Jerusalem in the Old and New Testaments

The Natural Site of Jerusalem

Modern Jerusalem occupies a situation defined geographically as 31 degrees 46 feet 45 inches North latitude., by 35 degrees 13 feet 25 inches East longitude. It lies in the midst of a bare and rocky plateau, the environs being one of the most stony and least fruitful districts in the habitable parts of Palestine, with shallow, gray or reddish soil and many outcrops of bare limestone.

Like all the hill slopes with a southeasterly aspect, it is so thoroughly exposed to the full blaze of the summer sun that in its natural condition the site would be more or less barren. Today, however, as a result of diligent cultivation and frequent watering, a considerable growth of trees and shrubs has been produced in the rapidly extending suburbs. The only fruit tree which reaches perfection around Jerusalem is the olive.

The Mountains Around

The site of Jerusalem is shut in by a rough triangle of higher mountain ridges: to the West runs the main ridge, or water parting, of Judea, which here makes a sweep to the westward. From this ridge a spur runs Southeast and East, culminating due East of the city in the Mount of Olives, nearly 2,700 ft. above sea-level and about 300 ft. above the mean level of the ancient city. Another spur, known as Jebel Deir abu Tor, 2,550 ft. high, runs East from the plateau of el Buqei`a and lies Southwest of the city; it is the traditional "Hill of Evil Counsel."

The city site is thus dominated on all sides by these higher ranges--"the mountains (that) are round about Jerus" (Ps 125:2)--so that while on the one hand the ancient city was hidden, at any considerable distance, from any direction except the Southeast, it is only through this open gap toward the desert and the mountains of Moab that any wide outlook is obtainable. This strange vision of wilderness and distant mountain wall--often of exquisite loveliness in the light of the setting sun--must all through the ages have been the most familiar and the most potent of scenic influences to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The Valleys

Within the enfolding hills the city's proper site is demarked by two main valleys. That on the West and Southwest commences in a hollow occupied by the Moslem cemetery around the pool Birket Mamilla. The valley runs due East toward the modern Jaffa Gate, and there bends South, being known in this upper part of its course as the Wady el Mes.

In this southern course it is traversed by a great dam, along which the modern Bethlehem road runs, which converts a large area of the valley bed into a great pool, the Birket es Sultan. Below this the valley--under the name of Wady er Rabadi--bends Southeast, then East, and finally Southeast again, until near Bir Eyyub it joins the western valley to form the Wady en Nar, 670 ft. below its origin. This valley has been very generally identified as the Valley of Hinnom.

The eastern valley takes a wider sweep. Commencing high up in the plateau to the North of the city, near the great water-parting, it descends as a wide and open valley in a southeasterly direction until, where it is crossed by the Great North Road, being here known as Wady el Joz (the "Valley of the Walnuts"), it turns more directly East. It gradually curves to the South, and as it runs East of the city walls, it receives the name of Wady Sitti Miriam (the "Valley of the Lady Mary").

Below the Southeast corner of the temple-area, near the traditional "Tomb of Absalom," the valley rapidly deepens and takes a direction slightly to the West of South. It passes the "Virgin's Fount," and a quarter of a mile lower it is joined by el Wad from the North, and a little farther on by the Wady er Rababi from the West. South of Bir Eyyub, the valley formed by their union is continued under the name of Wady en Nar to the Dead Sea.

This western valley is that commonly known as the Brook Kidron, or, more shortly, the "Brook" (Heb: hachal), or ravine, but named from the 5th century onward by Christians the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The rocky tongue of land enclosed between these deep ravines, an area, roughly speaking, a little over one mile long by half a mile wide, is further subdivided into a number of distinct hills by some shallower valleys. The most prominent of these--indeed the only one noticeable to the superficial observer today--is the great central valley known to modern times by the single name el Wad, "the valley."

