:30). Later, Jews made the yearly pilgrimage to Shilo where the ark was kept (I Samuel 1:3). The ark was subsequently captured by the Philistines, returned to the Jews, and remained for 20 years at Kiryat Yearim (I Samuel 7:2). Apparently no need was sensed to keep the ark at a particular site or declare one site as the central focus of worship.

One of David's first acts was to bring the ark to Jerusalem (I Samuel 6); but only towards the end of his reign, 24 years later, did he choose the site where the Temple would be built. According to II Samuel 24, God stopped the destroying angel from inflicting a plague on Jerusalem just as the angel was standing in the "goren" (threshing floor?) of Arvana the Jebusite (v. 16). The Hebrew word "goren" has more than one meaning. It can refer to a circular place of pagan worship. Many scholars believe that this particular "threshing floor" was in fact a Jebusite shrine dedicated to the worship of the gods of the fertility of the fields. Agricultural threshing floors are normally located close to the fields; Arvana's goren on the Temple Mount was nowhere near the fields.

In the Hebrew (II Samuel ch. 24) Arvana's name appears with slight but significant spelling changes. In verse 16 he is called "the Arvana"; in verse 23 he is called "the king": "All these the king Arvana gave to the king [David]." The word "arvana" appears in ancient Ugaritic texts as a term for ruler. The word's etymology in the Hittite language also relates it to the idea of ruler. This suggests that Arvana of II Samuel was no mere peasant, but rather the last king of the Jebusite city. His role would have been political and religious, like Melchizedek the priest-king of Shalem (Genesis 14:18). Perhaps when Arvana lost his kingdom he continued to carry out his priestly function. The Jebusite population of Jerusalem was not wiped out; many of them, like Uriah the Hittite, husband of Batsheva, held important positions in David's administration. The Biblical story suggests that the plague ended only after an altar to the God of Israel was built on the site of the shrine dedicated to the god Shalem.

Genesis (22:2) calls the spot where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac Mt. Moriah. Jewish tradition identifies Mt. Moriah with the Temple Mount, but the name Mt. Moriah appears only in Genesis 22; there are no biblical sources corroborating the identification made by tradition. Deuteronomy prescribes a commandment to make a pilgrimage three times a year to "the place that God will choose" (Deut. 16:16) but never reveals the name of the chosen place. Apparently it was King David who made known the location of the chosen place by planning to build the Temple in Jerusalem, making Jerusalem into Israel's main religious center.

David wanted to build a temple on the site, but was told by the prophet that the task must be left to his son (II Samuel 7:1); as the Temple would be dedicated to peace, David, the man of war, would not be allowed to build it.

Expansion of Jerusalem under David and Solomon. The city conquered by David was very small, about 60 dunam (15 acres). It appears that David did not alter the basic plan of the Jebusite city. He moved his residence to the Jebusite fortress and the city was renamed "the City of David." He built a royal palace around a site called the "millo" (II Samuel 5:9). The word comes from the root meaning "to fill." Archaeologists assume that it refers to a landfill where he built his palace. The exact location of the "millo" is not certain. An artificial tel formed by a system of terraces covering an area of 12 x 40 meters was uncovered on the northeastern side of the city. This is thought to be the site of David's palace, over the Jebusite fortress. Among the finds there was a proto-Ionic capital. The royal palace itself was constructed by Phoenician builders who imported their materials, including cedars, from Lebanon (v. 11).

Solomon became king in 967 B.C.E., when he was only 16 years old. During his 40-year reign the country enjoyed peace and prosperity. Jerusalem was the capital of a vast kingdom extending from Damascus to Eilat. Solomon initiated many building projects, more than doubling the size of Jerusalem. Above the City of David he built his palace and royal administrative complex, in the area known as the Ophel (which means "high"). Above the Ophel, on the site that David purchased from Arvana, he built the Temple. Solomon united the three hills (the Temple Mount, the Ophel and the City of David) into one royal complex, with a wall separated it from the rest of the city.

