Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The City of David

The site of the original city of Jerusalem is not the site of the present ‘Old City’ of Jerusalem.  I finally got this fixed in my mind on a wonderful field day yesterday.

The Bible tells of a city which was founded by David almost exactly three thousand years ago, which was besieged by the Assyrians in the eighth century BC, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC, and which was then rebuilt by those who eventually returned from exile in Babylon. 

This city occupied a spur of land which projects south of the much later mediaeval south wall of the present ‘Old City’.  The spur looks a bit like a ship, with the deep Kidron and Tyropean valleys falling away either side of it.

This spur looks like an obvious easily defensible place for early Canaanite (generally) and Jebusite (specifically) settlement, with an essential water source at the Gihon Spring.

It matches what we would expect David’s city to look like.  The photograph was taken looking roughly south, so the modern Old City is behind us.  It is taken from the chief building uncovered on the ‘deck’ of the ship, with the Kidron Valley beneath the ‘port’ side.  From here a King could certainly see anyone bathing on the roof of a neighbouring house!  The Bible says that David bought the land behind us from a Jebusite for the eventual building of the first Temple, and the present Temple Mount is indeed the immediately neighbouring land within the Old City behind us.

Its earliest datable and identifiable finds link it with its defence against the Assyrian siege.  The Bible records Hezekiah’s monumental work diverting the water of the Gihon Spring from the more vulnerable Kidron  edge of the spur of land (to the Tyropean edge where the far side had by now been incorporated into the site), and we waded a long distance in the dark yesterday through the tunnel which he had cut through the rock for this purpose.

Later finds can be linked directly with administration going on here ahead of the Babylonian invasion, including a seal for a document which carries the same name as a scribe who appears in Jeremiah.

So this original site and the ‘Old City’ interlock like a Venn diagram, with the Temple site being the overlapping area.  One circle is the original Jerusalem (‘City of David’) including the Temple site.  The other circle is the ‘Old City’ of both the Temple site and later housing to the north and west of it eventually enclosed by mediaeval walls.

But, perhaps the subject for a different post, long before these mediaeval walls were built, the Temple Mount was remodelled several times, so that it is almost unrecognisable.  Herod quarried and built until the Temple stood on a substantial new platform – the surviving ‘Western Wall’ (or ‘wailing wall’) is not part of the Temple at all but part of this platform.  The Romans destroyed the Temple and much more than this in 70 AD and later rebuilt the city on a different ground plan.  The later Moslem rulers actually filled in the top of the Tyropean valley to bring housing up to the edge of Herod’s platform.

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