From Canaanite City to Israelite Capital
The long history of Jerusalem began well before it was captured by
King David and made into the Capital of the People of Israel 3,000 years
ago. Archeaological findings indicate the existence of a settlement in
Jerusalem in the 3rd millenium BCE. The first mention of the city in
historic sources begins in the 2nd millenium BCE.
The Ma'arot Writings, written in hieroglyphics, were meant to put a curse
on the enemies of Egypt. They were written in the 18th and 19th centuries
B.C., on small statues of prisoners or on bowls.
The name "Rashlemum" (Jerusalem) is mentioned on some of them. The verse
in Genesis 11;18 "and Malchi-Tzedek King of Salem brought
forth bread and wine and he is priest to the Almighty God above," refers
to that same period, which is known in the Bible as the period of the
In the middle of the 2nd millenium B.C.E. the King of Egypt and his advisors
carried on a volumous correspondence with the governors of the cities in the
Land of Israel that were under Egyptian suzerainty. There was antagonism
among these governors, and in their letters, pictured on the right, they
complain about each other, and request help (one chariot or ten soldiers),
to defeat their enemies, whom they describe, of course, as the enemies of
the king. The letters were written in cuneiform, in the Akkadian language
(which was the international language then, much as English is today), and
some of them were found in Egypt, in the archive of the capital city,
El-Amarna. Six of the letters found were written by the governor of Jerusalem
A Birds Eye View
The location of the ancient Canaanite city was chosen specifically for its
natural protective qualities. The hill, on which early Jerusalem was built,
has natural fortifications from three directions: the deep Kidron
valley from the east, the "HaGai" (Tyropoeon) valley from the west, and the
lowland where they meet in the south. The only side that isn't naturally
protected is the north. This has been a problem that has accompanied ancient
Jerusalem throughout its history, which has even been mentioned in biblical
passages, such as the words of the prophet Jeremiah "...and from the
north shall come the evil" (Jeremiah 1;14).
The Gihon Spring
In a land as dry as the Land of Israel, the main consideration in
determining the location of a city or village, is its proximity to the
nearest water source. The only permanent water source of ancient Jerusalem
was the Gihon Spring. Its name is derived from the fact that it doesn't
flow steadily, but rather in random eruptions with lapses in between them
(Giha in Hebrew means eruption).
The City of David
The spring flows out of the ground from the foot of the hill, in the bed of
the Kidron brook.
The city was built on the top of the hill and on its
slopes. This created a problem of access to water at times of war.
wall was built in the middle of the slope, which was the best location for
purposes of defense. However, the spring remained outside the city defenses.
In times of peace this fact was of little importance, but if the city was
under siege, a serious threat of being cut off from the sole water supply
During the 1960's the British archeologist Kathleen Kenyon excavated the
eastern slope of the city's hill. She succeeded in exposing, at the middle
of the slope, the remains of the solid Jebusite defense wall that King
David had to overcome in his conquest of Jerusalem.
From the Biblical story of the capture of Jerusalem by King David, it is
implied that the battle was won with the help of a stratagem connected with
something called the "tsinor" (Samuel II, 5; 8). This word
appears only here, its meaning is not fully known, and it has been
translated as gutter or tunnel.
In the Jebusite city there was a method to
access the Gihon spring water source, which is outside the wall, from within the city. A diagonal tunnel was hewn in the bedrock
(apparently, along the line of a natural crack), and at its end a deep
horizontal shaft was dug. From the top of the horizontal shaft, water jugs
were lowered to the spring flowing below. Thus, access to the spring was
hidden from the enemy outside the city. Perhaps this shaft is the
"tsinor" through which King David's men climbed and
penetrated the city as is mentioned in the Bible. The shaft was named
after the British researcher Charles Warren who discovered it in the 19th
century, . (Hezekiah's tunnel is from a later period).
And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the City of David.
And David built a round about from Millo and inward." (Samuel
After conquering the city, King David began its fortification. The wall on
the east side of the city, which remained in the same place until the
destruction of the Solomon's Temple, was built on top of the Jebusite wall
on exactly the same course. Archeaolgical research has shown that was
repaired many times over the years. The Millo (="fullness") is perhaps the
filling that David's men had to pour on the steep slope in order to make it
appropriate for building houses.
Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish People for 3000 years, is located at
the center of the Land of Israel, at the intersection of a number of ancient
commerce routes. In Jerusalem, the North-South hilltop route intersects the
main trade routes running from east to west.
Jerusalem was chosen by King David to be the capital mainly because the
city, although part of the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, had not yet
been conquered by the Israelites, and was not tied specifically to any of
the twelve tribes.
For David, this was of great significance, because this
enabled him to conquer the city with royal forces, and, as was customary at
the time, retain it as royal property. He could use Jerusalem as the symbol
for a united Israel. In order to emphasize the uniqueness and importance of
Jerusalem, David brought the Holy Ark of the Covenant there and turned the
city into the religious center of the People of Israel. He bought the
threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite and built an altar there to the Lord
(Samuel II 24;21-25). Being a warrior, he was not permitted to build
the Holy Temple himself. Therefore, he designated Solomon, his son and heir,
to build the Temple after his passing.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs