City Of The Beloved

November 28, 2019 Category: Religion

One might say that Jerusalem is the eternal city of the Jewish people in the same way that New York City is an eternal city of the Frisians. {1}  The Dutch founded the port at the mouth of the Hudson River, christening it New Amsterdam; and controlled it for half a century.  That was three and a half centuries ago.

By contrast, Jerusalem was (allegedly) the capital of a unified kingdom three millennia ago; and it remained under a Hebrew regime for seven decades: from just prior to 1000 B.C. to 931 B.C.  Thereafter Jerusalem was not even part of the kingdom that came to be called “Israel”, which was a NON-Judaic kingdom in the land of “Shomrom” (later Romanized as “Samaria”) in northern Canaan.  The capital of that kingdom was initially Tirzah.  Its capital was then moved to the CITY OF Samaria (the ancient Canaanite city after which the region was named) under pagan King Omri.  It remained the Kingdom of Israel’s capital under king Ahab.

The city of Samaria was located in what is now the “West Bank” of Palestine (to wit: not in the modern nation-state of Israel).  The subsequent capital of the northern kingdom was Ramoth, which was east of the Jordan River (in “Gilead”).  An alternate capital of the Kingdom of Israel seems to have been at “Yizri-El” (that is: in the valley typically rendered “Jezreel”).  Notably, that capital employed the moniker for the pre-Jewish Canaanite deity, “El”.

[u]Ru-sh[a]lim[a]  meant “City of Shalim” in Ugaritic–the earliest attested Semitic language.  It was located on the highlands overlooking the Kidron Valley, north of the Valley of Hinnom.  (The hill around which it was centered was later dubbed “Mount Moriah” in Judaic lore, as a commemoration to Abraham.)  That city was founded by the Amorites in the early 2nd millennium B.C.  They likely derived the moniker from the Sumerian: “Yeru-Shalim” [“Foundation of Shalim”].  Interestingly, when rendered in Classical Hebrew, “Yir’eh Shalem” is translated as “Shalem Sees”; itself derived from the Biblical Aramaic “Dwelling place of Shalem”.

Dwelling place of whom?  “Shalim” / “Shalem” was the name for a pre-Judaic Canaanite deity.  As it turns out, he was one of the sons of “El”…a lexeme that would serve as the name in Aramaic used by the Hebrews for their godhead.  (It would then become the Syriac moniker.  Later, that was adopted by the Mohammedans for their godhead, which would eventually be rendered “Allah” in Classical Arabic.)

It has been alternately conjectured that the name for the city might have referred to “S[h]alem”, the city associated the fabled Melchizedek. {2}  However, this does not make sense given the moniker’s antecedent forms: “Foundation of X”, “Dwelling place of X”, and “X Sees” (all of which indicate that X was not itself a place).  It is evident, then, that X was the pre-Judaic deity of the Canaanites.

In any case, what we now call “Jerusalem” was originally an Amorite city.  The Amorites of the 2nd millennium B.C. would have spoken Ugaritic (a Semitic language that antedated Classical Hebrew by more than a millennium).  Unsurprisingly, the authors of the Hebrew Bible (which, we should bear in mind, was initially composed in Babylon in Aramaic) were reticent to acknowledge that the moniker of their most sacred city was a derivative of a Semitic language that preceded their own liturgical language by well over a thousand years.  The original language of their texts, Babylonian Aramaic, was a descendent of Samaritan…which was a descendent of Old Aramaic…which was a descendent of Ugaritic, all of which used a variation of the Phoenician alphabet.  It was on the basis of Aramaic that the new liturgical language–first Mishnaic Hebrew, then the familiar block-letters of Classical Hebrew–would be established.  That linguistic transition occurred long after the Exilic Period.

Prior to 1000 B.C., the city-in-question was alternately dubbed “Yabusu” after its residents, the Jebusites: a Hurrian-Amorite tribe who worshipped the mother-goddess, “Hebat”.  Consequently, in Judaic scripture, the city-in-question was originally referred to as “Jebus” (as in Judges 19:10) or as “the Jebusite city” (as in Judges 1:21 and Joshua 15:8).  The Jebusites were held in contradistinction to the Philistines, who worshipped “Dagon” as well as “Baal”…and the goddess, “Ashtart” (ref. the Book of Samuel). {3}

Pursuant to adopting the godhead of the Shasu (“Yahweh”), the Jebusite faction asserted a novel identity: what might be referred to as the proto-Hebrews–as they were Yah-weh-ists.  (For attestation, see Exodus 20:2-5 and Deuteronomy 5:6-7.)  They would later be referred to as the “Yehudim” (people of Judah; i.e. Judah-ites).  Only later would they be fashioned as the denizens of Beth Israel (that is: House of the seed of Jacob).  Hence the oft-used label: “Israelites”.  (For more on this matter, see my previous essay: The Land Of Purple.)

Prior to the emergence of this new tribe as a distinct henotheistic (later, monotheistic) people, the city-in-question had been rendered “Uru-shlem” in Old Aramaic (the language used by the Akkadians in the region).  That would later be rendered “Urishlem” in Syriac.  Again, this etymology is based on the pre-Judaic deity, Shalim; not on the deity that the Hebrews later came to worship above all the other gods, Y-H-W-H (which–to reiterate–had originally been the godhead of the Shasu).

