The Story of Ancient Jerusalem
by Ahron Horovitz (edited by Dr. Eyal Meiron)
Jerusalem: Megalim-City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies, 2009, 325 pp.
$89 (hard cover)
Reviewed by Jane Cahill West
“…and it always seems to me that if we dig deeply there, we will reach that layer of soil on which God’s footprints are still engraved.” -Leah Goldberg
No expense has been spared producing this absolutely stunning book! Measuring just under 10 inches by 14 inches, weighing almost 6 pounds and sumptuously illustrated with more than 150 pictures including maps, architectural plans and reconstructions, as well as new and archival photographs, all printed on heavy-weight, high-quality, glossy paper, this publication is indeed a coffee table book. But it is much more than just a collection of pretty pictures. Although subtitled “The Story of Ancient Jerusalem,” it actually tells many stories: It tells the story of how archaeologists digging in Jerusalem a hundred years ago identified the oldest part of the city-popularly known today as the City of David; it tells a story of Biblical Jerusalem that Israeli guides recount for hundreds of thousands of visitors who make their way to the City of David each year; and it tells a story of how a modern Jewish community has recently been established in the City of David.
The book’s author, Ahron Horovitz, lives in the City of David and directs the entity that published the book, Megalim-the City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies. The book’s foreword-written by distinguished archaeologist and scholar Dr. Gabriel Barkay-states that “in recent years the City of David has become a National Park” that not only “attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year,” but is also “the most visited ancient site in the country.”
Horovitz-who also heads Israel’s Ministry of Tourism School for Tour Guides-recognizes that “the archaeological remains found [in the City of David] do not readily lend themselves to a vivid reconstruction of the past. The connection between what the Bible says and what the archaeologists find is not always clear.” Consequently, he explains, the “book’s objective is to connect the inanimate material remnants of the past found in Jerusalem to the living reality of the Bible.”
The book “adopts a Jewish perspective in which archaeological findings are combined with written sources,” as the foreword notes. For this reason, some readers are likely to criticize the book as an example of how archaeological resources publicly maintained in a National Park can be exploited to further an exclusionary narrative for private political-and possibly even financial-gain.1 But such criticism would merely recast the author’s stated objective-to tell the story of ancient Jerusalem from a Jewish perspective-in a negative light. Horovitz freely acknowledges that “the historical and archaeological reconstructions in this book are not the only ones possible.” He recognizes that “[i]t would…be highly pretentious to claim that events that occurred millennia ago can be reconstructed with absolute certainty on the basis of Biblical verses whose interpretation is not always certain, together with some potsherds and sections of walls.”
In Biblical times Jerusalem stretched across two hills, as the author explains, but by the first century C.E. knowledge that the settlement had started on the low, narrow, eastern hill rather than the high, broad, western hill was lost even to the Jewish historian Josephus. The location of Jerusalem’s earliest settlement was rediscovered only in the early 20th century following chance finds.
The name Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). The city’s early importance, however, is suggested by the name Rushalimum found in two series of Egyptian “execration texts” dating from the 19th and 18th centuries B.C.E. And the name Rushalimum may reasonably be equated to Salem mentioned in the Books of Genesis (14:17-20) and Psalms (76:3).
Horovitz quotes an interesting rabbinic explanation for how Jerusalem got its name:
Abraham called it “yir’e” as it says, “And Abraham called the name of that place ‘God will see,’” [Adonai yir'e].
Shem called it “Salem,” as it says, “Melchizedek King of Salem” (Genesis 14).
God said, “If I call it ‘yir’e’ as Abraham did, righteous Shem will be resentful. Yet if I call it ‘Salem,’ then righteous Abraham will be resentful. Rather, let me call it ‘Yeru-salem,’ [Jerusalem] combining both names.”2
Most of the book focuses on archaeological discoveries that may reasonably be linked to the best-known events of Jerusalem’s history as told in the historic and prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah and Jeremiah). The author does not question the accuracy of this history. For example, even though few, if any, modern historians or archaeologists believe that Jerusalem served as capital of a kingdom that stretched from Mesopotamia to Egypt, the map of Solomon’s kingdom pictured at the beginning of Chapter 7, aptly titled “From Kingdom to Empire,” stretches from the Euphrates River in the north to the Egyptian border in the south, as described in 1 Kings 5:4: “from Tiphsah even to Gaza.”
One of the best features of the book is Horovitz’s ability to provide clear, concise descriptions of the debates that surround interpretation of Jerusalem’s most controversial archaeological remains, such as Warren’s Shaft, the Stepped Stone Structure, and the city’s fortifications. Reconstruction drawings depicting how the city may have looked at various stages of Biblical history are based primarily on the interpretation of fellow tour guide Eyal Meiron, while explanations for some of the most controversial features of Jerusalem’s water supply systems are those offered by Zvi Abells, a retired electrical engineer who devotes all his spare time to studying Jerusalem’s water systems. These reconstructions and interpretations offer perspectives on issues of contentious debate rarely seen in print.
This book is designed in the tradition of souvenir picture books that unabashedly and unashamedly aim to take readers on a trip to antiquity “with a Bible in one hand and an archaeologist’s pickaxe in the other.” Although it is written from a Jewish perspective, the clarity of its text, the beauty of its illustrations, and its unapologetic efforts “to merge the written word of the Bible with the information found on the stones of archaeological research” will appeal to readers of all faiths interested in the history of Jerusalem.
1 See, e.g., Raphael Greenberg,”Extreme Exposure: Archaeology in Jerusalem 1967-2007,” Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, vol. 11, nos. 3-4 (2009), pp. 262-281; Nadia Abu el-Haj, “Translating Truths: Nationalism, the Practice of Archaeology, and the Remaking of Past and Present in Contemporary Jerusalem,” American Ethnologist, vol. 25 (1998), pp. 166-188.
2 Bereshit Rabbah 56, S. V. Vayikra Abraham (Vilna edition).
Jane Cahill West served as senior staff archaeologist for the Hebrew University’s City of David Archaeological Project and codirected the Tell el-Hammah excavations. She is an attorney and career clerk for a federal judge in Houston, Texas.
This review of Ahron Horovitz’s book City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem by Jane Cahill West originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2011, 70-72.
A good reference for theological teaching
Cahyana E. Purnama — Indonesia (3/17/2011 1:37:56 AM)
Reading on this review has encouraged me to raise a question about its relatively constant meaning of ‘shalem’ in most of all languages of the Middle-east area. Theologically it has become an iconic hope that everyone who pays reference to the God’s call will have found the real peace (shalom). This ideal condition has also been adopted as an eschatology-embedded content for father Abraham up to early church living people. Maybe I will find a connective significant meaning from its artifacts too