King David's Jerusalem

During the earliest stages of the Israelite infiltration and throughout the reign of Saul (c.1020-1000 BC), the first king of Israel, Jerusalem was in the hands of the Jebusites, an ethnic group possibly related to the Hittites, whose land lay on the border between Benjamin and Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Jebusites were a Canaanite tribe. However, an increasingly popular view is that the Jebusites were most likely an Amorite tribe.

Precisely when the Jebusites took control of the city is not known. Some scholars believe that it was during an earlier period of unrest; others claim the Jebusites did not arrive until after the fall of the Hittite empire in about 1200 BC.

The Jebusites called their fortress-city Jebus. The Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin held cities and hills all around it. For example, Saul's own capital of Gibeah (Hebrew "hill") sat on a high ridge (now Tel el-Ful), just 2 miles to the north Gibeah of Saul todayof Jebus, on the main road heading to Shechem (modern Road 60). There he had his fortress-palace, and it was here that David played his harp to calm Saul when tormented by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 19:9). At this time David undoubtedly became aware of Jebus and its strategic position.

Right, Gibeah of Saul today. The site is now occupied by an unfinished remains of a palace built by the late King Hussein of Jordan. He had to abandon the project when Israel captured Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. 

David was a favored lieutenant of Saul; he had bested the Philistines of the Mediterranean coast and defeated their powerful giant Goliath from Gath, one of the five Philistine city-states. But this and other exploits captured the imagination of his own and other tribes and Saul jealously turned against him. He then managed to survive as a fugitive chieftain. After Saul's death in battle at Mount Gilboa, about 1010 BC, David's popularity vaulted him to the kingship of Judah, which then had its capital at Hebron, some 60 miles south of Gibeah. This led to war with Israel under Ish-bosheth, the youngest of Saul's four sons, and his legitimate heir, who had taken charge of the Kingdom of Israel. After much intrigue, Ish-bosheth was stabbed in bed and his executioners fled to David's court. David carefully disassociated himself from Ish-bosheth's death by having the assassins killed. Afterward the elders of Israel came to Hebron and anointed David as their king, as well.

David was now king of Judah in the south and Israel in the north, but it was not yet a united kingdom; they remained separate as before, with only David as the uniting factor. To mold the contentious kingdoms into one nation he needed to move his capital closer to the geographic center of his domain. Around 1000 BC, after a seven and a half-year reign in Hebron, David set his eyes on the small Jebusite fortress-city of Jebus.

What attracted him to Jebus? For him it had several advantages. Located halfway between Saul's capital of Gibeah and his own birthplace of Bethlehem, it was a natural fortress, built on a high ridge bordered on the east, west and south by steep valleys. It was easily defensible against attacks by Israel's enemies, especially the powerful Philistines. Nominally within the area of land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin and slightly north of Judah (Joshua 18:28), it had never been taken by either tribe. Because it was not associated with any tribal traditions, it's status as capital would arouse little jealousy among the tribes. The city was also more central than Hebron, it had the Gihon spring for fresh water and it lay near two highways, one going north-south between Shechem and Hebron, another heading east-west between the Mediterranean coast and Jericho and the Jordan River Valley.

David conquers the Jebusite citadel

In the town of Jebus was a fortress (KJV, 'stronghold') called Zion considered impregnable by its Jebusite inhabitants. Leading his army into the steep valley below the fortress settlement, David prepared to attack. But, as he stood there with his forces, the Jebusites taunted him: "'You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.' They thought, 'David cannot get in here.'" (2 Samuel 5:6-8;). Staring up at the fortress some six-stories overhead, protected by natural defenses and imposing walls, David wondered how to take it. A direct assault was clearly impossible. He sought a weakness in the defenses, and challenged his men: "Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those 'lame and blind' who are David's enemies" (2 Samuel 5:8) which, in 1st Chronicles reads: "Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief." (1 Chronicles 11:6) Eventually one was discovered: a mysterious "tsinnor" as it is called in the original Hebrew, variously translated as "gutter" (KJV), "watercourse" (ASV) or "water shaft" (NIV), that allowed the residents of Jebus to access the Gihon Spring, the town's most convenient source of fresh water, without having to venture outside the safety of the walls. David's comrade, Joab, accepted the challenge and "went up" the hidden water shaft/tunnel system with a group of volunteers and surprised the unsuspecting city. (The account in 1 Chronicles 11:4-8 makes no mention of a water system and implies that the conquest was an act of military prowess.) Irregardless of how David took Jebus, which had resisted conquest for centuries, it apparently surrendered virtually intact, and with little bloodshed.