At the time of the Babylonian Exile, Jerusalem was reputed to be the seat of the Kingdom of Judah, which was ruled by Yah-koniah.  Yah-koniah’s appointed successor, Zedekiah, was permitted by Nebuchadnezzar II to remain a vassal; yet after he defied Babylon, he was promptly dethroned (in 587 or 586 B.C.)  Though the remaining Hebrew residents were allowed to remain in the area, many of them opted to emigrate to Egypt.  (Only the elites were sent to Babylon.)  Here’s the kicker: In the account of the conquests of Nebuchadnezzar II given in Assyrian sources (the Babylonian Chronicles), the city is referred to as the city of “Iaahudu” [city of Judah].  There is no mention of a “Yerushalem”.  This makes sense; given that when the Persians overtook the city soon thereafter, they referred to it as “Yehud Medinata” [Aramaic for “City of Judah”]. {9}

The city’s name was eventually rendered “Yerushalem” by Babylonian scribes during the Exilic period, using a variant of the (Samaritan-based) Aramaic alphabet…before being rendered “Yir’eh Shalem”, using the Mishnaic script adopted for writing Hebrew scripture during Late Antiquity.  (Judaic scripture would alternately be refashioned in Classical Hebrew.)  And as we will see: When rendered in Mishnaic Hebrew by the “geonim”, the name of the city was spelled with a slight modification: the yod-inclusive “Yerushalayim”.

Who, exactly, were the proto-Hebrews?  The first Yah-weh-ists seem to have been a southern Canaanite tribe–likely an offshoot of the Amorites hailing from Edom–who espoused the henotheism of the aforementioned Shasu.  (Monolatry is putting one deity above all others; whereas monotheism is claiming only one deity exists.)  There is a possible reference to this from the 14th century B.C. on a “cartouche” of pharaoh Amenhotep III at the Soleb temple in Nubia (which mentions the Shasu).  It is more explicitly referenced in inscriptions at the Egyptian “Karnak” temple complex from the 13th century B.C.  Those inscriptions commemorated the triumph of the pharaoh, Seti–father of Ramses the Great–over a “people of Y-H-W” (i.e. the Shasu) in the region of Edom (the southern-most end of Canaan, alternately known as “Midian”). {2}  It is clear, then, that the worship of Yahweh as a supreme deity predated Judaism.

Also at Karnak is an enumeration of the conquests of Pharaoh Shoshenq (later rendered “Shishak” in Classical Hebrew) throughout Canaan.  (This particular inscription is found on the Bubastite Portal gate; and is dated c. 925 B.C.)  Of the numerous cities mentioned in the commemoration of victories, not one of them is a “Yerushalem”.  This would have been rather peculiar had “Yerushalem” been the name of an important city for the conquered people (Hebrews) within the relevant region (Canaan) at the time.  It is especially telling, as King Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, is explicitly designated in the inscription. (!)  Note that the same event would later be referenced in the Hebrew Bible (in First Kings 14:25-26 and in Second Chronicles 12:1-12).  It seems that–at the time–the city-in-question was not seen as an auspicious place by the tribes in question.

This makes sense, as the first “temenos” [holy place] of the nascent Abrahamic Faith (and thus of the proto-Hebrews) was Shiloh, NOT the place that would become the “Ir D-w-D” [“city of the beloved”; i.e. the city of David].  High priests [“kohen gadol”] such as Aaron (brother of Moses) and his descendant, Eli (mentor of Samuel; as well as the last “judge” of Beth Israel) would have operated out of Shiloh, not out of the city that came to be known as “Yerushalem”. {2}

Even after Shiloh, Hebron was the tribal center (replete with tabernacle)… prior to the hilltop stronghold that came to be known as the City of David.

Meanwhile, Samaritans (who–in a twist of irony–referred to themselves as “Israelites” at the time) deemed Mount Gerizim to be the original Abrahamic “temenos”.

In the Torah, when reference was made to the city-in-question, the moniker “Yerushalem” is never used.  Throughout much of the Hebrew Bible, the city is referred to as the city of David.  This moniker (“Ir D-w-D”) is used in various key place:

  • Second Book of Samuel (5:7-9 and 6:10-16)
  • First Book of Kings (2:10, 3:1, 8:1, 9:24, 14:31, and 15:8)
  • Second Book of Kings (8:24, 9:28, 12:21, 14:20, 15:7/38, and 16:20)
  • First Chronicles (11:5-7, 13:13, and 15:1/29)
  • Second Chronicles (5:2, 8:11, 12:16, 14:1, 16:14, 21:20, 24:16/25, 25:28, 27:9, 32:5/30, and 33:14)
  • Nehemiah (3:15 and 12:37)
  • Isaiah (22:9)

Even First Maccabees uses “Ir D-w-D” as the preferred moniker (1:33, 2:31, 7:32, and 14:36), which is notable considering the Hasmonean regime was explicitly Judaic.

