BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Ancient Jerusalem—Not Where We Thought?

Scholar argues Bronze Age Jerusalem was centered on Temple Mount

Ancient Jerusalem

View of the Ophel excavation area as seen from the Mount of Olives. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer, BAS.

Could ancient Jerusalem be not quite where we thought it was? That is the suggestion of Israeli archaeologist Nadav Na’aman. Publishing in the journal Tel Aviv, Na’aman has rekindled a theory that the original city of Jerusalem was located not on the southern hill—today called the City of David—but instead on the northern hill, the location of the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary. While the two hills are separated by just a few hundred feet, the difference in our understanding of the ancient city could be quite significant depending on where the city first began.

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The Mound on the Mount

Examining glyptic and inscribed artifacts from the Ophel and the City of David dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (c. 2000–1200 BCE), Na’aman argues that the higher amount of such finds from the Ophel indicates that the northern hill was the seat of power and administration during this time. If this was the case, Solomon’s construction of the Temple on the northern hill was “not a revolutionary step in the city’s history, but rather, constituted a natural continuation in the history of the city.”

While this is not the first time the theory of ancient Jerusalem’s origins has been put forward, Na’aman’s proposal utilizes actual archaeological evidence as opposed to arguments from silence or comparative studies with other Canaanite cities. Often termed the “Mound on the Mount” hypothesis, this theory argues that the more defensible northern hill made it an ideal candidate for the temples and palaces of Canaanite Jerusalem. As such, the city would have expanded to the southern hill only in times of prosperity and growth.

However, a major difficulty in proving this theory is that much of the area of the northern hill is either inaccessible to archaeology or was destroyed by later Herodian and Roman building projects. As such, archaeologists holding this position have often based their arguments on conjecture and circumstantial evidence.

Indeed, the debate surrounding Jerusalem’s exact location in its earliest periods is nearly as old as the archaeology of Jerusalem itself. Although the traditional view holds that the city sprang up on the southern hill near the Gihon Spring, the limited archaeological evidence from the area has hampered any sort of certainty. One strength of the traditional view, however, is the city’s Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550 BCE) walls, which have been uncovered around the southern hill but are not believed to have extended northward.

Yet, according to Na’aman, this is not the smoking gun that some archaeologists suggest. In addition to the large amount of glyptic material uncovered in the Ophel—outside of the Middle Bronze Age fortifications—no large administrative buildings have been uncovered in the City of David dating to the Canaanite period, despite references within the Amarna Letters to a royal palace within the city.

Additionally, scholars are uncertain as to whether the excavated Middle Bronze fortifications were the city’s only defenses. First, it is possible that a yet unidentified fortified corridor connected the city’s northern and southern hills during this period. Second, even if no such connection existed, it could be that two separate fortification systems existed at the same time, with a large system surrounding the southern hill and a smaller one encompassing the more naturally defensible northern hill.


Read more in BHD:

Missing Wall of Biblical Jerusalem Discovered

OnSite: The Walls of Jerusalem

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Jerusalem in David and Solomon’s Time

Jerusalem and the Holy Land(fill)

Jerusalem Model Rediscovered

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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6 Responses

  1. BRYANT J WILLIAMS III says:

    II Samuel 5:6-10 states,
    And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

    1. This would indicate that the “water shaft” (5:8) would most likely refer to the area around the Gihon Spring.
    2. The summary statement of 5:9 would also indicate that David began around the water source of the Gihon Spring and built from the Millo to the Gihon Spring, i.e. moving East and working to the South and West.
    3. This link: generationword.com/jerusalem101/17-millo-jebusite-wall.html, shows a photograph of the area and also a drawn illustration of the area.

  2. Linda says:

    Read analysis of those verses as they have been misinterpreted by some scholars. Mount Zion was not north of Jerusalem but was south of Mount Moriah.

    Isaiah 14 talks about the king of Babylon…see verse 4. Verses 13-14 refer to Babylon and Satan’s sins. “North” to the Babylonians, was a reference to northern mountains in the clouds where they, and other pagan nations, believed their gods lived….see Isaiah 14:14

  3. Kitty Corbett says:

    The Temple was a place of worship and an essential part of that worship required water. Therefore the Gihon spring location would be ideal, whereas the waterless “Temple Mount” simply would not do.

  4. dave lumley says:

    Hi Nathan – thank you for such an interesting article. I would like to comment on a couple of things:
    1. Solomon built the first Temple on land which already sited the tabernacle containing an altar amongst other things – the site was originally acquired by David from Araunah the Jebusite (who may have been a Canaanite elder?) and it was called a “threshing floor”.
    A threshing floor in Canaanite times was, in all probability, a meeting place for the leading men to meet and discuss local business etc in addition to separating the wheat from the chaff – social gatherings also probably happened here.
    Threshing floors were also located in high places to benefit from the wind as the wheat was thrown into the air to separate it from the chaff.
    Please check out all earlier references to threshing floors in Genesis, Leviticus, Ruth etc.

    2. Solomon constructed the Temple on the northern site as it already housed the tabernacle and altar – he was following what his father David had been commanded to do – it was nothing new.

    3. The reference to a “royal palace” and “large administrative buildings” may be misleading.
    Jebus (the original Canaanite name for Jerusalem) was a small village hosting a small rural community when David attacked and gained control – his “palace” and “administrative buildings” may not have been large structures as we envisage.
    Becoming the centre and capital of David’s kingdom essentially meant that David was based there and his home would have been called his “palace” – it could have been a small structure but maybe a bit larger than the other homes? What actually was an “administrative building” in Canaanite times? Certainly not a large council office block that we understand today.

    4. The location of the Gihon spring is fundamental to the establishment of earlier settlements – the northern plateau has no natural water supply.

