outdoor scale model of Herodian Jerusalem 
dominated by temple complex & fortress of Antonia


Hebrew: Yerushalayim

Prehistoric fortified city in the mountains of north-western Judea about 2500 feet above the Mediterranean & about 15 miles west of the northern shore of the Dead Sea. Jerusalem was located on the ancient central north-south corridor about 20 miles north of Hebron & 40 miles south of Shechem.

The pre-Hebraic city was built at the southern end of a low prow-shaped hill called Ophel, west of the southern end of the Mount of Olives. Though surrounded by higher, more defensible ridges, the Ophel was better suited for habitation because it was near an intermittent spring [Gihon]. The city was called Salem in stories of the Hebrew patriarchs (18th c. BCE) & Jebus during the period of the Israelite confederacy (12th-11th c. BCE). Unlike most Canaanite cities, it did not resist the Israelite occupation of the land & thus was not conquered by the Hebrews until David took it & made it his personal capitol: "the city of David." Since the city itself lacked historic significance to Israelites, David brought the ark of the covenant to a terrace on the knoll above the Ophel called "Mount" Moriah. In addition to expanding the fortifications of the Ophel, David's son Solomon commissioned the Phoenician Hiram of Tyre to build a temple to house the ark on Mount Moriah (10th c. BCE).

eastern face of inner courts & shrine of Herod's temple 
from scale model outside Jerusalem

In the minds of most Judeans, this shrine made Jerusalem the holy city of Israel. But after Solomon the northern Israelite tribes rejected Jerusalem's claim to preeminence & built rival shrines at cities in their own territory (Bethel, Dan & eventually Shechem). After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel [722 BCE], however, Jerusalem became the primary center for the preservation & development of Hebrew religious traditions. Hezekiah strengthened its fortifications & diverted the waters of the spring by a tunnel carved through the hill to a pool [Siloam] just inside the southern wall of the city. With such improved fortifications the city was able to withstand an Assyrian siege. But in the 6th c. BCE it was sacked three times by the Babylonians & its leading citizens deported to Babylon.


(left) view of Herodian Jerusalem from lower city up the Tyropean valley 
with pool of Siloam center
& (right) pool of Siloam with entrance to Hezekiah's tunnel today

After the Persians conquered Babylon, many descendents of the exiles were permitted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild first their temple & then the city walls. During the Persian & Hellenistic periods, Jerusalem remained a small city. But after winning independence from Syria (165 BCE) Jerusalem was expanded by the Hasmonean dynasty to include several hills to the west of the Ophel. Yet, this growth was overshadowed by the building projects of Herod (after 39 BCE) who expanded the plateau on Moriah by building a pyramid-like platform that covered the whole north end of the city of David & Solomon. The Temple itself was destroyed by fire during the war with Rome (70 CE). After another unsuccessful Jewish revolt (135 CE), the emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman city.

temple mount with Islamic shrine Dome of the Rock built 
on site of ancient Jewish sanctuary

western wall of Herod's platform encasing temple mount
with  outdoor synagogue at base

orthodox Jew praying at western wall

References: Josephus, Antiquities 5.81-82; 7.60-129;
                                                        8.21, 54, 99-100, 186-211, 221-241;
                                                        9.260-267; 10.2-24; 10.97-147, 183-184; 11.58-183;
                                                       12.133-136, 159-160, 246-248, 296, 316-317,
                                                       14.52-77, 285-299, 363, 476-488; 15.293;
                                                        17.251-254, 292-299; 18.55-60; 19.1.
                   _____, War 1.3, 18-19, 46-50, 133-154, 169-170, 178-179, 240, 347-358;
                                       2.39-50, 169-177, 184-185, 218-219, 223-227, 293-344,
                                       4.135, 399-401, 486-658;
                                        5.136-237; 6.130-7.17 
                  2 Sam 5.1-13; 1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.1, 5.1-9.19; 2 Kings 24.8-25:21;
                  Ps 79:1-4; Ezra 1:1-2:2, 68; 6:1-15; Ps 122; Isa 2:1-4; Jer 7:1-8-3.
                  Mark 11:1-13:14 // Matt 21:1-24:16 // Luke 19:29-21:21
                   John 2:13-23, 4:19-24, 5:1-9, 12:12-19.
                  Matt 23:37-39 // Luke 13:34-35.
                  Acts 1:12-14, 4;1-21, 8:1-3, 15:1-29, 21:17-40
                  Gal 1:13-2:10; 1 Cor 16:1-4; Rom 15:25-32

For further information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:

  • Rousseau, John J. & Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) pp. 136-182.

Other resources on line:

Perspective on the World of Jesus

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