City of Prophets and Kings, Jerusalem both inspires and challenges - this city is not for the faint hearted! It is said that Tel Aviv is to play, Haifa is to work and Jerusalem is to pray. Beloved to the world's three monotheistic religions, the significance of Jerusalem cannot be underestimated. She nestles in the Judean mountains, although today she has spread out her tent pegs broadly and occupies a large area.
The climate in Jerusalem is a little different than other parts of the land; it is cooler than the coastal plain and enjoys rain in the winter and even snowfall on occasions. It is much less humid than the coastal plain and is blessed by the same breeze each evening that used to blow the ashes from the Holy Temple to the East.
City of Gold, Holy City, she has many epitaphs that continue to ring true until today. Her ancient ruins, many now restored, tell stories that connect us to the Biblical heritage of this city, to Abraham, King David, Nehemiah and Ezra, Hezekiah Jeremiah and Isaiah. There is no other city like this one. Ancient and modern intermingle in a constantly fascinating tapestry. You will never run out of things to explore in Jerusalem. In fact, many who live there forget that the rest of Israel exists because of her all-consuming pull.
From archaeology and ancient sites, to places of worship; the Western Wall, the Great synagogue, to the culinary delights, the colours, sounds and smells of the largest outdoor market in the Middle East called The Shuk, to high end shopping in Mamilla and trendy hangouts like the First Station - Jerusalem has something for everyone.
- Population: 944,188
- Area: 126 square kilometers (49 square miles).
- Population density: 7,200 residents per square kilometer (19.000 residents per square mile).
- Religious affiliation: 64% residents are Jewish
What’s in a name?
Jerusalem has many names in the Hebrew Bible, for example: Salem, Jebus, The Stronghold of Zion, Zion, and The City of David. In Hebrew her names are Yerushalem and Yerushalayim which is very interesting because in Hebrew, the ending “im” is plural.
Yeru-Salem literally means G-d will provide shalom, or wholeness.
Geographical location and topography
Jerusalem has a special position, in the centre of the Middle East and three continents. She is set in the heart of what is known as the Cradle of Civilization, and the Fertile Crescent. What we call the Middle East today was in the centre of two great empires in ancient times that often warred to gain more land and expand their borders. They were the Assyrians and the Egyptians.
Because Jerusalem is positioned between two tribal territories; Judah and Benjamin, King David conquered what was then known as the Jebusite City of Jebus as a strategic move to unite all the tribes. This move was hugely successful and under David and Solomon the Kingdom expanded greatly.
The Hebrew Bible has some really beautiful, meaningful descriptions of Jerusalem, like this one: “See, I have written you on the palm of my hand, your walls are ever before me.” Jerusalem was and is constructed around/ above a series of valleys, that extend north to south and come together at a certain point. If you turn your hand to look at your palm, and imagine that point as being the base of the palm of your hand, you will see that between your fingers, there are gaps. If you think of these gaps between the fingers as valleys, and the fingers themselves as mountains. The base of the palm where the valleys connect is the lowest and most southern part of the City of David.
Psalm 125 v 2 says: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people.” This image of the mountains surrounding, protecting and embracing Jerusalem only made sense when ancient Jerusalem had been found; the Jerusalem of King David. She was lost for almost 1800 years, since the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD and was only found again in 1867!
The Hebrew Bible also connects Jerusalem with organs of the body and G-d’s name when it says that His name, heart and eyes are on the Temple Mount forever: “For now I have chosen and consecrated this House so that My Name may be there forever. My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually.” Sometimes, doctors or nurses will look at the shape of the valleys and say, how incredible; that looks like the chambers of the human heart. The shape of the valleys is also like the Hebrew letter Shin. Shin is the first letter of “El Shaddai ''which means the almighty, all sufficient G-d.”
Because G-d’s presence was to be in Jerusalem, in the Holy of Holies, and because the Torah scrolls were kept in the Temple, Jerusalem was the place that the tribes came up to in order to meet with G-d and to hear the Torah being read from the time that King Solomon built the First Temple. The Jewish people were required to make Aliyah, which simply means to go up, to Jerusalem 3 times per year to celebrate the appointed times called the Feasts of the Lord. So the city and the Temple were also a gathering place and point of contact, as she is until today.
A little of Jerusalem's history:
Jerusalem first became the capital city of the Jewish people for the first time in around 1000 BCE. This was the time when King David moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, bringing all the tribes of Israel together under one king. About 400 years later the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzer, burned Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground. The Jewish people had to flee from Jerusalem and went to live far away to the east, in Babylon. After 70 years, the Persian Kings Darius and Cyrus then allowed the Judeans to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem.
The prophet Nehemiah then oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The Book of Ezra describes how after another 40 years, Ezra and Nehemiah revived the public reading of the Torah in Jerusalem, on market days! After another 200 years, the Greeks conquered the land and treated the Jewish people very badly, making laws that went against the Torah and ending with the sacrifice of a pig on the altar of the Temple. The Book of Daniel would seem to describe this evil ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, whose name actually means g-d made manifest! A bold group of Jews rose up against this ruler, defeating him and retaking Jerusalem and the Temple. They were called the Maccabees or Hasmoneans. It is from this time that we have the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah which the Jewish people celebrate each year in December, almost at the same time that Christians celebrate Christmas. In 63 BCE the Romans came along with laws that created many problems for the Jewish people. They ruled at the same time that Herod the Great ruled over Judea. This was the same Herod who ordered the murder of the Jewish infants, just as Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler did some 1500 years before him. The Temple that King Herod built was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were sent out of Jerusalem again before she was razed to the ground level twice.
In 325 CE, for the first time Jerusalem came under Christian rule and many sites were built, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After this, the Muslims came and changed many churches into mosques and began to build structures on the Temple Mount at the end of the seventh century CE. The Crusaders came next in 1099, seeking to free the holy places from Muslim control and leaving a trail of murder and devastation in their wake.
In 1317 Jerusalem became part of the Ottoman Empire, until the British Empire conquered her in 1917. Then, miracle of miracles, as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, after a gap of almost 3000 years, the land came under Jewish rule again in 1948! In 2017 President Donald Trump moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, declaring that “Jerusalem is the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people.”