‘And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it.’-
The Charm of Jerusalem
In every age, the memory of Jerusalem has stirred the deepest feelings. Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans turn to it with reverent affection. It almost seems as if in some sense each could call it his ‘happy home,’ the ‘name ever dear’ to him. For our holiest thoughts of the past, and our happiest hopes for the future, connect themselves with ‘the city of our God.’ We know from many passages of the Old Testament, but especially from the Book of Psalms, with what ardent longing the exiles from Palestine looked towards it; and during the long centuries of dispersion and cruel persecution, up to this day, the same aspirations have breathed in almost every service of the synagogue, and in none more earnestly than in that of the paschal night, which to us is for ever associated with the death of our Saviour. It is this one grand presence there of ‘the Desire of all nations,’ which has for ever cast a hallowed light round Jerusalem and the Temple, and given fulfillment to the prophecy-‘Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.’ (Isa_2:3) His feet have trodden the busy streets of Jerusalem, and the shady recesses of the Mount of Olives; His figure has ‘filled with glory’ the Temple and its services; His person has given meaning to the land and the people; and the decease which He accomplished at Jerusalem has been for the life of all nations. These facts can never be past- are eternally present; not only to our faith, but also to our hope; for He ‘shall so come in like manner’ as the ‘men of Galilee’ had on Mount Olivet ‘seen Him go into heaven.‘
But our memories of Jerusalem stretch far back beyond these scenes. In the distance of a remote antiquity we read of Melchisedek, the typical priest-king of Salem, who went out to meet Abraham, the ancestor of the Hebrew race, and blessed him. A little later, and this same Abraham was coming up from Hebron on his mournful journey, to offer up his only son. A few miles south of the city, the road by which he travelled climbs the top of a high promontory, that juts into the deep Kedron valley. From this spot, through the cleft of the mountains which the Kedron has made for its course, one object rose up straight before him. It was Moriah, the mount on which the sacrifice of Isaac was to be offered. Here Solomon afterwards built the Temple. For over Mount Moriah David had seen the hand of the destroying angel stayed, probably just above where afterwards from the large altar of burnt-offering the smoke of countless sacrifices rose day by day. On the opposite hill of Zion, separated only by a ravine from Moriah, stood the city and the palace of David, and close by the site of the Temple the tower of David. After that period an ever-shifting historical panorama passes before our view, unchanged only in this, that, amidst all the varying events, Jerusalem remains the one centre of interest and attractions, till we come to that Presence which has made it, even in its desolateness, ‘Hephzibah,’ ‘sought out,’ ‘a city not forsaken.’ (Isa_62:4)
Origin of the Name
The Rabbis have a curious conceit about the origin of the name Jerusalem, which is commonly taken to mean, ‘the foundation,’ ‘the abode,’ or ‘the inheritance of peace.’ They make it a compound of Jireh and Shalem, and say that Abraham called it ‘Jehovah-Jireh,’ while Shem had named it Shalem, but that God combined the two into Jireh-Shalem, Jerushalaim, or Jerusalem. There was certainly something peculiar in the choice of Palestine to be the country of the chosen people, as well as of Jerusalem to be its capital. The political importance of the land must be judged from its situation rather than its size. Lying midway between the east and the west, and placed between the great military monarchies, first of Egypt and Assyria, and then of Rome and the East, it naturally became the battle-field of the nations and the highway of the world. As for Jerusalem, its situation was entirely unique. Pitched on a height of about 2,610 feet above the level of the sea, its climate was more healthy, equable, and temperate than that of any other part of the country. From the top of Mount Olivet an unrivalled view of the most interesting localities in the land might be obtained. To the east the eye would wander over the intervening plains to Jericho, mark the tortuous windings of Jordan, and the sullen grey of the Dead Sea, finally resting on Pisgah and the mountains of Moab and Ammon. To the south, you might see beyond ‘the king’s gardens,’ as far as the grey tops of ‘the hill country of Judea.’ Westwards, the view would be arrested by the mountains of Bether, (Son_2:17) whilst the haze in the distant horizon marked the line of the Great Sea. To the north, such well-known localities met the eye as Mizpeh, Gibeon, Ajalon, Michmash, Ramah, and Anathoth. But, above all, just at your feet, the Holy City would lie in all her magnificence, like ‘a bride adorned for her husband.’
