Jerusalem and the Holy Land serve as the home of Israel and the Christian faith. Today a fragile peace grips Jerusalem, with the presence of the world’s three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), who worship and trust in God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Synagogues, churches, and mosques enhance the city skyline. Newspapers in Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, and Russian proliferate in Jerusalem, attesting to the international flavor of the city. This brief paper presents a capsule history of Jerusalem.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 10:19 recorded the borders of Canaan extended from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza. Abram was blessed by God and migrated from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31). Abram is identified as Abram the Hebrew in Genesis 14:13. God made a Covenant with him and renamed him Abraham. God blessed his two sons Ishmael and Isaac and maintained his covenant with Isaac. The Patriarch Abraham purchased land at Hebron in Canaan to bury his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:16), and was later buried next to his wife in Hebron by his sons Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 25:9). The Israelites left Canaan for Egypt during a severe famine. Before his death, Joseph reassured the Israelites that God will come to their aid and take them out of Egypt to the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 50:24). Moses and Joshua led the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt to Canaan after 400 years of captivity under the Pharaohs.1
The Pharaoh Merneptah of Egypt (1224-1211 BC) was the first non-biblical source to refer to the people of Israel on the Tell Amarna Tablets.
Jerusalem was first called Salem in Genesis 14:18, as noted in Psalm 76:2. Joshua defeated King Adonizedek of Jerusalem and four other Amorite Kings at the Battle of Gibeon (Joshua 10:1-15). At first the Israelites were organized according to the Twelve Tribes of Jacob. But the Philistines, a branch of the Sea Peoples from the Aegean Sea, established Gaza and four other cities on the southern coast of Canaan. Because of conflict with the Philistines, Saul was named the first King to unite the Hebrew people. But the LORD sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David (I Samuel 16:13), who then defeated Goliath and the Philistines, consolidated the territory, and was proclaimed King at Hebron about 1000 BC. After capturing Jerusalem from the Jebusites, David established the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel in Zion, the city of David (II Samuel 5) in the southern part of Jerusalem. He then moved the Ark of the Covenant to Zion. The LORD through Nathan the Prophet promised David He will make for him a great name and He will raise from his offspring a Son who will establish a Kingdom which will last forever (II Samuel 7). To house the Ark, his son King Solomon built the Temple of Jerusalem (I Kings 8) just north of Zion on Mount Moriah, where Abraham had offered his son Isaac to God (Genesis 22:1-19).
While the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, Jerusalem resisted Sennacherib through preparations by King Hezekiah of Judah, who constructed a tunnel from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam to bring water into the fortified city (2 Kings 20:20). The Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians, which led to the first Diaspora or dispersion of the Jewish people to Babylon. The Second Temple of Jerusalem was completed in 516 BC after King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36).
Alexander the Great captured Jerusalem and established Alexandria in 332 BC. Israel fell under the Ptolemies of Egypt after the death of Alexander in 323 BC. Israelites were greatly influenced by the Hellenistic Age, and it was during this time that Jewish scholars in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek Septuagint.
The Jerusalem Temple was desecrated by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV in 200 BC (I Maccabees 1-2), who then began a systematic persecution of the Israelites. However, the Hasmonean priest Mattathias and his five sons opposed Antiochus. His third son Judas Maccabeus, the Hammer, led the Jewish revolt after his father died, defeated the Seleucids, and purified the Sanctuary and the Temple. They built a new altar, burned incense, and brought the Menorah or Lampstand into the Temple (II Maccabees 10:5), and lit the lamps which illuminated the Temple. Even though they only had enough oil to last one day, the oil lasted eight days which allowed the Menorah to light the Temple for eight days. The Maccabean dedication of the Temple (I Maccabees 4:36-59, II Maccabees 10:1-8)) was a time of great celebration. The event is commemorated yearly at the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Also known as the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22) or the Festival of Lights, the celebration lasts for eight days, beginning on the 25th day of Chislev (near Christmas). The Hasmonean Dynasty of Israel lasted from 167 to 63 BC, when Israel fell under Roman rule. Judah was renamed Judea during Roman control.
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem about 4 BC. Jesus or Yeshua in Hebrew יֵשׁוּאַ means "the Lord saves." He was named "Jesus because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). His legal father Joseph was of the Israelite House of David (Luke 2:4) and his mother Mary was of Levitical descent through her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:5). Jesus Christ lived during the time of the Herodians, who served as vassal Kings for the Romans. The Holy Family fled to Egypt to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:13-15), but returned to Nazareth of Galilee after the death of Herod. The theme of God's universal salvation through Jesus the Christ was first expressed through Simeon when he saw the Infant Jesus in the Temple, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for Israel" (Luke 2:29-32). The traditional promise of a savior for all of humanity was fulfilled in Christ, who offered salvation to Israel and the Gentiles.
