This is a four-part series covering the 4,000 year history of the city. This post and the subsequent three posts would focus why this City is important to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The first written account of Jerusalem appears in Egyptian records dating back to 1700 BC. Jerusalem is located 32 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea, 14 miles west of the Dead Sea, and is situated atop a limestone plateau, approximately 2,800 feet above sea level. It is located at the cross roads of the three continents Asia, Africa, and Europe, and has historically been sandwiched between some of the greatest empires of antiquity, including the Greek and Roman empires to the north and west, Egyptians to the south, and Persians to the East.
Jerusalem is a profoundly religious city with a continuous history going back 4,000 years. It is primarily a religious city as its history is closely tied to the narratives of three major western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, of which, Judaism and Christianity originated there. Since Jerusalem is a religious city, most of our information from its early periods comes from religious sources. As this post explores the city’s long, contentious history we will also look at why it is important to Jews, Christians, and Muslims the world over.
Jerusalem is deeply connected to the history of Jews and Judaism. There are many reasons why this city is important to Jews, but three most important reasons are: that this city and the land around it is the Promised Land given to Jews in a covenant by God;, second it is believed that the Prophet Abraham offered his son Isaac to God on the Temple Mount, located within the present-day city, an event known as Binding and celebrated by Jews on Rosh Hashanah; and thirdly, King Solomon built the first Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem, the Temple in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where God’s Shekina or presence resided.
Jerusalem became the center piece of the land of Canaan promised to Abraham by God, when he was asked by God, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house (Ur in Iraq), unto a land that I will show thee” Genesis (15:1-18). The Quran also mentions this covenant God made with Abraham. The land promised to Abraham and his progeny by God was the land of Canaan or Palestine.
According to Biblical sources, approximately 800 years after Abraham, Moses brought Jews out of Egypt into the Sinai desert where he went to a mountain and God renewed the covenant He made with Abraham. God asked Moses to enter in the land of milk and honey, but Moses never entered Jerusalem and died around 1200 BC. His successors Joshua led Jews out of Sinai into Palestine, and captured the city of Jericho, but failed to take the well fortified city of Jerusalem.
King David, the son in-law of Saul eventually captured the city of Jerusalem around 1000 BC and renamed the City Ir’ David, or the City of David, and ruled the city for 30 to 40 years. His son King Solomon consolidated David’s empire, and in 960 BC built the first Jewish Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem. The Temple consisted of three parts, the Illhan – a vestibule at the entrance; the Hekhal, or the cult hall; and Devir, the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and God’s divine presence resided.
Approximately 350 years later, in 586, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, and also sent the Jewish elite into exile. The destruction of the First Temple was a catastrophic event in Jewish history. Jews living in Babylon never forgot their home and mourned the loss of Jerusalem. Psalm 137: 5-6, “if I forgot thee, O’ Jerusalem let my right hand forget her cunning.” Fifty years later, Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews living in exile to return to Jerusalem, along with the sacred objects of worship taken from the temple. The Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple which was finished in 515 BC, but it was not as great or as beautiful as the temple built by Solomon.
Over the next few centuries, Jerusalem was repeatedly run over by the neighboring empires. Around 300 BC, Jerusalem was captured by Alexander the Great and over the course of next couple of hundred years of Ptolemy rule, Jerusalem became a Hellenized city. Even rabbis adopted the classic method of teaching practiced in Greek academies by posing questions and then answering them. After the Maccabee revolt against Seleucid rule, Jerusalem became the capital of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 152 BC. The Roman Emperor Pompey captured Jerusalem from the Hasmoneans in 63 BC, until Herod, a Romanized Jew under Roman tutelage became the King of Israel in 39 BC.
Herod the Great launched an ambitious plan to beautify and expand the city of Jerusalem. He built palaces and the city wall. He also decided to rebuild the second Temple in Jerusalem at a much grander scale by doubling the area of the Temple Mount. Herod had rabbis trained as carpenters and masons to build the inner most sanctum of the Temple, where ordinary Jews were not permitted to set foot. The second Temple built by Herod would come to a sad end in 70 CE, as predicted by a man from Nazareth.
To be continued in Part II.
• City of Stones, The hidden history of Jerusalem – Meron Benvenisti
• Jerusalem – Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman
• Jerusalem Blessed Jerusalem Cursed – Thomas A. Idinopulos
• Jerusalem, Rebirth of a City – Martin Gilbert
• Al Quds – Mohammed Abdul Hameed Al-Khateeb
• Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths – Karen Armstrong