Jerusalem, renowned as capital of all Israel, afterwards of southern kingdom, seat of central worship in temple, first named as city of Canaanite Adoni-Sedek; inhabited by Jebusites; identif. with יְבוּס‎, and ‏הַיְבוּסִי‎ (q.v.): captured by Judah; first named in connexion with David; taken possession of by David as king; David’s royal seat; it remained the capital until taken by Nebuchadrezzar, B.C. 588; it became the chief home of the returned exiles.

“ירושׁלם,” BDB (Abridged), paragraph 9725.

“In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.”
Psalms 76:1–2 KJV

1. Geology

The geology of the site and environs of Jerusalem is comparatively simple, when studied in connection with that of the land of Palestine as a whole (see GEOLOGY OF PALESTINE). The outstanding feature is that the rocks consist entirely of various forms of limestone, with strata containing flints; there are no primary rocks, no sandstone (such as comes to the surface on the E. of the Jordan) and no volcanic rocks. The lime stone formations are in regular strata dipping toward the S.E., with an angle of about 10 degrees.

On the high hills overlooking Jerusalem on the E., S.E. and S.W. there still remain strata of considerable thickness of those chalky limestones of the post-Tertiary period which crown so many hilltops of Palestine, and once covered the whole land. On the “Mount of Olives,” for example, occurs a layer of conglomerate limestone known as Nari, or “firestone,” and another thicker deposit, known as Ka‘kuli, of which two distinct strata can be distinguished. In these layers, especially the latter, occur pockets containing marl or haur, and in both there are bands of flint.

Over the actual city’s site all this has been denuded long ages ago. Here we have three layers of limestone of varying density very clearly distinguished by all the native builders and masons:

(1) Mizzeh helu, literally, “sweet mizzeh,” a hard, reddish-grey layer capable of polish, and reaching in places to a depth of 70 ft. or more. The “holy rock” in the temple-area belongs to this layer, and much of the ancient building stone was of this nature.

(2) Below this is the Melekeh or “royal” layer, which, though not very thick — 35 ft. or so — has been of great importance in the history of the city. This rock is peculiar in that when first exposed to the air it is often so soft that it can be cut with a knife, but under the influence of the atmosphere it hardens to make a stone of considerable durability, useful for ordinary buildings. The great importance of this layer, however, lies in the fact that in it have been excavated the hundreds of caverns, cisterns, tombs and aqueducts which honeycomb the city’s site.

(3) Under the Melekeh is a Cenomanian limestone of great durability, known as Mizzeh Yehudeh, or “Jewish mizzeh.” It is a highly valued building stone, though hard to work. Geologically it is distinguished from Mizzeh helu by its containing ammonites. Characteristically, it is a yellowish-grey stone, sometimes slightly reddish. A variety of a distinctly reddish appearance, known as Mizzeh ahmar, or “red mizzeh,” makes a very ornamental stone for columns, tombstones, etc.; it takes a high polish and is sometimes locally known as “marble.”

This deep layer, which underlies the whole city, comes to the surface in the Kidron valley, and its impermeability is probably the explanation of the appearance there of the one true spring, the “Virgin’s Fount.” The water over the site and environs of Jerusalem percolates with ease the upper layer, but is conducted to the surface by this hard layer; the comparatively superficial source of the water of this spring accounts for the poorness of its quality.

2. Climate and Rainfall

The broad features of the climate of Jerusalem have probably remained the same throughout history, although there is plenty of evidence that there have been cycles of greater and lesser abundance of rain. The almost countless cisterns belonging to all ages upon the site and the long and complicated conduits for bringing water from a distance, testify that over the greater part of history the rainfall must have been, as at present, only seasonal.

