Dr. Ihsanur Rahman Ghauri


Jerusalem is one of the most ancient Canaanite cities. Its meanings have been explained by International Standard Bible Encyclopedia as:

With regard to the meaning of the original name there is no concurrence of opinion. The oldest known form, Ura-sa-lim, has been considered by many to mean either the ‘City of Peace’ or the ‘City of (the god) Salem,’ but other interpreters, considering the name as of Hebrew origin, interpret it as the ‘possession of peace’ or ‘foundation of peace.’ It is one of the ironies of history that a city which in all of its long history has seen so little peace and for whose possession such rivers of blood have been shed should have such a possible meaning for its name (stress added).[1]

 It has been recorded as ‘Salem’ in the Bible (Gen14:18) which has been identified with Jerusalem in Ps 76:3 and in early Jewish tradition. Modern scholars also endorse this tradition. ‘The priest of God Most High’, Melchizedek, was the king of Salem when Abraham visited it in nineteenth century BC. As to its antiquity the book Jerusalem explains:

Various pre-historic sites of the Lower Paleolithic[2] period have been found. In the Mesolithic[3] period, which followed, the climate was stabilized in its present form and, due to the prevailing dryness, conditions became much more difficult for prehistoric man in the Jerusalem area. Only two sites are dated to this period. The agricultural revolution of the Neolithic[4] period enabled man to make progress against the desert: 16 sites are indicated for this period. In the Chalcolithic[5] period, settlement contracted somewhat, probably because of the strong attraction of the Jordan Valley and the Negev, which led to a relative decline of the mountain area.[6]

International Standard Bible Enc. traces its antiquity as follows:

Pre-Israelite period. — The beginnings of Jerusalem are long before recorded history: at various points in the neighborhood, e.g. at el Bukei`a to the Southwest, and at the northern extremity of the Mount of Olives to the Northeast, were very large settlements of Paleolithic man, long before the dawn of history, as is proved by the enormous quantities of Celts[7] scattered over the surface. It is certain that the city’s site itself was occupied many centuries before David, and it is a traditional view that the city called SALEM(Genesis 14:18), over which Melchizedek was king, was identical with Jerusalem.[8]

The first certain reference to this city is about 1450 BC, when the name Ur-u-salem occurs in several letters belonging to the Tell el-Amarna Letters correspondence. In 7 of these letters occurs the name Abd Khiba, and it is clear that this man was ‘king,’ or governor of the city, as the representative of Pharaoh of Egypt. (…). Incidentally we may gather that the place was then a fortified city, guarded partly by mercenary Egyptian troops, and there are reasons for thinking that then ruler of Egypt, Amenhotep IV, had made it a sanctuary of his god Aten — the sun-disc. [9]

It is reported to be ‘inhabited as early as 3200 B.C.E.’[10] Pottery from the fourth millennium B.C. has been excavated at Jerusalem.[11] Pottery of Early Bronze (3150-2200 BC) and Middle Bronze Ages (2200-1550 BC) shows that people lived there during the third and early second millenniums. Stewart Henry Perowne, Orientalist, historian, and author, explains:

Excavation has shown that a settlement existed on the site south of the Temple platform, possibly in the Early Bronze Age and certainly by 1800 BC. A massive town wall still survives, just above the spring that determined the location of the ancient settlement.[12]

The walled city of this period was very small, occupying only between eight and nine acres. At the upper end, a little to the N of the spring, there was a sanctuary. The royal palace and cemetery lay below this, and the rest of the hill to its South tip was occupied by the city. Remains of Early Bronze Age wall have been discovered on this part of the hill. In 15th century BC the Hurrians or Horites came into Palestine. One of the writers of Amarna Letters was ‘Abd Hiba or Arti-Hepa, who reigned at Jerusalem in the 14th century BC. A strong masonry rampart which has been excavated on the East slope of Ophel comes from this period.[13] In the early twelfth century BC ‘the children of Judah [as well as the children of Simeon (see Judg. 8:3)] fought gainst Jerusalem and took it; they struck it with the edge of the sword [slaughterted its inhabitants] and set the city on fire.’[14] Quoting this verse W. Smith observes:

In the fifteen centuries which elapsed between this siege and the siege and destruction of the city by Titus, A.D. 70, the city was besieged no fewer than seventeen times [stress added]; twice it was razed to the ground, and on two other occasions its walls were levelled. In this respect it stands without a parallel in any city, ancient or modern.[15]

The Jebosites soon recaptured and rebuilt the city.[16]

Defeating the Jebosites, King David captured Jerusalem in about the first quarter of the tenth century BC and made it his capital which was a step of great historical importance. It was neither situated in the area of northern tribes nor in the area of southern tribes. It, therefore, played an important role in the unification of the kingdom. He made it a religious capital of the nation as well by bringing the Ark of Covenant and setting up a tent for it near his palace. After building his own palace, David wanted to build a house for God too, but was not allowed to do so (II Sam.7).[17]

King Solomon built his palace and the Temple. He also built the wall of the city as it had been considerably expanded during his and his father David’s reign.