The Situation of Jerusalem
‘Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the Great King….Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces.’ If this could be said of Jerusalem even in the humbler days of her native monarchy, (Psa_48:2, Psa_48:12-13) it was emphatically true at the time when Jesus ‘beheld the city,’ after Herod the Great had adorned it with his wonted splendour. As the pilgrim bands ‘came up’ from all parts of the country to the great feasts, they must have stood enthralled when its beauty first burst upon their gaze. Not merely remembrances of the past, or the sacred associations connected with the present, but the grandeur of the scene before them must have kindled their admiration into enthusiasm. For Jerusalem was a city of palaces, and right royally enthroned as none other. Placed on an eminence higher than the immediate neighbourhood, it was cut off and isolated by deep valleys on all sides but one, giving it the appearance of an immense natural fortress. All round it, on three sides, like a natural fosse, ran the deep ravines of the Valley of Hinnom and of the Black Valley, or Kedron, which merged to the south of the city, descending in such steep declivity that where the two meet is 670 feet below the point whence each had started. Only on the north-west was the city, as it were, bound to the mainland. And as if to give it yet more the character of a series of fortress-islands, a deep natural cleft- Tyropoeon- south and north right through the middle of the city, then turned sharply westwards, separating Mount Zion from Mount Acra. Similarly, Acra was divided from Mount Moriah, and the latter again by an artificial valley from Bezetha, or the New Town. Sheer up from these encircling ravines rose the city of marble and cedar-covered palaces. Up that middle cleft, down in the valley, and along the slopes of the hills, crept the busy town, with its streets, markets, and bazaars. But alone, and isolated in its grandeur, stood the Temple Mount. Terrace upon terrace its courts rose, till, high above the city, within the enclosure of marble cloisters, cedar-roofed and richly ornamented, the Temple itself stood out a mass of snowy marble and of gold, glittering in the sunlight against the half-encircling green background of Olivet. In all his wanderings the Jew had not seen a city like his own Jerusalem. Not Antioch in Asia, not even imperial Rome herself, excelled it in architectural splendour. Nor has there been, either in ancient or modern times, a sacred building equal to the Temple, whether for situation or magnificence; nor yet have there been festive throngs like those joyous hundreds of thousands who, with their hymns of praise, crowded towards the city on the eve of a Passover. No wonder that the song burst from the lips of those pilgrims:
‘Still stand our feet
Within thy gates, Jerusalem!
Jerusalem, ah! thou art built
As a city joined companion-like together.’
From whatever side the pilgrim might approach the city, the first impression must have been solemn and deep. But a special surprise awaited those who came, whether from Jericho or from Galilee, by the well-known road that led over the Mount of Olives. From the south, beyond royal Bethlehem- the west, descending over the heights of Beth-horon- from the north, journeying along the mountains of Ephraim, they would have seen the city first vaguely looming in the grey distance, till, gradually approaching, they had become familiar with its outlines. It was far otherwise from the east. A turn in the road, and the city, hitherto entirely hid from view, would burst upon them suddenly, closely, and to most marked advantage. It was by this road Jesus made His triumphal entry from Bethany on the week of His Passion. Up from ‘the house of dates’ the broad, rough road would round the shoulder of Olivet. Thither the wondering crowd from Bethany followed Him, and there the praising multitude from the city met Him. They had come up that same Olivet, so familiar to them all. For did it not seem almost to form part of the city itself, shutting it off like a screen from the desert land that descended beyond to Jordan and the Dead Sea?
Mount of Olives
From the Temple Mount to the western base of Olivet, it was not more than 100 or 200 yards straight across, though, of course, the distance to the summit was much greater, say about half a mile. By the nearest pathway it was only 918 yards from the city gate to the principal summit. *
* ‘By the longer footpath it is 1,310 yards, and by the main camel road perhaps a little farther.’ Josephus calculates the distance from the city evidently to the top of Mount Olivet at 1,010 yards, or 5 furlongs. See City of the Great King, p. 59.