From Jebusite city-state to David's capital

After capturing the city, David set about making it the political and religious capital of Israel. It seems, however, that most of the Jebusites were spared: "to this day the Jebusites live there (Jerusalem) with the people of Judah." (Joshua 15:63)

David was a shepherd/warrior; perhaps he needed their administrative help in running the city. Within the walled settlement lived perhaps 2,500 people, including the royal court, the garrison, priests and Levites of the Israelites, craftsmen, traders, and whatever Jebusites chose to remain there after the conquest. Because David had captured the Jebusite citadel with his own troops, it was, in keeping with regional tradition, his personal property. He therefore renamed it "iyr David" (City of David) (2 Samuel 5:9). The name Jebus was forgotten and never used again. But "City of David" never caught on either. After David's death, the pre-Davidic (and pagan) name Jerusalem continued to be used.

To transform the Jebusite city into the Israelite capital David reused many Canaanite defense walls and support structures. The city was in an excellent strategic location, but its narrow, hilltop location required the construction of artificial platforms to provide sufficient area for his building activities. So, David "built up the city around it, from the supporting terraces to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city." (1 Chronicles 11:8) He also constructed a palace of cedar for himself.

The City of David becomes the kingdom's worship center

David's next diplomatic stroke was to establish his city as the unified kingdom's religious center. His predicessor Saul had paid no attention to the old national-religious symbol — the Ark of the Covenant — which held the holiest relic of the Israelites, the stone tablets of the Ten Commandements received from God on Mount Sinai by Moses. Since its capture and subsequent return by the Philistines, it had been housed at Kiriath Jearim (identified with the modern village of Abu Ghosh, about 9 miles northwest of Jerusalem). David resolved to move the Ark to his new capital, but his first attempt was unsuccessful and it was left in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months (2 Samuel 6:3-11). Three months later, however, he successfully brought it into the city and placed it in a specially constructed tent (2 Samuel 6:16). David made further plans to construct a permanent home for the Ark: for 50 shekels of silver, he purchased the hill to the north of his city from Araunah the Jebusite, who may have been the last Jebusite king (In 1 Chronicles 21, the Jebusite's name is Ornan and the purchase price was 600 shekels of gold). Araunah (or Ornan) had used the site as a threshing floor, for which it was ideally suited, catching the winds that separated the grain from the chaff as the stalks were thrown into the air. The purchase price included Araunah's oxen, which David sacrificed to the Lord on an altar he built there (2 Samuel 24:24-25). Apparently he had more elaborate plans for Araunah's threshing floor than the erection of a mere altar. It was David himself who, under the guidance of God, drew up the plans for a temple that was to rise there. David's role, and careful attention to details and preparation for the temple are recorded for us in 1 Chronicles 22:2-4:

"So David gave orders to assemble the aliens living in Israel, and from among them he appointed stonecutters to prepare dressed stone for building the house of God. He provided a large amount of iron to make nails for the doors of the gateways and for the fittings, and more bronze than could be weighed. He also provided more cedar logs than could be counted, for the Sidonians and Tyrians had brought large numbers of them to David."

But, God, through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:1-7), told David he would not be the one to build the temple because he had "shed much blood on the earth." That honor would go to his son Solomon. Nevertheless, it was from Jerusalem that David united the tribes of the south and the north and ruled his extended kingdom for almost forty years...

The City of David

Like the Jebusite town that preceded it, the City of David was quite small, only about 9 or 10 acres, with an estimated population of 2,000. Though modest in size, the site offered natural defenses, with the Kidron valley on the east and the Tyropoeon Valley on the west, and the presence of the Gihon spring for water. This ridge is still called the City of David, and it has been extensively excavated, revealing remains from several early stages of developement.

