Mount Zion

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“Har Zion” (Mount Zion), is a draw to all three major religions that interface in Jerusalem. The location has shifted a number of times in history, not unusual for so ancient a site.

According to the Book of Samuel, the name “Stronghold of Zion” was given to the Jebusite fortress that was conquered by King David; he made it into his palace and it was called City of David. An Iron Age building was uncovered during archaeological excavations on the eastern hill extending south of the Old City of Jerusalem. This building is identified at the ruins of the fortress of Zion, focusing this area as the original Mount Zion, for the Jewish believers at least. It came to be known as the Temple Mount after King Solomon’s Temple was built and is referred to in this way in the Book of Isaiah, the Psalms and the first Book of the Maccabees.

The Romans thought otherwise. According to Josephus, a Jebusite town was indeed on the lower eastern hill, but he placed Mount Zion on a higher hill across the valley on the west, it seeming more suitable to a king, especially of David’s stature. And thus it remained: the western hill sloping down to the Old City came to be known as Mount Zion. Many sacred sites are found there. One of the most significant excavations on a world-wide scale was the finding of the remains of the wall of Jerusalem from the Second Temple period, approximately from 200 BC until 70 CE. In this excavation remains from the Byzantine period wall were also unearthed, built directly over the original from the Second Temple period.

The exposure of the Hasmonean city wall and the line of fortifications from the Byzantine period right on top of the former seem to prove that this was the most advantageous location for the defense of the city and what is intriguing is the fact that the builders of the Byzantine wall were totally unaware that they were constructing their wall precisely along the same route as the one from the Second Temple period. The three meters of wall that have remained is considered extraordinary in archaeological terms and makes the site one of the most reliable and beautiful examples of Hasmonean construction ever to be found in Jerusalem.

There are a number of important destinations on Mount Zion for the Christian pilgrim including Mary’s rest-stop at the Dormition Abbey, the House of Caiaphas where Peter offered the three denials, and the Upper Room (Cenacle), where the Last Supper and Eucharist are believed to have taken place, to name just a few. With regard to the Last Supper, the room visited by tourists today is a Crusader structure and on the floor below is the traditional site of the tomb of David, another example of building sacred locations one on top of the other as centuries went by. The most significant example of this which has boomeranged in modern times is the building of the al Aqsa Mosque directly above the site of the Jewish Temple. This remains a major complication in the efforts to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to this very day. The visit to the Temple Mount by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is thought to have helped trigger the 2nd intifada, which was brewing anyway before the September 2000 incident, making this a perfect excuse to fan the flames.

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