When the city is first alluded to by a variant of the ancient cognate (“Yarushalem”), it is in the Book of Joshua (the opening verse of chapter 10); and it is referred to as a HOSTILE city.  Why?  Because it wasn’t Jewish.  The city was ruled by an Amorite king: Adonai-zedek–a peculiar title for a pagan ruler, as it meant “lord of righteousness” using explicitly Hebraic nomenclature.  It is for this reason that we are told in the Book of Judges (1:8) that the city was razed by the invading Israelites (i.e. the Judah-ites). {4}  Notably, even when the city is finally referred to by the familiar moniker (in the 10th chapter of Joshua), it is only mentioned in passing–as one of the five AMORITE sovereignties (Yerushalem, Hebron, Yarmuth, La[c]hish, and Eglon.)

So we see that there are vestiges of the new Faith’s pagan origins.  It is rarely acknowledged that the fabled Abrahamic figure “M-L-K-i-zedek” [“Melchizedek”] and the aforementioned pagan kind, “Adonai-zedek”, as well as the arch-angel “Zedek-i-El” (all of whom were associated with the city-in-question) were based on the name of a Canaanite deity: “Sydyk”.  Calcified onomastics–especially when liturgically significant–often elide their etymological origins, as doing so would concede that a given moniker was little more than an accident of history: appropriated from exogenous traditions.  Such an admission would undermine the credence of sacrosanct dogmas.  (“THEIR lore is bunkum; but OUR lore is ineluctable…even though it is just a recycling of said bunkum.”)  Any dubious foundations are elided by simply pretending that one’s own lore is sui generis.

The city is referenced using the familiar moniker (“Yarushalem”) in various other places in the Nevi’im–as with First Kings 9:15-19 (an account of King Solomon’s municipal projects) as well as Second Kings 15 (an account of king Uzziah / Azariah of Judah) and 16 (an account of the pagan king of Judah, Ahaz).

And so we see: Even as the city of David has been considered sacred by the Jewish people since Classical Antiquity (after Judaic lore was formalized in Babylon), the city qua city was not defined BY Judaism–either demographically OR culturally / politically.  At the time that the fabled Hebrew king, David, is said to have ascended to the throne, the city was ethnically Jebusite, though under the control of the Philistines.  (Hence the name for the city at the time: “Jebus”.)  Philistine was–in turn–an Assyrian [alt. Babylonian] vassal State.  Judges 1:21 notes that, even by the time of the Exile, Jebusites and Benjam[in]ites CONTINUED be a prominent segment of the city.  The Book of Joshua echoed this fact (15:63).  It was hardly exclusively Hebrew.

Then, starting in 539 B.C. (at the end of the Exilic Period), the city became a Persian [Achaemenid] vassalage…then a Macedonian vassalage…then a Seleucid / Ptolemaic / Parthian vassalage…and then–after a brief stint under the Hasmoneans–a Roman vassalage…then a Byzantine vassalage.

So the one notable interruption in this non-Jewish sequence of rule was the 47-year period when the (Maccabean) Hasmonean kingdom enjoyed a modicum of sovereignty (from 110 B.C. to 63 B.C.) {5}

For the entire time, the only other exceptions to pagan rule were isolated Jewish suzerains (vassals to Assyria / Babylonia) such as Asa and his son, Jehoshaphat (late 10th / early 9th century), Hezekiah (late 8th / early 7th century B.C.), Josiah (7th century B.C.), and Nehemiah (5th century B.C.)  That’s about it.  Even they were obliged to accede to the sovereignty of their pagan overlords.

As we saw in the previous essay (on the Land of Purple), Beth Israel (the Jewish people, who primarily resided in the kingdom of Judah in the south) were pitted against the KINGDOM OF Israel (the pagan kingdom in the north).  It comes as no surprise, then, that the first people to attack–and set fire to–the city of David were the Judah-ites (ref. Judges 1:8). (!)  Who were THEY?  Well, the Hebrews, who practiced a heno-theistic religion that was essentially Judah-ism.

And what of the demographics of this fabled city?  At the time that the Hebrews were exiled by the Babylonians (under Nebuchadnezzar II) in 605 B.C., they hardly accounted for a plurality of the city’s population. {8}  (The same goes for the city during the “Second Temple” period; i.e. Classical Antiquity.)  The Exilic period came to an end during the rule of the (Zoroastrian) Persian “shah-an-shah” [king of kings] Cyrus, in the 6th century B.C.  This transition is recounted in Second Chronicles and the Book of Ezra.  It might be noted that the Persians were not oppressive…lest they would not have permitted the Jewish community to erect a small temple (the so-called “second temple”) in the city c. 516 B.C. {10}

After taking control of the city c. 332 B.C., Alexander the Great allowed the temple to persist, as he did not see it as a significant enough presence to deem it a threat to his sovereignty.

Since the Iron Age, the land west of the Jordan River (known alternately as “Canaan” or “Palestine”) was populated by a salmagundi of different peoples–of which the Hebrews were but one.  Note, for example, the Greek inhabitants of “Paralia” on the coast.  Even during Hasmonean rule (starting c. 167 B.C.), the majority of the city’s residents were Gentiles (i.e. pagans).

