How Jerusalem became the capital of Israel

By Gideon

When King David came to power, the Israelites were a tiny nation of twelve tribes, which were connected to each other by common language, common religion, common history, and intermarriage and commerce.  

The area where the tribes lived was sandwiched between two great ancient civilizations, Egypt and Assyria. When David became king, Egypt and Assyria were both in decline. The land of Israel  was in the vacuum area between them. King David took advantage of that and expanded his kingdom, uninterrupted, from the southern part of the country to the north.

For the 440 years since the Israelites, led by Moses, exited Egypt and entered the land of Israel, led by Joshua, Jerusalem had been an unconquered foreign city in the heart of a Israelite territory. It was a city-state inhabited by Canaanite tribe called Jebusites. It was a heavily fortified city. David’s army took advantage of the fact that its water source was out of the city walls to finally conquer it.  

There were more suitable sites for the capital of Israel. Afterall, Jerusalem is not located next to important body of water, nor is it located next to one of the two ancient trade routes; the Kings Highway, which was one of the major trade routes in the ancient Middle East (running from the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea to Damascus), or  the Via Maris, “Way of the Sea,” (running from Egypt along the Mediterranean coast then through Israel and on to Syria). Logically, the capital of Israel should have been on the Mediterranean Sea. Ideally a place like Tel Aviv would have made the most sense.

However, King David wanted a city that wasn’t part of any tribe as his capital so he could united the kingdom and the entire nation will accept it. Jerusalem fit this requirement; geographically it was located between the southern tribes (that centered around Hebron), and the northern tribes (that centered around Shechem – Nablus). Jerusalem had another advantage; it is located high in the mountains, which made it easier to defend. David’s son, King Solomon, built the temple in Jerusalem, making it also the most important city in the land of Israel for religious reasons.

When the kingdom of David was split into the more religious Kingdom of Judea (in the south) and the more secular the Kingdom of Israel (in the north), Jerusalem lost its status to Shomron (Samaria), the capital of the Kingdom of Israel in the  9th and 8th centuries BC. 

During the reign of the last king of the northern kingdom, Hoshea, the Assyrians invaded in 722/721 BC. They established control over Shomron and it ceased to function as an independent Israelite capital city. Jerusalem lost its status as an independent Jewish capital when it fell to the hands of the Romans in 70 CE.

In Modern time:

When the State of Israel was created in 1948, the city of Jerusalem was under siege by Jordanian forces. For that reason, the Israeli declaration of independence took place in Tel Aviv. Alternate locations for the modern capital of Israel were considered: Golda Meir proposed Haifa for its mountains location, which resembled Jerusalem, and because it has a major seaport.  David Ben Gurion proposed building a new city in the northern Negev, near the old Nabataean city of Mamshit (Mampsis), half way between Petra and Gaza, near the Dead Sea, reasoning that it was the furthest location from any border. However, in the end, the status of Jerusalem, David’s Capital, as the global religious center of the Jewish people, was the deciding factor and it was reinstated as the capital of Israel.

Jewish Population in Jerusalem between the 1st century CE and 2011:

(source: Wikipedia )

Period Year Jews in Jerusalem
Before the war with the Romans 66 ??? 
Rabbinic Period 600 6,000
Middle Ages 1500 200
Ottoman Period 1550 1958
Ottoman Period 1800 2,000
Ottoman Period 1850 13,860
Ottoman Period 1900 28,000
British Period 1944 97,000
State of Israel 1967 195,000
State of Israel 1980 292,300
State of Israel 2000 449,000
State of Israel 2011 497,000


Related articles:

 Jerusalem – A City Under Siege

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