Olivet was always fresh and green, even in earliest spring or during parched summer- coolest, the pleasantest, the most sheltered walk about Jerusalem. For across this road the Temple and its mountain flung their broad shadows, and luxuriant foliage spread a leafy canopy overhead. They were not gardens, in the ordinary Western sense, through which one passed, far less orchards; but something peculiar to those climes, where Nature everywhere strews with lavish hand her flowers, and makes her gardens- the garden bursts into the orchard, and the orchard stretches into the field, till, high up, olive and fig mingle with the darker cypress and pine. The stony road up Olivet wound along terraces covered with olives, whose silver and dark green leaves rustled in the breeze. Here gigantic gnarled fig-trees twisted themselves out of rocky soil; there clusters of palms raised their knotty stems high up into waving plumed tufts, or spread, bush-like, from the ground, the rich-coloured fruit bursting in clusters from the pod. Then there were groves of myrtle, pines, tall, stately cypresses, and on the summit itself two gigantic cedars. To these shady retreats the inhabitants would often come from Jerusalem to take pleasure or to meditate, and there one of their most celebrated Rabbis was at one time wont in preference to teach. * Thither, also, Christ with His disciples often resorted.
* R. Jochanan ben Saccai, who was at the head of the Sanhedrim immediately before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Coming from Bethany the city would be for some time completely hidden from view by the intervening ridge of Olivet. But a sudden turn of the road, where ‘the descent of the Mount of Olives’ begins, all at once a first glimpse of Jerusalem is caught, and that quite close at hand. True, the configuration of Olivet on the right would still hide the Temple and most part of the city; but across Ophel, the busy suburb of the priests, the eye might range to Mount Zion, and rapidly climb its height to where Herod’s palace covered the site once occupied by that of David. A few intervening steps of descent, where the view of the city has again been lost, and the pilgrim would hurry on to that ledge of rock. What a panorama over which to roam with hungry eagerness! At one glance he would see before him the whole city- valleys and hills, its walls and towers, its palaces and streets, and its magnificent Temple- like a vision from another world. There could be no difficulty in making out the general features of the scene. Altogether the city was only thirty-three stadia, or about four English miles, in circumference. Within this compass dwelt a population of 600,000 (according to Tacitus), but, according to the Jewish historian, amounting at the time of the Passover to between two and three millions, or about equal to that of London. *
* Mr. Fergusson, in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, i. p. 1025, controverts these numbers, on the ground of the population of modern cities within a given area. But two millions represent not the ordinary population, only the festive throngs at the Passover. Taking into consideration Eastern habits- sleeping on the roof, and possibly the camping out- computation is not extravagant. Besides, however untruthful Josephus was, he may, as a general rule, be trusted where official numbers, capable of verification, are concerned. In fact, taking into account this extraordinary influx, the Rabbis distinctly state, that during the feasts- on the first night- people might camp outside Jerusalem, but within the limits of a sabbath-day’s journey. This, as Otho well remarks (Lex. Rabb. p. 195), also explains how, on such occasions, our Lord so often retired to the Mount of Olives.
The first feature to attract attention would be the city walls, at the time of Christ only two in number. *
* The third, largest, and strongest wall, which enclosed Bezetha, or the New Town, was built by Herod Agrippa, twelve years after the date of the crucifixion.
The first, or old wall, began at the north-western angle of Zion, at the tower of Hippicus, and ran along the northern brow of Zion, where it crossed the cleft, and joined the western colonnade of the Temple at the ‘Council-house.’ It also enclosed Zion along the west and the south, and was continued eastward around Ophel, till it merged in the south-eastern angle of the Temple. Thus the first wall would defend Zion, Ophel, and, along with the Temple walls,, Moriah also. The second wall, which commenced at a gate in the first wall, called ‘Gennath,’ ran first north, and then east, so as to enclose Acra, and terminated at the Tower of Antonia. Thus the whole of the old city and the Temple was sufficiently protected.
