Jerusalem.. 5,000 Years of Arab History
|Monday, April 3,2006 00:00|
|By Lima Nabil|
The City and Its Inscriptions
From their fortification, they erected the strong walls around it out of fear for their valuable gem from the avarice of the invaders who continuously attacked the city ever since those times. Hence came the beginnings of ancient Jerusalem, with its walls, alleys and old shops. There it stands on top of one high mountain, with the odour of the sea spreading all around it and the roaring waves heard from the tops of its homes constructed close to each other. Also, through the minarets of its mosques, and the towers of its churches, its name was heard aloud; whether it was God Salem, of Canaanite origins, or the City of Peace; the former having been repeated frequently in the inscriptions of Ras Shamra (Ugarit), which was one of two gods—Sahar and Salem—most favoured by the early inhabitants and described as the two gods of day and night; along with other names having appeared in Egyptian texts. Thus, the city of Jerusalem dates back to such ancient eras as the Bronze, Iron, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Ages to reach the brightest stages during the age of the Islamic civilization. The history of the city tells us at length that the very beginnings of settlement in this city were in the period of the fourth millenium BC and that the existence of the Jebusites had preceded the advent of David or the so-called “Kingdom of Israel”, if it ever existed. The Israelis themselves do not deny what their excavations have recently revealed—a Canaanite water system was discovered and up to the present, no traces have ever been found of Solomon, his kingdom, or his temple. Further, notwithstanding the excavation operations that started at the turn of this century at the hands of scores of scientists, scholars, researchers and expeditions, what has so far been discovered are ruins or relics of many civilizations or cultures, in particular the Islamic civilization, whereas the excavations undertaken by the Israeli authorities for decades, particularly in the area adjacent to Haram esh-Sharif (the Holy Sanctuary), in search of the ruins of the Temple of Solomon have resulted in nothing.
This and many other pieces of information having been established by both Arab and Western scholars are expected to be published soon in a book of three volumes by the end of the current year. The intended book, to be entitled “Jerusalem…Five Thousand Years”, will be considered one of the important documents revealing the history of this holy city, along with a code of inscriptions from Jerusalem.
The initiator of this idea, the implementation of which is now being supervised by Professor Dr. Zaidan Kafafi, the Dean of Scientific Research and Postgraduate Studies at the Yarmouk University, is Dr. Naser Eddin Al-Asad, President of the Royal Academy for Islamic Civilization Research, Al Al-Beit Foundation.
For the purpose of publishing the first volume of this book/document, to be entitled, “Jerusalem Before Islam”, a number of archaeologists, historians and researchers from Jordan, Europe and the United States of America have been called on to contribute to this work, with directions to such writers to adopt a proper and honest scientific approach, that is, to present the relevant scientific information in a purely impartial manner, and to produce their research papers based on archaeological and historical sources.
That is what Dr. Kafafi has announced in the Jordanian Al-Ra’i daily, indicating that this volume is about to be completed. Section one will explore the land and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the naming of the city, its people and the Arab Jebusites, who existed in Jerusalem long before the so-called Kingdom of Israel, if it ever existed. Section two explores Jerusalem in the old historical sources, especially the Egyptian and Assyrian sources. Section three details the ruins of Jerusalem through the ages, beginning from the fourth millennium BC until the advent of Islam. This section also contains research papers on the methodology of the scientific research regarding the ruins of Jerusalem and a chronological sequence of the history of this city.
Professor Dr. Kafafi adds that after reviewing the submitted research papers, he found that certain scholars, namely Exil Knauf, a German national and a professor at Bern University, believe that no such kingdoms of David and Solomon ever existed. Dutch researcher Margaret Steiner, working at Leidt University, holds the same opinion.
As Dr. Kafafi confirms, the said book will reflect the scientific reality of the city of Jerusalem and will present impartial scientific information, away from all prejudice, by reliable and objective international scientists.
Arab Jerusalem stands for a history that extends through time over more than 5,000 years. Thus, Jerusalem through the ages started at what time?
