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The city of Jerusalem was once “the city of Judah” (2 Chronicles 25:28). The name Jeru-Salem means “possession of peace” or “foundation of peace.” The dual form probably refers to the 2 mountains on which it was built, viz., Zion and Moriah; or, as some suppose, to the 2 parts of the city, the “upper” and the “lower city.”
Jerusalem is a “mountain city enthroned on a mountain fastness” (compare Psalms 68:15,16; 87:1; 125:2; 76:1,2; 122:3). It stands on the edge of one of the highest tablelands in Israel, and is surrounded on the southeastern, the southern, and the western sides by deep and precipitous ravines.
The city is not again mentioned till we are told that David brought the head of Goliath here (1 Samuel 17:54). Davidforces against the Jebusites still residing within its walls, and drove them out, fixing his own dwelling on Zion, which he called “the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:5-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-8). Here he built an altar to the Lord on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:15-25), and thither he brought up the ark of the covenant and placed it in the new tabernacle which he had prepared for it. Jerusalem now became the capital of the kingdom.
After the death of David, Solomon built the temple, a house for the name of the Lord, on Mount Moriah (B.C. 1010). He also greatly strengthened and adorned the city, and it became the great center of all the civil and religious affairs of the nation (Deuteronomy 12:5; compare 12:14; 14:23; 16:11-16; Psalms 122).
Demolished because of its sins
After the disruption of the kingdom on the accession to the throne of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, Jerusalem became the capital of the kingdom of the two tribes. It was subsequently often taken and retaken by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and by the kings of Israel (2 Kings 14:13, 14; 18:15, 16; 23:33-35; 24:14; 2 Chronicles 12:9; 26:9; 27:3, 4; 29:3; 32:30; 33:11), till finally, for the abounding iniquities of the nation, after a siege of 3 years, it was taken and utterly destroyed, its walls demolished to the ground, and its temple and palaces consumed by fire, by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39), B.C. 588.
The desolation of the city and the land was completed by the retreat of the principal Jews into Egypt (Jeremiah 40-44), and by the final carrying captive into Babylon of all that still remained in the land (52:3), so that it was left without an inhabitant (B.C. 582). Compare the predictions, Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26:14-39.
But the streets and walls of Jerusalem were again to be built, in troublous times (Dan. 9:16, 19, 25), after a captivity of 70 years. This restoration was begun B.C. 536, “in the first year of Cyrus” (Ezra 1:2, 3, 5-11). The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain the history of the re-building of the city and temple, and the restoration of the kingdom of the Jews, consisting of a portion of all the tribes. The kingdom thus constituted was for 2 centuries under the dominion of Persia, till B.C. 331; and thereafter, for about a century and a half, under the rulers of the Greek empire in Asia, till B.C. 167.
Destroyed again, as prophecied by Jesus Christ
For a century, the Jews maintained their independence under native rulers, the Asmonean princes. At the close of this period they fell under the rule of Herod and of members of his family, but practically under Rome, till the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70. The city was then laid in ruins.
Till A.D. 131 the Jews who still lingered about Jerusalem quietly submitted to the Roman sway. But in that year the emperor (Hadrian), in order to hold them in subjection, rebuilt and fortified the city. The Jews, however, took possession of it, having risen under the leadership of one Bar-Chohaba (i.e., “the son of the star”) in revolt against the Romans. Some four years afterwards (A.D. 135), however, they were driven out of it with great slaughter, and the city was again destroyed; and over its ruins was built a Roman city called Aelia Capitolina, a name which it retained till it fell under the dominion of the Mohammedans, when it was called el-Khuds, i.e., “the holy.”
The modern Jerusalem by-and-by began to be built over the immense beds of rubbish resulting from the overthrow of the ancient city; and whilst it occupies certainly the same site, there are no evidences that even the lines of its streets are now what they were in the ancient city.