Tower of Antonia
The Tower of Antonia was placed at the north-western angle of the Temple, midway between the castle of the same name and the Temple. With the former it communicated by a double set of cloisters, with the latter by a subterranean passage into the Temple itself, and also by cloisters and stairs descending into the northern and the western porches of the Court of the Gentiles. Some of the most glorious traditions in Jewish history were connected with this castle, for there had been the ancient ‘armoury of David,’ the palace of Hezekiah and of Nehemiah, and the fortress of the Maccabees. But in the days of Christ Antonia was occupied by a hated Roman garrison, which kept watch over Israel, even in its sanctuary. In fact, the Tower of Antonia overlooked and commanded the Temple, so that a detachment of soldiers could at any time rush down to quell a riot, as on the occasion when the Jews had almost killed Paul (Act_21:31). The city walls were further defended by towers- in the first, and forty in the second wall. Most prominent among them were Hippicus, Phasaelus, and Mariamne, close by each other, to the north-west of Zion- compactly built of immense marble blocks, square, strongly fortified, and surmounted by buildings defended by battlements and turrets. * They were built by Herod, and named after the friend and the brother he had lost in battle, and the wife whom his jealousy had killed.
* For particulars of these forts, see Josephus’ Wars, v. 4, 3.
The Four Hills
If the pilgrim scanned the city more closely, he would observe that it was built on four hills. Of these, the western, or ancient Zion, was the highest, rising about 200 feet above Moriah, though still 100 feet lower than the Mount of Olives. To the north and the east, opposite Zion, and divided from it by the deep Tyropoeon Valley, were the crescent-shaped Acra and Moriah, the latter with Ophel as its southern outrunner. Up and down the slopes of Acra the Lower City crept. Finally, the fourth hill, Bezetha (from bezaion, marshy ground), the New Town, rose north of the Temple Mount and of Acra, and was separated from them by an artificial valley. The streets, which, as in all Eastern cities, were narrow, were paved with white marble. A somewhat elevated footway ran along for the use of those who had newly been purified in the Temple, while the rest walked in the roadway below. The streets derived their names mostly from the gates to which they led, or from the various bazaars. Thus there were ‘Water-street,’ ‘Fish-street,’ ‘East-street,’ etc. The ‘Timber Bazaar’ and that of the ‘Tailors’ were in the New City; the Grand Upper Market on Mount Zion. Then there were the ‘Wool’ and the ‘Braziers’ Bazaar’; ‘Baker-street,’ ‘Butcher-street,’ ‘Strangers’-street,’ and many others similarly named. Nor would it have been difficult to identify the most prominent buildings in the city. At the north-western angle of Mount Zion, the ancient Salem and Jebus, on the site of the castle of David, was the grand palace of Herod, generally occupied by the Roman procurators during their temporary sojourn in Jerusalem. It stood high up, just within shelter of the great towers which Herod had reared- marvel of splendour, of whose extent, strength, height, rooms, towers, roofs, porticoes, courts, and adjacent gardens Josephus speaks in such terms of admiration.
At the opposite, or north-eastern corner of Mount Zion, was the palace of the High-priest. Being built on the slope of the hill, there was under the principal apartments a lower story, with a porch in front, so that we can understand how on that eventful night Peter was ‘beneath in the palace.’ (Mar_14:66) Beyond it, probably on the slope of Acra, was the Repository of the Archives, and on the other side of the cleft, abutting on the Temple, with which it was probably connected by a colonnade, the Council Chamber of the Sanhedrim. Following the eastern brow of Mount Zion, south of the High-priest’s palace, and opposite the Temple, was the immense Xystus, which probably extended into the Tyropoeon. Whatever may have been its original purpose, * it was afterwards used as a place of public meetings, where, on great occasions, the populace was harangued.