All the results of the organized archaeological activities during the last century and until today indicate that the city of Jerusalem had been inhabited from the period of the fourth millennium BC until the present time, although the nature of the dwellings and the inhabitants had differed from one period to another. For example, the remains obtained from the end of the fourth millennium BC were represented in a group of holes drilled in natural rock inside of which broken pieces of pottery were found that date back to the early Bronze Age, namely the fourth millennium BC. In addition, such broken pottery, relics of homes, had been found comprising one spacious room constructed in natural rock, with the wall inside being enclosed by a line of stone protruding from such wall—the purpose of which stones was perhaps for sitting on. Archaeologists suggest that there must have existed relics dating back to the Middle Bronze Age, namely the period between 2000–1550 BC in such areas as Jabal Al-Zaitoun (Mount of Olives), Silwan village, and through the extension of the Valley of the Kidron. The cave situated underneath the site of the Dome of the Rock might have belonged to this period. Researchers believe that the excavations of Kenion and Shiloh in Jerusalem proved that the city had been fortified during the eighteenth century BC, as a wall of 3 metres thickness was discovered, which had been strengthened with stone supports in tower form, especially in the area overlooking the water spring. As the east side of the old city was very steep, a group of mastabas (Arabic for stone benches) had been constructed to be utilized by the inhabitants during that period, and Kenion believed that such stone benches could have been the ones mentioned in the Bible by the name mellos, claimed to have been constructed by David and repaired by Solomon and Ezekiel.
Over the period representing the end of the Bronze Age (approximately 1550–1200 BC), a mention of Jerusalem was made in the letters of Tel el-Amarna around 1400 BC. The information contained in those letters gave the impression that the city at the time had been rich in its resources and its leaders had made attempts to seize control of some of the neighbouring cities. Silvester Saller’s excavations in the Jabal Al-Zaitoun (Mount of Olives) area in 1954 uncovered a tomb that was rich in archaeological finds. Previously, in 1935, Dimitri Bramki discovered a water well with several archaeological finds dating back to the period 1550–1200 BC. In addition to these and other items, a number of stone structures were found dating back to the above-noted period comprising a number of mastabas (stone benches) of different heights making up a huge elevated construction on the south-east side of Jerusalem. It had been built using stone and engraved its name thereon. This period was followed by the Bronze Age and thereafter by the Iron Age. Did Jerusalem, however, withstand and survive through those ages or not?
What was discovered about this stage was very much in favour of the existence of a Canaanite city that had prospered over the last stage of the Bronze Age and excavations could uncover further information on this stage.
As for Jerusalem in the Iron Age (approximately 1200–539 BC), archaeological and historical sources provide us with much information. Excavations made by the Israelis in Jerusalem have revealed the existence of a city prior to the period of King David’s reign, but they believe that such excavations have not provided a clear picture of the Jebusites, who had owned the city before that time. Moreover, remains obtained from the 10th century BC have so far been rare and scattered; in the north-east corner of the city, archaeologist Kenion uncovered stone benches made in the form of steps along with a double wall. A number of archaeologists have attempted to attribute the area constructed in mastaba (stone bench) form and some columnar relics to the time of King David, relying on the content of biblical texts (II Samuel, 5:7 and II Kings, 8:1) more than their interpretation of archaeological finds. Such archaeologists believe that it was only at the time of King Solomon that the administrative and general buildings had been transferred to the Haram esh-Sharif (Holy Sanctuary) area; in any case, no evidence has been found to support such claims.
The city of Jerusalem reached the climax of its prosperity during the period of both the eighth and seventh centuries BC, at which time the fortification slope already noted had been transformed into an artificial hill on top of which a number of private houses had been constructed. In addition to these, in the same locality, a number of dummies had been found that might have been connected to a set of different religious beliefs. This finding could indicate a change or alteration of religious belief at the time. Furthermore, one of the most important phenomena characterizing this period was the water system; a group of canals drawing water from the Jihon spring to the Pool of Kings was discovered. Among these structures, the so-called “Well of Warren” was also discovered, of which no date had been established owing to the lack of archaeological evidence or such evidence having been destroyed by the excavator.
In this context, we should not forget to make mention of King Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the inscription found in this tunnel. Archaeologists believe that the said tunnel dates back to the eighth century BC, and many Israeli archaeologists tend to claim that the widest area of the city was located on the western side of King Hezekiah’s Tunnel. They attributed this to two factors: the first being the Assyrian attacks on Palestine, particularly on the northern side thereof; and the second being the independence of pagan cities along the Palestinian coast, resulting in emigration of a group of people to Jerusalem.
Around the year 579 BC, the city of Jerusalem had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar, the Chalddean King, and was destroyed. A few relics from this period had been found, especially around the south-eastern area, comprising a number of stone benches having been formed from the backfill resulting from the debris of the city.
Around the year 332 BC, Alexander (III) of Macedon (Alexander the Great) was able to seize control over the east Mediterranean region, and from the mixture of the two (east and west) civilizations emerged the roots of a new civilization that was called Hellenism. As far as the city of Jerusalem is concerned, it is known that the information we have received about it from the middle of the fifth century BC up to the second century BC is scant, except for a very limited amount of historical writings, such as the letter of Aristas. It seems, however, that after the Maccabean revolt, Jerusalem had become an independent city around the year 164 BC, and began to expand towards the west; however, the findings of archaeological excavations indicate that the area of Jerusalem had been reduced during the time of the Persian reign, and was restricted to the south-eastern part of it to what is known by the boundaries of King David’s city.
