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The City of David 1000-961, Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman, Jerusalem: Sacred City of Mankind, Steimatzky Ltd., Jerusalem, 1991.

Pool of SiloamSaul’s dynasty was continued briefly, and weakly, through one of his surviving sons, Ishbosheth, but he drew the loyalty only of the northern tribes. The southern Israelites, the powerful men of Judah, rallied to David, who now moved his headquarters to Hebron. During the next few years, they fought each other as much as they fought their hostile neighbors, the southerners becoming stronger, the House of Saul becoming weaker. The people, too, were wearying of the senseless civil strife, which could benefit only their common enemies. After the violent death of Ishbosheth, “Then came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron, and spake, saying, Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh…and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord- and they anointed David king over Israel- (II Samuel v, 1-3). This occurred in the last decade of the eleventh century BC, near the year 1000.

It was David who completed the unification of the settled tribes of Israel started by Saul. It was he who finally shattered the power of the Philistines. It was he who, by a judicious combination of diplomatic alliances and the waging of a series of successful campaigns against threatening neighbors, firmly secured his frontiers. He was king of a united Israel that was now, as it was not in Saul’s day, in command of the entire country.

But not quite. There was still a hostile site that had not been reduced—Jerusalem, and David resolved to take it.

The actual sequence of events, whether he went up against the Jebusites at the beginning of his reign, or even before his accession to the united sovereignty, or only after he had subdued the Philistines, is not clear from the biblical record, and has thus been the subject of much scholarly speculation. Even more baffling has been the method of the city’s capture. If the account had been limited to verse 7 II Samuel v- “…David took the stronghold of Zion [Jerusalem]- the same is the city of David,” that would have been that- a simple statement of the capture, and anyone’s guess as to how it had been effected. But the preceding and succeeding sentences add some information—not enough to explain, just enough to puzzle. And biblical scholars have been arguing ever since.

Verse 6 says- “And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto Jebusites…which spake unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither- thinking, David cannot come in hither.” Verse 8 reads- “And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind…he shall be chief and captain…” I Chronicles XI, 6, adds- “…So Joab the son of Zeruiah went first up, and was chief.”

One problem was “the gutter.” To what could this have referred? Most scholars held that this was the specially constructed water tunnel which gave the inhabitants access to the outside Gihon spring without being detected, in time of way, by the besiegers. David’s stratagem would thus have been to get his men inside the city walls through the tunnel. But there were difficulties with this explanation. The tunnel was too narrow for manoeuvre, had a vertical incline, and could be negotiated by attackers only in single file which would have left them easy prey to the defenders when they emerged at the other end. Other scholars have sought to overcome this difficulty by suggesting that “touches” is a more accurate translation of the original biblical Hebrew than “getteth up,” and arguing that the attackers “touched” or held the upper entrance to the tunnel and thus cut off the city’s water supply. One scholar has made the more revolutionary and feasible suggestion that “gutter,” too, is the wrong translation of the Hebrew, and that the meaning is “trident,” a kind of pitchfork in use at the time. The sentence would thus read- “Whosoever, with his trident, smiteth the Jebusites…”

However, more puzzling to scholars was the reference to “the blind and the lame.” What did that mean? Until very recently, there was grudging acceptance of the meaning given in the first century AD by the historian Josephus that this was a gesture of derision by the Jebusites. When David and his men appeared, the inhabitants of the city closed their gates and led out their maimed persons upon the ramparts “out of contempt,” as if to say that “the very lame themselves would hinder” David’s entrance; and relying, too, on the strength of their walls.

The acceptance of this meaning, as we say, was grudging, because it seemed to later scholars to be unreasonable to expect the Jebusites to be so sure of themselves and so contemptuous of the strength of David. He was, by then, in a strong position, commanding more support than Saul had ever had, and his prestige as a military commander must have been high even outside the community of Israel. The Jebusites must also have been aware of David’s capture of or alliance with cities not far from Jerusalem. Their position, indeed, may well have been considered hopeless once David decided to march upon them, and it was therefore improbable that the Jebusties would have responded with the contemptuous presentation of their lame and their blind as defenders.