    5. The southern site is the most “naturally defensible” site not the northern site. It was surrounded by steep ravines on all major sides – the northern plateau however was easily attacked from the north and this is evident in all later phases of Jerusalem’s history with the subsequent construction of protecting walls – see later Herodian and Roman times.

    6. In summary:
    – the original Jebus was a small village on the southern well-protected site with a local spring as a water supply and a threshing floor/field to the north owned, at some stage, by Araunah.
    – David captured Jebus and lived there (in a larger house or “palace”) and set up an administrative centre (in a few more larger houses?). David set up the tabernacle and altar on the northern “threshing floor/field”.
    – Solomon built the first temple on the site of the tabernacle and extended the southern city in various phases.

    Thanks again.
    Dave Lumley (Cardiff Wales UK)

    1. Donald Ashton says:

      Does this restore the idea that the Temple was build on the Ophel just south of ‘Temple Mount’?
      The plateau of Temple Mount is the correct size for a Roman Garrison barracks square and removes the idea that Fort Antonia could possibly hold the number of Roman Soldiers stated in the writings of eye-witnesses.

      The stair way from the pool of Siloam to the temple does not enter the Temple Mount area, therefore it could not have been used to transport water into the supposed Temple site for the Water Ceremony on the final day of Sukkot.

  5. Dear BAS, re the location of Jerusalem. According to Psalm 48: 2, it is on the sides of the north. It coordinates with Heavenly Jerusalem.

    Psa 48:2

    Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

    Isa 14:13

    For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

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6 Responses

  1. BRYANT J WILLIAMS III says:

    II Samuel 5:6-10 states,
    And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

    1. This would indicate that the “water shaft” (5:8) would most likely refer to the area around the Gihon Spring.
    2. The summary statement of 5:9 would also indicate that David began around the water source of the Gihon Spring and built from the Millo to the Gihon Spring, i.e. moving East and working to the South and West.
    3. This link: generationword.com/jerusalem101/17-millo-jebusite-wall.html, shows a photograph of the area and also a drawn illustration of the area.

  2. Linda says:

    Read analysis of those verses as they have been misinterpreted by some scholars. Mount Zion was not north of Jerusalem but was south of Mount Moriah.

    Isaiah 14 talks about the king of Babylon…see verse 4. Verses 13-14 refer to Babylon and Satan’s sins. “North” to the Babylonians, was a reference to northern mountains in the clouds where they, and other pagan nations, believed their gods lived….see Isaiah 14:14

  3. Kitty Corbett says:

    The Temple was a place of worship and an essential part of that worship required water. Therefore the Gihon spring location would be ideal, whereas the waterless “Temple Mount” simply would not do.

  4. dave lumley says:

    Hi Nathan – thank you for such an interesting article. I would like to comment on a couple of things:
    1. Solomon built the first Temple on land which already sited the tabernacle containing an altar amongst other things – the site was originally acquired by David from Araunah the Jebusite (who may have been a Canaanite elder?) and it was called a “threshing floor”.
    A threshing floor in Canaanite times was, in all probability, a meeting place for the leading men to meet and discuss local business etc in addition to separating the wheat from the chaff – social gatherings also probably happened here.
    Threshing floors were also located in high places to benefit from the wind as the wheat was thrown into the air to separate it from the chaff.
    Please check out all earlier references to threshing floors in Genesis, Leviticus, Ruth etc.

    2. Solomon constructed the Temple on the northern site as it already housed the tabernacle and altar – he was following what his father David had been commanded to do – it was nothing new.

    3. The reference to a “royal palace” and “large administrative buildings” may be misleading.
    Jebus (the original Canaanite name for Jerusalem) was a small village hosting a small rural community when David attacked and gained control – his “palace” and “administrative buildings” may not have been large structures as we envisage.
    Becoming the centre and capital of David’s kingdom essentially meant that David was based there and his home would have been called his “palace” – it could have been a small structure but maybe a bit larger than the other homes? What actually was an “administrative building” in Canaanite times? Certainly not a large council office block that we understand today.

    4. The location of the Gihon spring is fundamental to the establishment of earlier settlements – the northern plateau has no natural water supply.

    5. The southern site is the most “naturally defensible” site not the northern site. It was surrounded by steep ravines on all major sides – the northern plateau however was easily attacked from the north and this is evident in all later phases of Jerusalem’s history with the subsequent construction of protecting walls – see later Herodian and Roman times.

    6. In summary:
    – the original Jebus was a small village on the southern well-protected site with a local spring as a water supply and a threshing floor/field to the north owned, at some stage, by Araunah.
    – David captured Jebus and lived there (in a larger house or “palace”) and set up an administrative centre (in a few more larger houses?). David set up the tabernacle and altar on the northern “threshing floor/field”.
    – Solomon built the first temple on the site of the tabernacle and extended the southern city in various phases.

    Thanks again.
    Dave Lumley (Cardiff Wales UK)

    1. Donald Ashton says:

      Does this restore the idea that the Temple was build on the Ophel just south of ‘Temple Mount’?
      The plateau of Temple Mount is the correct size for a Roman Garrison barracks square and removes the idea that Fort Antonia could possibly hold the number of Roman Soldiers stated in the writings of eye-witnesses.

      The stair way from the pool of Siloam to the temple does not enter the Temple Mount area, therefore it could not have been used to transport water into the supposed Temple site for the Water Ceremony on the final day of Sukkot.

  5. Dear BAS, re the location of Jerusalem. According to Psalm 48: 2, it is on the sides of the north. It coordinates with Heavenly Jerusalem.

    Psa 48:2

    Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.

    Isa 14:13

    For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

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