This is the second installment of the history of Jerusalem, the first part; Sanctity of Jerusalem in Judaism was posted earlier.
The story of Jerusalem is closely tied to the history of the three western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Originally Jerusalem was a small Canaanite settlement brought out of obscurity to the world stage by Jewish Prophets. The city is equally important to Christians since it is associated with the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ.
In 28 CE, Jesus of Nazareth, a wandering preacher of enormous charisma, who taught a message of brotherhood, kindness, and charity for the poor and hungry came to Jerusalem. His message of equality was perceived as a threat by then authorities. As he approached the city, he wept and foretold the destruction of Herod’s Temple. There were thousands of Jewish pilgrims in the city for the Passover holiday, and Caiaphas, the high priest of the Temple did not take it lightly that someone was predicting its destruction. Caiaphas had Jesus arrested and tried for Blasphemy. Since the Jews did not have the authority to inflict capital punishment, Jesus was sent to the Roman legate Pontius Pilate for sentencing. Pilate condemned Jesus to death and forced him to carry his own cross from the Praetorium to the hill of Golgotha, also known as the Cavalry, outside the walls of the city. There, Jesus was crucified with two others, and due to the approaching Sabbath, he was quickly buried in a nearby tomb by two of his disciples.
Jerusalem continued to experience turmoil and there was friction between Jews and the Roman legates. In 67 CE, Vespasian arrived in Palestine to deal with Jewish resistance. After his return to Rome his son Titus took the command of Roman forces. In August of 70 CE the Roman army broke through the siege of Jerusalem and burned down the Second Temple built by Herod ninety years earlier. After the fall of Jerusalem, Roman’s fury knew no bounds and they slaughtered tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, and once a beautiful city of gardens and palaces was laid to complete waste. This was the last destruction of the Temple which is mourned by Jews for the past two thousand years.
Jerusalem became a fully Christian City after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE. Up till then Christians were a persecuted minority in Palestine, an outlying province of the Roman Empire. To early Christians, Jerusalem on earth was of no interest and they did not visit the city as pilgrims. Rather, they were primarily interested in the heavenly New Jerusalem, as described in the Book of Revelation, which would descend to earth at the end of the time and would transform its earthly counterpart. The new Christian era also opened a new era in the city’s history and Jews were completely excluded from the city of their forefathers. The Jews were only allowed to enter Jerusalem on the 10th Day of the month Av, when they came in weeping wearing torn clothes to mourn the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
Jerusalem received a great deal of attention when Empress Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, met with the Bishop Makarius of Jerusalem at the first Conference of Churches at Nicaea in 325 CE. He told the Empress about the decrepit state of sites associated with Christ in Jerusalem. Empress Helena promised to visit Jerusalem next year and arrived with the authority and funds from the Emperor. She was responsible for the construction of the earliest Christian churches and buildings in Jerusalem. In 332 CE, the Church of Holy Sepulcher was built at the site where Christ’s Cross and Nails were found. The church stood on a hill directly facing the ruins of Herod’s Temple on Mount Moriah.
The other important site associated with Christ in Jerusalem is the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane is filled with two thousand year old olive trees and is mentioned in Gospels. Jesus offered his last prayers in this Garden before he was arrested by the Romans. The Eastern Greek Orthodox believes that Jesus’ mother Mary is buried next to the Garden of Gethsemane, in Mary’s Tomb. The Garden is also attached to the Churches of All Nations built on the remains of a 4th century Byzantine Chapel.
Via Dolorosa, or “Path of Grief”, is probably one of the most popular Christian sites after the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Via Dolorosa is the path Jesus took bearing his cross from the site of his trial, marked by the Monastery of Flagellation to the Hill of Golgotha, where he was crucified. Via Dolorosa has 14 Stations of the Cross; stations marked by an arch or plaque identifying places where Jesus met his mother or paused out of exhaustion and was comforted by a stranger. The last five Stations of the Cross are inside the Church of Holy Sepulcher, the site of his crucifixion and burial.
In 614 CE, Persian forces under Chosroes II captured Jerusalem from Byzantium and the Church of Holy Sepulcher was destroyed by a fire. However, the Persian rule lasted only 14 years and the Byzantine army regained control of the city and rebuilt the Church of Holy Sepulcher. During this time, 800 miles to the south of Jerusalem, another charismatic preacher Muhammad (d 632) was laying the foundation of a new faith Islam. This new faith would proclaim that all biblical prophets and Christ were the predecessors of Muhammad. The followers of Islam would soon emerge from the Arabian Peninsula and in 638 CE would take Jerusalem for themselves as the new heirs of the Abrahamic prophetic tradition. The Muslims would hold the city for the next 1300 years with the brief interruption of 92 years, when Crusaders ruled the city in the 12th century.
The third series of the Jerusalem history will cover the Muslim reign over it, starting at 638 CE and ending in 1918 with British occupation of Palestine.
• 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