It was the brilliant reasoning of the Israeli archaeologist Professor Yigael Yadin which resulted in a satisfying solution to the biblical conundrum. He recalled the texts of early Hittite clay cuneiform tablets found early in this century at Boghaz-Koy, a Turkish village in the centre of Anatolia, which was the site of the Hittite capital in the second millennium BC. They referred to the solemn ceremonies in which Hittite soldiers swore allegiance to king and country. The officiating priest would use symbolic devices to instill fear into any who might contemplate betrayal, such as heating wax in front of the parading troops and crying out- “Whoever breaks these oaths…let him melt like wax.” One of the Boghaz-Koy documents gives this description of one of the rites”

“They parade in front of them a blind woman and a deaf man and you speak as follows- ‘See! Here is a blind woman and a deaf man. Whoever does evil to the king and queen, let the oaths seize him! Let them make him blind! Let them make him deaf! …Let them annihilate him, the man himself together with his wife, his children, and his kin!’”

In his book The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, Yadin says- “In the context of this ceremony, it seems to me that we can now understand what the Jebusites were trying to do as David and his men massed to attack their city. Recognizing the hopelessness of their plight, incapable of withstanding an assault, they tried to deter David from making the attempt. This they did by stationing a number of lame and blind people on the wall or near the gate and staging something similar to the Hittite ceremony, using the same ritual symbolism to strike fear into the hearts of David’s men, crying- ‘Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither.” …The Jebusites felt that David would not dare attempt an assault against the power of the oath and the magic. And apparently their threatening curse—and not their derision—had its effect on David’s men, so that he as compelled to offer a substantial reward to the man who would perform an act of heroism. And what was this heroic act? Not breaching the wall and capturing the city, but doing just one thing- being the first to rise and go forward, the first to strike the Jebusites, the blind and the halt, and demonstrate thereby to the whole army that they need not fear to defy the power of the oaths and witchcraft of the Jebusites- “So Joab the son of Zeruiah went first up, and was chief.’”

By taking Jerusalem, David wiped out the last alien enclave in the hill-country of the Hebrews and reduced the one hostile fortress that stood between the two portions of the Israelite kingdom. Moreover, Jerusalem, while not commanding the trunk road which ran through them, was not far from it, and finally, the city lay near the head of one of the passes which led up from Philistine territory. The capture of Jerusalem was thus as necessary to Israel’s independence of the Philistines as it was to the unification of the northern and southern Israelite tribes.

These and other reasons were also behind the spectacular move which David now took, and which was to have so long and great an impact on history—making Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He could not remain in Hebron. It was too far south, and too closely associated with the southern tribes alone, and for a similar reason he could not choose a northern site. His capital had to lie between the two. Jerusalem fulfilled this requirement. It had not been conquered previously, so it was not part of the settled territory of any of the tribes, and this very neutrality gave it an additional advantage.

It was from this capital that David ruled an increasingly vigorous kingdom, perhaps the most powerful State lying between the temporarily weakened rival empires, the Egyptians in the south and, now, the Babylonians in the north. Subduing the Philistines gave him complete control of the Mediterranean coastal plain. Capture of Damascus brought his dominions up to the Euphrates. Conquest of the eastern and southern territories gave him an outlet to the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aqaba. His son and successor, Solomon, was to reap the full benefits of these military and political achievements.

And it was to this capital that David brought the Ark of the Law, to give it a permanent resting place. This symbol of his people’s God, the mobile shrine and sanctuary, had accompanied the Israelites throughout their wanderings, had been carried by them into battle. Never had it had a permanent home, a special site with which it was associated. It had been captured a generation before by the Philistines, and after its rescue, had lain in Kirjath-jearim (near today’s Abu Ghosh), some ten miles to the west of Jerusalem. David now “brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it.” (II Samuel, VI.) Thus was the most sacred national and religious symbol of Israel brought to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was now not only the political and military capital of the country. It became, and was to remain for all time, the religious centre of the nation.

