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Jerusalem and Its Conquerors: A History of Jerusalem (3500 BCE - 63 BCE)

The history of the city of Jerusalem spans thousands of years. The diversity of its historical inhabitants and conquerors have contributed to the significance of Jerusalem as a holy center for many cultures today.

Some historians trace the original settlement of Jerusalem back 5000 years to the biblical Canaanites who are first mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts. These refer to an ancient Egyptian province that existed in 2500 BCE known as Canaan, and the Egyptian Execration Texts are the first to mention the city of Jerusalem under the name "Rusalimum." Others have attributed the first Jerusalem settlement to 3500 BCE on the Ophel (at the edge of the Temple Mount) above the Gihon Spring in East Jerusalem.

The city would see the development and destruction of various kingdoms following these early settlements.

The Early Kingdom: The Israelites and King David

The first known town in Jerusalem was founded under the name Jebus, the home of the biblical Jebusite tribe of Canaanites, whose small establishment was marked by poor agricultural conditions and modest trade routes.

The arrival of the Israelites led to the settlement of a federation of tribal territories known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This eventually led to the Israelite kingdom governed by the biblical King David around 1000 BCE, who had established Jerusalem as the capital, since the city was situated on the borders of two separate tribes.

King Davidís son, King Solomon, whose reign lasted from 970-931 BCE built the First Temple of Jerusalem in 950 BCE according to his fatherís initial plan. The Temple hosted three mass pilgrimages each year, making Jerusalem a religious and political destination for travelers across the region. Partially due to the wealth acquired by King Solomon through royal marriage, Jerusalem grew in wealth and power under Solomonís reign over the Kingdom of Israel.

Death of Solomon: Internal Strife and Babylonian Conquest

The death of King Solomon was followed by internal strife amongst the Israelites, leading to the division of the kingdom into the rival Kingdoms of Israel and the smaller Kingdom of Judea, which had its capital in Jerusalem.

The divided kingdom naturally led to invasions from neighboring regions and the Assyrians lay siege on the city in 721 BCE. This occupation was eventually replaced by the Babylonian conquest, resulting in the historical destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Babylonia in 586 BCE. Babylon itself fell in 539 BCE.

Jerusalem: The Persian, Hellenistic, and Hasmonean Eras

The Persian Kingdom led by King Cyrus replaced the Kingdom of Babylon in 538 BCE. In this year, the Edict of Cyrus was pronounced, allowing exiled Jews to return to the region. The Second Temple of Jerusalem, completed in 515 BCE, was rebuilt during this time, along with the cityís walls. Ezra the scribe instituted religious reform in the region in accordance with the Torah in 397 BCE

In 322 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated King Darius of the Persian Empire, transforming Jerusalem into a Hellenic state. During the Hellenistic period, the city of Jerusalem saw the rise of Greek theaters, gymnasiums and temples.

Following the death of Alexander, the Wars of Succession arose, leading to the control of Ptolemy I of Egypt over Palestine. This shift in power led to the reign of the Egyptian Ptolemies over Jerusalem until 198 BCE. In this year, the Syrian King Antiochus began his rule and outlawed the practice of Judaism in the region.

King Antiochusí law led to the Maccabean revolt of the Jewish rebels and the War of Liberation. These events were sparked by the desecration of the Temple, and lasted from 167 to 141 BCE. The rule of Judah the Maccabee began in 166 BCE, and marked the establishment of the Hasmonean reign, which lasted until the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BCE.


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