It comes as no surprise, then, that Aramaic and–later–Koine Greek were the linguas franca of the Levantine region.  This continued to be the case even when it was under the Hasmonean and Herodian regimes.  Indeed, the official language of the (Jewish) Hasmonean regime was Aramaic, not Classical Hebrew.  This explains why the Masoretic texts–written in the Dark Ages–were derived from Aramaic antecedents.  Masoretic Hebrew shows palpable signs of its Aramaic roots–as with the “K-Re” and “K-T-B” (typically rendered “Qere” and “Ket[h]iv”), meaning “that which is recited and that which is written” in Aramaic.

The Jewish people of Classical Antiquity through Late Antiquity (such as Jesus of Nazareth) would have primarily spoken Aramaic.  Only the “kohanim” (Judaic priesthood) would have written and read Mishnaic / Classical Hebrew, as it had been established strictly as a liturgical language following the Mishnaic Period.  (Again: It was adapted from the “Biblical” Aramaic used by the Babylonian scribes to compose the earliest Judaic scripture.)

The Maccabees’ linga franca would have been Aramaic.  It makes sense, then, that in the 1st century, the Jewish historian, Yosef ben Matityahu of Judea (a.k.a. “Josephus”) composed his histories in Aramaic.  The other lingua franca in the region was Koine Greek–which accounted for the need to compose the “Septuagint”. 

What of culture?  During Classical Antiquity, some combination of Hellenic (Greco-Roman) and Achaemenid (Persian) culture held sway throughout the city-in-question…even after it was conquered by the Romans.  This is evidenced by the massive Greco-Persian citadel (known as the “Akra”) which existed at the site of what was also known as the “Temple Mount”.  Alongside the Akra was the Judaic “second temple”, which was originally just a small structure.  That temple was erected, so the story goes, by Zerub-Bab-El at the culmination of the Exilic Period c. 516 B.C. {24}  The second temple would last until the Seleucid takeover of the city; and would not be rebuilt until the Herodian period–at which point it became the more prominent structure that we often hear about today.  (For more on Herod’s Temple, see the Appendix.)

Following Hadrian’s siege of the city (and destruction of the second temple) c. 70 A.D., the city would thereafter be referred to as “Aelia Capitolina”.  (Note, for example, a travelogue by a Christian pilgrim from Burdigala [Bordeaux] c. 333.)  This moniker was a tribute to the Roman god, Jupiter Capitolinus; as well as a reference to the presiding Emperor.  Thereafter, the city intermittently changed hands between the (Roman) Byzantines and (Persian) Sassanians.  During this period, the area was referred to as “Syria Palaestina” [which encompassed “Palaestina Prima” and “Palaestina Secunda”]. {3}  By that point, though, the only municipality in Canaan that was primarily Jewish was HEBRON.

We might note that the significance of Hebron goes back to the beginnings of Judaic lore.  It was, after all, a place near Hebron where Abraham was said to have been buried (per Genesis 25:9-10): a cave in Ma[c]hpelah (near Mamre in Canaan), located in a field that the patriarch had purchased from the Hittite, Ephron ben Zohar.  Hebron was also the first capital of the Judaic Kingdom of Judah (prior to the city of David).  (We might also recall that David is said to have lived for a while at Ziklag, located in the Negev.)

When the Persians (Sassanians) re-took control of the city c. 613 A.D., they were–as they had been in Antiquity–very permissive of Jewish activity.  During the periods that the Persians–intermittently–had control over the Levantine region, Jewish suzerains were sometimes permitted to govern. {12}

Starting in the 638 A.D., the city became part of the Rashidun–followed by Umayyad, then Abbasid, then Fatimid, then Seljuk–Empires.  During the Crusades, the city changed hands between the (Christian) Europeans and (Muslim) Seljuks / Ayyubids.  The city then fell within the Mamluk dominion (shortly after the Christians were permanently ousted from the region).  During the Crusades, there had–intermittently–been the Christian “Kingdom of Jerusalem”.  The capital of that mini-kingdom was often not even in Jerusalem, but in Acre (Old Semitic: “Akko”; Greek: “Ake”; Arabic: “Akka”).  When it was temporarily part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (during the 12th and 13th centuries), Jerusalem was nominally Roman Catholic, as it was an outpost of the Holy Roman Empire.

After the Mamluks, the (Timurid) Il-khanate enjoyed dominion over the city.   And all THAT was followed by the Ottoman Empire, which lasted until the British Mandate of the early 20th century (pursuant to the conclusion of the First World War).

To recapitulate: Between the day of King David’s ascension to the throne (in the city known as “Jebus” at the time) and the establishment of the modern nation-State of Israel in June of 1948, Jerusalem had been an officially “Jewish” city for roughly 4% of the time–the most recent interlude being well over two millennia ago.  Ergo the most accurate description of this particular city–since its founding by the Amorites in the 2nd millennium B.C.–is an international, multi-ethnic, multi-Faith municipality.

Even as the (Maccabean) Hasmoneans enjoyed brief control over the city for about a century (fashioning it as a Judaic center c. 140 B.C.), we mustn’t forget that many different ethnic groups have staked their claim on that particular location–from the Jebusites to the Ottoman Turks.  Usually, it was taken by force–as when it was sacked by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., by the Romans in 70 and 135, by Mohammedan Arabs c. 637, by Frankish Crusaders in 1099, and–yes–eventually by Zionist forces in 1948 (who engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing on par with that of the First Crusade).