In 922 BC the city was plundered by the Egyptian Pharaoh, Sheshak (Sheshonq I).

About the middle of the 9th century BC it was plundered by the Palestinians and Arabians.

By the reign of Jehoshaphat the city had again largely recovered its importance (cf. 1 Kings 22), but in his son Jehoram’s reign (849-842 BC) Judah was invaded and the royal house was pillaged by Philistines and Arabs (2 Chron. 21:16-17).[18]

In 786 BC, during Amaziah’s reign (797-767 BC), Jehoash of Israel (798-782 BC) invaded Jerusalem[19] (2 Kings 14:8-9). Judah was defeated in the battle at Beth-shemesh.

(…), and [Jehoash of Israel] brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim unto the corner gate, 400 cubits. And he took all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and hostages, and returned to Samaria.[20]

 Amaziah’s son, Azariah (Uzziah), was the king of Judah during 767-740 BC. He repaired the town-wall and fortified it with towers. His son Ahaz feeling the weakness of his little kingdom, bought with silver and gold the alliance of Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria (745-727 BC). He exhibited such a weakness about his faith that he made an altar similar to Tiglath-pileser’s for his own ritual in the temple (2 Kings 16:10-12). His reign is darkened by a record of heathen practices, so much so that he made his son pass through the fire as a human sacrifice (1 Kings 16:3-4; compare 2 Chr. 28:3).

In 722 BC, in the reign of Hoshea (731-722 BC), the northern kingdom of Israel came to an end, its capital, Samaria, having been captured by the Assyrian emperor Sargon II, son of Shalmanesser. 27,290 captives were deported from Samaria to Gozan, Harran, Media, Hulah, and Nineveh. Judah was ruled by king Ahaz (732-716 BC) at that time.

King Ahaz of Judah was succeeded by his son Hezekiah (716-686 BC) who undertook some religious reforms. Hezekiah was succeeded by his son, Manasseh (686-642 BC). He reigned Judah for almost half a century and his period was the dark age for the Israelite religion. He introduced idol-worship in the very temple of Solomon. He did not tolerate the religion of Israel. He was made prisoner in 701 BCby the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705-681 BC) who carried him off to Babylon and made Judah his tributary. He returned after some uncertain interval of time to Jerusalem.

In 640 BC Josiah, son of Amon, succeeded his father. He destroyed all relics of idolatry. The Temple was restored. In the course of repairs (in ca. 620 BC) Hilkiah the chief priest found the ‘book of the law of the Lord’. He was aided by Jeremiah the prophet in spreading through his kingdom the knowledge and worship of Jehovah. He carried out his endeavours to abolish every trace of idolatry and superstition. In 609 BC he was mortally wounded in the battle against Pharaoh Necho in the valley of Esdraelon and died before he could reach Jerusalem.[21]

On the Eastern side the Babylonians captured Nineveh, the capital of Assyrian empire. In 612 BC they also took the suzerainty of Jerusalem from the Assyrians. They brought the Assyrian empire to an end in 609 BC, despoiled Jerusalem and took its king to Babylonia.

During this time Jeremiah (ca. 620-580 BC) prophesied for forty-two years (ca. 626-584 BC), actively foretelling in streets and courts of Jerusalem the approaching ruin of the city. These messages were received with contempt and anger by the king and court (Jeremiah 36:23).

On 15 March, 597 BC Nebuchadnezzer II took Jerusalem. Jerusalem was despoiled of all its treasures. Many Jews exiled including Jehoiachin and Ezekiel. Nebuchadnezzer nominated Zedekiah as king of Jerusalem. After ten years Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzer. Jerusalem was besieged for more than a year until ‘famine was sore in the city.’ All the men of war ‘fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king’s garden,’ and the king ‘went by the way of the Arabah,’ but was overtaken and captured ‘in the plains of Jericho.’ A terrible punishment followed his faithlessness to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-7). The city and the temple were despoiled and burnt; the walls of Jerusalem were broken down(2 Kings 25:8f; 2 Chronicles 36:17f). It is probable that the ark was removed also at this time.

