A brief history of Jerusalem, Part I

The city of Jerusalem is always in the news. The conflict that rages through its streets does not seem to end despite the entire world calling for sanity. A lot is at stake in the city. It plays a major role in 3 of the world’s major religions. It has been at the epicenter for nearly every major geo-politcal movement in the region for nearly 3000 years. The only way that the city can be understood today is by stepping back to 1000 BCE, and following the conflict to today. Over the course of 3 posts I will show you all the events that led to the modern city of Jerusalem.

Although burial sites dating back to 4500 BCE have been found, popular thought has it that the earliest reference to the city is in Genesis 18:14, wherein the city of Salem is mentioned. The first concrete reference, however, are clay tablets dating to the mid 1300’s BC which show correspondence between the pharaoh of Egypt and the king of a kingdom based out of the city of Urasalim. It seems that he was a puppet of the kingdom of Egypt. Liberal estimates put the population of his realm at around 1,500.

The wall that David built

The wall that David built

In 1025, the tribes of Israel united to form a kingdom. At this point in time, Jerusalem was inhabited by a race of people called the Jebusites. The Isrealites tried several times unsuccessfully to invade the city. It was only when King David used some form of sneakiness (historians cannot agree on what means) to take over the walled hill city. He then built a temple at the top of the hill. A sanctuary exists at the alleged spot today. He also commenced a temple that was to house the Ark of the Covenant.

King Solomon succeeded his father Kind David, and finished the temple for the Ark. He not only built this temple to Yarweh, but shrines to many different deities. He also built a palace for himself, secured a significant water supply for the city, and significantly strengthened the fortifications. Although there are records of these things being built, there is a lack of supporting archaelogical evidence. Many sources claim that this was a time of prosperity for the city, while others say that Jerusalem could barely function as a city state.

In 935 King Solomon died, and 10 of the tribes refused to accept his son as their king. So they split from Israel, and formed the kingdom of Judah. This marks the end of what is called the First Temple Period, in reference to the Temple of Solomon. Jerusalem at this point was the only real religious shrine in the kingdom, and evidence has been found of pilgrims at this point in time.

Jerusalem remained the capital of Judah for nearly 400 years. During this time the city survived an assault by an Assyrian force that not 20 years earlier had taken out the capital of the Israeli kingdom. Not necessarily by means of force. Legend has it that an angel came down and took out the force of 185,000. Another source at the time says that the Judean kind gave a lot of gold to the invading force, convincing them to go away. Another theory is that the Assyrian troops contracted cholera. Regardless, in 597 the Babylonians invaded, and it was not pretty. A governor on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar was placed in the city, however he rebelled. This was a dumb idea. Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the most powerful kingdom in the region, and he sent an army that captured the rebel, killed his family before his eyes, and then plucked out his eyeballs so that his families demise would be the last thing he ever saw. The Babylonians burned the temple and the city walls. A year later, a distant relative of the rebel assasinated the current king. The remaining population of Judah then fled to Egypt.

In 537 the Persian empire, under Cyrus II, took over Jerusalem and allowed the Jews to return and rebuild their temple, which was completed in 516. The walls were rebuilt and the currency of Persia was circulated throughout the former kingdom (consider my previous post on Roman Currency, to understand how important this fact is). Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish worship.

More stuff left over from the time of David

More stuff left over from the time of David

The next regime to roll through was Alexander the Great in 312, and then quickly came under the control of Ptolemy I, where they kept the some currency. Then, in 198 Jerusalem the Seleucids took over the city using a bunch of armoured horses. During this time, many Jews started to come under the influence of Greek culture, and turned their intentions towards Jerusalem. They didn’t so much care for this, and in 165 rebelled as chronicled by  Maccabeas, forming the Hasmonean empire. This was done with an alliance with the Romans. It was this rebellion that lead to the creation of the holiday Hanukkah. The Hasmonean Empire lasted for 104 years, and ended when Pompey took control. I will, however, end things here.

We can already see a number of themes emerging already. First we have already seen how the city is constantly under bombardment. However, despite this, the Jewish residents of the city have been remarkably tenacious in their beliefs, culminating in a rebellion when the Greeks tried to exert their culture. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but its a lot of the same.

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Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 2:23 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] A Brief History of Jerusalem: Part I […]


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