Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was situated in the very heart of Judea, in the territory allotted to the tribe of Benjamin.
According to the earliest Jewish traditions Jerusalem is directly identified with the ancient Salem that the biblical Melchizedek, king of righteousness, dwelt in and the whom Abraham paid his tithe to (Gen 14; Heb 7).
During the time of Joshua the city of Jerusalem was named Jebus or Jebusi, and a Canaanite people called the Jebusites dwelt there. Though Joshua had conquered the land there, he never fully drove out the Jebusites, and David had to actually take possession of the stronghold of Zion. Apparently there were some Jebusites who were still living in this area during the time of David, because we find David actually purchasing the ground on which the Temple would be built from Araunah the Jebusite.
The Lord had appeared to David at the threshing floor of the Jebusite and this is the exact spot where David instructed his son Solomon to build the house of the Lord, at Mount Moriah. This was also the place in Hebrew history were Abraham bound his son Isaac upon an altar in order to sacrifice him according to the word of the Lord, but an angel of the Lord held back his hand when he drew the knife, for this was only a test of Abraham’s obedience and a wonderful picture of God’s plan of redemption with the sacrificing of His own Son, the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ.
Today in 2003 Mount Moriah, the top of the Temple hill, is where the Mosque of Omar, more correctly, the Dome of the Rock, now stands. The Arabs call it the Sakhrah Rock. It is a strangely shaped mass of rock, protruding 10 feet above the ground, and is about 50 feet in diameter. It is believed to be the actual site of the altar of burnt offering in Solomon’s Temple. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, according to tradition have regarded it as “the stone of foundation,” the Foundation Rock of which the Jews claim that it was the precise site of the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple and the place where God’s Schekinah glory appeared between the Cherubim, above the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.
The city of Jerusalem rests on a limestone plateau 2500 feet above sea level. It is located in the central hill country, and is near the border of the Judean desert. It is far removed from any major trade routes. On the west side of Jerusalem are the Judean mountains, on the east side is the Judean desert which descends 4000 feet in 10 miles at the Dead Sea. The rugged terrain of Jerusalem was a definite military advantage, it was easy to defend because the city can only be reached on its northern side. The east, west, and southern sides had steep valleys.
Jerusalem’s Four Hills
Ps 87:1 “His foundation is in the holy mountains.”
Jerusalem rests upon four hills or mountains, but only two of them have biblical names, Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. Between these mountains there is a large valley that the Romans called the Tyropoean. Mount Zion was referred to geographically as the southwestern hill of Jerusalem. But Zion has much greater significance in the Bible and it is frequently mentioned as the place of the Temple and of the King. When David said that he would not rest until he “has found out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob,” the Lord replied with this Scripture:
Ps 132:13-14 “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”
The hill on the north was called Bezetha, Or the New City. The hill on the east was called the Akra, or Fortress, the according to tradition this was the “stronghold of Zion.”
Mount Zion is the largest of the hills in Jerusalem, it stands 2,550 feet high. Mount Zion is mentioned throughout the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament (Revelation 14:1). Mount Zion is located on the southwest side of Jerusalem between the Tyropoeon Valley and the Hinnom Valley and this is the location of the Upper City where the wealthy lived during the time of Jesus. This is also the hill where the Jebusites built a stronghold but were eventually conquered by David. David built palace here on Mount Zion it became the palace and home for the kings of Israel. David and most of his successors (14) were buried on Mount Zion (1 Kings 2:10; 9:43; 14:31).
Mount Moriah is located to the northeast of Mount Zion, in the southeast side of Jerusalem between the Kidron Valley and Tyropoeon Valley. It is 2440 feet high. The Bible sometimes calls Mount Moriah by the name of Zion as well. King Solomon increased the size of Mount Moriah who built a high platform and wall on three sides (east, south, and west) and this formed an extremely high summit on the southeast corner. This summit is where the Temple was built, the highest point was the location of the Holy of Holies, the same spot where Abraham was tested to offer his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2). The southern slope of Mount Moriah, extending from the southern wall down to the point where the three valleys meet, was called Ophel (Neh. 3:26, 27).
Mount Acra is located in Jerusalem on the north side of Mount Zion between the Tyropoeon Valley and the Hinnom Valley. it is interesting that Simon Maccabeus nearly filled up the Tyropoeon Valley which is located between Mount Bezetha and Mount Acra. He also reduced the height of Mount Acra in order to make it lower than Mount Moriah where the Temple stood. Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid Empire built a fortress in Jerusalem on Mount Acra after he conquered the city in 168 BC. It was here that the Syrians governed the Jews. Later this fortified compound was destroyed by Simon Maccabeus. Mount Acra was important in the Maccabean Revolt and the formation of the Hasmonean Kingdom.
