The Walls of Jerusalem or the Lament of the Stones


Nowadays, when we hear of walls in connection with Israel and Jerusalem, the subject is always the wall.

The apartheid wall, the wall of shame; the security construction we have built along part of the Green Border, i.e. along the armistice line, has been called more names than its length in meters. Malicious people are calling it Israel’s de facto and de jure external border, and demand that Israel withdraw behind that line. In fact it is a border that was not definitely determined and may by all means deviate from the „Green Border“.

The fact is that only a very small part of the security construction as a whole is a real wall. The main part is a sophisticated security fence. Since it has come into existence, we are better protected against terrorism.

The Defence Wall in Jerusalem (1)


It is distressing that part of the wall goes through Jerusalem. To us Jews Jerusalem has always been an indivisible city. Still, it cannot be ignored, it is easy to discern. From the platform on the Tower of David, from the Montefiori Windmill, from the YMCA Tower, from the Haas Promenade and from the roof terraces of many hotels. Like an ugly tape worm it winds through the densely built-up areas of East-Jerusalem. It is ugly but necessary. Without the wall, terrorist acts would be even more common., enemies of Israel and Arabs do not take into consideration what the wall’s benefits are for us, they only see it as an expression of Jewish-Israeli aggression against our Palestinian neighbors.

But our subject matter is other walls. Walls that go back to the times of King David (1000 BCE). Until the period of the last big siege in the year 70 CE.



The walls during different periods (2,3,4)

Jerusalem actually never achieved real peacefulness. After 36 aggressive attacks, it was rebuilt 18 times. Jerusalem rose from the ashes 18 times.

It is written in the Talmud:

„Ten degrees of beauty came down to earth. Jerusalem received nine of them. The rest of the world one. Ten degrees of suffering came down to earth. Jerusalem got nine of them. The rest of the world one.

In 1000 BCE, for the first time, King David (approximately 1010 – 962 BCE) unified the northern and southern kingdoms into the Kingdom of Israel. After conquering Jerusalem from the Jebusites he chose it as his capital. The city’s area covered only the part known today as David’s City. The beauty must have made its appearance later. When he conquered the city, David found a circular city wall, which he reinforced.

Around 950 BCE King Solomon (approximately 962 – 922 BCE), David‘ son, built the first Temple and accordingly increased the city area. Due to topology the only direction for extension was to the north. To the south and the east, the city was bordered by deep valleys (the Valleys of Kidron and Hinon). The new city walls protectively surrounded the temple and palace areas.

After Solomon’s death, the Kingdom was divided into the States of Judea (south) and Israel (north). Jerusalem became the capital of the Southern Kingdom. Disputes over inheritance between individual family clans caused the successful policy to be abandoned. Until the first city’s major destruction in the year 587 BCE and the corresponding destruction of the first Temple, a total of 20 kings reigned over the Southern Kingdom of Judea. All of those are considered to belong to the Davidian Dynasty.

The claims to power by various dynasties in the north ended in the middle of the 7th century BCE, and the last kings were considered Assyrian vassal kings.

The first vassal king of the south would be Herod.

Jerusalem, capital of the Southern Kingdom, practically displayed all the weak spots a capital could possess at that time. The kingdom’s fertile lands lay in the north and along the coast. The international trade roads passed to the north of the city. Nevertheless, the capital was able to survive longer than expected. Its major advantage may have been its topographic situation of top of a hill. Discernible from afar, it provided an inestimable panoramic 360 degrees view of its surroundings, and seemed practically impregnable.

The Assyrian King Sennacherib attempted to conquer the city in 701 BCE. But before that, King Hezekiah had enough time to extend the city walls to the west. Hezekiah’s biggest fear was that in case of an attack, the water supply to the city would be cut off, because the Pool of Siloam which was fed by the Gihon Spring lay outside the walls. Within a dramatically short time he had Solomon’s walls in the area strengthened. The water was now flowing within the walls through the Hezekiah Tunnel, assuring the water supply, thanks to an ingenious system.

The city was three times as big as its area at the time of David. This was the territory attacked and finally conquered by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The exact course of the wall is not yet known. At this point only an infinitesimal 40 meters has been excavated.

The Israelite elite were forcibly exiled to Babylon. The number of those who returned was distinctly lower than the number of those who had left their home. On the banks of the Euphrates they sat and bitterly complained. This, at least, is what Jeremiah’s Psalm tells us. Reality tells another tale. Many Israelites were well established in Babylon, they had become part of society, even occupying important functions, not thinking of returning to the rather difficult and frugal life in Jerusalem.

The strenuously defended and secured extension of the city built by Hezekiah became obsolete. The resettled city’s urban area was smaller than it had been in Solomon’s times. King Nehemia’s city was at first nothing but an impoverished and partly ruined capital.

When in 323 BCE Alexander the Great unexpectedly died, he left his empire to his military leaders and their sons. The division of the territory, the Diadochi, brought about many violent internal battles. Each heir considered only his own advantage, and the battles continued until the year 276, when the last of Alexander’s fellow combatant died.

The Diadochen succeeding countries (5)

During the reign of Antiochus III, Judea became part of the Seleucid Empire which also included Syria. The Hellenistic influence grew, architecture unequivocally showed Greek features. The fascination with Greek culture attracted not only the rich, but even the priests who saw themselves as the city’s aristocracy. The priests, who were supposed to maintain and secure the purity of ceremony and religion, finally allowed the next sovereign, Antiochus IV, 168 BCE, to prohibit the practice of the Jewish faith. Temple services were forbidden, as was circumcision. Everywhere there were pictures of Greek gods, and everyone, including the priests, had to show their respect for them in public.