* Barclay suggest that the Xystus had originally been the heathen gymnasium built by the infamous high-priest Jason. (City of the Great King, p. 101)
Here Peter probably addressed the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost when the multitude had hurried thither from the Temple on hearing ‘the mighty rushing sound.’ The Xystus was surrounded by a covered colonnade. Behind it was the palace of Agrippa, the ancient palace of David and of the Maccabees, and again, in the rear of it, that of Bernice. On Acra stood afterwards the palaces of certain foreign princes, such as those of Queen Helena, King Monobasus, and other proselytes. In this quarter, or even beyond it to the north-west, one would naturally look for the Theatre and the Amphitheatre, which, being so essentially un-Jewish, must have been located as far as possible from the Temple. The space around the Temple was no doubt kept clear of buildings. On the south-eastern corner behind it was the great Sheep Market, and to the south of it the Hippodrome. Originally, the king’s house by the horse-gate, built by Solomon, and the royal stables, had occupied the southern area of the Temple Mount, where Herod afterwards built the ‘Royal Porch.’ For the Temple of Solomon was 300 feet shorter, from north to south, than that of Herod. Transversely, between Xystus and the Fish Gate, lay the quarter of Maktesh, (Zep_1:10-11) occupied by various bazaars, chiefly connected with the Temple. Lastly, south of the Temple, but on the same hill, was Ophel, the crowded suburb of the priests.
The Shushan Gate
Such must have been a first view of Jerusalem, as ‘beheld’ from the Mount of Olives, on which we are supposed to have taken our stand. If Jewish tradition on the subject may be trusted, a gate opened upon this Mount of Olives through the eastern wall of the Temple. *
* In the chamber above this gate two standard measures were kept, avowedly for the use of the workmen employed in the Temple. (Chel. 17. 9.)
It is called ‘the Shushan Gate,’ from the sculptured representation over it of the city to which so many Jewish memories attached. From this gate an arched roadway, by which the priests brought out the ‘red heifer,’ and on the Day of Atonement the scapegoat, is said to have conducted to the Mount of Olives. Near the spot where the red heifer was burned were extensive lavatories, and booths for the sale of articles needed for various purifications. Up a crest, on one of the most commanding elevations, was the Lunar Station, whence, by fire signals, the advent of each new moon was telegraphed from hill to hill into far countries. If Jewish tradition may further be trusted, there was also an unused gate in the Temple towards the north-Tedit or Tere– two gates towards the south. We know for certain of only a subterranean passage which led from the fortress Antonia on the ‘north-western angle’ of the Temple into the Temple Court, and of the cloisters with stairs descending into the porches, by one of which the chief captain Lysias rushed to the rescue of Paul, when nearly killed by the infuriated multitude. Dismissing all doubtful questions, we are sure that at any rate five gates opened into the outer Temple enclosure or Court of the Gentiles- from the south, and four- these the principal- the west. That southern gate was double, and must have chiefly served the convenience of the priests. Coming from Ophel, they would pass through its gigantic archway and vestibule (40 feet each way), and then by a double tunnel nearly 200 feet long, whence they emerged at a flight of steps leading straight up from the Court of the Gentiles into that of the priests, close to the spot where they would officiate. *
* Jewish tradition mentions the following five as the outer gates of the Temple: that of Shushan to the east, of Tedi to the north, of Copponus to the west, and the two Huldah gates to the south. The Shushan gate was said to have been lower than the others, so that the priests at the end of the ‘heifer-bridge’ might look over it into the Temple. In a chamber above the Shushan gate, the standard measures of the ‘cubit’ were kept.
But to join the great crowd of worshippers we have to enter the city itself. Turning our back on Mount Zion, we now face eastwards to Mount Moriah. Though we look towards the four principal entrances to the Temple, yet what we see within those walls on the highest of the terraces is not the front but the back of the sanctuary. It is curious how tradition is here in the most palpable error in turning to the east in worship. The Holy Place itself faced east-wards, and was approached from the east; but most assuredly the ministering priests and the worshippers looked not towards the east, but towards the west.
The Temple Plateau
The Temple plateau had been artificially levelled at immense labour and cost, and enlarged by gigantic substructures. The latter served also partly for the purpose of purification, as otherwise there might have been some dead body beneath, which, however great the distance from the surface, would, unless air had intervened, have, according to tradition, defiled the whole place above. As enlarged by Herod the Great, the Temple area occupied an elongated square of from 925 to 950 feet and upwards. *
* Many modern writers have computed the Temple area at only 606 feet, while Jewish authorities make it much larger than we have stated it. The computation in the text is based on the latest and most trustworthy investigations, and fully borne out by the excavations made on the spot by Capts. Wilson and Warren.
