City of David—1 Kings 9:14

Remains of massive walls, the existence of what archaeologists call the Stepped Stone Structure, and the types of pottery found in the region have led many researchers to consider the ruins on a sharply sloped ridge between the Kidron Valley on the east and the Tyropoen Valley on the west as the site of the city of Jebus and where David later built his palace. It has become known as the City of David.

David renamed it after he conquered the Canaanite city of Jebus in 1004 BC. Its fortifications and buildings seem to have remained undamaged, and David added more dwellings, which he included in the new fortifications. It is not known how large the Jebusite city was or how far David expanded it. Various excavations, starting with Charles Warren in 1894 and extending up to Eilat Mazar’s in 2005, have sought to discover and explain the history of the city.

The city sat on the top of the ridge called Ophel. To its south was Silwan at an altitude of 620 m. The northern border was Mount Moriah at an altitude of 745 m. It is here where the threshing floor of Atad the Jebusite was located, which David bought to erect an altar, and where Solomon later built the temple. Jewish tradition claims that Abraham brought his son Isaac as an offering on the same spot, making the place the most sacred site in Judaism.

Because the city of Jebus was a territory that was not then held by any Israelite tribe, it was neutral territory and acceptable to all the tribes. Later, David moved the Ark of the Covenant there, thus establishing Jerusalem as both Israel’s religious and political center. Scholars fiercely dispute the nature of the archaeological evidence found in the City of David. Some archaeologists reject the idea that David built massive fortifications and had a vast kingdom. Others claim that they have discovered traces of David’s palace and argue that they have enough evidence to support the biblical statements about David’s building activities. Some arguments of the latter include:

-    The massive wall, known as the Stepped Stone Structure on the eastern part of the Ophel, together with the remains of two towers, appear to support the construction of a citadel on top of the mountain. The pottery excavated around them indicates that the wall belongs to the tenth century BC.

-    The eastern side of the site has many remains of the walls designed to form terraces for the houses built there. Two of the houses are the ones known as the House of Ahiel and the Burnt House, both from the Second Temple period. At their base, to the east, excavators found 53 bullae with inscriptions, evidence suggesting an official archive on the site that was burned, thus hardening and preserving the seal impressions. The bullae have been of great value for reconstructing the biblical narrative, as three of the names in the seals are from the Bible, one of them being Baruch the scribe, Jeremiah’s assistant.

Warren’s shaft was one of the first archaeological elements found in the area of the City of David, but it was not until 1980 that Yigael Shiloh’s expedition cleaned out the entire complex and opened it to tourists. Scientists believe that the Jebusites first established the ancient water supply system. It consists of a vertical shaft, a slanting tunnel, and another vertical shaft, which allowed the Jebusite inhabitants to obtain water from the nearby Gihon spring without exposing themselves to enemy attack. Most scholars agree that David’s army, led by Joab, managed to enter the city through the water tunnels, called a tsinnor or “shaft” in the Bible.

The Gihon spring is located at the base of the eastern slope of Ophel toward Kidron and provides between 40 and 100 m3 water per day, enough for a city of 2,500 inhabitants. Its flow is irregular, with heavy spurts followed by much lesser rates. Solomon built a channel on the eastern slope of the ridge to bring the water to the Siloam basin to irrigate the royal gardens. King Hezekiah would later build the famous tunnel that would carry water from the eastern side to the western side of the ridge and into the city—a system needed because of the Assyrian threat. Hezekiah’s tunnel, a sinuous, S-shaped excavation 533 m long, represents one of the most ingenious technical achievements of ancient times.

The city has continuously expanded to the north and west. Solomon spent 20 years building his palace and the temple, employing Phoenician artisans. Eilat Mazar’s excavations since 2009 have revealed parts of what he believes to be Solomon’s fortification wall and the city gate that led to his palace. The size of this gate corresponds to the ones of Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor and reflect the implication in 1 Kings 9:15 that all were built at the same time.

As a result of the building that resulted from its capital city status, the City of David increased in population up to about 3,000 inhabitants. During Solomon’s time, when the city expanded to its maximum northern limit, the population grew to about 5,000 inhabitants. By Hezekiah’s reign, the city had spread to the western mountain, which the king fortified with a thick wall. The population had reached 25,000 inhabitants, the maximum size and population of the First Temple period.