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Jerusalem at the Time of Christ

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jesus00000019.gif 'Jerusalem-1st Cent. AD.' jesus00000019.gif

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THE JERUSALEM OF HEROD THE GREAT

The Jerusalem Jesus knew nowhere near resembled the city David conquered in the tenth century BC. At that time, it had been a small, isolated hill fortress, valued more for its location than its size or splendor. Yet from that time on it was known as the City of David, and the kings of David's dynasty, especially his son Solomon, had enlarged and beautified it.

In the sixth century BC, the army of Nebuchadnezzar leveled Jerusalem and drove its citizens into exile. During the long years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews in exiles' prayers and longings focused on the distant Holy City. But the city rebuilt by the Jews who returned a century later was far inferior to its former splendor. It was, ironically, the hated tyrant Herod the Great who restored Jerusalem to its former grandeur.

In the 33 years of his reign (37-4 B.C.), Herod transformed the city as had no other ruler since Solomon. Building palaces and citadels, a theatre and an amphitheatre, viaducts (bridges) and public monuments. These ambitious building projects, some completed long after his death, were part of the king's single-minded campaign to increase his capital's importance in the eyes of the Roman Empire.

No visitor seeing Jerusalem for the first time could fail to be impressed by its visual splendor. The long, difficult ascent from Jericho to the Holy City ended as the traveler rounded the Mount of Olives, and suddenly caught sight of a vista like few others in the world. Across the Kidron Valley, set among the surrounding hills, was Jerusalem, "the perfection of beauty," in the words of Lamentations, "the joy of all the world."

The view from the Mount of Olives was dominated by the gleaming, gold-embellished Temple which was located in the most holy spot in the Jewish world and really God's world. This was the Lord's earthly dwelling place, He mediated His throne here and raised up a people to perform rituals and ceremonies here that would foreshadow the coming of His Messiah kinsman redeemer who would be the lamb of God, slain for the sins of the whole world.

The Temple stood high above the old City of David, at the center of a gigantic white stone platform.

To the south of the temple was THE LOWER CITY, a group of limestone houses, yellow-brown colored from years of sun and wind. Narrow, unpaved streets and houses that sloped downward toward the Tyropean Valley, which ran through the center of Jerusalem.

Rising upward to the west was THE UPPER CITY, or Zion, where the white marble villas and palaces of the very rich stood out like patches of snow. Two large arched passageways spanned the valley, crossing from the Upper City to the temple.

A high, thick, gray stone wall encircled Jerusalem. It had been damaged, repaired and enlarged over the centuries, and in Jesus' day it was about 4 miles in circumference, bringing about 25,000 people into an area about a square mile. At intervals along the wall were massive gateways. Just inside each gate was a customs station, where publicans collected taxes on all goods entering or leaving the city.

COMMERCE OF THE LOWER CITY

Once past one of the gates, you would face a maze of dusty streets and alleyways, running uphill and down in every direction. As you made your way toward the temple, you would hear sounds of voices, the clatter of hooves and odors of cooking food. Along the Small Market street in the Lower City, you would pass open-air shops where Jerusalem's craftsmen sat at work: the city's weavers, dyers, potters, bakers, tailors, carpenters and metalworkers. Farther along you would enter the colorful bazaar, where merchants sold fruits and vegetables, dried fish, sacrificial animals, clothes, perfumes and jewelry.

The market street was always crowded and busy, especially on Mondays and Thursdays, the main market days, when citizens and visitors came there to buy goods or souvenirs. Perishable goods were on sale every day. Only on the Sabbath was the street empty and quiet.

After traveling you could stop to rest at one of Jerusalem's many taverns or restaurants. There you could select from a menu offering fresh or salted fish, fried locusts, vegetables, soup, pastry and fruit. You could drink local wine or imported beer.

The farmers of Jerusalem, like their rural cousins, went out each morning to tend their crops. Most of them worked in the rich olive groves that covered the surrounding hillsides and provided the city's only major export.

Jerusalem's numerous craftsmen had for a long time been organized into professional groups and most of them worked in public shops. The members of each group lived in a cluster of houses in a particular section of the city and they usually had their own synagogue. In Jesus' time, there were at least 480 synagogues in Jerusalem.


POMP OF THE UPPER CITY

Most of Jerusalem's working people lived in the crowded, noisy precincts of the Lower City. Their one- and two-story houses stood packed closely together. In contrast, the broad fashionable avenues of the Upper City were laid out in an orderly grid pattern like the elegant cities of Greece and Rome. This part of Jerusalem was the home of the rich and powerful Jewish families and high-ranking Roman officials.

Comfortably removed from the rest of the population, they lived in spacious white marble mansions and palaces built around courtyards with elaborate gardens and pools. The magnificent royal palace of Herod the Great- later used by the Roman governor of Judea during his visits to Jerusalem-was situated in the uppermost northwest corner of the city.

Directly in front of the palace stood the Upper Market, with its Roman-style arcades along three sides and an open court for market booths in the center. Here were the shops of the dealers in luxury goods: the distillers of expensive oils and perfumes; the master tailors and silk merchants; the goldsmiths and silversmiths; the dealers in ivory, incense and precious stones. Household slaves went there to buy expensive imported foods for their masters' banquet tables.

Not far away was the PALACE OF THE HIGH PRIEST. (The high priest at the time of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem, Caiaphas, did not live there but in another section of the Upper City. Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin probably took place in one of the large halls of his palace). Herod the Great had also built a THEATRE in the Upper City. It was a large, open-air auditorium with semicircular rows of seats ascending from a central stage. Wealthy Jews came there to watch the best of Greek and Roman drama. Most traditional Jews, however, scorned this and other outgrowths of Greco-Roman culture as immoral.


Jerusalem during the Feasts

During these times the enormous crowd of pilgrims into the Holy City inflated its population of 25,000 to at least four or five times that number. This brought an important stimulus to the city's economy. Besides creating a huge demand for food, lodging and sacrificial animals, the incoming Jews were required to spend a tenth of their annual income (after taxes) within Jerusalem. This "second tithe" was in addition to the tithe they had to pay directly to the temple.

Many pilgrims found lodging in one of Jerusalem's inns or in private homes. Some of the foreign Jewish communities had built shelters for their citizens to use when they visited the Holy City. The Essenes and Pharisees also provided lodging for fellow members. But the vast majority stayed in tents outside the city or in private homes in the villages of Bethphage or Bethany, where Jesus and his disciples stayed during his last months of ministry.

The overcrowding and the excitement of the festivals frequently led to outbreaks of violence and anti-Roman rebellion. On more than one occasion the huge mass of pilgrims had been stirred up by zealous nationalists or would-be Messiahs. For this reason, the Roman governor made a point of being present during these occasions, and extra soldiers were stationed at strategic locations throughout the city.

Besides attracting large crowds of pilgrims three times a year, the temple provided a constant demand for supplies from local merchants. Its requirements provided the backbone of the city's economy, and some had become extremely rich by monopolizing the supplying of certain items. The wealthy family of Garmo, for example, had the exclusive right to bake the offertory loaves of bread for the temple. Other merchants wove the priestly vestments, supplied incense, carried wood for the altar fires and fashioned the sacred ornaments and golden vessels.

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