In 538 BC Cyrus the Persian captured the Babylonian empire. He allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the house of Yahweh (Ezr 1:1f). Over 40,000 Jews (Ezr 1:2-64) under Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah (Ezr 1:8,11), governor of a province, returned, bringing with them the sacred vessels of the temple. The daily sacrifices were renewed and the feasts and fasts restored (Ezr 3:3-7). The foundations of the restored temple were laid (Ezr 3:10; 5:16), but on account of the opposition of the people of the land and the Samaritans, the building was not completed until 20 years later (Ezr 6:15).

In March 516 the building of the Temple was completed and in 515 BCJerusalem was given the autonomous status and became the capital of the new state of Judea.

In 444 BC Nehemiah built the fortifications and the walls of the city. The rebuilding took 52 days. No doubt the wall was far weaker than that which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed 142 years previously, but it followed the same outline and had the same general structure. As to the history of the next 100 years, International Standard Bible Enc. explains:

For the next 100 years we have scarcely any historical knowledge of Jerusalem. A glimpse is afforded by the papyri of Elephantine where we read of a Jewish community in Upper Egypt petitioning Bagohi, the governor of Judea, for permission to rebuild their own temple to Yahweh in Egypt; incidentally they mention that they had already sent an unsuccessful petition to Johanan the high priest and his colleagues in Jerusalem. In another document we gather that this petition to the Persian governor was granted. These documents must date about 411-407 BC. Later, probably about 350, we have somewhat ambiguous references to the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of numbers of Jews in the time of Artaxerxes (III) Ochus (358-337 BC). With the battle of Issus and Alexander’s Palestinian campaign (ca. 332 BC), we are upon surer historical ground.[22]

In 333 BC the Greek king Alexander the Greatof Macedonia captured the city. After the death of Alexander the Great(323 BC), Palestine suffered much from its position, between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Antioch. Each became in turn its suzerain, and indeed at one time the tribute appears to have been divided between them. Ptolemy captured Alexadria and made it the capital of the state. In 321 Ptolemy Soter invaded Palestine, and, it is said, captured Jerusalem by a deceitful way, entering the city on the Sabbath as if anxious to offer sacrifice. He carried away many of his Jewish prisoners to Egypt and settled them there. In the struggles between the contending monarchies, although Palestine suffered, the capital itself, on account of its isolated position, remained undisturbed, under the suzerainty of Egypt. In 217 BC, Ptolemy (IV) Philopator, after his victory over Antiochus III at Raphia, visited the temple at Jerusalem and offered sacrifices. He is reported (3 Macc:1) to have entered the ‘Holy of Holies.’

Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BC) defeated Ptolemy V in 198 BCas a result of which Palestine went under the control of the Seleucids. The Jews helped him in besieging the Egyptian garrison in the AKRA. Jesus ben Sira has given an account of the prosperity of the city about this time (190-180 BC). The Jews had enjoyed considerable prosperity and religious liberty under the Egyptians. But the new Seleucid ruler increased the taxes, and fidelity to the tenets of Judaism came to be regarded as treachery to the Seleucid rule. Antiochus III suffered a defeat by the Romans at Magnesia in 190 BC who took his son Antiochus IV to Rome as hostage. He was released in exchange to Demetrius in 175 BC and was allowed to seize the throne of Syria (175-164 BC). Antiochus hastened (170 BC) against Jerusalem with a great army, captured the city, massacred the people and despoiled the temple (1 Macc 1:20-24). Two years later Antiochus, being afraid of Rome in Egypt, appears to have determined that in Jerusalem, at any rate, he would have no sympathizers with Egypt. In 168 BC he sent his chief collector of tribute, who attacked the city with strong force and entered it (1 Macc 1:30). He looted the city, set it on fire and demolished the dwellings and walls. He massacred the men, and many of the women and children he sold as slaves (1 Macc 1:31-35; 2 Macc 5:24). He destroyed the Great Temple of Jerusalem and tried to convert the people of Judea to idolatry. International Standard Bible Enc. has observed:

He (Antiochus IV) sacrificed swine upon the holy altar, and caused the high priest himself — a Greek in all his sympathies — to partake of the impure sacrificial feasts; he tried by barbarous cruelties to suppress the ritual of circumcision. In everything he endeavored, (…), to organize Jerusalem as a Greek city, and to secure his position he built a strong wall, and a great tower for the Akra, and, having furnished it well with armor and victuals[23], he left a strong garrison. But the Syrians had overreached[24]themselves this time, and the reaction against persecution and attempted religious suppression produced the great uprising of the Maccabeans.[25]

In 167 BC Mattathias of Modin, a Jewish priest, defied Antiochus’ ban on Judaism and escaped into mountains outside Lydda with his sons and began a revolt. In 165 BC Mattathias died, his sons continued the revolt. Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers retook Jerusalem from the Syrians. They cleansed the Great Temple, reconstructed the altar, restored the temple-services, and destroyed the idols.

