Jerusalem: Capital city created in stone and in imagination

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Jerusalem, in stone and imagination, is unique as a holy city of the world’s three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The city’s Late Bronze Age name in the Amarna Letters (URU šalim and variants) implies (for some, but not all, scholars) an association with (an obscure god) Shalim, perhaps an astral deity. This name may suggest a sanctity that long pre-dates monotheism and reflects the raison d’eˆtre of Jerusalem’s initial foundation. Both past and present, Jerusalem is many cities, comprised of multiple layers of structures, peoples, and stories. According to biblical tradition, Jerusalem’s creation as a capital and cultic center of the newly united Israelite tribes is attributed to David, the great warrior king who conquered this hill-country settlement inhabited by Jebusites. Solomon, David’s son, subsequently built the first temple to Yahweh on Mt. Moriah, also the locale of the Akedah, or Abraham’s binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-24). This first temple, along with the city of Jerusalem, was razed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and much of its population exiled. The triumphal return of these exiles several decades later marks the initial construction of a second temple to Yahweh and the gradual recreation of the Jewish spiritual center. At the end of the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE), Titus with his four Roman legions devastated Jerusalem and set alight the second temple built by Herod, considered one of the architectural marvels of the Roman world. During later Roman times, early Christians revered Jerusalem as the location of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Following the visit of Empress Helena to Jerusalem in 326 CE and the rise of Byzantine Christianity in the east, Jerusalem was again reinvented, this time as the spiritual capital of Christendom and a locus of pilgrimage. A third layer of sanctity was added to this city by the tradition that associates Muhammad’s night journey to Masjid al-Aqsa with an earthly Jerusalem (in Qur’an Surat al-‘Isra [Q 17:1]).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History
Subtitle of host publicationVolume III: Early Cities in Comparative Perspective, 4000 BCE-1200 CE
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139035606
ISBN (Print)9780521190084
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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