Right, aerial view looking north over the eastern ridge, still called the "City of David." In the 10th century BC, the area defined by the yellow line was the site of the Jebusite city-state of Jebus, followed by the Jerusalem of David and, later, of Solomon. At the top is the Temple Mount (the walled platform dominated by the Dome of the Rock). To the right is the Kidron Valley (with its vital water source, the Gihon Spring). This is where David stood with his army starring up at the seemingly impregnable Jebusite fortress. Left of the yellow area was the Tyropoeon or Central Valley, now just barely discernible, having been filled with debris over thousands of years of human occupation and destruction. The two valleys meet to form a "V" (bottom center) at the southern end of the City of David.

Archaeological finds related to the time of David

The Davidic city consisted of two parts: the summit of the ridge shown in the photo, no more than 328-feet wide, with a steep slope of about 60 degrees rising above the Kidron Valley. The walls of the Davidic city were the same as those of the Jebusite city. The course of the north wall, with the oblique angle shown in the above map, is certain, as proven by excavation. And, the original 18th century BC wall on the east slope, exposed by excavations in 1961-1967, showed a succession of repairs that were the work of David, referenced in 1 Chronicles 11:7-8: "David then took up residence in the (Jebusite) fortress... He built up the city around it, from the supporting terraces inward to the surrounding wall, while Joab restored the rest of the city."

However, almost nothing remains on the summit of the ridge from the time of David. This is not suprising in light of the fact that most of David's reign was concerned with foreign conquest. The lack of physical evidence is also due to quarrying that took place when Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple in the late 1st century BC, also when the Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina in the 2nd century AD.

Despite this, other important remains of Davidic Jerusalem have been uncovered. Among them are the "supporting terraces" mentioned in the above passage from 1 Chronicles (also in 2 Samuel 5:9). They consist of a series of stone steps rising to a height of nearly fifty feet up the eastern slope from the Kidron Valley. Known as the "Stepped-Stone Structure," studies indicate it was originally built by the Jebusites, the city's earliest inhabitants, as early as the 14th or 13th century BC. Nearly as high as a 5 or 6 story building (almost 90 feet), and 130 feet wide at the top, this is most likely the place where the Jebusites built their fortress of Zion, and where David lived after conquering the city, but before building his own "palace of cedar" (1 Chronicles 17:1).

Right, overhead view of the "Stepped-Stone Structure" originally constructed on the east side of the southeastern hill by the Jebusites to expand the narrow area on top for further building. The foundations consisted of a complex system of walls running across the slope of the hill, forming boxes that were filled with stones. This created a massive and imposing fill structure that added about 2,000 square feet to the top of the narrow ridge. On the lower stone terraces are the remains of houses dating to 7th-6th century BC (see part 7, "Jerusalem under Hezekiah," for more information). In ancient times the stepped stones were probably covered with a smooth plaster coating, so they wouldn't have been easy to climb.

Today, visitors can view this area from a walkway (seen in the above photo) and imagine the sequence of events: the thoughts of David's forces as they approached the Jebusite city, the Jebsites confidently taunting David and his men, Joab scrambling up the water shaft hidden deep inside the hill, and the surprised look on the faces of the Jebusites when they realized their fortress wasn't so impregnable. It is awesome to think that here, too, is where David brought the Ark the Covenant, where David and Solomon built their palaces, where David looked lustfully at Bathseeba and where Solomon welcomed the Queen of Sheba.


Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University claimed to have uncovered what she believes to be the fabled palace of the biblical King David. Her work was sponsored by the Shalem Center, a neoconservative think tank in Jerusalem, and funded by a American Jewish investment banker with hopes of uncovering scientific support for the Bible as a reflection of Jewish history.

Other scholars have toured the site and are skeptical that the foundation walls
(left) Mazar discovered  in the area above the "Stepped Stone Structure" are David's palace. But they acknowledge that what she uncovered is rare and importanta major public building, constructed in the Phoenician style, dating from the 10th to 9th centuries BC, the time of the united kingdom of David and Solomon. Also found in the same excavations was a seal of Jehucal son of Shelemiah son of Nubi, mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 and 38:1.

The many names of "Jerusalem"

Throughout its long history Jerusalem has been known by many names: Jebus, Zion, Salem, Rushalimum, Urushalem, the City of David, Yerushalayim, Aelia Capitolina, and the City of Peace. According to rabbinic tradition "Jerusalem has seventy names," but the one that has stuck is Yerushalayim or, in its Latinized form, Jerusalem. But did you know that the name "Jerusalem" originated long before Christianity, Islam, or even Judaism came on the scene?

