The City of David: Lost to History

The City of David: Lost?

Entrance to the City of David
Modern Entrance to the City of David

Did you know that the City of David was actually lost to history? Because of my love for 1&2 Samuel, and the Old Testament in general, the City of David has always been a favorite place of mine. Hard to believe that for more than 2000 years it was totally forgotten about! If this surprises you, allow me to explain. By the 1st century, the City of David was being identified with the wealthier neighborhood of the Upper City of Jerusalem. This same area today includes the Zion Gate, the traditional site of the Upper Room, the traditional site of David’s tomb, and further to the south, Saint Peter in Gallicantu (click on the link to also see a nice map of this area), one of the possible sites of the house of Caiaphus. This hill is actually to the west of the ancient City of David. In his book City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, Ahron Horovitz refers to this hill (called Mount Zion today) as the “Western Hill.” It appears that the location of Mount Zion in David’s time, was the smaller hill south of the Temple Mount. 2 Samuel 5:7 states, “Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David). Here the Scripture identifies Zion with the City of David. So how did such a misindentification occur, and how was the original location of the City of David forgotten? Horovitz explains, “To a certain extent this can be attributed to the forgetfulness that plagues every city which at various stages of development moves away from its original core” (p. 16). By the time of the first century, the (real) City of David was composed of the poorer people. No one would have thought of it as the place where Jerusalem began. Thus, as previously mentioned, David’s City was thought to be in the Upper City where the wealthy resided.

Centuries of History Bury the Memory of the Location of the City of David

City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!
City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!

The first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 AD) resulted in the destruction of the City of Jerusalem. Following the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 AD), the Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city and greatly altered its layout. He even renamed it “Aelia Capitolina” seeking to erase all traces of its Jewish history and identity. Horovitz points out that by the Byzantine Period “Jerusalem’s biblical name, ‘Zion’, shifted to the southern portion of the Western Hill which is called ‘Mount Zion’ to this day” (p. 16). This misidentification was further complicated by an earthquake in 1033 which caused the walls of Jerusalem to collapse. When the walls were restored under the Fatimid rulers, they did not include the old City of David. Thus, the most ancient part of the city, the very site where Jerusalem began, was forgotton by all the subsequent inhabitants of Jerusalem (Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans).

The City of David Accidentally Rediscovered

The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren's Shaft.
The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren’s Shaft.

By the mid-19th century, archaeology of the biblical lands was becoming a major interest of Christians in Europe. One of the early explorers was a man by the name of Charles Warren. Warren, and others, wanted to find the ancient city of Jerusalem. Their natural inclination was to begin looking in what is today called the “Old City of Jerusalem.” Warren wanted to focus on the Temple Mount. But because he wasn’t Muslim, he was not given permission. Therefore Warren decided to sink some deep shafts south of the Temple Mount and to tunnel toward the walls! However, in the process of digging these shafts he discovered the remains of ancient fortifications. Further to the south, he uncovered a shaft that has famously retained his name “Warren’s shaft.” These discoveries created a lot of interest. A few years later, a young boy was walking through a tunnel (now known as Hezekiah’s tunnel–click on link to see a short video) and discovered a Hebrew inscription dating to the reign of King Hezekiah. As Horovitz states, “It was becoming more and more clear that all earlier theories placing the City of David on the Western Hill were wrong” (p. 17).

Today we know the true location of the City of David. There are many interesting finds besides those mentioned above. In my next post, I will talk about some of these discoveries and give some impressions on my most recent visit to the City of David.

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