It commences in a slight depression of the ground a little North of the modern "Damascus Gate," and after entering the city at this gate it rapidly deepens--a fact largely disguised today by the great accumulation of rubbish in its course. It traverses the city with the Heb: Charam to its east, and the Christian and Moslem quarters on rapidly rising ground to its west. Its course is observed near the Babylonian es Silseleh, where it is crossed by an ancient causeway, but farther South the valley reappears, having the walls of the Heb: Charam (near the "wailing place" and "Robinson's arch") on the East, and steep cliffs crossed by houses of the Jewish quarter on the West.

It leaves the city at the "Dung Gate," and passes with an open curve to the East, until it reaches the Pool of Siloam, below' which it merges in the Wady Sitti Miriam. This is the course of the main valley, but a branch of great importance in the ancient topography of the city starts some 50 yards to the West of the modern Jaffa Gate and runs down the Suwaikat Allun generally known to travelers as "David's Street," and thus easterly, along the Tarik bab es Silseleh, until it merges in the main valley. The main valley is usually considered to be the Tyropeon, or "Cheesemongers' Valley" of Josephus, but some writers have attempted to confine the name especially to this western arm of it.

Another interior valley, which is known rather by the rock contours, than by surface observations, being largely filled up today, cuts diagonally across the Northeast corner of the modern city. It has no modern name, though it is sometimes called "St. Anne's Valley." It arises in the plateau near "Herod's Gate," known as es Sahra, and entering the city about 100 yards to the East of that gate, runs South-Southeast., and leaves the city between the Northeast angle of the Heb: Charam and the Golden Gate, joining the Kidron valley farther Southeast.

The Birket Israel runs across the width of this valley, which had far more influence in determining the ancient topography of the city than has been popularly recognized. There is an artificially made valley between the Heb: Charam and the buildings to its north, and there is thought by many to be a valley between the Southeast hill, commonly called "Ophel" and the temple-area.

Such, then, are the valleys, great and small, by which the historic hills on which the city stood are defined. All of them, particularly in their southern parts, were considerably deeper in ancient times, and in places the accumulated debris is 80 ft. or more. All of them were originally torrent beds, dry except immediately after heavy rain. The only perennial outflow of water is the scanty and intermittent stream which overflows from the Pool of Siloam, and is used to irrigate the gardens in the Wady Sitti Miriam.

The Hills

Josephus traces the southern course of the first wall thus: "It began at the same place (i.e. Hippicus), and extended through a place called Bethso to the gate of the Essenes; and after that it went southward, having its bending above the fountain Siloam, when it also bends again toward the East at Solomon's Pool, and reaches as far as a certain place which they called `Ophlas,' where it was joined to the eastern cloister of the temple."

Although the main course of this wall has now been followed with pick and shovel, several points are still uncertain. Bethso is not known, but must have been close to the southwestern angle, which, as we have seen, was situated where "Bishop Gobat's School" is today. It is very probably identical with the "Tower of the Furnaces" of Neh 3:11, while the "Gate of the Essenes" must have been near, if not identical with, the "Gate of the Gai" of 3:13.

The description of Josephus certainly seems to imply that the mouth of the Siloam aqueduct ("fountain of Siloam") and the pools were both outside the fortification. We have seen from these indications in the underground remains that this was the case at one period. Solomon's Pool is very probably represented by the modern Birket el Khamra.

It is clear that the wall from here to the southeastern angle of the temple-platform followed the edge of the southeastern hill, and coincided farther north with the old wall excavated by Warren. As will be shown below, this first wall was the main fortification of the city from the time of the kings of Judah onward. In the time of Josephus, this first wall had 60 towers.

Second Wall

The Second Wall of Josephus "took its beginning from that gate which they called `Gennath,' which belonged to the first wall: it only encompassed the northern quarter of the city and reached as far as the tower Antonia" (same place). In no part of Jerusalem topography has there been more disagreement than upon this wall, both as regards its curve and as regards its date of origin.

Unfortunately, we have no idea at all where the "Gate Gennath" was. The Tower Antonia we know. The line must have passed in a curved or zigzag direction from some unknown point on the first wall, i.e. between the Jaffa Gate and the Heb: Charam to the Antonia. A considerable number of authorities in the past and a few careful students today would identify the general course of this wall with that of the modern northern wall.

