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History of Jerusalem: Jerusalem in the Bible

The settlement of Jerusalem began in a very early period, and testimonies to this appear in three different sources. There are references to this early settlement in the Bible (Genesis 14 -- The story of Abraham and the Canaanite Kings), in archaeological findings, and in independent historical sources found in other lands that had maintained political and commercial ties with the Land of Israel (especially Egypt). In that early Canaanite period, Jerusalem was one of many independent city-states that existed in the region.

Jerusalem began to be considered a city of significant regional importance only after it was conquered by the Israelite King David a few centuries later. While, during the assignment of the Promised Land to the twelve Israelite tribes, Jerusalem became part of the area of the tribe of Benjamin, it was never actually conquered by the Israelites (see Judges19). Only when King David conquered it, did Jerusalem begin to develop as an important political center -- and moreover -- a significant religious center.

The Bible is the main source of the historical information which we have today about Jerusalem in the period of the 10th to 6th century BCE. Other written sources add to that body of information and shed some light on the historical processes that developed in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Because of Jerusalem’s unique status, it became a major attraction to archaeologists and other researchers from the 19th century until the present time. The first major archaeological discoveries were made at the end of the19th century.

Archaeological excavations and research in Jerusalem have their own special problems. This is a site with a long history and an abundance of relics. However, this is also a city in which settlement and growth has never ceased and continues even today. Researchers were presented with a need to both find a way to excavate its historical past, while living in its vibrant present.

It is peculiar that for the Biblical period in particular we have few archaeological findings. The builders and architects of later periods, who constructed large extravagant buildings with deep foundations, caused a lot of damage to the ancient remnants. This is most evident in the area of the Temple Mount, where, in the 1st Century BCE, King Herod's builders truly outdid themselves. In other parts of the city, however, some well preserved remnants of Biblical Jerusalem were uncovered. This was the case in the excavations in the Jewish Quarter, led by Prof. Nachman Avigad, and at Jerusalem's Eastern hill, south of Temple Mount, where for a number of years excavations were being led by Prof. Yigal Shilo. The excavations of the southern wall led by Prof. Mazar also proved fruitful. The archaeological findings shed light on the writings of the Bible, that are sometimes unclear. At times the findings explain the text, and at times actual physical examples of objects described in writing in the Bible have been unearthed.

Our knowledge of Jerusalem in Biblical times is enriched yearly, and provides us with important tools for interpretating the Bible and other written histories.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry