Jerusalem: Gates and Walls

Significant dates regarding the walls surrounding Jerusalem
Here are some important dates regarding the walls of Jerusalem up to the time of Nehemiah.

Long before the Israelites entered the Promised Land (circa 1440 B.C. [1]), the Jebusites (Jerusalem was originally called Jebus) lived within the walls of Jerusalem. Jebus is estimated to have been only about ten acres in expanse, & was positioned south of the modern walls of Jersualem. The city was easily defended because it sat atop higher ground, surrounded by valleys. The city walls and its fortress provided additional protection.

David Conquered the Jebusite City and Enlarged the City Walls (1004 B.C. – 971 B.C.)
The Lord God was with David & allowed him to capture Jebus/Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 5:6-8). David went on to make it the capital of Israel, calling it the “City of David.” (2 Samuel 5:9). Later in David’s reign he built stronger and additional walls to fortify the city. David later bought the threshing floor of Araunah (a Jebusite) so that he could build an altar to the Lord (2 Samuel 24:18-25).

Solomon added The Temple Mount (971 B.C. – 931 B.C.)
King Solomon (son of King David) expanded the city northwards to include the hill called the Temple Mount (built on Mount Moriah), where he would build the First Temple. This involved flattening the top of the hill, & building walls surrounding it, to produce a large flat surface on which to erect the first Temple, which was built on upon the threshing floor of Araunah. Solomon began to build The First Temple of the Lord 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt in the Exodus, & in the 4th year of his reign as king (see 1 Kings 6:1). Details of Solomon’s building can be read in 1 Kings chp 6.

The City’s Western Expansion (931 B.C. – 586 B.C.)
In Hezekiah’s day, Assyria invaded the north and Hebrew refugees flooded the city. In response to the Assyrian threat Jerusalem’s urban population had grown far outside the old walls of the city and were unprotected. King Hezekiah fortified the existing walls of the city and built a new “Broad wall” to protect those living outside the original city walls. (see 2 Chronicles 32:5). Hezekiah’s new wall measured about 22 feet wide (7 metres) by 25 feet high (8 metres). It was a massive undertaking and measured around 2.5 miles (4 km.) in length.

A portion of the wall was discovered in the 1970s by Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad and dated to the reign of King Hezekiah (716–687 BC). It was called “Hezekiah’s Broad Wall” by archaeologists because of its width.

The main supply of fresh water to Jerusalem was via the Gihon Spring, on the eastern side of Jerusalem. It is probable that there was defensive walls & towers to protect this vital supply even in the earliest history of the city. Nevertheless, Hezekiah also built a water tunnel in order to keep the water from the Gihon Spring inside the city walls so the Assyrians couldn’t cut off the water supply (see 2 Chronicles 32:3-4). The curving tunnel is 583 yards (533 metres) long and has a fall of only 12 inches (30 cm.) between its two ends. It took the water from the Gihon Spring under the mountain to the Pool of Siloam below the city.

A note about the Returning Exiles from Babylon
There were in fact three returns from exile recorded in the Old Testament.

The 1st was in 535 B.C. Zerubbabel & a company returned and immediately laid the foundations of the second temple. The first temple having been destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, in either 587 or 586 B.C, during the reign of king Hezekiah of Judah. This group of returning Jews were allowed to return under an edict issued by Cyrus King of Persia. By 515 B.C. the reinstated Jewish residents had completed building the Second Temple.

The 2nd return from exile in Babylon was in 458 B.C., when a company under Ezra came back and the new form of the law was adopted.

The 3rd return from exile was in 445 B.C., when Nehemiah (the cup-bearer of the king of Babylon), returned with a company and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and just 52 days.

Returning Exiles Rebuild The Walls (444 B.C. – 442 B.C.)
It was immediately after this 3rd return from exile that a small Jewish population, under Nehemiah’s strong leadership, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with dimensions similar to Solomon’s day.

Interestingly, archaeologists have found remnants of Nehemiah’s reconstruction, possibly the “Broad wall” mentioned in Nehemiah 3:8.

Who destroyed the walls of Jerusalem & when?
Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia in either 587 or 586 B.C, during the reign of king Hezekiah of Judah.

I have drawn this section of the northern walls of Jerusalem, broken & much reduced in height. Behind the broken walls you can see the Temple Mount, which was built by king Solomon. After his father David died, Solomon built the Temple Mount Platform on Mt. Moriah upon the threshing floor of Araunah. Then he erected the temple upon it and added walls from the City of David to encompass the Temple Mount and temple.

