Just opposite the old Jerusalem Railway Station (now turned into a restaurant and cultural complex) is a hill known as the Bible Hill. Traditionally, this hill marks the spot from which “on the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place (Mt. Moriah) afar off” (Genesis 22:4). Some scholars also believe it is the mountain referred to in the Book of Joshua as being one of the markers delineating the boundaries of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah: “And the border went up by the Valley of Ben-Hinnom unto the side of the Jebusite southward–the same is Jerusalem–and the border went up to the top of the mountain that lieth before the Valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the uttermost part of the vale of Rephaim northward.” (Joshua 15:8)
Bible Hill lies on the ridge marking the Jerusalem watershed. On the side facing the old railway station, rainwater flows into the Rephaim Valley and thence, to the Mediterranean Sea. On the other side, it falls into the Ben Hinnom and Kidron Valleys and from there, through the Judaean Wilderness down to the Dead Sea.
This, then, was the starting point of our field trip the week before last, which took as its theme King David’s conquest of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and the city’s rebirth as the capital of the Israelite kingdom.
Quite apart from its historical significance, Bible Hill is an urban nature site, which in spring and autumn especially, is covered with wild flowers.
On the day of our trip – a bitterly cold, heavily overcast day, with rain a constant threat – the first red anemones were just coming into bloom.
From Bible Hill, we walked down past the Cinematheque and along the course of the Ben-Hinnom Valley, through the mud, under dark, looming clouds and discussed whether Jerusalem actually lay within the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah (as it would appear from Joshua 15:8), or the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28). In both the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges, we are told, in many cases, that various tribes failed to conquer certain cities within their allotted territories, and that the Canaanite inhabitants continued to occupy them, “unto this day” i.e. to the time when the Books of Joshua and Judges were written.
For example, of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, we are told in Joshua 15:63 that “as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Judah at Jerusalem, unto this day.”
On the other hand, Judges 1:8 informs us that “the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.”
Moreover, a few verses later, in Judges 1:21, we learn that “the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem, unto this day.”
As we can see from the Bible, there was constant rivalry between the two tribes for the leadership of the Israelites, symbolised by the friction between the House of Saul (of the Tribe of Benjamin) and the House of David (of the Tribe of Judah). This was no doubt a factor in David’s decision to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem – a city on the border between the two tribes and claimed by both. What city could be more suitable as the capital of a united kingdom?
Eventually, we reached the City of David archaeological site. (As a student and a recent new immigrant, I myself participated in the early excavations carried out by Prof. Yigal Shilo at the City of David in the late 1970s.) Here, after seeing an impressive 3D presentation, we paused for lunch. And here, I met a friendly feline:
After lunch, we began our tour right under the wooden deck where we had had lunch. One of the first things we saw were the remains of what archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar believes to have been the royal palace of King David himself, although many dispute this:
Going down still further, are the remains of what appear to have been government buildings, and the homes of the very wealthy, as is attested by the large number of bullae, or seals, from the First Temple period, bearing the names of officials mentioned in the Bible, and by the dimensions of the residential buildings and the remains of expensive furniture found in them.
Here, our guide, the immensely knowledgeable Shmuel Bahat is showing us one of these buildings.
If you look closely at the lower right-hand corner, you can see what appears to be a First Temple period toilet bowl (I kid you not)!
Here is a close-up:
Only a wealthy family, with high social standing, would have had a private toilet in their home in those days.
By this time, the skies were beginning to clear and the sun came out. Ironically, we now descended into the sunless bowels of the earth, to learn about Jerusalem’s water supply system during the First Temple period.
Starting with Warren’s Shaft, we followed dimly-lit tunnels to caverns where the sun never shone.
We came to a place now covered by a concrete roof, but which, in King David’s time, was open to the sky and is believed to be the place where his son Solomon was proclaimed King of Israel (I Kings 1, 38-40). There, a film presentation is projected onto the ancient stones and raises the city up again before the eyes of the visitor.
Our guide led us also to a part of the exhibit which (if I understand correctly), is not yet on display to the general public, where massive walls from the Jebusite period make it clear why it was necessary for David’s general, Joab, to scale “the gutter” or “pipe” (הצינור – hatzinnor) and capture the city by subterfuge, rather than by attempting to storm the mighty fortifications (II Samuel 5, 6 -9).
Warren (after whom Warren’s Shaft was named) believed that his discovery was the actual tzinnor of which the Bible speaks, but later excavations have shown that in the time of King David, the shaft was covered with rock, and so could not possibly have been the passageway through which Joab climbed.
Returning to surface level, our next stop was the Pool of Shiloah or Siloam. Another group of visitors, high-school students, no doubt braver than we and more inured to the cold, ventured into the darkness of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and walked through its freezing waters to the Pool which provided water for Jerusalem under siege. We, however, were taken by shuttle to the Pool, and from there, we walked for what seemed like hours (although it was actually no more than about twenty minutes) through a tunnel dating from the Second Temple period, all the way into the Old City and the Western Wall.
We emerged hard by Robinson’s Arch as the sun was beginning to set.
On the paved Herodian street below the arch, one can see a huge pile of massive stones, which were hurled down from the Temple Mount above by the Roman soldiers, after their destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
The Temple Mount was not part of the Jebusite city conquered by King David. The original city was quite small, but after establishing Jerusalem as his capital, David expanded it and purchased, at full value, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (II Samuel 24, 18-25), where his son, Solomon, later built his Temple. It is significant, both historically and morally, that the two places most sacred to the Jewish people, the Temple Mount and the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23), were purchased for their full market value, the one by King David and the other, by Abraham. Both these places were taken over by the invading Muslims, who converted them into mosques. Yet at neither of these places, despite the fact that they are now under Israeli/Jewish control (theoretically), are Jews allowed to pray freely (or at all, in the case of the Temple Mount).
The last part of our tour was in the archaeological park around the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.
However, it was by now almost dark, so we finished our field trip with a 3-D presentation summing up what we had learned before walking back through the shadowy streets of the Old City to the Zion Gate, where our bus was waiting.
It had been a long day’s touring – more than ten hours, all of it on foot. But it was one of the most informative so far. And certainly one of the most challenging, even though, this time, we had not ventured so far afield as in previous field trips. All of this – right here, practically under my nose.
But that’s how it is when you have the good fortune, as I do, to live in Jerusalem.