Roughly calculating it at about 1,000 feet, this would give an extent more than one-half greater than the length of St. Peter’s at Rome, which measures 613 feet, and nearly double our own St. Paul’s, whose extreme length is 520 1/2 feet. And then we must bear in mind that the Temple plateau was not merely about 1,000 feet in length, but a square of nearly 1,000 feet! It was not, however, in the centre of this square, but towards the north-west, that the Temple itself and its special courts were placed. Nor, as already hinted, were they all on a level, but rose terrace upon terrace, till the sacred edifice itself was reached, its porch protruding, ‘shoulder-like,’ on either side- rising into two flanking towers- covering the Holy and Most Holy Places. Thus must the ‘golden fane’ have been clearly visible from all parts; the smoke of its sacrifices slowly curling up against the blue Eastern sky, and the music of its services wafted across the busy city, while the sunlight glittered on its gilt roofs, or shone from its pavement of tessellated marble, or threw great shadows on Olivet behind.
Fables of the Rabbis
Assuredly, when the Rabbis thought of their city in her glory, they might well say: ‘The world is like unto an eye. The ocean surrounding the world is the white of the eye; its black is the world itself; the pupil is Jerusalem; but the image within the pupil is the sanctuary.’ In their sorrow and loneliness they have written many fabled things of Jerusalem, of which some may here find a place, to show with what halo of reverence they surrounded the loving memories of the past. Jerusalem, they say, belonged to no tribe in particular- was all Israel’s. And this is in great measure literally true; for even afterwards, when ancient Jebus became the capital of the land, the boundary line between Judah and Benjamin ran right through the middle of the city and of the Temple; so that, according to Jewish tradition, the porch and the sanctuary itself were in Benjamin, and the Temple courts and altar in Judah. In Jerusalem no house might be hired. The houses belonged as it were to all; for they must all be thrown open, in free-hearted hospitality, to the pilgrim-brethren that came up to the feast. Never had any one failed to find in Jerusalem the means of celebrating the paschal festivities, nor yet had any lacked a bed on which to rest. Never did serpent or scorpion hurt within her precincts; never did fire desolate her streets, nor ruin occur. No ban ever rested on the Holy City. It was Levitically more sacred than other cities, since there alone the paschal lamb, the thank-offerings, and the second tithes might be eaten. Hence they carefully guarded against all possibility of pollution. No dead body might remain in the city overnight; no sepulchres were there, except those of the house of David and of the prophetess Hilda. No even domestic fowls might be kept, nor vegetable gardens be planted, lest the smell of decaying vegetation should defile the air; nor yet furnaces be built, for fear of smoke. Never had adverse accident interrupted the services of the sanctuary, nor profaned the offerings. Never had rain extinguished the fire on the altar, nor contrary wind driven back the smoke of the sacrifices; nor yet, however great the crowd of worshippers, had any failed for room to bow down and worship the God of Israel!
Thus far the Rabbis. All the more impressive is their own admission and their lament- significant as viewed in the light of the Gospel: ‘For three years and a half abode the Shekinah’ (or visible Divine presence) ‘on the Mount of Olives,’- whether Israel would repent-‘and calling upon them, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.” And when all was in vain, then the Shekinah returned to its own place!’
Jerusalem in Ruins
The Shekinah has withdrawn to its own place! Both the city and the Temple have been laid ‘even with the ground,’ because Jerusalem knew not the time of her visitation (Luk_19:44). ‘They have laid Jerusalem on heaps’ (Psa_79:1). ‘The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street’ (Lam_4:1). All this, and much more, did the Saviour, the rightful King of Israel, see in the near future, when ‘He beheld the city, and wept over it.’ And now we must search very deep down, sinking the shaft from 60 to over 125 feet through the rubbish of accumulated ruins, before reaching at last the ancient foundations. And there, close by where once the royal bridge spanned the deep chasm and led from the City of David into the royal porch of the Temple, is ‘the Jews’ Wailing Place,’ where the mourning heirs to all this desolation reverently embrace the fallen stones, and weep unavailing tears- because the present is as the past, and because what brought that judgment and sorrow is unrecognised, unrepented, unremoved. Yet-‘Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire! Return, come!’