As a whole, the climate of Jerusalem may be considered healthy. The common diseases should be largely preventable — under an enlightened government; even the malaria which is so prevalent is to a large extent an importation from the low-lying country, and could be stopped at once, were efficient means taken for destroying the carriers of infection, the abundant Anopheles mosquitoes. On account of its altitude and its exposed position, almost upon the watershed, wind, rain and cold are all more excessive than in the maritime plains or the Jordan valley. Although the winter’s cold is severely felt, on account of its coinciding with the days of heaviest rainfall (compare Ezra 10:9), and also because of the dwellings and clothes of the inhabitants being suited for enduring heat more than cold, the actual lowest cold recorded is only 25 degrees F., and frost occurs only on perhaps a dozen nights in an average year. During the rainless summer months the mean temperature rises steadily until August, when it reaches 73,1 degrees F., but the days of greatest heat, with temperature over 100 degrees F. in the shade at times, occur commonly in September. In midsummer the cool N.W. breezes, which generally blow during the afternoons and early night, do much to make life healthy. The most unpleasant days occur in May and from the middle of September until the end of October, when the dry S.E. winds — the sirocco — blow hot and stifling from over the deserts, carrying with them at times fine dust sufficient in quantity to produce a marked haze in the atmosphere. At such times all vegetation droops, and most human beings, especially residents not brought up under such conditions, suffer more or less from depression and physical discomfort; malarial, “sandfly,” and other fevers are apt to be peculiarly prevalent. “At that time shall it be said …. to Jerusalem, A hot wind from the bare heights in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow, nor to cleanse” (Jer 4:11).

During the late summer — except at spells of sirocco — heavy “dews” occur at night, and at the end of September or beginning of October the “former” rains fall — not uncommonly in tropical downpours accompanied by thunder. After this there is frequently a dry spell of several weeks, and then the winter’s rain falls in December, January and February. In some seasons an abundant rainfall in March gives peculiar satisfaction to the inhabitants by filling up the cisterns late in the season and by producing an abundant harvest. The average rainfall is about 26 inches, the maximum recorded in the city being 42,95 inches in the season 1877–78, and the minimum being 12,5 inches in 1869–70. An abundant rainfall is not only important for storage, for replenishment of the springs and for the crops, but as the city’s sewage largely accumulates in the very primitive drains all through the dry season, it requires a considerable force of water to remove it. Snow falls heavily in some seasons, causing considerable destruction to the badly built roofs and to the trees; in the winter of 1910–11 a fall of 9 inches occurred.

3. The Natural Springs

There is only one actual spring in the Jerusalem area, and even to this some authorities would deny the name of true spring on account of the comparatively shallow source of its origin; this is the intermittent spring known today as ‘Ain Umm ed deraj (literally, “spring of the mother of the steps”), called by the native Christians ‘Ain Sitti Miriam (the “spring of the Lady Mary”), and by Europeans commonly called “The Virgin’s Fount.” All the archaeological evidence points to this as the original source of attraction of earliest occupants of the site; in the OT this spring is known as GIHON (which see). The water arises in the actual bottom, though apparent W. side, of the Kidron valley some 300 yards due S. of the S. wall of the Haram. The approach to the spring is down two flights of steps, an upper of 16 leading to a small level platform, covered by a modern arch, and a lower, narrower flight of 14 steps, which ends at the mouth of a small cave. The water has its actual source in a long cleft (perhaps 16 ft. long) running E. and W. in the rocky bottom of the Kidron valley, now many feet below the present surface. The western or higher end of the cleft is at the very entrance of the cave, but most of the water gushes forth from the lower and wider part which lies underneath the steps. When the water is scanty, the women of Siloam creep down into the cavity under the steps and fill their water-skins there; at such times no water at all finds its way into the cave. At the far end of the cave is the opening of that system of ancient tunnel-aqueducts which is described in VI, below. This spring is “intermittent,” the water rising rapidly and gushing forth with considerable force, several times in the 24 hours after the rainy season, and only once or twice in the dry. This “intermittent” condition of springs is not uncommon in Palestine, and is explained by the accumulation of the underground water in certain cavities or cracks in the rock, which together make up a reservoir which empties itself by siphon action. Where the accumulated water reaches the bend of the siphon, the overflow commences and continues to run until the reservoir is emptied. Such a phenomenon is naturally attributed to supernatural agency by the ignorant — in this case, among the modern fellahin, to a dragon — and natives, specially Jews, visit the source, even today, at times of its overflow, for healing. Whether this intermittent condition of the fountain is very ancient it is impossible to say, but, as Jerome (Comm. in Esa, 86) speaks of it, it was probably present in NT times, and if so we have a strong argument for finding here the “Pool of Bethesda.”

Jerusalem,” ISBE, paragraph 30696.

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