Pursuant to the First World War (and the consequent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire), the bumbling “British Mandate” was no more legitimate than any other act by a feckless colonialist power.  (In other words: It was no more legitimate than ANY decision made by a hegemonic interloper, which cared little for the land’s indigenous population–dwelling, as they did, in region on which it had laid its claim.)  When “blood and soil” is the rationalization, crimes against humanity are a moot point.  “Lebensraum” for the exalted in-group is the sine qua non.

At the onset of the 16th century, less than a thousand Jews lived in Jerusalem.  That was in the advent of the banishment of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.  After being expelled from Andalusia, Jews who headed to the Levant opted to–instead–settle in the Galilean town of Safed (even as the Mamluks welcomed them in Jerusalem as well).  And in 1800, there were at most 2 thousand Jews in the city.  Pursuant to the Messianic fervor of the 19th century, things began to change.  By 1900, there were about 33 thousand Jews living in the city of David.  From there, the numbers would continue to increase–especially during the 30’s and into the 40’s (as those who sought refuge from the horrors in Europe had nowhere else to go).

Another point worth noting: Even during the brief periods of Judaic suzerainty, many of those who considered themselves Jewish were not ETHNICALLY Jewish (i.e. Hebrew); they were simply converts to the Faith.  Note, for example, Jewish queen Helena of Adiabene, an Assyrian vassal who was responsible for the most notable efflorescence of Judaism in the city of David prior to the razing of the second temple in 70 A.D.  She was Persian.  (She converted from either Zoroastrianism or Ashur-ism.)  At the time of the Mohammedan take-over of the city in 637 A.D., the Byzantine patriarch of the city (Sophronius of Damascus) was a fellow Arab.

Alas.  Obfuscation of the above history has become de rigueur in Revisionist Zionist circles.  For instance, it is rarely mentioned–for obvious reasons–that the first holy site for the proto-Hebrews was Shiloh, which was in the land of Ephraim (northern Canaan).  Their “temenos” was only moved to “[u]Ru-s[h]alim[a]” (at that point still an Amorite city) around the time David would have been anointed king (just prior to 1000 B.C., so the story goes).  Even then, another auspicious location (known as “Gibeon”) was used as a sacred site…until, that is, David’s son, Solomon, opted to commission his fabled temple: the House to “Yahweh” (alt. “Bet[h]-El”; a.k.a. “Beit Ha-Mikdash”) in the 10th century B.C.  The basis for doing so was pre-Judaic theology…which had been inherited from the constituents’ Canaanite forebears (the Shasu). {13}

Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, went on to rule the SOUTHERN kingdom (that of Judah; i.e. not the kingdom of Israel).  The original capital of THAT kingdom was initially Hebron…which was located in what is now the “West Bank” of Palestine (i.e. not within the modern nation-state of Israel).  The capital then became Hebron (which was also in what we now call the West Bank).  The capital of the southern kingdom (the Judaic “Kingdom of Judah”) would only later be moved to the city of David (probably during the reign of the storied reformer, Josiah c. 640 – 609 B.C.)  That was THREE CENTURIES after Solomon.

Even the ostensibly Judaic kingdom in the south was not consistently Jewish; it was intermittently pagan.  Indeed, during that period, most of the kings of the “Kingdom of Israel” did NOT recognize Yah-weh as the godhead.  They were not even monotheists; they were avowed pagans.  More to the point, almost all of them swore allegiance to the Assyrians.

During this era, we hear the city-in-question denounced by Hosea (10:15), Amos (5:5), and Jeremiah (9:10-11, 26:18, and 48:13).  THEY all referred to it simply as the place of “Bet[h]-El” [the “House of El”], which was described as the venue for the king’s court. {14}  Meanwhile, Second Kings 10:29 and Second Chronicles 13:8 tell us that King Jeroboam of the northern kingdom (based in “Shomron” at the time) erected idols at two locations: Dan and the “House of El”.  Nothing about a “Yerushalem”.  Indeed, the familiar moniker isn’t used in any of the other passages where the city is mentioned (e.g. First Chronicles 3:5 as well as Second Chronicles 25:1 and 32:9).  It seems that reference to the “House of El” originally corresponded to the Jebusite city located on (what would later be dubbed) Mount Moriah.  And THAT would later be refashioned as “Ir David”.

But that’s not all.  The city was also referred to as “Har [t]Siyon” [Mount Zion]–as we find in First Chronicles (11:5), Isaiah (60:14), and Psalm 48:2.  (This is not to be confused with the western hill that is NOW referred to as “Mount Zion”.)  Interestingly, that hill was NOT the hill on which Solomon’s temple had been built (Mount Moriah).  Rather, it was the location of the aforementioned Jebusite fortress…which eventually came to be called “Metsudat Zion” (Fortress of Zion). {15}  Second Samuel (5:7), Second Chronicles (5:2), and First Kings (8:1-2) illustrate that the moniker, “Mount Zion” corresponded with what would alternately be referred to as the city of David…which ONLY LATER came to be referred to as “Yerushalem” by the Jewish people.  THAT was in the post-Exilic (i.e. “Second Temple”) Period.  Hence the use of the familiar moniker in, say, Psalms 122 and 147. {16}  Interestingly, elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the city-in-question is equated with “Zion”–as in Micah 4:2, Zechariah 9:9, and the opening line of Psalm 137 (“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”)  Here, it is announced where the Psalms were composed.  And the aspirations are articulated in terms of dreams of Zion.