The earliest written reference to the city is found in the Egyptian "Execration (meaning "ruin") texts," dating about 1850 BC, which mention a city-state called Rushalimum.

In Assyrian inscriptions it was called Ursalimmu, with ur, according to the Assyrian syllabaries, signifying "city." From the earliest of times it was a religious center for the worship of a local Canaanite deity named Shalem, one of the two "beautiful and gracious gods," Shahar and Shalem ("dawn" and "twilight," respectively), referred to in Ugaritic mythology. Hence the town was called Urusalem, derived from the West Semitic elements yrw and slm, probably meaning "foundation of (the god) Salem," or "Shalem" (see Genesis 14:18; Psalm 76:2) or "Shalem has founded."

The first reference to the city in the Bible is found in Genesis 14:18 in connection with a meeting between Abraham and "Melchizedek king of Salem." Here Salem, or more exactly Shalem, is clearly a shortened form, using only the name of the god and omitting the noun Yeru ("foundation of") or Beth "house of"). Both the Egyptian and Assyrian texts cited above use the longer name, indicating that it dates to a time before Abraham. In Psalm 76:2, Salem is used as a poetic form of the name of Jerusalem: "His tent is in Salem, his dwelling-place in Zion."

Today, tour guides confidently inform visitors that Jerusalem means "City of Peace," reasoning that "salem" and "shalom" (Hebrew for "peace") are derived from the same root. The author of Hebrews (7:2) also equates "salem" with "peace." But, as you can see, this is a bit of compensation, both on the part of the author of Hebrews and modern Jews. The use of the name in this manner is not at all historical.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses the name Ierousalem. Under the Hellenizing influences which invaded Palestine, Salem became Solyma and Jerusalem ta Ierosolyma ("The Holy Solyma"). The New Testament somtimes employs the Septuagint form and sometimes that of Machabees, which the Vulgate renders Jerusalem and Jerosolyma. The Syriac Version gives Uris lem, a form more nearly approaching the Assyrian.

When the Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it as a pagan city in 135 AD, he gave it the name of Aelia Capitolina. From the time of the Moslem conquest of Palestine in the 7th century AD, until the present, the Arabs have called it El Quds, "The Holy" or ir haq qodes, the "Holy City."

Zion/Mount Zion

The pre-Davidic name Zion or Sion, originally referred only to the old Jebusite fortress conquered by David (see above). In Hebrew Zion (tsiyown) means "parched place." However, the entymology of the name remains unexplained and may be of great aniquity. At the time of David it was used to designate the fortified section of the city, while Jerusalem was the name of the city-state as a whole (Isaiah 40:9). In Psalm 14:7 Zion is the place from which salvation will come; in Psalm 76:2 it is "dwelling-place" of God. Another common usage was in reference to the city of God in the new age, as in Isaiah 33:5-6:

"The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure."

The term Mount Zion, which appears 22 times in the Bible (20 OT; 2 NT), seems first to have been applied only to one of the two hills on which Jerusalem was built, the southeastern hill between the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys where the City of David stood. But it soon became synonymous with the city itself.

The biblical writers used Mount Zion in a number of ways: In Hebrews 12:22, it is the name of the "heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God;" in Revelation 14:1, the Lamb stands on Mount Zion with "144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth." Later the name "Mount Zion" was applied to the higher western hill in the mistaken belief that it, not the lower eastern ridge, was the site of David's city. After all, it had several advantages. It was higher and therefore received cooler breezes. It was also easier to build on because it was flatter and the slopes were less steep. They failed to take into account that Jerusalem's only regular source of fresh waterthe Gihon Springis located on the lower part of the eastern ridge, near the floor of the Kidron Valley. But Mount Zion acquired a symbolic significance as the heart of the Jewish homeland, and Zion, as the name for this higher hill, has stuck until the present day. In Jesus' time, both Mount Zion and the City of David were enclosed within the city wall. The higher western hill was the "upper crust" section of the city where the members of the aristocracy and the priesthood lived because it afforded them the best view of the Temple, their source pride (and income). The vista from this area, now outside the Zion Gate of the Old City, is still awesome! Below, view east from Mount Zion toward the Mount of Olives.

view east to Mt. of Olives from Mt zion

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