Jewish Jerusalem Then and Now
Since ancient times, Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish state, as well as the religious center. It has been the center of Jewish national life for some 3,000 years since its conquest by King David until the Babylonian exile. It is revered as the site of the ancient temples built by King Solomon, King David and then Herod.
Sadly, after the fall of the Second Temple, the Roman Christian emperors forbade the Jews to live in their city, a provision which was renewed during the Crusades.
Later on in Jewish history when most of the Jews were scattered throughout Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Jerusalem was the symbolic focus of Zionism, though the majority of the work behind the Zionist reconstruction was done in the countryside and in the then-new city of Tel Aviv, as well as other towns.
But Zion was not an instantaneous Utopia. Jerusalem, the wailing-wall, as well as the al-Aqsa mosques became the flashpoint of much strife between Jews and Arabs. When the British mandate (1918-1947) was finally over, UN General Assembly resolution 181, which saw the partitioning of the Palestine mandate into separate Jewish and Arab states, stated that Jerusalem should be an international city. The Arabs, however, rejected this offer. For some 20 years, barbed wire separated the Eastern, Jordanian and the Western Israeli halves of the city.
Then, in 1967, Jordanian forces began shelling Jerusalem, initiating an Israeli military response resulting in conquest of all of Jerusalem and all the land that lay west of the Jordan River. The city underwent a nominal reunification.
The Labor government of Ehud Barak offered to divide Jerusalem in a peace settlement in December and January of 2001. But the offer was rejected by the Palestinians. Violence ensued, including Palestinian machine gun fire on neighborhoods in Jerusalem and suicide bombers. Called the Second Intifada, the action evoked the events of 1948, and made division of Jerusalem even more unpopular among Israeli Jews.
Judaism does not necessarily contemplate rebuilding the temple as a practical project. However, it remains a dream. Temple practice entails animal sacrifice, and devoting all who are identified as Levites and Cohanim to the service of the temple. According to Rabbinical authorities, Jewish law stipulates a series of sacrifices which must have to be done perfectly or not at all. The meaning of such sacrifices and the procedures to be followed are forgotten, drained down the annals of time. Jews may ascend the Temple Mount – now a mosque – with special permission because the precise place of the Holy of Holies of the Holy Temples is not known, and may be mistakenly trod upon. Were this to happen, a severe sin would be infracted.
The building of the new city’s Jewish neighborhoods began in the late 19th century. Some of the neighborhoods managed to retain their original charm, and it is a true pleasure to wander among the houses. Some of the neighborhoods are Even Yisrael, the German Colony, Me’a She’arim, Yemin Moshe, Makhane Yisra’el, Rekhavia, Nakhla’ot, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Ein Karem, Komemi’ut, the Bukharian Quarter and the Ethiopian Quarter.
JEWISH HISTORY IN JERUSALEM
Jerusalem has been the main holy city to the Jews (there are four in total) since the 10th century BCE. Over the years, though, the city changed hands many times. It went to the Babylonians, the Greeks, Romans, various Christian empires and various Muslim empires. By the year 1840, the Jewish community made up the greatest single religious group in the city and from the decade of the 1880s onward, this constituted the majority within the city.
Awarded to Jerusalem is a certain sui generis status in the religious law of Judaism. For example, Jews outside Jerusalem pray facing the direction of the Holy city, and the maaser sheni, revai and First Fruits are to be eaten in Zion. All expansions of the city for these reasons has to be approved by the Sanhedrin. Also, when the Temple in Jerusalem was still erect, the residents of the city adhered to special laws regarding the Four Species on Sukkot, as well as the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Not just its physical existence is vital to Jewish identity, Jerusalem’s mystical significance too has for a long time been embedded in the collective Jewish religious consciousness. Jews have long studied and especially personalized the resistance of King David from his oppressors and his fight to capture Jerusalem, as well as his burning dream to build the Jewish temple there, as prescribed in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Psalms. Much of King David’s yearnings about the city of Zion have been adapted into popular songs and prayers.
Mention of the city of Jerusalem appears in the Hebrew Bible 669 times and the term Zion appears no less than 154 times. The Torah, the first section, or the Five Books of Moses makes mention only of Mount Moriah, that is the mountain that is said to be the place that Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, and of course, the site for the Temple.
Today, the holy city of Jerusalem is home to 1204 synagogues. However, the city is not just holy for Jews. It also holds massive religious significance to Muslims and Christians.
Today, Jerusalem, as the capitol of the modern State of Israel, is the home of many cultural and other secular attractions. The Israel Museum, for instance, attracts some one million visitors a year, and roughly one-third of them are tourists to Israel. The museum complex is made-up of a small myriad of buildings featuring special exhibits and extensive Judaica collections, archaeological findings, as well as Jewish European and Israeli art.
The Dead Sea scrolls, which were discovered in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea in the mid-20th, are housed in the Museum’s Shrine of the Book.
History of The First Holy Temple in Jerusalem
The First Holy Temple, the Temple of King Solomon, was built in 957 BCE. The King who reigned from 970-930 BCE received the task of building the Temple instead of his father King David, who received the order to build, originally, from the Divine, however, after a life of warfare with his enemies, albeit righteous, his hands were too stained with blood. After unifying all of Israel, David brought the Ark to the new capital, Jerusalem, with the intention of building a temple there. He bought a threshing floor for the site, however, as mentioned, had to hand the Holy task down to his son.
King Solomon demanded the aid of King Hiram of Tyre to provide him with skilled craftsmen and quality materials. A special inner room, during the construction, named in Hebrew Kodesh Hakodashim (The Holy of Holies), was prepared to receive and house the Ark of the Covenant; and when the First Temple was dedicated, the Ark—containing the Tablets of Stone was placed in it.
Recent archaeology attests to the possibility that this temple was the continuation of an earlier Jebusite sanctuary, actually predating the Israelite conquest of Jerusalem. It stood for some 410 years and, according to the 2nd-century book: Seder Olam Rabbah, estimates construction was finalized in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE – that is 165 years later than secular estimates. The main source of information, however, on the First Temple is the Old Testament (Sefer Shmuel, Melacim, Toldot).
In the era of theKingdom of Judah, the Temple was dedicated to the God of Israel, and it housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Book of Kings describes in great detail the set arrangements for the refurbishment in the time of King Joash of Judah – during the 9th century BCE. The Temple was looted by Joash of Israel in the early 8th century and then, once again byKing Ahaz late in the 8th century. King Ahaz also made the installation of some cultic innovations in the Temple which were abhorrent to the author of 1-2 Kings.
The Temple also figures into the account of King Hezekiah, who turned Judah away from idols; then later in that very same century King Hezekiah was confronted with a siege by the evil Assyrian king Sennacherib. Finally, King Solomon’s House of God was plundered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians attacked Zion and burned the Temple in 597 BCE, along with most of Jerusalem.
The Reign of King Hezekiah
The thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, or the next-to-last of what is regarded as Isaiah I, starts with the words: “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.” There follows the story of Isaiah coming to Hezekiah with the words: “Set thine house in order—for thou shouldst die and not live.” Hezekiah, upon hearing the message, turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord. “The grave cannot praise thee, death canot celebrate thee, they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” In a little while Isaiah returned, brought a lump of figs to place on the boil erupted on the body of the sick king, and said in the name of the Lord: “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.”
Hezekiah asked the seer: “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” Isaiah’s answer was:
And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he hath spoken. Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.I have discussed the nature of the event in Worlds in Collision (“The Year -687”) and do it again in the present volume. Here, however, the concern is with a chronological problem, albeit minor, dealing with the reign of Hezekiah and the order of the events of that time.
It is stated that Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years (II Chron. 29:1; II Kings 18:2); that Hoshea, the last king of Israel, started to reign in Samaria in the twelfth year of Ahaz, father of Hezekiah (II Kings 17: 1); that Ahaz reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem (II Chron. 28: 1); that in the third year of Hoshea, Hezekiah began to reign (II Kings 18: 1); that Hoshea reigned in Samaria nine years (II Kings 17: 1); but that already in the fourth year of Hezekiah “which was the seventh year of Hoshea” Shalmaneser cama against Samaria and besieged it (II Kings 18: 9); that the siege of Samaria endured three years (II Kings 17: 5); that at the end of these three years, in the ninth year of Hoshea, which was the sixth of Hezekiah, Samaria fell (II Kings 18: 10); that in the ninth year of his reign Hoshea was captured, fettered, and put in prison (II Kings 17: 9), probably in Assyria.
