Being in the battleground between Israel and Palestine, everyone wants to know what is so special about Jerusalem that everyone wants to claim. While Israel claims the whole as its capital, Palestinians claim east Jerusalem to be the capital of the future Palestinian nation. So, what exactly is so unique in the city that everyone wants it?
History of Jerusalem
Jerusalem holds importance in three Abrahamic religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. Many sites of seminal religious importance are located in the ancient city like the Temple Mount along with its Western Wall, Dome of the rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The city has been attacked 52 times in the past, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
Jerusalem’s City of David shows the first signs of settlement, dating back to the 4th millennium BCE. The city became the administrative and religious centre of the kingdom of Judah in the 8th century BCE. In the 9th century BCE, during the Israelite period, significant construction activity began there.
According to the Egyptian tablets, around the 14th century BCE (Canaanite Period), Jerusalem was known as Urusalim after a Canaanite deity, meaning the “City of Shalem”, where Shalem or Shalim was referred to as God of Dusk.
Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the city walls were rebuilt for the last time in 1538. They now define the old city traditionally divided into four quarters since the 19th century- Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters. In 1981, this old city became a World Heritage Site, and it is on its list in Danger. Jerusalem has been growing far away from Old city’s boundaries since 1860. As of 2016, the population of Jerusalem comprised 61% Jews, 36% Muslims, 2% Christians, and 1% Unclassified.
Different names of the city
Though not universally identified as Jerusalem, a city named Rusalim was discovered in the execration texts of the middle kingdom of Egypt.
In the Amarna letters of Abdi-Heba 1330s BCE, Jerusalem was called Urusalim. Book of Joshua in the Bible, Yerushalem or Yerushalayim first appeared, which was made by combining two words, Yireh- the place where Abraham planned to sacrifice his son and Shalem the Place of Peace. Yerushalayim is a term that derives its origin from the Hebrew language.
According to Bible, Jebus was an ancient settlement of Jerusalem. Zion was another name that earlier was used to specify a distinct part of the city but later used to signify the whole city as the biblical land of Israel. The City of David was the name kept by King David, and it was earlier known as the Fortress of Zion.
Heirosolyma is the transliterated version of the name of the city used by the Greeks and Latins. Although for the Roman period of its history, the city was renamed Aelia Capitolina.
Al-Quds is the most commonly transliterated name of Jerusalem in Arabic, which means “The Holy” or “The Holy Sanctuary”. It was also known as Bayt-al-Muqaddas in Arabic.
Jerusalem and Religions
According to the Bible, King Solomon- the son of King David-built the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, which later became known as The First Temple. This place assumed the central symbolic importance for the Jewish people at the dawn of the 1st millennium BCE.
Jerusalem holds importance in Christianity because, according to the new testament, Jesus was crucified here. This place symbolises the victory of good over evil for Christians because this was the place where he was subjected to agony, and later, he emerged to be triumphant.
The Al Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. According to Sunni Islam, Jerusalem became the first qibla, the direction towards the Kaaba, the focal point to offer Salat (Muslim prayer). According to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after a mystical night journey from this city only where in heaven he talks to God.
Jerusalem is a place that is the abode of faiths of people from different ethnic backgrounds. It is a place divided by ethnicities and united by faith.