The Bible describes some of the structures in the city erected by David. He built himself a residence of stone and cedar, with the aid of Phoenician workmen, for he had concluded an alliance with Hiram of Tyre—today’s Lebanon. He also built barracks for his garrison and accommodations for the members of his family, the priests and the royal officials, as well as a royal tomb for himself and his dynasty.

There has long been speculation as to the nature of these buildings and their exact location—the location, indeed, not just of David’s buildings but of his entire city. The best modern opinion, however, puts the City of David to the south of today’s Old City, due south of the Temple compound which Solomon was to build. Recent archaeological excavations show that its northern wall was some 650 feet south of today’s southern wall. Its southern boundary was the pool of Shiloah (Siloam).

The City of David was long and narrow, its defenses based, as they had been in the previous centuries, on the steep natural inclines to the east, south and west, and on a fortified rampart on the vulnerable north side where the city was linked to the plateau. The valley of Kidron lay below on the east, the valley of Hinnom on the south, and the central valley on the west. (The southeast part of the Kidron is also sometimes referred to as the Shiloah valley.) The main source of water came form the Gihon spring at the foot of the eastern wall—and was the principal reason for the siting of the city at that precise location. (The “spring” of En-Rogel further south, just below the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys, was one of several wells in the area which served as subsidiary sources.)

The names of the valleys bounding the city are sometimes confusing to the layman because the later, enlarged Jerusalem was also protected on the east, south and west by natural inclines, but they clearly could not be the same as those guarding David’s city. The one constant, to this day, is Kidron, on the east. The names and whereabouts of the other two may best be understood in relation to the topography of the area.

Think of two parallel ridges, east and west, lying north to south. They are divided by a central valley, which was later, in the first century, called the Tyropoeon valley. On the extreme west, i.e. on the west of the western ridge, but also curving round south, lies the valley of Hinnom. David’s city covered the southern portion of the eastern ridge, and was thus bounded by the Kidron and central valleys with Hinnom touching its southern tip.

Later, when the western ridge was included in the entire city, Hinnom became the western and southern boundary (as it is today), and the central valley was inside the walls. Gradually, this central valley became filled in with debris and its level rose, so that now it seems an ordinary street in the Old City with no division between eastern and western ridges.

We know that David did considerable work on the city’s defenses, but there is no detailed indication in the biblical record of what this was. We are told that “David dwelt in the fort…and…built round from Millo and inward.” Scholars agree that Millo was not the name of a place but the Hebrew word for filling. Some hold that it meant simply the piling of earth to provide a base fro the new fortifications. Most, however, consider that it refers to the area just north of David’s city, between that city and the later Temple compound, close to another high feature on the eastern ridge known as Mount Ophel.

In David’s time, the Ark of the Law was still covered by a nomad’s tent. He wished to build a permanent shrine, but it was not given to him to do so. The task of building the Temple fell to David’s son, Solomon.

“It is easy to exaggerate,” says George Adam Smith, “David’s share in the making of Jerusalem. Her full influence and sacredness were a Divine achievement, which required the ages for its consummation. The Prophets and the Deuteronomic legislation were perhaps the greatest factors in the development of the City; much of her glory, which the later literature throws back upon David, is only the reflection of their work. Nevertheless, it was his choice of her which started everything; which brought history to her walls and planted within them that which made her holy. The Man, whose individual will and policy seem essential to the career of every great city, Jerusalem found in David. He made her the capital of a kingdom; he brought to her the shrine of Israel’s God; he gave her a new population…But besides thus standing behind the City and providing the first impetus to her career, the figure of David stands out among the early features of her life more conspicuous than any of them…Of all the actors on that stage…there is none who moves more clearly, whether under the stress of the great passions of through the details of conduct and conversation…The drama of Jerusalem is never more vivid than while David is its hero.”

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