In the Book of Isaiah, the city-in-question is simply referred to as “Zion” and “the mountain of the Lord”, as well as the place of “the House of the god of Jacob” (2:2-3).  In 10:32, the “mount of the daughter of Zion” is equated with the (original) hill of Zion.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, “[mount] Zion” is used to refer to the place where the Abrahamic Deity dwells–as in, say, Isaiah 8:18.  But–as mentioned earlier–that “temenos” was located at various places at different points in time.  Tellingly, when the city IS mentioned explicitly by Isaiah (5:14 and 29:4), it is CONDEMNED.  Why?  Because it was a pagan city.

So what became of the moniker, “House of El”?  This labeling scheme had a very long history.  Even at the culmination of the Exilic Period, we find the same nomenclature.  Ezra 2:28 and Nehemiah 7:32 tell us that the Jews who opted to return to Canaan from Babylon went not to a “Yerushalem”, but to what was referred to as the “House of El”.  Such a reference would have been rather odd had the city (wherein the seat of the king was located, as well as the primary temple of the Hebrew deity) been known to the Jews all along as “Yerushalem”.

So it makes sense that “Yerushalem” is not mentioned in the Torah.  Instead, we repeatedly hear of a “House of El”–starting with Genesis (12:8 and 13:3).  Later, we hear about this auspicious place in Judges (20:18/26), where it is mentioned as the place the Hebrews went to seek god’s council (again referred to as “House of El”). 

In First Kings (e.g. chapt. 15), the city is referenced simply as the city from which Judah was ruled.  In Second Kings, the place the prophet Elijah visited at the end of his life was referred to as–you guessed it–the “House of El”.  Still no mention of a “Yerushalem”.

In the Book of Ezekiel, the eponymous prophet envisioned the establishment of a new city, which would serve as the capital of the coming Messianic Kingdom.  He referred to this as “YHWH-Shammah” [place where Yahweh dwells]. {17}  This was often construed as a prognostication of the future establishment of a “New Jerusalem” (in medieval parlance).  THAT would be accomplished by someone, somewhere, at some point. {15}  By who, where, and when?  Unsurprisingly, this depended on who one asked.

As it came to pass, this exalted meme (“the place where Yahweh dwells”) was used as part of a Messianic narrative.  Was it referring to a worldly place or to an otherworldly place?  Both Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch posited the new temple to be not on Earth, but in heaven.

Note that also in Ezekiel (chapter 48), just as in Jeremiah (chapters 32 and 52), the city is simply referred to as “the city”.  Meanwhile, the Book of Esther mentions the city simply as the place from which the patriarch, Kish had been seized by Nebuchadnezzar (2:6).  Still no use of the familiar moniker.

Only later would the city-in-question be referred to as “Yerushalem” by the Jewish people.  As mentioned, the familiar moniker–adopted from antecedent Semitic nomenclature–finally appears in the Book of Joshua (10:1).  Most notably, though, it appears in the Book of Lamentations (BoL)–a tract that mourns the Babylonian Exile.  (That book is retro-actively attributed to the prophet, Jeremiah.)  It should be noted, though, that the BoL was composed at a point in time AFTER the Exilic Period.  The book is clearly comprised of material from different authors, cobbled together over a period of time.  (A tell-tale sign of the BoL’s disparate sources is that, throughout the book, sometimes the city is referred to in the feminine, other times in the masculine.)  Also worth noting: The BoL regurgitates many of the motifs found in the Sumerian “Lamentation for Ur”–which was about the fall of the city of Ur to the Elamites c. 2000 B.C.

Interestingly, the city-in-question is simply referred to as “the city” in the opening verse of the BoL.  Thereafter, the city is alternately referred to as “[daughter] Zion” and “Yerushalem”…thus indicating that the later was an ALTERNATE (i.e. optional) way to label the city.  This is in keeping with the Book of Isaiah, in which the monikers “Zion” and the city of David are equated–as in 33:20, 40:9, 62:1, and 66:8.  Such interchangeability is telling.

But wait; “Zion” was typically employed as an abstraction, right?  Precisely.  Such phrasing indicates that the moniker, “Yerushalem”–when it WAS eventually used–was often a way of referring to an IDEAL–namely: the “world-to-come” (that is: the Messianic Age; a.k.a. the Kingdom of God).  Lo and behold: that is exactly the way the moniker is used in Jeremiah 30:17 and 33:16; as well as in Zechariah 8:3-6, 12:2-3, and 14:8-11.  Here, Jerusalem is an idea as much as it is a place.

In Psalm 147:2, we are told that god builds up “Yerushalem” where he shall gather together the outcasts of “Israel” (the diaspora, including the Exilarchs in Babylon).  Again: This is more a paean to some utopian vision than it is a prognostication concerning literal historical events vis a vis specific locations.

Isaiah (65:17-25) enjoins: “Behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered… But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create for Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people, no more shall be heard the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”  Here, Jerusalem is clearly a metaphor–an ideal to be realized, a symbol of hope.