In order to secure his supremacy and make Jerusalem into a practically impregnable city, Antiochus IV had the „First Wall“ constructed. It started in the Kidron Valley to the east and included the wall built by Solomon in its northern extension around the Temple area. It then cut off a piece of the area that had been fortified by the Kings, which had not been inhabited since the conquest of 587 BCE. Further to the west it took its course up to Jaffa Gate still used today, and from there in a south-easterly direction along the Hinon Valley up to the Pool of Siloam at the southern end of the Solomonic fortification.

The Pool of Siloam was rediscovered in 2004 during excavations. Plant residue found there allows us to conclude that a fruit and flower garden had been planted in the area of the Pool of Siloam. During excavations, they first found steps leading down to the stream. In 2011, rather steep stairs were excavated, leading directly from the Pool to the Temple Mount. This is possibly part of a path through which the city could unobtrusively be entered and exited in case of siege. Now, the tunnel is part of an archeological park which can be visited by the public.

Led by Mattathias, a priest from the village of Modi’in near Jerusalem, and his five sons, an uprising against the sovereign started soon thereafter. In 167 BCE they fled to the hills surrounding Jerusalem together with a great number of religious Jews. After Mattathias‘ death, his son Judah Maccabee became the leader of the uprising. Though his armed forces were much smaller in number that that of the Syrians, he was able to defeat them in 165 BCE after several battles. In 164 BCE the Temple was again consecrated, and the religious ceremonies were reinstated. Nowadays the Festival of Hanukkah, which this year starts on December 24, commemorates this victory.

The „Second Wall“ was constructed by Herod in the first century BCE. Its form is reminiscent of a flower pot extending the urban area northwards. Josephus Flavius describes it as starting at the First Wall’s Gennath Gate and ending at the Antonia Fortress. Despite the existence of this rather precise description of the wall’s course, archeologists have not yet obtained satisfactory results that can confirm it. Deep excavations in the region of the Church of the Redeemer prove that at the beginning of the Christian era it lay outside the city walls. We may assume that both a quarry and a big agricultural area were to be found there. The deep excavations of 2015 ended in part in a layer without notable results. The next excavations will be made with new equipment and up-to date technologies.

At the beginning of the Christian era, Herod had the Temple renovated and extended. The Arabs‘ brisk building activity to destroy Solomon’s Stables under the Temple Mount and transform them into a mosque left enormous quantities of detritus. Instead of disposing of it in orderly fashion, it was simply dropped into the Kidron Valley. Israeli archeologists naturally immediately started turning over one stone after another and sifting through everything time and again. What they found was abundant evidence of the presence of former Temples. Marble from Italy in all colors, coins, weapons, jewelry, all bear eloquent witness. Just recently a little bell was found that was definitely part of the vestments of the High Priest. Josephus Flavius describes the Temple Floor as being „multicolored“. The reconstructed floor tiles bear witness to this. The manner of workmanship is considered more expensive than the most beautiful mosaic, the reason being that each piece of marble must be especially cut to fit.

Fines from the excavation material (6)

Herod’s death in the year 4 BCE marked the end of a relatively quiet period in Judea. Everywhere in the country there were riots against Roman troops. In the year 6 CE Judea became part of Syria, and was governed by prefects. The first of three Jewish-Roman Wars started in 64 CE, ending in 70 CE with the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

Fundaments build-up from successive periods (7)

In order to resist Roman advances on Jerusalem, the „Third Wall“, the very existence of which seemed unverifiable until recently, was constructed. As described by Josephus Flavius, it continued to the north and east of the corner of the First Wall, thereby extending the city area far to the north.

Area of the Russian compound north-west of the Old City (8)


Last winter, clues as to the existence and the course of this Third Wall were discovered in the area of the Russian Compound, north-west of the present walls of the Old City. Josephus Flavius gives such a concrete and passionate description of the edifice, that he must be believed: If the wall had been completed, no one would ever have been able to occupy Jerusalem.



However, history took its course. The terrible violence of the attack waves can be estimated from the discoveries. Countless stone balls were launched onto the walls by catapults. Within four weeks, which is actually quite a long period, Titus broke through the two external walls and established his camp in the outskirts of the city. There he built a siege wall, equipped with the most up to date war material of the time. The ring around Jerusalem was increasingly tightened. Famine broke out. Those who did not starve to death or commit suicide were cruelly put to death. On September 7 of the year 70 CE, both Jerusalem and its Temple ceased to exist.

„The Burnt House“ – home of the priestly family Katros next to the Temple mount (9)

The city lost all significance.

In view of the UNESCO Resolutions denying any connection between the Temple Mount and Judaism, we need to be pleased with any small evidence to the contrary.

Ongoing excavations (10)

Rina Avner, one of the leading archaeologists, said in an interview that the discoveries confirm the detailed account of the battle by the contemporary historian Josephus. “We were able to cross-reference our finds with the writings of Josephus. It was amazing. The find comes at a time when UNESCO denies Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount, referring exclusively to the name Haram al-Sharif. However, these discoveries prove to a large extent that Jews have been living in Jerusalem for thousands of years.“ .“


Photo credits

(1) esther scheiner

(2,3,4) With kind permission of

(5) Wiki Commons


(7) esther scheiner

(8) Wiki Commons


(10) Jerusalem Post


Translated from the German original by Translations International, Herzliya, Israel


© esther scheiner, israel


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