In A.D. 326, Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the view of discovering the places mentioned in the life of our Lord. She caused a church to be built on what was then supposed to be the place of the nativity at Bethlehem. Constantine, animated by her example, searched for the holy sepulchre, and built over the supposed site a magnificent church, which was completed and dedicated A.D. 335. He relaxed the laws against the Jews till this time in force, and permitted them once a year to visit the city and wail over the desolation of “the holy and beautiful house.”
Conquests by Muslims and others
In A.D. 614, the Persians, after defeating the Roman forces of the emperor Heraclius, took Jerusalem by storm, and retained it till A.D. 637, when it was taken by the Arabians under the Khalif Omar. It remained in their possession till it passed, in A.D. 960, under the dominion of the Fatimite khalifs of Egypt, and in A.D. 1073 under the Turcomans.
In A.D. 1099 the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon took the city from the Muslims with great slaughter, and was elected king of Jerusalem. He converted the Mosque of Omar into a Christian cathedral. During the eighty-eight years which followed, many churches and convents were erected in the holy city. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt during this period, and it alone remains to this day.
In A.D. 1187 the sultan Saladin wrested the city from the Christians. From that time to the present day, with few intervals, Jerusalem has remained in the hands of the Muslims. It has, however, during that period been again and again taken and retaken, demolished in great part and rebuilt, no city in the world having passed through so many vicissitudes.
In the year 1850 the Greek and Latin monks residing in Jerusalem had a fierce dispute about the guardianship of what are called the “holy places.” In this dispute the emperor Nicholas of Russia sided with the Greeks, and Louis Napoleon, the emperor of the French, with the Latins. This led the Turkish authorities to settle the question in a way unsatisfactory to Russia. Out of this there sprang the Crimean War, which was protracted and sanguinary, but which had important consequences in the way of breaking down the barriers of Turkish exclusiveness.
Jerusalem is first mentioned under that name in the Book of Joshua, and the Tell-el-Amarna collection of tablets includes six letters from its Amorite king to Egypt, recording the attack of the Abiri about B.C. 1480. The name is there spelled Uru-Salim (“city of peace”).
Another monumental record in which the Holy City is named is that of Sennacherib's attack in B.C. 702. The “camp of the Assyrians” was still shown about A.D. 70, on the flat ground to the northwest, included in the new quarter of the city.
The city of David included both the upper city and Millo, and was surrounded by a wall built by David and Solomon, who appear to have restored the original Jebusite fortifications. The name Zion (or Sion) appears to have been, like Ariel (“the hearth of God”), a poetical term for Jerusalem, but in the Greek age was more specially used of the Temple hill. The priests’ quarter grew up on Ophel, south of the Temple, where also was Solomon's Palace outside the original city of David. The walls of the city were extended by Jotham and Manasseh to include this suburb and the Temple (2 Chronicles 27:3; 33:14).
Modern Jerusalem “lies near the summit of a broad mountain-ridge, which extends without interruption from the plain of Esdraelon to a line drawn between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean.” This high, uneven table-land is everywhere from 20 to 25 geographical miles in breadth. It was anciently known as the mountains of Ephraim and Judah.
Jerusalem is now a city of 857,752 inhabitants (2015—Israel Central Bureau of Statistics), with ancient medieval walls, partly on the old lines, but extending less far to the south. The traditional sites, as a rule, were first shown in the 4th and later centuries A.D., and have no clear evidence of authenticity. The results of excavation have, however, settled many disputed questions, and the course of the ancient walls have been traced.
“Jerusalem is a city of contrasts, and differs widely from Damascus, not merely because it is a stone town in mountains, whilst the latter is a mud city in a plain, but because while in Damascus Muslim religion and Oriental custom are unmixed with any foreign element, in Jerusalem every form of religion, every nationality of East and West, is represented at one time.”
See the Christian archaeological video which describes this city and the cultural context surrounding Jesus Christ: On the Death & Resurrection of the Messiah (“City of the Great King,” part of the Faith Lessons video series). “When seen in the urban setting of Herod's first century Jerusalem, Jesus' actions and teachings come alive, sparking a deeper understanding of our faith's Jewish roots.”