Consequently, it should come as no surprise that “[daughter] Zion” and “Yerushalem” are used interchangeably in various other places throughout the Nevi’im–as with Zechariah chapters 8 and 9, Micah chapter 4, and Jeremiah chapter 3.  The Song of Songs employs the locution “daughters of Yerushalem” throughout (1:5, 2:7, 3:5/10, 5:8/16, 8:4, etc.)  All of these passages speak of the glorious days to come.  Clearly, the commentary is more symbolic than documentary in nature.  It makes sense, then, that modern Zionists sometimes refer to the city as–well–“[t]Siyon” (alt. “Zion”). {15}

The city-as-symbol continued play a role in Judaic eschatology–as in the Book of Jeremiah: “At that [future] time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and [once they believe] all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord” (3:17).

Was such an onomastic metamorphosis odd?  No.  A case-study in the transformation of a city’s identity (according to changing ethnic affiliation) is the Roman “Cariathiarim” in Gibeon (the West Bank).  That moniker was based on the Hebrew “Kiryat[h]-Ye’arim” [City of Woods]…which had been changed from its original Canaanite name, “Kiryat[h]-Baal” [City of Baal].  Here’s the giveaway: There was a TRANSITIONAL name.  During an intervening period (in the late Iron Age and even into Classical Antiquity), the city was referred to as “Baal-Judah” by the rulers of Judah–as attested in the Book of Joshua (9:17, 15:60, and 18:14), the Second Book of Samuel (6:2), and First Chronicles (2:50-53 and 13:6).  (For more on the overlap–and even conflation–of the Canaanite godhead with the newfangled Abrahamic godhead, see footnote 15 in my essay on “The Land Of Purple”.)

Note that it was not uncommon for auspicious places in Hebrew lore to have been named after Canaanite deities.  In addition to S[h]alem, the city of Beit Shemesh [House of the Sun] was named after a Canaanite goddess.  (Shemesh was the daughter of El via Asherah.)  Refer to the Book of Joshua (15:10 and 21:16) and the First Book of Samuel (6:12-21).

In terms of semiotics, the symbolism of the city continued to undergo a metamorphosis.  Fast-forward to the 1st century A.D., and new idioms took on significance.  A Jewish carpenter from the Galilee would proclaim that god’s kingdom “is not of this world” (ref. the Gospel of John; 18:36).  Meanwhile, Luke tells us that the “kingdom of god” is within each of us (17:20-21).  It seems the focus shifted from worldly places to theological abstractions.

Later still, the vehement anti-Roman propagandist, John of Patmos composed his phantasmagoric “Book of Revelation” c. 100.  In his lurid eschatological musings (involving a Last Battle and resurrection of all mankind), John favored the colorful imagery of an earthly “New Jerusalem” presided over by the Messiah (i.e. the Messianic figure that everyone seemed to be speculating about).  The Book of Revelation is rife with symbolism.  (At was, after all, a propagandistic tract.)  In 11:8, the author decries the city of David, which–we are notified–is SPIRITUALLY to be considered Sodom and/or Egypt (places that represent heathenism).

John of Patmos was concerned with the geo-politics of the time, and so was focused primarily on WORLDLY affairs–envisioning the Abrahamic peoples triumphing over pagan Rome–even as he articulated himself in overwrought prose.  For reasons we can only speculate about, this deliberately enigmatic author opted to speak in nebulous terms–proffering a raft of fantastical imagery for his audience.  In the opening verses of chapter 21, he stated that the “New Jerusalem” would come out of Heaven.  He even compared this vision to a well-adorned bride being sent down from Heaven.  Here, we hear echoes of the “Daughter of Zion” idiom.

The Book of Revelation even designates “Mount Zion” as ground zero in its fantastical eschatological prognostications (14:1 and 17:14).  In other words, even by c. 100 A.D., the salient nomenclature was “Zion”–based on the onomastics of the Hebrew Bible.  John of Patmos writes: “I saw the holy city… And in the city I saw no temple, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb [i.e. the Christ]” (21:2/22).

Elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, the message from god entreats the audience: “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”  The passage then explains: “He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending from heaven from god, with the glory of god.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (21:9-11).  An illuminated city coming down from heaven?  Clearly, symbolism is being used.

Again, we see that Jerusalem was more a symbol than anything else, which explains why the locution “daughters of Jerusalem” was used in the Gospels (Luke 23:28) to refer to those who were chosen.  In this semiotic schema, “Jerusalem” was synonymous with “Zion”.  Therefore it makes perfect sense that the DAUGHTER OF Zion / Jerusalem was equated with Jewish people: “Beth Israel”.

Considering all this, the question arises: Was the “New Jerusalem” a heavenly phenomenon or a worldly one?  The heuristic here often blurs the two.  For a lot of this commentary seems to be more a use of poignant symbolism than it is a literal chronicle of history–as is typically the case with grandiose eschatological perorations.  Tellingly, in the synoptic Gospels, the “Kingdom of God” is alternately referred to as the “Kingdom of Heaven”–thereby associating “theos” with a celestial “basileia” in Koine Greek (“Ha-Shem” with “mamlakah” / “malku[t]” in Classical Hebrew).  This means that the pending “Kingdom Come” is, indeed, NOT of this world.  (Such ideation may be held in contradistinction to the earthly Judaic kingdom envisioned by, say, the Pharisees.)