The accepted date for the fall of Samaria is -722. The calculations, mostly based on cuneiform data, by which this was figured out, were not retraced in the course of this reconstruction. Sargon reigned seventeen years, beginning with the fall of Samaria in his first year. Consequently if Samaria fell in -722, Sennacherib mounted the throne in -705. This is also the accepted date for the beginning of his reign.
In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah Sennacherib came “against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them” (II Kings 18: 13). It was during Sennacherib’s third campaign, or his first against Judah. Sennacherib ceased to write his annals (Taylor Prism) after his eighth year.
The Scriptural data cited here are generally in good agreement one with others, and if there is any possible disagreement it amounts to no more than one or two years, and this could be adjusted by one of the devices usually applied by commentators for minor discords in texts.
But a problem amounting to a decade or even decades comes to light if Hezekiah was already on the throne in Jerusalem three full years before the fall of Samaria, or in -725. Reigning for twenty-nine years, he must have ended his reign and life in -696. These figures, or small variants of them, are also accepted by a few scholars.(1) But if Sennacherib invaded Judah in -701, and this should be Hezekiah’s fourteenth year, then this king of Jerusalem must have started to reign in -715, or seven years after the accepted date for the fall of Samaria(2), and there is a disagreement of ten to eleven years. Could it be that Hezekiah after the fall of Samaria was not yet a sole ruler but a co-ruler with Ahaz, his father, and those years should not count in the twenty-nine, assigned to him as king? Or should the date of the fall of Samaria be lowered? The problem connected with Hezekiah’s reign is not limited to this issue alone.
When Hezekiah fell sick he was promised a grace of fifteen years. The figure fifteen is not arbitrarily chosen. In Worlds in Collision it was brought out that the turbulent events of that time were caused by repeated close approaches of the planet Mars that repeat themselves till today at the same fifteen-year period, called “favorable opposition” (favorable for observation); only twenty-seven centuries ago this phenomenon was much more pronounced—the opposing celestial bodies were at such encounters closer to each other.(3)
As elsewhere in this volume the nature of the paroxysms and the subsequent calendric changes are discussed (and inWorlds in Collision records of these phenomena were collected from many ancient civilizations, in East and West), I will keep here to the subject only insofar as it concerns the chronological problems under scrutiny. Themidrashim explain that on the memorable day of Hezekiah the sun retarded to set by the same amount, namely ten degrees (maaloth in Hebrew is preferrably “degrees” and more so when applied to the sundial) by which it speeded up to descend on the sundial built by Ahaz—and, further, that this phenomenon of acceleration of the sun reaching the horizon took place on the day Ahaz was brought to the grave. Since Sennacherib came toward all the fenced cities in Hezekiah’s domain in his (Hezekiah’s ) fourteenth year, and Sennacherib, according to his own descriptions and reliefs, was tarrying in Palestine, besieging Lachish and reducing many places one by one to his yoke, it is well thinkable that Jerusalem under the “proud Judean, Hezekiah” besieged like “a bird in a cage” submitted to pay tribute when nearly fifteen years of Hezekiah on the throne had passed (Sennacherib records that before the campaign he consulted astrologers and was told to be sure of the protection of the gods; rabbinical sources also tell that he consulted astrologers before going toward Jerusalem, and he was cautioned to hurry, and not to tarry, but he tarried. The promise to the sick Hezekiah of a fifteen year period of grace intends to convey to the reader of the Scriptures that such grace came really into fulfillment. But that would mean that Hezekiah was permitted to live another fifteen years, and to stay altogether twenty-nine on the throne, or reach his fifty-fourth year—he mounted the throne at twenty-five.
Everything just told seems in good agreement but for several things. First, three separate texts in the Scriptures, and so also Herodotus in his history of Egypt, tell of an unusual debacle suffered by the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. He won the battle of Eltekeh, close to Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast, against Sethos and Ethiopian generals, and properly recorded it; he continued warfare and carried it east into Elam, southeast into Babylon, west into Anatolia, north into the Caucasus, and beyond.