Judas defeated three Syrian armies in the open, but he could not expel the garrison in the Akra. In 163 BC a great Syrian army came to the relief of the hard-pressed garrison. Lysias, accompanied by the boy-king himself (Antiochus V), approached the city from the South via Beth-Zur. At Beth-zachariah the Jews were defeated, and Judas’ brother Eleazar was slain, and Jerusalem was soon captured. The fort on Mt. Zion which surrounded the sanctuary was surrendered by treaty, but when the king saw its strength he broke his oath and destroyed the fortifications (1 Macc 6:62). But even in this desperate state Judas and his followers were saved. A certain pretender, Philip, raised a rebellion in a distant part of the empire, and Lysias was obliged to patch up a truce with the nationalist Jews more favorable to Judas than before his defeat; the garrison in the Akra remained, however, to remind the Jews that they were not independent. In 161 BC another Syrian general, Nicanor, was sent against Judas, but he was at first won over to friendship and when, later, at the instigation of the Hellenistic party, he was compelled to attack Judas, he did so with hastily raised levies and was defeated at Adasa, a little North of Jerusalem. Judas was, however, not long suffered to celebrate his triumph. A month later Bacchides appeared before Jerusalem, and in April, 161 BC, Judas was slain in battle with him at Berea.[26]

By 152 BC, Judas’ brother, Jonathan, was virtual ruler of the land. He gained more than any of his family had ever done. He was appointed high priest and strategos, or deputy for the king, in Judea. He repaired the city and restored the temple-fortress. He made the walls higher and built up a great part of the eastern wall. He also made a great mound between the Akra and the city to isolate the Syrian garrison.

Simon succeeded Jonathan. He captured the Akra in 139 BC, destroyed it, and partially levelled the hill on which it stood. In 135 BChis son, John Hyrcanus[27] (King of Judea from135-104 BC), succeeded him.

The name ‘Maccabees’ and the ‘Maccabean’ is generally given to Mattathias and his sons, and the name ‘Hasmonean’ to their descendants (135-63 BC), when John Hyrcanus became the ruler. In 134 BC John Hyrcanus was besieged in Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes and J. Hyrcanus had to surrender hostages and heavy tributes. McKenzie states in his Dic. of the Bible:

After the death of Antiochus VII in 128 Judea was practically independent. John ruled with the title of ethnarch and high priest. He extended Jewish rule over E Palestine and Edom, where he forced the Edomeans to submit to circumcision. He attacked Samaria and destroyed the temple of Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim. The Pharisees, alarmed at his ambitions and the secular character of his rule, broke with Hasmoneans during his reign.   

Aristobulus I (105-104 BC), son of John Hyrcanus: He imprisoned his mother, to whom the sovereignty had been bequeathed by the will of John, and imprisoned his brothers except Antigonus, whom he associated with himself in government but later assassinated. Aristobulus assumed the title of king.

Alexander Jannaeus (Jonathan), brother of Aristobulus I (104-76 BC): Salome Alexandra, widow of Aristobulus, released her brothers-in-law from prison and set Jonathan, who preferred to go by his Greek name, Alexander, upon the throne. Alexander extended the Jewish kingdom, in spite of a number of setbacks, almost to the limits of the ancient kingdom of David. (…). Alexander extended his rule over Philistia (capturing it from Ptolemy Lathyrus of Egypt’s Control) and (…) some of the Hellenistic cities. In his expansion northward in Palestine he confronted the Nabatean king Obodath, who held Damascus and halted his advance in that direction. This defeat aroused his adversaries among his own people, who summoned help from the Seleucid king Demetrius III Eukairos. Demetrius invaded Judea and defeated Alexander. The defeat, however, turned the patriotism of the Jews to sympathy with Alexander; Demetrius, thus deprived of support, was forced to withdraw. Alexander revenged himself by having 800 of his Jewish captives and their wives and children executed before their eyes; he himself dined with his concubines, watching the spectacle. Antiochus XII Dionysus, the successor of Demetrius III, invaded Palestine, and Alexander was unable to resist him; but after Antiochus was defeated and killed by the Nabateans, Alexander continued his conquest in E Palestine. (…).