Jesus of Nazareth visited the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem at age twelve with his parents during Passover (Luke 2:41-52). His adulthood lasted during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius and the Procurator Pontius Pilate. John recorded that he went to Jerusalem during his ministry to attend three Passovers and also the Feast of the Dedication (John 10:23). Before his Passion and Crucifixion, Christ lamented over the fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) and prophesied its destruction (Mark 13:2).
And when he drew near and saw the city
he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today
you knew the things that make for peace!
But now they are hid from your eyes.
For the days shall come upon you,
when your enemies will cast up a bank about you
and surround you, and hem you in on every side,
and dash you to the ground,
you and your children within you,
and they will not leave one stone upon another in you;
because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Gospel of Luke 19:41-44
The first Bishop of the Christian Church of Jerusalem was James, the son of Alphaeus and "brother" of the Lord, and who, along with Peter, was one of the leading figures of the Council of Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, until a bright light struck him from his horse on the road to Damascus. A voice asked him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" When Saul asked who it was, Jesus identified himself with his Church - "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." His Conversion is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Saul was called Paul on his first missionary journey to Cyprus. St. Paul then became just as passionate spreading Christianity as he was in persecuting Christians before his conversion. It was while Paul and Barnabas were teaching in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Paul was termed their leader when they also became known as Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).
Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and the city in 70 AD in response to a Jewish revolt. All that remains of the Jerusalem Temple is the Western wall of the Temple courtyard, known as the Wailing Wall, which is a place of mourning and prayer for the Israelites to this day. The Temple Mount itself fell into disuse. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, after the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD, dispersed the Jews and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina and Judea, the birthplace of Christ, Palestine.
Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313 which freed Christians from persecution. Constantine then moved the seat of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople in 330. It was not until Constantine and his mother Helena restored Jerusalem in the early fourth century that Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem became safe for those who had the means to travel. Constantine renamed the city Jerusalem. After Hadrian’s pagan temple was dismantled, Helena discovered the True Cross. She then ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the site of Christ’s burial and Resurrection, which was completed in 335. She also built the Church of the Mount of Olives (Eleona) and the Church of the Ascension. The Church of the Nativity was built at the site of the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) served as Patriarch of Jerusalem and played a significant role at the Second Ecumenical Council of the Christian Churches at Constantinople in 381, which finalized the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (known as the Nicene Creed). Exiled three times from his position, he was restored as Patriarch, and commenced to write. His twenty-four instructions included the Mystagogical Catecheses, a valuable source on the liturgical celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Chrismation during the early Christian Church.
The Byzantine Empire maintained jurisdiction over Jerusalem until the seventh century, and continued construction projects, such as the Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD) who built the New Church of St. Mary. The Byzantines lost control of the city in 614 BC to the Persian Sasanians, but Emperor Heraclius recaptured the city in 629 AD and restored the True Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Muhammad (570-632 AD), the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca in Arabia to the Quraysh tribe. He took flight to Yathrib in 622 AD, known as the Hejira, but took to the sword and conquered Mecca in 630 AD and cleansed the Kaaba with the Black Stone of all idols and rededicated it to the one true God. Mecca is the home of Islam to this very day. Muhammad was buried in Yathrib, which was renamed Medina. Medina is the second holiest site in Islam. The Qur'an is the Holy Book of Islam and is written in Arabic. In the Night Journey of Muhammad, he was taken to the "farthest mosque" as described in Sura 17:1 of the Qur'an. The founding of Islam by Muhammad changed the complexion of the Middle East.
The four Rightly Guided Caliphs were the immediate successors to Muhammad and rapidly expanded Islamic territory. The concept of holy war, or jihad, to further religious aims was embraced by the followers of Islam. The Muslims under the Caliph Umar captured Jerusalem in 638 AD, and the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria were placed under the control of the Caliphates. However, Islam proved a tolerant religion in victory to Religions of the Book in keeping with the teachings of Muhammad. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was allowed to remain Christian, and Christians were allowed to practice their religion with the payment of a special tax, called the jizya.
The word Jerusalem is written יְﬧוּשָׁלַיִם in Hebrew Scripture, our Christian Old Testament of the Bible, and first appears in Joshua 10:1. Jerusalem is written Ἰερουσαλήμ in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament the word first appears in Matthew 2:1. The word Jerusalem is present in the Arabic Bible of Eastern Christian Churches but does not appear in the Arabic Qur'an.
Muawiyah the Umayyad assumed the Caliphate in 661 AD and moved the Caliphate to Damascus. When the Umayyads were unable to take the pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca and Medina because a rival faction had captured the two cities, Jerusalem grew in importance to Islam, and they improved the road from Damascus to Jerusalem. In 691 AD the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on top of the unused site where the Temple Mount of Solomon and the Second Temple had previously existed.
Jerusalem has suffered over a hundred conflicts throughout four millennia. Rival Muslim factions such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Turks struggled for control of the Middle East and Jerusalem changed hands several times. But it was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 and subsequent Christian persecution by the Fatimid caliph Hakim that put Europe on notice. Pope Urban II, in one of history's most powerful speeches, launched 200 years of the Crusades at the Council of Clermont, France on November 27, 1095 to free Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In a rare public session in an open field, he urged the knights and noblemen to win back the Holy Land, to face their sins, and called upon those present to save their souls and become Soldiers of Christ. Those who took the vow for the pilgrimage were to wear the sign of the cross (croix in French): and so evolved the word croisade or "Crusade." By the time his speech ended, the captivated audience began shouting Deus le volt! - God wills it! The expression became the battle-cry of the crusades.
Led by Bishop Adhemar de Puy, the only successful Crusade (of eight major efforts) was the First, when the Crusaders freed Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once again in Christian hands. The Crusaders completed its restoration and dedicated the church in romanesque architecture on July 15, 1149. They also repaired the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of St. James. The four Crusader states of Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa were established. Saladin recaptured Jerusalem October 2, 1187. King Richard the Lionheart of England negotiated a settlement with Saladin during the Third Crusade on September 2, 1192, whereby Christian pilgrims were given free access to Jerusalem and the Sepulchre. The truce with Saladin has generally held to the present day. The four Crusader states eventually collapsed; the surrender of Acre in 1291 ended 192 years of formal Christian rule in the Holy Land.
Jerusalem fell under Ottoman rule in 1516 for four hundred years. In 1917, British General Edmund Allenby liberated the city on December 11, 1917 near the end of World War I. Often called the Last Crusade, his expedition coincided with the Balfour Declaration on a homeland for Israel and the Jewish liberation song Hava Nagila, derived from Psalm 118.
The end of World War II revealed six million Jews were sacrificed during the Holocaust under Hitler's Nazi Germany. Britain ended its mandate, and the United Nations declared Israel an independent nation on May 15, 1948. The United States of America under President Harry S. Truman immediately recognized the new independent state of Israel. There were only 625,000 Jews in Palestine in 1946, according to the Department of Statistics of the Jewish Agency.14 In contrast, the great majority of the population of the new nation at the time was Palestinian Arab! 15 Prior to the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Arab population of Palestine was 1,398,000. At that time the Palestinian diaspora was small in size. Today, less than half of Palestinians live within the borders of Israel, due to the large number of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, and surrounding Arab nations. 16
Both Israelites and Palestinians deserve a homeland!
The Six-Day War that began on June 5, 1967 gave Israel control over all of Jerusalem. Christianity survives with her many Churches, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Melkite Byzantine Catholic Church of the Annunciation in the Christian Quarter, the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter, and the Ecce Homo Church on the Via Dolorosa. The Israeli government built a Separation Barrier between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank beginning in 2000 and supported Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This has placed a painful humanitarian burden on the daily lives of peaceful Palestinian families. The Wall divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Humanity has suffered terribly from the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Middle East Christians. The state of Israel has respected the rights of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to access their respective houses of worship in Jerusalem.
We must all pray for peace. After all, we are all God's children.
1 Navarre Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1999-2005.
2 Eric H. Cline. Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2004), 1-35.
3 Na’aman Nadav. "Biblical and Historical Jerusalem in the Tenth and Fifth-Fourth Centuries BCE, " Biblica 93 (2012): 21-42.
4 Jason Tatlock. "The Ancient Near East," in The Middle East: Its History and Culture. ed. Jason Tatlock (Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2012), 21-42.
5 Robert C. Tannehill. The Shape of Luke's Story: Essays on Luke-Acts. (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2005), 105-165.
6 Thomas Brisco. Holman Bible Atlas. (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 1998), 229, 258-275.
7 Julie Ann Smith. "My Lord's Native Land: Mapping the Christian Holy Land," Church History 76 (March, 2007): 1-31.
8 Frances M. Young. Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 17-18.
9 Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization, Sixth Edition. (Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006), 191-195.
10 Christopher Dawson. The Making of Europe, [1932. Reprint, Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2002], 126-136.
11 Eric Cline, Jerusalem Besieged, 151-154.
12 Sir Steven Runciman. History of the Crusades, in 3 volumes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954.
13 Thomas F. Madden, ed. Crusades, the Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.
14 E. Bromberger. "The Growth of Population in Palestine." Population Studies 2, (June, 1948): 71-91.
15 Charles S. Kamen. "After the Catastrophe I: The Arabs in Israel, 1948-51" Middle Eastern Studies 23 (October, 1987): 453-495.
16 Youssef Courbage. "The Population of Palestine." Population: An English Selection 7, (1995): 210-224.
17 L'Osservatore Romano, May 28, 2014.