Jerusalem Feature

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Jerusalem Through the Ages

The first known mention of Jerusalem is in Egyptian "hate texts" of the 20th century BC, but many archaeologists give the city a considerably earlier founding date. Abraham and the biblical Joshua may have been here, but it was King David, circa 1000 BC, who captured the city and made it his capital, thus propelling it onto the center stage of history.

First and Second Temples

King David's son Solomon built the "First" Temple, giving the city a preeminence it enjoyed until its destruction by the Babylonians, and the exile of its population, in 586 BC. The Israelites returned 50 years later, rebuilt the Temple (the "Second"), and began the slow process of revival. By the 2nd century BC, Jerusalem was again a vibrant Jewish capital, albeit one with a good dose of Hellenistic cultural influence. Herod the Great (who reigned 37 BC–4 BC) revamped the Temple on a magnificent scale and expanded the city into a cosmopolis of world renown.

This was the Jerusalem Jesus knew, a city of monumental architecture, teeming—especially during the Jewish pilgrim festivals—with tens of thousands of visitors. It was here that the Romans crucified Jesus (circa AD 29), and here, too, that the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome erupted, ending in AD 70 with the destruction (once again) of the city and the Temple.

Romans and Ottomans

The Roman emperor Hadrian redesigned Jerusalem as the pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina (AD 135), an urban plan that became the basis for the Old City of today. The Byzantines made it a Christian center, with a massive wave of church building (4th–6th centuries AD), until the Arab conquest of AD 638 brought the holy city under Muslim sway. Except during the golden age of the Ummayad Dynasty, in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, Jerusalem was no more than a provincial town under the Muslim regimes of the early Middle Ages. The Crusaders stormed it in 1099 and made it the capital of their Latin Kingdom. With the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims, the city again lapsed into a languid provincialism for 700 years under the Mamluk and Ottoman empires. The British conquest in 1917 thrust the city back into the world limelight as rising Jewish and Arab nationalisms vied to possess it.

Divided and Reunited

Jerusalem was divided by the 1948 war: the larger Jewish western sector became the capital of the State of Israel, while Jordan annexed the smaller, predominantly Arab eastern sector, which included the Old City. The Six-Day War of 1967 reunited the city under Israeli rule, but the concept of an Arab "East" Jerusalem and a Jewish "West" Jerusalem remains, even though new Jewish neighborhoods in the northeastern and southeastern sections have made the distinction oversimplified.

The holy city continues to engage the attention of devotees of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Between Jews and Arabs it remains the subject of debate and occasional violence as rival visions clash for possession of the city's past and control of its future. It’s widely recognized that any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will fail unless the issue of sharing Jerusalem is resolved.

Updated: 2013-11-07

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