The greatest objections to this view are that no really satisfactory alternative course has been laid down for the third wall (see below), and that it must have run far North of the Antonia, a course which does not seem to agree with the description of Josephus, which states that the wall "went up" to the Antonia.

On the other hand, no certain remains of any city wall within the present north wall have ever been found; fragments have been reported by various observers (e.g. the piece referred to as forming the eastern wall of the so-called "Pool of Hezekiah"; see VII, ii, below), but in an area so frequently desolated and rebuilt upon--where the demand for squared stones must always have been great--it is probable that the traces, if surviving at all, are very scanty.

This is the case with the south wall excavated by Bliss (see VI), and that neighborhood has for many centuries been unbuilt upon. It is quite probable that the area included within the second wall may have been quite small, merely the buildings which clustered along the sides of the Tyropeon. Its 40 towers may have been small and built close together, because the position was, from the military aspect, weak.

It must be remembered that it was the unsatisfactory state of the second wall which necessitated a third wall. There is no absolute reason why it may not have excluded the greater part of the northwestern hill--and with it the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--but there is no proof that it did. The date of the second wall is unknown (see below).

Third Wall

This third wall, which was commenced after the time of Christ by Herod Agrippa I, is described in more detail by Josephus. It was begun upon an elaborate plan, but was not finished in its original design because Agrippa feared Claudius Caesar, "lest he should suspect that so strong a wall was built in order to make some innovation in public affairs" (Jewish Wars, V, iv, 2). It, however, at the time of the siege, was of a breadth of over 18 ft., and a height of 40 ft., and had 90 massive towers.

Josephus describes it as beginning at the tower Hippicus (near the Jaffa Gate), "where it reached as far as the north quarter of the city, and the tower Psephinus." This mighty tower, 135 ft. high, was at the northwestern corner and overlooked the whole city. From it, according to Josephus (Jewish Wars, V, vi, 3), there was a view of Arabia (Moab) at sunrising, and also of "the utmost limits of the Hebrew possessions at the Sea westward."

From this corner the wall turned eastward until it came over against the monuments of Helene of Adiabene, a statement, however, which must be read in connection with another passage (Ant., XX, iv, 3), where it says that this tomb "was distant no more than 3 furlongs from the city of Jerusalem." The wall then "extended to a very great length" and passed by the sepulchral caverns of the kings--which may well be the so-called "Solomon's Quarries," and it then bent at the "Tower of the Corner," at a monument which is called the Monument of the Fuller (not identified), and joined to the old wall at the Kidron valley.

The commonly accepted theory is that a great part of this line of wall is that pursued by the modern north wall, and Kal`at el Jalud, or rather the foundation of it, that marks the site of Psephinus. The Damascus Gate is certainly on the line of some earlier gate. The "Tower of the Corner" was probably about where the modern Herod's Gate is, or a little more to the East, and the course of the wall was from here very probably along the southern edge of the "St. Anne's Valley," joining on to the Northeast corner of the Heb: Charam a little South of the present Stephen's Gate.

This course of the wall fits in well with the description of Josephus. If the so-called "Tombs of the Kings" are really those of Queen Helena of Adiabene and her family, then the distance given as 3 furlongs is not as far out as the distance to the modern wall; the distance is actually 3 1/2 furlongs.

Others, following the learned Dr. Robinson, find it impossible to believe that the total circuit of the walls was so small, and would carry the third wall considerably farther north, making the general line of the modern north wall coincide with the second wall of Josephus. The supporters of this view point to the description of the extensive view from Psephinus, and contend that this presupposed a site on still higher ground, e.g. where the present Russian buildings now are.

They also claim that the statement that the wall came "over against" the monument of Queen Helena certainly should mean very much nearer that monument than the present walls. Dr. Robinson and others who have followed him have pointed to various fragments which they claim to have been pieces of the missing wall. The present writer, after very many years' residence in Jerusalem, watching the buildings which in the last 25 years have sprung up over the area across which this line of wall is claimed to have run, has never seen a trace of wall foundations or of fosse which was in the very least convincing; while on the other hand this area now being rapidly covered by the modern suburb of Jerusalem presents almost everywhere below the surface virgin rock.