The Bible tells us that the Babylonian army pulled down Jerusaem’s ealls & burned its gates with fire. But I imagine that the Temple Mount was largely untouched, although it is probable that the holy temple, the Temple of Solomon was destroyed at this time.

Interestingly, the Temple Mount is a hill, which is surrounded by walls to make the top surface flat, & therefore suitable to build upon, as described in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (see italicised quoted part below).

“Site of the Temple:
The site of the Temple was on the eastern of the two hills on which Jerusalem was built—that known in Scripture as Mt. Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1) or Mt. Zion (the traditional view which locates Zion on the western hill, on the other side of the Tyropoeon valley, though defended by some, seems untenable; see “Zion,” in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); “Jerusalem,” in Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, etc.). The place is more precisely defined as that where Araunah (Ornan) had his threshing-floor, and David built his altar after the plague (1 Chron. 21:22; 2 Chron. 3:1). This spot, in turn, is now all but universally held to be marked by the sacred rock, es-Sakhra (within what is called the Haram area on the eastern summit; see JERUSALEM), above which the “Dome of the Rock,” or so-called “Mosque of Omar,” now stands. Here, according to traditional belief, was reared the altar of burnt offering, and to the West of it was built the Temple. This location is indeed challenged by Fergusson, W. R. Smith, and others, who transfer the Temple-site to the southwestern angle of the Haram area, but the great majority of scholars take the above view. To prepare a suitable surface for the Temple and connected buildings (the area may have been some 600 ft. East to West, and 300 to 400 ft. North to South), the summit of the hill had to be leveled, and its lower parts heightened by immense substructures (Josephus, Ant, VIII iii, 9; Ant., XV, xi, 3; BJ, V, v, 1), the remains of which modern excavations have brought to light (compare Warren’s Underground Jerusalem; G. A. Smith’s Jerusalem, etc.).
[Source: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]

How long after Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the walls of Jerusalem did Nehemiah rebuild them?
About 444 B.C. Nehemiah journeyed to Jerusalem and proceeded to rebuild the city’s walls. That’s about 142 years since Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia ordered his vast army to pull down Jerusalem’s walls.

The Gates Of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s Day
The task before Nehemiah’s was enormous, & made worse by the threat of ridicule, opposition (see Nehemiah 2:19) & attack by those who opposed the rebuilding project. No single person could possibly achieve the task; it required unusual organizational structure, a real “team effort”. Chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah describes the division of delegated labour that amazingly got the job done in just 52 days (see Nehemiah 6:15). But before the task could even be delegated, Nehemiah went out on his donkey, at night, to survey the walls & devise his strategy.

People were assigned to work on sections of the wall or gates near their homes, which probably provided the motivation needed to complete the work. In addition this strategy would have saved travel time from people’s homes to the site of their work. Even so, there were sections of the walls where homes were sparce, which required Nehemiah to encourage people from other towns & villages to pitch in & hep build up the walls. For example Nehemiah 3:2 tells us that the men of Jericho (aka the city of palms) built a section of the wall, whilst men from Tekoa (verse 5 & 22) & men from Gibea (verse 7)repaired other sections.

Interestingly, some of the work assignments seem to have been given according to career/job/vocation. For example, Uzziel, son of Harhaiah (who was a goldsmith) repaired a section of wall, as well as perfume-makers (verse 8), rulers of districts (verses 9-12, 14-19) & merchants (v 31-32). Of course this is an assumption, & it may just have been that these people lived near to where they were building, & the note about their profession is simply subsidiary information given by the author. Nevertheless, it is noted that the high priest and other priests were assigned to rebuild the Sheep Gate (verse 1), & additional work in other areas was also done by the priests (verses 22, 28). Levites were also directed to work on sections of walls (see verse 17).

The 10 Gates of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s Day.
Ten gates are mentioned in Nehemiah chapter 3, proceeding counterclockwise from the north wall of the Temple.

The circumference of the walls was approximately 2.5 miles (4 kilometres), encompassing approximately 220 acres (89 hectares) or 0.34 sq miles (0.89 sq km).

01) The Sheep Gate (see Nehemiah 3:1, 3:32).
The Sheep Gate (located in the north east of the walls) was significant to the priests because animals were brought through that entrance & brought to the Temple (on the eastern side of the city) for sacrificial offerings. It was near the market where sheep were sold and close to the Sheep Pool where the Temple sacrifices were washed. The Sheep Gate was also near the Pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:2).

Moving along from the Sheep gate, the Tower of Hammeah (hundred) and the Tower of Hananel (see Nehemiah 3:1) were found. The later is also mentioned in Jeremiah 31:38 and Zechariah 14:10 as the northernmost part of the city.

