Whose Jerusalem?

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Jerusalem

In Numbers 1, the Bible records the findings of a census taken to count the members of each tribe. “All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600…The number from the tribe of Benjamin was 35,400.”

In Numbers 2, the tribes were given a designated space in the Israelite encampment. “On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard…On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard…The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them…The tribe of Benjamin will be next.”

In Numbers, the census figures and the tribal order are exact. But in the division of the land, especially as it related to Jerusalem, the Bible is less clear.

In Joshua 15, “The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south…The eastern boundary is the Dead Sea as far as the mouth of the Jordan…The western boundary is the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.” The northern cut off in the center “ran up the Valley of Ben Hinnom along the southern slope of the Jebusite city, that is, Jerusalem. From there it climbed to the top of the hill west of the Hinnom Valley at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim.” According to the author of Joshua, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.”

In Joshua 18 it lists the cities that were allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. These included “Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city, that is, Jerusalem, Gibeah and Kiriath.”

In Judges 1, the tribe of Judah succeeded in capturing the hill country. But of the tribe of Benjamin, “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.”

The Sennacherib Prism records the events of the late 8th century, and associates Jerusalem with Judah. The Assyrian king Sennacherib trapped Hezekiah the Ia-u-da-ai, meaning the Judahite, in Ur-sa-li-im-mu, in Jerusalem. But the situation in the Iron I period from roughly 1200 BCE-1000 BCE is not well attested in the archaeological record. Thus we cannot say with any certainty who exactly dwelled in Jerusalem at this earlier stage: Judahites, Benjaminites, Jebusites, or some other group.

On the subject of the disputed city of Jerusalem, Psalm 125 begins, “A song of ascents. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

The photo shown above can be a visual guide to the topography of Jerusalem and the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.

The photo is taken east of Jerusalem, looking to the west. In the foreground, from right to left, are Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, which rise above the Temple Mount. Moving west, the topography descends into the Kidron Valley, before rising to the Temple Mount.

The area to the south of the Temple Mount, to the left of it in the photo, outside of today’s Old City walls, is the City of David, likely the site of the original city. This hill descends to the point where the Kidron Valley meets the Valley of Hinnom from the west.

What is not immediately obvious in the photo, due to the ancient construction, is that the area of the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple sits in another valley, the Tyropoeon Valley. The Tyropoeon Valley lies between the Temple Mount and the Western Hill. Those who have visited the Old City of Jerusalem by entering through Jaffa Gate, will note that the path to the Western Wall through the Arab Market or the Jewish Quarter descends to the Western Wall. The area around the Jaffa Gate is the top of the Western Hill.

In honor of the topic, the inspiration for a well known song about Jerusalem: