Israeli claims that Jerusalem is the historic city of the Jews seem overdone to me. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, declared on March 23, 2010 “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.” As Juan Cole points out, on what historical basis?
Jerusalem was built before Judaism even existed. The name Jerusalem originates from the Canaanite phrase “built up place of Shalem”. Shalem being the Phoenician god of dusk.
In fact, like Christianity in later times with the Council of Nicea/the Reformation/etc, Judaism itself was a work in progress during the time of 1000 BC, the time the monotheistic Jewish people were supposed to be building Jerusalem. Archaeologists have uncovered monuments showing that Yahweh had a female consort Asherah at that time (citation – pg 140), a female goddess of fertility that is consistent with other Near East religious traditions in this time period. Also, Jerusalem was largely abandoned during this time (citation – pg 119)
The problem with the Jerusalem for Jews theory then becomes that not long after 1000 BC, the region and Jerusalem came under the reign of foreign governance that didn’t end until the 1900s AD.
- Assyrians took Jerusalem in 722 BC and held it until
- the Babylonians took it in 597 BC, which changed hands by default when Babylonia was conquered in 539 BC by
- the Achaemenids, hooray!, who in predictable turn lost Jerusalem to the bitchin Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
But wait there are more foreign rules of Jerusalem:
- Ptolemies (branch of Alexander’s army) until 198 BC
- Seleucids (another Alexander branch) until 168 BC
- Then the Jews finally ruled their own modernly-declared ancient capital, until 37 BC under the Hasmonean dynasty.
- Then came a line of succession of control of Jerusalem that we are probably all more familiar with, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Persians for like 10 years, then the Byzantines again, then the Muslims, and then Crusaders, then Muslims again. A lot of Muslim control, 1192 years total.
Now you can get into local governance issues and just how centrally these nations ruled Jerusalem, but I’d argue that would only work from 1000 BC to when the Romans took Jerusalem, and as we said, Judaism wasn’t even fully defined in its modern conception at that point. After that, primitive but present governorships were common in all ruling governments. To get a taste you just have to read the New Testament, where Pontius Pilate had the final say, though the Jewish council could recommend actions. That’s not home rule.
Most realistically, Muslims controlled Jerusalem for 1192 years and the Jewish claim for Jerusalem is at best 430 years: 300 years from 1000 BC when Jerusalem was mostly abandoned and not even monotheistic really, plus the 130 years of actual monotheistic Jewish control under the Hasmoneans. 430 (dubious) 130 (solid) vs. 1192, if we’re going stacking up by history. This doesn’t settle the modern dispute, but that’s a more accurate history of its political ownership than “Jews have built Jerusalem for 3,000 years.”