02) The Fish Gate (see Nehemiah 3:3).
In the days of the First Temple, the Fish Gate was one of Jerusalem’s main entrances (see 2 Chronicles 33:14) & was probably named because merchants brought fish from Tyre or the Sea of Galilee through it to the fish market. It led out to the main road north from Jerusalem that descended to the coastal plain through Beth-Horon. It is very probably identical with the “Middle Gate” of Jeremiah 39:3.

03) The Old, or Gate of the Old/Jeshanah Gate (see Nehemiah 3:6).
The Old Gate was situated in the northwest corner and is identified with the Corner Gate of 2 Kings 14:13 and Jeremiah 31:38. Some scholars believe this gate was so named because it was the main entrance into the old city of Salem (Jerusalem) on the north side.

This gate has also been identified with the “Corner Gate” of 2 Kings 14:13; 2 Chron. 25:23; Jeremiah 31:38; Zechariah 14:10, and with the “First Gate” of Zechariah. 14:10, which is identified as the same as the Corner Gate; indeed “first” is probably a textual error for yashan (meaning “old”). If this is so, this “Gate of the Old” or “Corner Gate” must have stood near the northwestern corner of the city, somewhere near the present Jaffa Gate.

04) The Valley Gate or Gate of the Gai (see Nehemiah 3:13).
The Valley Gate was located in the western section of the wall. It was the place where Nehemiah began and ended his nighttime inspection of the walls (Nehemiah 2:13–15). It led into the lowly Tyropoeon Valley.

05) The Dung Gate (see Nehemiah 3:14).
The Dung Gate was located in the southern section of the wall. It was so named because it led to the Hinnom Valley, where all of Jerusalem’s refuse was dumped, south of the city.

06) The Fountain Gate (see Nehemiah 3:15).
The Fountain Gate was situated in the southeastern part of the walls of Jerusalem (northeast of the Dung Gate) near the Pool of Siloam & by “the king’s garden” (2 Ki. 25:4). It’s entrance led into the Kidron Valley. It derived its name from the location where the Siloam Tunnel emerged from the ground with water from the Gihon Spring, the main water supply of Jerusalem.

07) The Water Gate (see Nehemiah 3:26).
The Water Gate was also situated in the southeastern part of the walls of Jerusalem was part of the Temple/Palace complex rather than in the wall. It was so named because it led to the city’s main source of water, the Gihon Spring. It must have encompassed a large area because the reading of the law took place there (see Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 16).

08) The Horse Gate (see Nehemiah 3:28).
The Horse Gate was located in the northeastern section of the wall, also on the east side of the Temple, overlooking the Kidron Valley. It was the gate through which horses entered and exited the palace area, and the horse stables were probably located near this gate.

09) The East Gate (see Nehemiah 3:29).
The East Gate was also located in the northeastern section of the wall, & was directly east of the Temple area, located below the present-day Golden Gate. From this gate it was easy to access the Mount of Olives to the east. The Temple for orientated so that its entrance faced the rising sun, in the East. The people entered the Temple through this gate, on their way to worship the Lord and present their offerings and sacrifices to Him.

10) The Muster or Inspection Gate (see Nehemiah 3:31).
The Muster or Inspection Gate was located in the northern-most section of the eastern wall. The word for inspection is found in only three other passages: 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5, where it means numbering or mustering, and Ezekiel 43:21, where it means the appointed place for the sin offering to be burned. The elders sat at this gate judging and rendering decisions in matters brought before them.

With the repairs to the Inspection Gate and the section of the wall to the corner completed, the work had come full circle back to the Sheep Gate (verse 32).

When the walls were finished Israel’s enemies “perceived that this work was wrought by [Israel’s] God” (Nehemiah 6:16).

Here’s a photograph I found on the internet, which shows the stone used in Jerusalem’s walls. It looks like limestone to me. Notice how rough the stones are, apparently not chiselled or shaped by a stone mason in any way.
Biblical Jerusalem Wall Remnants
[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_siege_of_Jerusalem#/media/File:Biblical_Jerusalem_Wall_Remnants.jpg
By Lior Golgher – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1830495]

Here’s another photograph I found on the internet, which shows the stone used in Jerusalem’s 1st temple period walls. It also looks like limestone to me, & again, the stones don’t look to have been chiselled or shaped in any way by a stone mason.
First Temple era walls
[Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/first-temple-era-walls-razed-in-biblical-account-found-unbreached-in-jerusalem/]

The general scholarly consensus puts an “Exodus” and Israelite establishment in Canaan during the 13th century (the 1200s) B.C.
[Source: https://armstronginstitute.org/350-when-did-the-israelites-arrive-in-the-promised-land]

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