There is no evidence of any more buildings than occasional scattered Roman villas, with mosaic floors. The present writer has rather unwillingly come to the opinion that the city walls were never farther north than the line they follow today. With respect to the objection raised that there could not possibly have been room enough between the two walls for the "Camp of the Assyrians," where Titus pitched his camp (Jewish Wars, V, vii, 3), any probable line for the second wall would leave a mean of 1,000 ft. between the two walls, and in several directions considerably more.

The probable position of the "Camp of the Assyrians" would, according to this view, be in the high ground (the northwestern hill) now occupied by the Christian quarter of the modern city. The question of what the population of Jerusalem was at this period is discussed in IX, 49, below. For the other great buildings of the city at this period, see also IX, 43-44, below.

Date of Second Wall

Taking then the walls of Jerusalem as described by Josephus, we may work backward and see how the walls ran in earlier periods. The third wall does not concern us any more, as it was built after the Crucifixion. With respect to the second wall, there is a great deal of difference of opinion regarding its origin.

Some consider, like Sir Charles Watson, that it does not go back earlier than the Hasmoneans; whereas others (e.g. G.A. Smith), because of the expression in 2 Ch 32:5 that Hezekiah, after repairing the wall, raised "another wall without," think that this wall goes back as far as this monarch. The evidence is inconclusive, but the most probable view seems to be that the "first wall," as described by Josephus, was the only circuit of wall from the kings of Judah down to the 2nd century BC, and perhaps later.

Nehemiah's Account of the Walls

The East and West valleys isolate a roughly quadrilateral tongue of land running from Northwest-West to South-Southeast, and tilted so as to face Southeast. This tongue is further subdivided by el Wad into two long ridges, which merge into each other in the plateau to the North. The western ridge has its actual origin considerably North of the modern wall, being part of the high ground lying between the modern Jaffa road to the West, and the commencement of the Kidron valley to the East.

Within the city walls it rises as high as 2,581 ft. near the northwestern corner. It is divided by the west branch of the Tyropeon valley into two parts: a northern part--the northwestern hill--on which is situated today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the greater part of the "Christian quarter" of the city, and a southern hill--the southwestern--which is connected with the northwestern hill by but a narrow saddle--50 yards wide--near the Jaffa Gate.

This hill sustains the citadel (the so-called "Tower of David"), the barracks and the Armenian quarter within the walls, and the Coenaculum and adjacent buildings outside the walls. This hill is from 2,500 to 2,350 ft. high along its summit, but drops rapidly on its southwestern, southern and southeastern sides. In its central part it falls much more gently toward the eastern hill across the now largely filled valley el Wad.

The most complete Scriptural description we have of the walls and gates of Jerusalem is that given by Nehemiah. His account is valuable, not only as a record of what he did, but of what had been the state of the walls before the exile. It is perfectly clear that considerable traces of the old walls and gates remained, and that his one endeavor was to restore what had been before--even though it produced a city enclosure much larger than necessary at his time. The relevant passages are Neh 2:13-15, the account of his night ride; 3:1-32, the description of the rebuilding; and 12:31-39, the routes of the two processions at the dedication.

Valley Gate

In the first account we learn that Nehemiah went out by night by the &VALLEY GATE (which see), or Gate of the Gai, a gate (that is, opening) into the Gai Hinnom, and probably at or near the gate discovered by Bliss in what is now part of the Anglo-German cemetery; he passed from it to the Dung Gate, and from here viewed the walls of the city.

Dung Gate

This, with considerable assurance, may be located at the ruined foundations of a gate discovered by Bliss at the southeastern corner of the city. The line of wall clearly followed the south edge of the southwestern hill from the Anglo-German cemetery to this point. He then proceeded to the Fountain Gate, the site of which has not been recovered, but, as there must have been water running out here (as today) from the mouth of the Siloam tunnel, is very appropriately named here.

Fountain Gate

Near by was the &KING'S POOL (which see), probably the pool--now deeply buried--which is today represented by the Birket el Kamra. Here Nehemiah apparently thought of turning into the city, "but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass" (2:14), so he went up by the Heb: Nachal (Kidron), viewed the walls from there, and then retraced his steps to the Valley Gate. There is another possibility, and that is that the King's Pool was the pool (which certainly existed) at Gihon, in which case the Fountain Gate may also have been in that neighborhood.

All the archaeological evidence is in favor of the wall having crossed the mouth of the Tyropeon by the great dam at this time, and the propinquity of this structure to the Fountain Gate is seen in Neh 3:15, where we read that Shallum built the Fountain Gate "and covered it, and set up the doors thereof .... and the bars thereof, and the wall of the pool of Shelah (see &SILOAM) by the &KING'S GARDEN (which see), even unto the stairs that go down from the city of David." All these localities were close together at the mouth of el Wad.

Passing from here we can follow the circuit of the city from the accounts of the rebuilding of the walls in Neh 3:15 f. The wall from here was carried "over against the sepulchres of David," which we know to have stood in the original "City of David" above Gihon, past "the pool that was made," and "the house of the Gibborim" (mighty men)--both unknown sites. It is clear that the wall is being carried along the edge of the southeastern hill toward the temple. We read of two angles in the wall--both needed by the geographical conditions--the high priest's house, of "the tower that standeth out" (supposed to have been unearthed by Warren), and the wall of the &OPHEL (which see).

Water Gate

The eastern ridge may be reckoned as beginning at the rocky hill el-Edhemiyeh--popularly known as Gordon's Calvary--but the wide trench made here by quarrying somewhat obscures this fact. The ridge may for convenience be regarded as presenting three parts, the northeastern, central or central-eastern, and southeastern summits. The northeastern hill within the modern wall supports the Moslem quarter, and rises in places to a height of over 2,500 ft.; it narrows to a mere neck near the "Ecce Homo" arch, where it is joined to the barracks, on the site of the ancient Antonia. Under the present surface it is here separated from the temple summit by a deep rocky trench.

There is also mention of a Water Gate in this position, which is just where one would expect a road to lead from the temple-area down to Gihon. From the great number of companies engaged in building, it may be inferred that all along this stretch of wall from the Tyropeon to the temple, the destruction of the walls had been specially great.

Horse Gate

Proceeding North, we come to the Horse Gate. This was close to the entry to the king's house (2 Ki 11:16; 2 Ch 23:15; Jer 31:40). The expression used, "above" the Horse Gate, may imply that the gate itself may have been uninjured; it may have been a kind of rock-cut passage or tunnel.

It cannot have been far from the present southeastern angle of the city. Thence "repaired the priests, every one over against his own house"--the houses of these people being to the East of the temple. Then comes the Gate of Hammiphkad (see &HAMMIPHKAD, GATE OF), the ascent (or "upper chamber," margin) of the corner, and finally the &SHEEP GATE (which see), which was repaired by the goldsmiths and merchants.

Sheep Gate

This last gate was the point from which the circuit of the repairs was traced. The references, Neh 3:1,31; 12:39, clearly show that it was at the eastern extremity of the north wall.

The details of the gates and buildings in the north wall as described by Nehemiah, are difficult, and certainty is impossible; this side must always necessarily have been the weak side for defense because it was protected by no, or at best by very little, natural valley. As has been said, we cannot be certain whether Nehemiah is describing a wall which on its western two-thirds corresponded with the first or the second wall of Josephus.

Taking the first theory as probable, we may plan it as follows: West of the Sheep Gate two towers are mentioned (Neh 3:1; 12:39). Of these &HANANEL (which see) was more easterly than &HAMMEAH (which see), and, too, it would appear from Zec 14:10 to have been the most northerly point of the city. Probably then two towers occupied the important hill where afterward stood the fortress Baris and, later, the Antonia. At the Hammeah tower the wall would descend into the Tyropeon to join the eastern extremity of the first wall where in the time of Josephus stood the Council House (BJ, V, iv, 2).

