Sights and Insights: The oldest part of J'lem

Arguably the most important city in history had its infancy in an area that today hardly reflects its grandeur, The City of David.

By WAYNE STILES
February 27, 2012 12:37
4 minute read.
City of David

City of David 390. (photo credit: Wayne Stiles)

 
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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.

When people picture the city of Jerusalem, they usually think of the historic Western Wall, or the Old City, or the Temple Mount crowned with the Golden Dome of the Rock. But most folks are surprised to learn that the original city of Jerusalem lay just south of the Temple Mount on a small spur of land that encompassed about only ten acres.

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Crammed with houses and punctured with archaeological digs, the original area of Jerusalem looks much different today than it did three thousand years ago when King David conquered it.

After Israel crowned David king of all twelve tribes, he moved his capital city from Hebron—located in his own tribe of Judah—to Jerusalem in the tribe of Benjamin. Jerusalem took a number of other names throughout history. In fact, the account of David conquering Jerusalem mentions three other names in one verse—Jebus, Zion, and the City of David (1 Chronicles 11:5).

Moving the capital to Jerusalem showed remarkable wisdom on David’s part. A city yet unconquered by the Hebrews meant that Jerusalem represented neutral territory. Even though it sat in Benjamin, no tribe would have felt necessarily proud or jilted.

Area G, City of David  (BiblePlaces.com)

Today, this part of Jerusalem retains the name, “The City of David,” and offers a number of archeological interests that relate to the monarch. The best way to view the area is to ascend the stairs just inside the entrance to the Visitor's Center and stand atop the observation platform.

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Flanked on two sides by steep valleys, the ancient City of David enjoyed a tremendous military advantage—making it relatively easy to defend. At the summit, a stepped-stone structure represents one of the largest Iron Age constructions ever excavated, dating from the 12th Century BC. Many archeologists believe it likely supported the palace of King David, the ruins of which are partially visible after descending some stairs.

From the vantage on the platform, it’s plain to see how David could easily have looked down over the homes built on the slope below him and seen Bathsheba bathing that fateful evening. The modern-day village of Silwan, just across the Kidron Valley from the City of David, has its homes constructed in a similar way.

Modern archaeological excavations began in the late 1970s and continue today under the capable eyes of Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun. In fact, I recently purchased Reich’s new volume, Excavating the City of David, and it's tremendous.

Two relatively recent finds are nothing short of thrilling. In 2004 Reich and Shukrun found the first-century Pool of Siloam (known as the lower pool). They also recently discovered a road that led from this major water source up to the Temple Mount. This road would have been used by first-century Jews during their pilgrim feasts—most notably during Succot. Succot’s priestly tradition of drawing water from the Pool of Siloam drips with meaning. Parts of the original pavement of this street lay broken and reveal beneath it an ancient drainage system. Both the road and the drainage system are available for visitors to view. 

Temple Mount and City of David  (BiblePlaces.com)

Not surprisingly, a number of archaeologists today express their doubts that the entire City of David ever was included in the original Jerusalem. But the conspicuous location of the Gihon Spring seems a hard fact to sidestep. Moreover, the discovery of Warren’s Shaft by Charles Warren in 1867 and the fortifications around the nearby Spring House reveal that the locals clearly made use of the spring in David’s day. It seems far more likely that this small area of land was the same place David conquered.

Of course, the city expanded to the north during David’s time when he purchased the hill that would become the Temple Mount under Solomon’s rule. This area the Bible identifies as Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham bound his son Isaac in order to offer him to the Lord (Genesis 22:2; 2 Chronicles 3:1). During the time of Hezekiah, the city enlarged again to encompass the Western Hill in order to house and protect fleeing refugees from the northern tribes after their kingdom fell to Assyria.

The walls of Jerusalem have expanded and contracted through the centuries like the breathing of a living being. Arguably the most important city in history had its infancy in an area that today hardly reflects its grandeur.


What to Do There:
The City of David Visitor’s Center features a 3-D film—very well done—that provides a helpful overview of the city’s history. Visit Area G, the water system, and walk up the newly opened road toward the Temple Mount.

How to Get There:
Exit the Dung Gate, cross the street, and walk down Ma’alot Ir David Street.

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.

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