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The Jewish Temples: Jerusalem in the First Temple Period

(1006 - 586 BCE)

Saul, the first king of Israel, was killed in battle against the Philistines, and David was chosen as his successor. One of David's first acts as king was the conquest of Jerusalem. He named it the "City of David" and declared it the capital of his kingdom. The choice of Jerusalem despite its numerous shortcomings - remoteness from trade routes, chronic water shortage, unsuitable strategic location - was apparently dictated by a geopolitical constraint. The city is  situated at the center of the three great territorial blocs that were allotted to the twelve tribes of Israel, and it borders on the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin - to which King Saul had belonged - and on that of Judah, King David's tribe.

Thus the isolated Jebusite city, considered neutral in terms of the tribal division of territory, was acceptable to the whole nation.

Beginning in the period of David's kingdom many traditions concerning Mount Moriah, which rose above biblical Jerusalem, became sanctified. The most famous is the Binding of Isaac (the "akeidah") by Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation.

Having conquered Jerusalem ca. 1004 BCE and turned it into the center of government, David radically altered its status when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. With this act Jerusalem became simultaneously the political and the spiritual nexus of the people of Israel.

David built an altar on the summit of Mount Moriah, but for various reasons refrained from building the Temple, leaving that task to his son Solomon.

The building of the Temple in Jerusalem brought into being a new religious reality for the people of Israel: sacrifices could now be offered only at the Temple, and the biblical injunction of the three pilgrimages -  Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot - received concrete affirmation. With ritual worship concentrated in Jerusalem, the city's population was swollen enormously at fixed times each year, despite its pronounced geographic remoteness. However, its drawbacks notwithstanding, the huge population influx during the annual pilgrimage periods made Jerusalem an important trade and commercial center.

Jerusalem served as the capital of a united kingdom for only two generations. Already during the reign of King Rehoboam, Solomon's son, the kingdom was split into two: Judah in the south with Jerusalem as its capital, and Israel in the north with different capitals at different times.

When the northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered and laid waste by the Assyrians, in 722 BCE, Jerusalem reassumed its paramount status

It was in Jerusalem that most of the great prophets were active, articulating spiritual and ethical principles that would transcend the city's narrow confines to become pillars of human civilization. In the year 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah, Jerusalem was delivered from a siege laid by King Sennacherib of Assyria, an episode in which moral support by the prophet Isaiah was crucial. Hezekiah expanded the city and initiated major building projects, and under him the city reached the zenith of its development in the First Temple period.

In 586 BCE the city was captured by the Babylonians. At the order of King Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem was put to the torch, the Temple was razed, and the people were taken into exile. A small number returned 50 years later.

Sources: The Jerusalem Mosaic. Copyright 1995 Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- All Rights Reserved.