Like his father, he received technical aid and building materials from the Phoenician king of Tyre; indeed, the design of the Temple was similar to that of Canaanite and Phoenician shrines. To construct the Temple King Solomon drafted 3,300 people to oversee over 150,000 Jewish workers. It took seven years to complete, and another thirteen to complete his palace, which was twice the size of the Temple. He also built "the House of the Forest of Lebanon," a porch of pillars, a place of judgment, a house for his wife (Pharaoh's daughter) and many other buildings; all built of the highest quality (and most expensive) materials, and must have been among the most impressive edifices in the Middle East at the time (I Kings ch. 7). He also erected pagan altars for his many foreign wives. There are almost no archaeological remains of Solomon's buildings on or near the Temple Mount. When Herod increased the area of the Temple Mount some 900 years later he destroyed what remained of all previous building.

Solomon's vast construction projects had all been at public expense. After his death, the Israelites agreed to the ascent to the throne of his son Rehoboam on condition that he lower taxes. When Rehoboam refused to accede to their demands, the kingdom split into two: the kingdom of Judah (from Jerusalem to the south, including Benjamin) and the kingdom of Israel (north of Jerusalem to Dan). The territory ruled by Jerusalem was reduced to the area of the tribe of Judah. During the following 342 years ('8-586 B.C.E.) the city underwent great changes and witnessed many dramatic religious and political events. With slight interruptions all of its rulers were descendants of David. The monarchy was relatively stable, though there were cases of palace intrigue and political assassination. The small Judean kingdom never again reached the political or military greatness of the days of David. It suffered many years of war with the kingdom of Israel to the north as well as raids from Egypt.

In 701 B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire conquered most of the kingdom of Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem. The Assyrian general Rab-shakeh tried using psychological warfare to demoralize the city, calling up in the Jewish language (instead of Aramean, the diplomatic language of the day) to the men defending the walls: "Let not Hezekiah (the king of Jerusalem) deceive you...Have any of the gods of the nations saved his land from the king of Assyria?" (II Kings 18:28-33). That same night an angel killed the entire Assyrian army (II Kings 19:35). The Greek historian Herodotus attributed the death of the Assyrians to a plague. When Babylonia superseded the Assyrian Empire, Jerusalem became its vassal. Judah rebelled several times and was eventually destroyed by the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.E. The First Temple was destroyed on the ninth day of the month of Av. Ever since the day has been a fast day for Jews. During these three and half centuries one of the most revolutionary developments was a slow process of religious reform. The great King Solomon had tolerated idolatry alongside the Temple worship. Many subsequent kings actually promoted and practiced idolatrous rites. On one hand, the prophets give the impression that Jewish imitation of the rites of the Canaanites was rampant; on the other hand, this period witnessed great religious reforms, a gradual movement towards monotheism. At this time almost all the books of the Bible were written down. The discovery of a ancient book in the Temple in the days of Josiah (639-609 B.C.E.) (whose exact contents remains a mystery) led to mass destruction of idols (II Kings ch. 22-23). The City's Size and Walls. The city expanded in the mid-eighth century B.C.E. under King Uzziah (785-733) who "built towers in Jerusalem...and fortified them" (II Chronicles 26:9). The population continued to grow, perhaps including refugees from the northern kingdom which was conquered in 722 B.C.E. by Assyria. King Hezekiah (727-698) continued the policy of strengthening Jerusalem by building new walls and digging a new and ambitious water system to prepare for the Assyrian military threat.

The size of Jerusalem during the reigns of the later kings of Judah is an issue hotly debated among scholars. The answer lies with the discovery of the "broad wall," 65 meters long and seven meters wide, during recent excavations in the Jewish Quarter. This wall shows that Jerusalem included most of the present Jewish Quarter. The new wall literally ran through some houses. This corroborates the description of Isaiah "You have broken down houses to make a wall" (Isaiah 22:10). The wall was exceptionally wide because at this point there are no natural defenses.

Water Supply. Like many other towns, Jerusalem was built on a hill for defense reasons, but its main water source, the Gihon Spring, lay below in the valley. Reaching the water during a siege while preventing the enemy from discovering it was a major problem. In several cities in Israel the water source was hidden and a shaft dug from inside the city to the spring.

In Jerusalem three different systems built over the centuries provided secret access to the spring. The earliest is now called Warren's Shaft, named for its discoverer, Charles Warren. The shaft begins inside the City of David with a chamber leading to a horizontal tunnel ending in a vertical shaft to the spring 13 meters below. The shaft gave the inhabitants access to the water without leaving the city walls. It was once thought that the shaft was constructed by the Jebusites and discovered by David when he attacked the city (Yoav's "tzinor"?). It is impossible to date the shaft's construction, but its similarity to shafts from later dates lead most archaeologists to conclude that it was made during the Israelite period, after David conquered Jerusalem. The next system was the Silwan Channel, built contemporaneously with or slightly later than Warren's Shaft. The channel brought water from the Gihon to a reservoir at the eastern end of the Tyropoeon Valley, indicating that the city had expanded to the area of the present Jewish and Armenian Quarters.

The most grandiose scheme was executed by King Hezekiah before the Assyrian attack in 701 B.C.E. He dug a 533-meter long conduit bringing the water to a pool inside the city walls. The S-shaped tunnel has a slope of only 30 centimeters (12 inches) along its entire length. Teams of workers began digging at opposite ends of the tunnel. It is not clear why they didn't dig in a straight line or how they managed to plot the courses of the tunnels as they excavated to meet in the middle. It is obvious from the angle at the meeting point that there were a few slight wrong turns. The biblical story of its construction (II Kings 20:20, Isaiah 22:11 and II Chronicles 32:2-4) is well supported by the archaeological evidence and an inscription in ancient Hebrew found in the tunnel.

Another important water project was the Beth Zetha pool. In the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah a dam 40 meters long, 6 meters broad and 13 meters high was built across Beth Zetha Valley on the north side of the city, converting it into a huge reservoir. The water was brought to the City of David via a conduit 1 meter deep and 75 cm. wide, part of which has been uncovered.

The Bullae. One of the interesting finds from the First Temple period in Jerusalem are some 53 bullae, seals of important officials. They were all found in one house in the City of David. One of the names appearing in the bullae, Gemaryahu son of Shafan, is mentioned in the Bible as a scribe (Jeremiah 36:10). The find suggests that the house was the residence of a royal scribe.

Other archaeological remains from the First Temple period include a royal palace about four kilometers south of Jerusalem (at kibbutz Ramat Rachel). The date of its construction is not clear; perhaps Jeremiah was referring to it when he said, "Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness...who uses his neighbor's services without wages...who says, 'I will build myself a wide house'" (Jeremiah 22:13-15). Several pieces of pottery dating from the time of King Hezekiah and inscribed with the words "for the king" were found in the palace. These were containers that probably contained produce paid as taxes. After living under Babylonia rule for many years, Jerusalem rebelled in 586 B.C.E. and paid dearly. King Zedekiah expected military aid from Egypt which never arrived. The remains of a First Temple period tower or gate 8 m. high, 12 m. long, and 4.5 m. wide, uncovered in the Jewish Quarter, bear silent witness to the destruction wrought by the Babylonian army. Built in the twilight of the Judean Kingdom, Archaeologist Nachman Avigad believes it might be the "middle gate" through which King Nebuchadrezzar entered Jerusalem. When the king of Judah saw the Babylonian royal retinue entering the city he fled (Jeremiah 39:1-4). Some of the arrowheads found near the tower were of local manufacture, while another was a bronze arrowhead of a type first made by the Assyrians. These arrowheads and the layer of ash testify to the battle that took place here in 586. The Kingdom of Judah, like the Kingdom of Israel 136 years earlier, succumbed to superior military power. The Temple was destroyed and the rulers, artisans, and most of the population were exiled to far away Babylonia. However, unlike the Kingdom of Israel, who are called the ten lost tribes, these exiles maintained their distinct Jewish identity. 48 years later their descendants returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple. The exciting period of the Second Temple will be the subject of the next two lessons.

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