Fish Gate

It is generally considered that the &FISH GATE (which see) (Neh 3:3; 12:39; Zeph 1:10; 2 Ch 33:14) stood across the Tyropeon in much the same way as the modern Damascus Gate does now, only considerably farther South. It was probably so called because here the men of Tyre sold their fish (Neh 13:16). It is very probably identical with the "Middle Gate" of Jer 39:3. With this region are associated the &MISHNEH (which see) or "second quarter" (Zeph 1:10 margin) and the &MAKTESH (which see) or "mortar" (Zeph 1:11).

Old Gate

The next gate westward, after apparently a considerable interval, is translated in English Versions of the Bible the "&OLD GATE" (which see), but is more correctly the "Gate of the old ...."; what the word thus qualified is, is doubtful. Neh 3:6 margin suggests "old city" or "old wall," whereas Mitchell (Wall of Jerusalem according to the Book of Neh) proposes "old pool," taking the pool in question to be the so-called "Pool of Hezekiah."

According to the view here accepted, that the account of Nehemiah refers only to the first wall, the expression "old wall would be peculiarly suitable, as here must have been some part of that first wall which went back unaltered to the time of Solomon. The western wall to the extent of 400 cubits had been rebuilt after its destruction by Jehoash, king of Israel (see IX, 12, below), and Manasseh had repaired all the wall from Gihon round North and then West to the Fish Gate.

This gate has also been identified with the Heb: Sha`ar ha-Pinnah, or "Corner Gate," of 2 Ki 14:13; 2 Ch 25:23; Jer 31:38; Zec 14:10, and with the Heb: Sha`ar ha-Ri'shon, or "First Gate," of Zec 14:10, which is identified as the same as the Corner Gate; indeed ri'shon ("first") is probably a textual error for yashan ("old"). If this is so, this "Gate of the Old" or "Corner Gate" must have stood near the northwestern corner of the city, somewhere near the present Jaffa Gate.

The central, or central-eastern, summit is that appearing as es Sakhra, the sacred temple rock, which is 2,404 ft. high. This is the highest point from which the ground rapidly falls East, West, and South, but the natural contours of the adjacent ground are much obscured by the great substructures which have been made to sustain the temple platform.

Gate of Ephraim

The next gate mentioned is the Gate of Ephraim (Neh 12:39), which, according to 2 Ki 14:13; 2 Ch 25:23, was 400 cubits or 600 ft. from the Corner Gate. This must have been somewhere on the western wall; it is scarcely possible to believe, as some writers would suggest, that there could have been no single gate between the Corner Gate near the northwestern corner and the Valley Gate on the southern wall.

Tower of the Furnaces

The "Broad Wall" appears to correspond to the southern stretch of the western wall as far as the "Tower of the Furnaces" or ovens, which was probably the extremely important corner tower now incorporated in "Bishop Gobat's School." This circuit of the walls satisfies fairly well all the conditions; the difficulties are chiefly on the North and West.

It is a problem how the Gate of Ephraim comes to be omitted in the account of the repairs, but G.A. Smith suggests that it may be indicated by the expression, "throne of the governor beyond the river" (Neh 3:7). See, however, Mitchell (loc. cit.). If theory be accepted that the second wall already existed, the Corner Gate and the Fish Gate will have to be placed farther north.

The Gate of Benjamin

In Old Testament as in later times, some of the gates appear to have received different names at various times. Thus the Sheep Gate, at the northeastern angle, appears to be identical with the Gate of Benjamin or Upper Gate of Benjamin (Jer 20:2; 37:13; 38:7); the prophet was going, apparently, the nearest way to his home in Anathoth. In Zec 14:10 the breadth of the city is indicated, where the prophet writes, "She shall be lifted up, and shall dwell in her place, from Benjamin's gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate."


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).