Ancient Jerusalem

Jerusalem may have been settled by 3000 B.C. on the lowest areas of the present city. Originally a Jebusite fortress, it became David’s capital, housing the royal palace and later the Temple. Jerusalem was the scene of some of Christ’s works, and the place of His death and resurrection.

This ancient site is mentioned in the nineteenth century B.C. Egyptian Execration Texts and in the fourteenth century B.C. Amarna tablets, records kept during the time when the Jebusites controlled Jerusalem. The Jebusites constructed underground water shafts which tapped the spring of Gihon, bringing water within the city walls. This system was augmented under Hezekiah (II Kings 20:20; II Chron. 32:3) who had a tunnel built ending in the Pool of Siloam. An inscription near the entrance of the pool, written in eighth century B.C. Hebrew script, and first found in 1880, commemorated this event. Another pool, the Pool of Bethesda (Hethzatha), has also been located in Jerusalem underneath the church of St. Anne. One of its walls bears a fair representation of an angel disturbing the waters (John 5:2-9).

Tracing the ancient city walls has presented problems because Jerusalem has shifted North during its history. Warren and Wilson found that the lowest levels of the West wall were Herodian, though some archaeologists have considered them the work of Nehemiah. Warren uncovered David’s wall on Mount Ophel and revealed parts of the old Jebusite foundations. Attempts to find David’s tomb have failed, due largely to the destruction of buildings on the South East hill area, but the ruins of a large tower have been uncovered, perhaps the one mentioned by Jesus (Luke 13:4).

The location of Golgotha in relation to the West wall in Christ’s time has been much debated. Some hold that the present day Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial, and others favor the site near the Damascus Gate known as the Garden Tomb. The rock sepulchre there is dated between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100 and could have held Christ’s body.

In addition to the layers of rubble that have built up over the centuries in Jerusalem, archaeologists face another problem as they seek out the city’s significant biblical sites; Jerusalem has been inhabited continuously and remains so today. This means that excavations can only take place in carefully chosen sites, and these often are not the ones considered most promising. Nevertheless, valuable discoveries continue to be made. In 1983, Wheaton College students excavating at the base of St. Andrew’s Church on the south side of the Hinnom Valley recovered from a tomb a seventh century B.C. silver amulet inscribed in ancient letters with YHWH, the divine name of the Lord. This is the earliest mention of God’s name ever found in Jerusalem.