Mount Bezetha is located in Jerusalem west of Acra and in the first century it was north of the Antonia fortress. Mount Bezetha was not included in the city of Jerusalem until the first century after the third wall was built, and therefore received the name “New City.”
Mount Calvary (Golgotha) was located near the Damascus Gate on the north side of the city. According to Catholic tradition Jesus was crucified at the site now called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but recent investigations have confirmed the former view.
The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple Mount just across the Kidron Valley. On the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives was the village of Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. From here at the Mount of Olives Jesus looked over the beautiful city and wept because of Jerusalem’s rebellious leaders. Overlooking the Temple on the Mount of Olives was the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ suffered his agony, betrayal and arrest. In the center of the mount the so-called Church of Ascension stands at about 2,682 feet high where it is traditionally taught that Christ ascended from here into heaven.
The Hill of Evil Counsel is located on the south side of Mount Zion on the other side of the Valley of Hinnom. This hill is the traditional place of Aceldama, the Field of Blood (Acts 1 :19).
Jerusalem’s Deep Valley’s
Jerusalem was surrounded on the west, south, and east by deep ravines the which are 200-400 feet deep and therefore made it impossible for an enemy to attack from either these directions. Therefore Herod’s Jerusalem was considered unapproachable, except from the north side which was actually protected by the outermost wall which was over 100 feet high and had 90 towers according to Josephus.
The deep valley on the west and the southwest side of the city was called the valley of Hinnom (the abhorred place).
The deep valley on the east side of the city was called the valley of the Kidron, or Jehoshaphat, where the prophet Joel saw a futuristic vision where the nations of the world would be summoned for judgment. The place where these ravines met was called “Enrogel” or The Well of Joab (2 Sam 17:17).
These deep valley’s made the inhabitant’s of Jerusalem to feel safe and secure, as though God Himself were protecting it. It was so secure from an enemy attack that Titus, the Roman General who conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D. said that “if it had not been for the internal dissensions, the city could never have been taken.”
The Kidron Valley also called the Valley of Jehoshaphat formed the eastern boundary of the city of Jerusalem and a separation of Mount Zion from the Mount of Olives. The Bible also refers to the Kidron Valley as the King’s Dale (2 Sam. 18:18).
The Tyropoean Valley also called the Valley of the Cheese Makers, joins the Kidron Valley on the south side of Mount Moriah and runs to the north between Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. The Tyropoean Valley separates at the north part causing a fork and Mount Acra is located between the forks.
The Hinnom Valley created a western and southern boundary for the city of Jerusalem. The southern part of the Valley of Hinnom was called Gehenna or Tophet, “the place of fire” (Jeremiah 7:31). It was here is in the Valley of Hinnom that Moloch was worshipped and therefore later became a garbage heap during the first century AD.
Jerusalem’s Surrounding Mountains
Beyond the valleys of Jerusalem were the mountains round about. The most famous mountain was the Mount of Olives which stood about 300 feet higher than the Temple Mount and over 100 feet higher than any part of the city. On the north side of the city stood the awesome Mizpeh of Benjamin. There was also Gibeon and Ramah and the ridge near Bethlehem in the distant east.
On the night when Jerusalem was captured by the Roman armies, it is told that the mountains “echoed back” the screams of the people who were being slaughtered and also the victorious shouts of the soldiers of Titus.
The Walls of Jerusalem
Jerusalem was also surrounded by massive walls.
Ps 51:18 “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.”
David’s prayer was answered when his son Solomon build the wall of Jerusalem around the city, and repaired the breaches of the city of David. He also built the Millo (rampart), a fortification which apparently existed when it was inhabited by the Jebusites as with King Hezekiah:
2 Chron 32:4-5 “And he strengthened himself, built up all the wall that was broken, raised it up to the towers, and built another wall outside; also he repaired the Millo in the City of David, and made weapons and shields in abundance.”
King Manasseh, after he repented built a wall around the city of David, on the west side of Gihon:
2 Chron 33:13-15 “Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. After this he built a wall outside the City of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate; and it enclosed Ophel, and he raised it to a very great height. Then he put military captains in all the fortified cities of Judah.
Also Nehemiah, after the Babylonian captivity, brought helpers including “Shallum and his daughters,” and repaired the broken down walls of Jerusalem by “putting their necks to the work of the Lord.”
By the time of Jesus, according to Josephus, there were three walls that surrounded Jerusalem, “90 towers stood in the first wall, 14 in the second, and 60 in the third.” The third wall was built by Herod Agrippa I.
Click around the map to learn more about the walls, the towers, and fortifications.
The Gates of Jerusalem
The Gates of Jerusalem were also greater number. The Book of Nehemiah mentions the names of about 20 Gates. There was the Sheep-gate, the Fish-Gate, the Water-Gate, and the Dung-gate for Potters-gate which led to the potters field “Aceldama” the field of blood where Judas hung himself.