The metaphorical nature of this kingdom is clear throughout the New Testament.  In the Synoptic Gospels, the Kingdom of Heaven / God is even compared to things like the seed of a plant and leaven.  Indeed, the entire discourse is suffused with metaphor.  Thus we given “Jerusalem” as an icon.  In this sense, it is more the expression of an ideal than the designation of a specific location.  In other words: Jerusalem–as with the term “Zion”–was used rhetorically.

This leitmotif is born out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  In 4:26, he contrasts “the Jerusalem above” and “the present Jerusalem”, a heuristic that proffers a dichotomy: between an ideal and a literal city.

Talk about a heavenly city seems to have been an integral part of the idiom.  In the letter to the Hebrews (12:22-23) it is stated that “You have come…

  • to Mount Zion
  • to the city of the living God
  • to the heavenly Jerusalem
  • to an innumerable company of angels
  • to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven
  • to god, the Judge of all
  • to the spirits of just men made perfect.”

This sequence of descriptions points to the same thing: a divinely-ordained destination that is clearly not a physical place.  It’s all symbolic.

Yet the problem is not just a matter of misconstruing the metaphorical as literal.  (Indeed, it is not uncommon for people to mistakenly take what is allegorical as historical.)  What happens here is more interesting.  Jerusalem, in being treated symbolically, became a (sanctified) abstraction that took on a life of its own.  The abstraction was then MAPPED BACK ONTO the thing that inspired it.  Thus “Jerusalem” qua symbol was reified as “Jerusalem” as an actual city…which was then applied to CONCEPTIONS OF the actual city, Jerusalem.

And so it went: A protracted, meandering process of reification came to RE-DEFINE the physical city that served as the basis for what had become a (malleable) abstraction.  A hyper-romanticized treatment of the city–and its legacy–followed accordingly.

Starting in Late Antiquity, the city-in-question served as a synecdoche for the Judeo-Christian creed…in roughly the same way that Athens was rendered a synecdoche for Greek philosophy.  In fact, “Jerusalem” was often presented in contradistinction to “Athens” for HEURISTIC purposes.  Thus the Christian apologist, Tertullian asked rhetorically: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?!”  To clarify what he meant by these terms, he posed another rhetorical question: “What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?”  He scornfully associated the former with Platonism, Aristotelian thought, Stoicism, and–well–ALL dialectic composition (that is: anything that served to sully the Christian Faith).  He juxtaposed this with the latter, which he associated with divine Providence.

In insisting that Jerusalem must trump Athens, Tertullian declaimed: “We want no further inquiry after having read the Gospel!”  By extolling Jerusalem while holding Athens in contempt, he illustrated the mandate to use Faith over Reason.  He was clearly NOT chronicling historical exigencies.  He was articulating alternative IDEALS, not pontificating about the geopolitics of actual cities–as if favoring one physical location over another.

This semiotic convention served what would become a compelling narrative.  After all, cities rise and fall, but symbols endure.  In assaying these idiomatic expressions, we should take care not to confuse metonymy for geography.  For to treat synecdoches as literal referents is a hermeneutic mistake; one that sets the stage for a smorgasbord of exegetical shenanigans.

In this case, to construe “Jerusalem” as some geo-political charter is to misread a nomenclature in which corporeal things (in this case: a city) serve as proxies for ideals (in this case: a kind of Shangri-La).  Such a misreading is unsurprising.  Per this heuristic, it is supposed that the legacies of the two things ALIGN…which opens the door for conflation.  We might note, though, that such an ideation (a “kingdom” as panacea) has analogues in cultures around the world–from Asgard to Shambhala.

Those who contend that iconic cities like Athens (associated with philosophy and democracy; i.e. REASON) and Jerusalem (associated with religious tradition and moral law; i.e. FAITH) are the be seen as the basis for modern “Western” society confuse a semiotic convention for historical fact.  This was not a historical analysis, it was a METAPHOR.

Even the Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandria–who, at the end of the 2nd century, was born in Athens and finished his career in Jerusalem–invoked the idiom as a way of conveying the universality of the Christian Faith: “By the Logos, the whole world is now become Athens!”  Clearly, he did not mean this in a geo-political sense; he was simply noting that the thought surrounding the Abrahamic deity had become Hellenized (which was something he celebrated).

And so it went with “Yerushalem”.  The semiotically-loaded moniker was often used as a euphemism for the Jewish community (as in Psalm 116:18).  Hence the use of the locution “O, Jerusalem!” in some of the verses attributed to Jeremiah, where he is addressing his audience.  This made perfect sense at the time.  For, as we’ve seen, “daughter of Jerusalem” was an alternate name for Beth Israel.

To review: Throughout the Middle Ages into the modern age–from the demise of the Roman Empire to the demise of the Ottoman Empire–Jerusalem was an icon of geo-political dominion–a kind of trophy.  In other words: It was more a symbol than anything else.

Pages: 1 2 3

CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 - 2010-2019 -
Developed by Malagueta/Br
Note to readers: Those reading these long-form essays will be much better-off using a larger screen (not a hand-held device) for displaying the text. Due to the length of most pieces on our site, a lap-top, desk-top, or large tablet is strongly recommended.


Download as PDF