It is known that the south-eastern side of the Tell (Hill), David’s City, was surrounded by walls having been constructed in earlier periods and reused by the end of the 13th century BC. However, it had undergone certain additions at the time of King Nehemiah around the mid-fifth century BC. These walls had been uncovered by the excavations made by MacLuster and Duncan during the first half of this century, and rediscovered through the excavations by Kenion and Shiloh, who had both dated these walls and towers back to the second and first centuries BC.
In addition to these walls and towers, excavations have uncovered a number of important archaeological remains and finds from this period, such as engraved stones.
Then the Roman period witnessed the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman conqueror Pompei in the year 63 BC, and thereby opening a new page in the history of this city. Thus, what is known is that the Romans had installed, during the period 37-40 BC, King Herod over Palestine, all except for the Hellenistic cities. This king had established direct connections with the Roman emperor, and had given soldiers and gifts to him. However, after his death, his kingdom was divided among his three sons. This situation, however, did not last very long, as the whole of Palestine had become a Roman State after the year 44 CE (Common Era).
In the year 66 CE, a revolt broke out in Palestine against the Roman reign, which revolt was crushed by Titus in the year 70 CE. After this revolt was put down, the tenth division of the Roman army remained in Jerusalem, which became a mere camp for this division owing to the destruction it had suffered. When Hadrian, the Roman emperor, took power, he established a new city in the place of the old Jerusalem, and he wanted to include in the plan thereof a Roman structure along with all the Roman urban institutions. He named all these institutions Elia Capitolina. All this had occurred in the year 130 CE. As a result, a revolt broke out from the year 132 CE until 135 CE. It was known as the “Bar Kokba Revolt” as attributed to the commander thereof, and had resulted in the Romans eliminating the last existence of Jews in Palestine, particularly after the fall of the Masada fortress, located south-east of the Dead Sea, to the Romans.
The period 135 CE to 324 CE was considered a period of peace, quiet and reassurance throughout Palestine. Construction works were very active and cities prospered, including Jerusalem, with its temples, theatres, streets, horse-racing tracks and bridges over rivers and valleys having been built for construction of roads to connect cities.
Jerusalem in Relation to the Byzantine Period
In addition to religious structures, fortifications have been discovered, especially those dating back to the year 446 CE, having been incorporated into the city’s wall on the southern side thereof, which were uncovered for the first time during the excavations by Plas and Dickey during the period 1894 and 1897 CE. Furthermore, successive excavations throughout the cities have uncovered a network of streets that can be crossed in most directions. As for the residential quarter, it came to be constructed as per a pre-developed plan. In addition to the houses, there were streets, alleys and a main forum.
The last of the buildings constructed during the Byzantine period was the Golden Gate or the Triumphal Arch, having been built by Emperor Hercules in the year 629 CE, when he had regained the cross from the hands of the Persians who occupied Jerusalem in the year 614 CE.
Islamic Jerusalem has such a magnificent and bright history, with its mosques and minarets still standing as witnesses to this civilization. Has the Zionist imperialist of today, however, been able to obliterate this great civilization?
Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab entered Jerusalem as a conqueror when Safronius had surrendered to him the keys to the city in the year 637 CE. This period was marked by an active movement of construction works, especially during the reign of the Umayyad State (661–750 CE), at which time Al-Aqsa Mosque (691 CE) and the Dome of the Rock (711-713 CE) were built. In addition to these, a number of administrative buildings had been constructed on the southern side of the Haram esh-Sharif (Holy Sanctuary).
During this period, namely the reign of the Umayyad State, the city, like other countries of Bilad Ash-Sham (Greater Syria), had suffered an earthquake in the year 747 or 749 CE. As a result, the city was destroyed and the only structure that had survived the quake was the Dome of the Rock. Architectural remains from the time of the Abbasid State were rare.
Then, in the year 1033 CE, Jerusalem suffered another earthquake. It is worth mentioning in this context that the Christian buildings had not suffered any destruction by the Muslims but remained intact without any change. The best proof of this fact is the finds in the south-eastern side of the Haram esh-Sharif (Holy Sanctuary).
On 15 July 1099 CE, the city of Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders; however, after it was liberated, it had become a part of the Ayyoubid Kingdom (1187–1250 CE). Thereafter, it was made part of the Ottoman State (1517–1917 CE), and throughout these periods, Jerusalem maintained a Muslim oriental character.