Jerusalem: Profile of the City of Jerusalem - History, Geography, Religion

Jerusalem Today
Jerusalem Today.

What is Jerusalem?:

Jerusalem is a key religious city for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The earliest habitation that has been identified is a walled settlement on the eastern hill that had a populace of around 2,000 people during the 2nd millennium BCE in an area known today as the "City of David." Some evidence of settlement can be traced back to 3200 BCE, but the earliest literary references appear in Egyptian texts from the 19th and 20th centuries BCE as "Rushalimum."

Various Names for Jerusalem:

City of David
Yerushalayim (Hebrew)
al-Quds (Arabic)

Has Jerusalem always been a Jewish city?:

Although Jerusalem is primarily associated with Judaism, it wasn't always in Jewish control. Some time during the 2nd millennium BCE, the Egyptian Pharaoh received clay tablets from Abd Khiba, ruler of Jerusalem. Khiba makes no mention of his religion; the tablets only profess his loyalty to the pharaoh and complain about the dangers that surround him in the mountains. Abd Khiba probably wasn't a member of the Hebrew tribes and it's tantalizing to wonder who he was and what happened to him.

Where does the name Jerusalem come from?:

Jerusalem is known in Hebrew as Yerushalayim and in Arabic as al-Quds. Also commonly referred to as Zion or the City of David, there is no consensus on the origin of the name Jerusalem. Many believe that it derives from the name of the city Jebus (named after the founder of the Jebusites) and Salem (named after a Canaanite god). One can translate Jerusalem as "Foundation of Salem" or "Foundation of Peace."

Where is Jerusalem?:

Jerusalem is located at 350º, 13 minutes E longitude and 310º, 52 minutes N latitude. It is built over two hills in the Judean mountains between 2300 and 2500 ft above sea level. Jerusalem is 22km from the Dead Sea and 52km from the Mediterranean. The region has shallow soil that inhibits much agriculture but the underlying limestone bedrock is excellent building material. In ancient times the region was heavily forested, but everything was cut down during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Why is Jerusalem important?:

Jerusalem has long been an important and idealized symbol for the Jewish people. This was the city where David created a capital for the Israelites and it's where Solomon built the first Temple. Its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE only increased people's strong feelings and attachment to the city. The idea of rebuilding the Temple became a unifying religious force and the second Temple was, like the first, the focus of Jewish religious life.

Today Jerusalem is also one of the holiest cities for Christians and Muslims, not just Jews, and its status is the subject of much dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. A 1949 cease fire line (known as the Green Line) runs right through the city. After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of the entire city and claimed it for its capital, but this claim has not been recognized internationally - most countries only recognize Tel Aviv as the Israeli capital. Palestinians claim Jerusalem as the capital of their own state (or future state).

Some Palestinians want all of Jerusalem to become a unified capital of a Palestinian state. Many Jews want the same thing. Even more explosive is the fact that some Jews want to destroy the Muslim structures on the Temple Mount and construct a third Temple, one that they hope may usher in the time of the Messiah. If they manage to even damage the mosques there, it could ignite a war of unprecedented proportions.