Salome (75-67 BC), widow of Alexander Jannaeus: She appointed Hyrcanus II, the elder son of Alexander, high priest and, recognizing the unchecked ambition of Aristobulus II, the younger son, kept him in private life. After her death the civil war between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus led each brother to seek the assistance of Pompey, then engaged in his eastern conquests. Aristobulus, however, finally refused Roman arbitration; and Pompey attacked and took Jerusalem in 63 BC. He ended the Hasmonean monarchy, detached the territories conquered by earlier Hasmonean rulers, and made Judea part of the province of Syria.[28]

Pompey allowed Hyrcanus to remain high priest, but without the title of ‘king.’ He reverently left the treasures in the temple untouched; he merely laid a tribute upon the city, and demolished the walls. Aristobulus II was taken to Rome as prisoner, and the city became tributary to the Roman Empire.The greedy Crassus two years later (54 BC) plundered what Pompey had spared.

In 47 BC Antipater was appointed procurator in return for very material services rendered by him to Julius Caesar in Egypt. At the same time Caesar allowed Hyrcanus to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Antipater made his eldest son, Phaselus, governor of Jerusalem, and gave Galilee to the care of his younger son, Herod.

Julius Caesar confirmed Hyrcanus in the high priesthood, and gave him civil power as ethnarch, and made Herod’s father, Antipater the Idumean, his chief minister, procurator of Judaea. Upon Antipater’s assassination, his sons Herod and Phasaelus, with Hyrcanus, resisted Antigonus (Aristobulus’ son and Hyrcanus’ nephew), who with a Parthian army attacked Jerusalem. Herod escaped.

In 40 BC Herod succeeded his father as procurator of Judea by order of the Roman Senate, but the same year the Parthians under Pacorus and Barzapharnes captured and plundered Jerusalem and re-established Antigonus. Herod, was appointed king of Judea by Antony in 37 BC. He took Jerusalem after a 5 months siege. Antigonus was killed by Antony’s command. Herod slew the chiefs of the Asmonaeans, and the whole sanhedrim, and finally, the last of the Asmonaeans, Hyrcanus.

Herod’s most magnificent work was to rebuild the temple from its foundations beginning 20 or 19 BC. The construction of the sanctuary was accomplished in 11-10 BC by 1,000 specially trained priests. The court was finished in 9 BC. However, the temple was not considered completed until AD 63 or 64, under Herod Agrippa II and the procurator Albinus.Herod also built four great towers on the old wall. In 4 BC disturbances occurred, and shortly afterward Herod died. He died some months after Christ’s birth. Jesus Christ was born somewhere in AD 1-5. Fausset’s Bible Dic. writes:

At the Passover A.D. 30 our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection took place.[29]

Roman emperor, Caligula[30]ordered his statue to be erected in the temple. The Jews protested against it, and by Agrippa’s intercession Caligula agreed to withdraw his order. A famine commenced in A.D. 45which lasted two years.

Gessius Florus (A.D. 65) tested the Jews’ endurance to the last point, desolating whole cities and openly allowing robbers to buy impunity in crime. He tried to get the treasure from the temple, but after plundering the upper city failed. Young Eleazar, son of Ananias, led a party which withheld the regular offerings from the Roman emperor, virtually renouncing allegiance. So the last Roman war began. The insurgents from the temple and lower city set on fire the Asmonaean palace, the high priest’s house, and the archives repository, ‘the nerves of the city’. They slew the Roman garrison, and burnt Antonia. The high priest and his brother were found slain in the aqueduct.

Cestius Gallus marched on the city, but was obliged to retire from the N. wall of the temple back to Scopus, where he was utterly defeated in November, A.D. 66. C. Gallus’ first advance and retreat gave the Christians the opportunity of fleeing as Christ counselled them, ‘when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:16). Vespasian, until the fall of Gistala, in October or November, A.D. 67, was subduing the northern country. John son of Levi escaped to Jerusalem, and in two years and a half (A.D. 70) Titus began the siege, the Zealots then having overcome the moderate party. The Zealots were in two parties: one under John of Giscala and Eleazar, holding the temple and Antonia, 8,400 men; the other under Simon Burgioras in a tower, holding the upper city, from the Coenaculum to the Latin convent, the lower city in the valley, and the Acre N. of the temple, 10,000 men and 5,000 Idumeans. Strangers and pilgrims swelled the number to 600,000. Josephus says a million perished in the siege, and 40,000 were allowed to depart into the country, besides an immense number sold to the army, part of the ‘97,000 carried captive during the whole war’. This number is thought an exaggeration.[31]