The realization that Sennacherib came again to Palestine on his ninth campaign was intially made by Rawlinson in 18~~, and with years gained an almost universal acceptance. It means that the Scriptural records in its versions of II Kings, II Chronicles, and Isaiah, needs to be regarded as an amalgam of reports of two campaigns by the same king to the same country, but nearly fifteen years apart. I have dwelt on this in Worlds in Collision and again elsewhere in the present volume. The debacle that overtook the Assyrian host occurred at the second invasion of Palestine, it being also the second confrontation with the Egyptian allies of Hezekiah together with Tirhaka, king of Ethiopia.
Herodotus, too, told of only one campaign of Sennacherib, met by Sethos on the Palestinian frontier, when nature intervened. In Worlds in Collision I brought out the fact, neglected by the commentators of the Scriptures and of Herodotus alike, that the story of the sun having changed the rising and setting points four times since Egypt became a kingdom is included in Herodotus immediately following the story of the debacle Sennacherib’s army suffered. The phenomenon of the sun returning on the sundial is described in all three biblical sources in the same context of Sennacherib’s debacle. The Assyrian king for his part refrained from all military activity in the last seven or eight years of his life, and spent his time prostrated before the image of the god Nergal, the planet Mars, and was assassinated in that position by two of his sons.
It appears that the descriptive chapters in the book of Isaiah, and, accordingly, the passages in Kings and Chronicles, require an emendation in the sense of transposition of chapters or passages.
The sickness of Hezekiah from which he was healed by Isaiah belongs to the time of the first invasion by Sennacherib. Should this episode be retained for the second invasion, Hezekiah’s life and reign would extend to fifteen years past -687, and even starting the reign at the lower date of -715, he would need to remain on the throne much longer than the twenty-nine years, given both by Kings and Chronicles. This means that Hezekiah died during the second invasion by Sennacherib, or shortly thereafter. The words “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death” which start chapter 38 of Isaiah would make more sense if the chapter were placed earlier and generally if the Scriptures discerned between the two campaigns of Sennacherib to Palestine.
The visit of the ambassadors of Merodach-Baladan of Babylon, who sent presents to Hezekiah on the occasion of his having recovered from his illness, seems to have occurred not after Sennacherib’s debacle, but much earlier. As the political situation suggests, the visit of the ambassadors and Hezekiah’s showing them his treasures in gold and otherwise seems misplaced: Hezekiah paid tribute in gold (30 talents) and silver (300 or 800 talents) to Sennacherib on his first campaign to Palestine, and he stripped his palace and the temple—besides, he must have remained in awe of Sennacherib to entertain ambassadors of the king of Babylon, Sennacherib’s enemy. It would look better if the arrival of Merodach Baladan’s envoys took place after the solar disturbance that coincided with Hezekiah’s mounting the throne—the funeral day of Ahaz, his father. At that time Hezekiah had not yet impoverished his treasury by the tribute to the Assyrian king.
The scholarly opinion held that the second campaign of Sennacherib against Palestine-Egypt could not have occurred before -689, the year Tirhaka mounted the throne.(4)
- If to harmonize the involved chronological problems the debacle of Sennacherib’s army needs to be placed fifteen years earlier (not in -687 but in -701), and the first invasion in -715, and the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign in -729, then I would need to change the date for the last global catastrophe from -687 to -701 or -702.
Joash, King of Judea
a) Son of King Ahaziah. Reigned from 700-661 BCE. He alone survived the massacre of his entire family that followed the death of his father, perpetrated by his grandmother Athaliah, who killed all descendants of King David to secure the crown for herself. One-year-old Joash was hidden in the Holy Temple and protected by his uncle Jehoiada the high priest. Six years later, Jehoiada orchestrated a coup against Athaliah and crowned Joash as king. Under Jehoiada's guidance, Joash raised funds to repair the Temple and eradicated idolatry from Judea. After Jehoiada's death, the nation reverted to idolatry. Hazael, the King of Aram, threatened to attack Judah, and Joash sent him the treasures from the Temple to ward off an attack. Joash was assassinated by his own soldiers.
b) Son of King Jehoahaz. Reigned from 663-646 BCE. He triumphed over the Aramites and regained the territories they had taken during his father’s reign. When King Amaziah of Judah challenged him to war, Jehoash defeated the Judeans, plundering the Holy Temple and capturing many hostages. Jehoash was succeeded by his son Jeroboam II.