Home page History of Palestine Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West The Occident Virtual Library


Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Walls of Jerusalem

We nowhere find, except in Josephus, any mention of this subject, and although I searched our books everywhere with much accuracy and care, I could find but very meagre and unsatisfactory notices of the same. But Josephus gives us a circumstantial description of them. He says, in his Bell. Jud., b. v., chap. 4., and in several other passages, that Jerusalem was encircled with three walls; but when the city was protected by deep and impassable valleys it had but one. He says, moreover, in another passage, that Jerusalem consisted of four mounts, that is to say, it was built on four mounts; to wit, Mount Zion on the south; Mount Moriah on the east; Bezetha on the northeast (properly instead of Beth-Zetha, or Beth-Chadetha, "new town," חדתא changing ח ch into צ z, or as others think Beth-Zoah בית תואה, which see), and Acra חקרא the fort, on the northwest. He says farther, in another place, Jerusalem was divided into the Upper, Lower,* and New Town (Bezetha); that farther, the Tyropoeon extended from without in a northern direction through the city and separated Zion from Moriah and Acra.

* The שוק העליון ושוק התחתון upper and lower markets often mentioned in the Talmudic writings, for instance, in Tosephtah Chulin, iii. (In Talmud Chulin, 62a, for שוק העליון we find גליל העליון Upper Galilee, or, Upper District?); also in Tosephtah Sanhedrin, finis, which proves that already in the time of Jeremiah, the divisions of Upper and Lower Town were in use. See also Echa Rabbethi, to 1:16.

Concerning the walls he tells circumstantially (Bell. Jud., b. v., chap. iv. § 2): "Now of these three walls the old one was hard to be taken, both by reason of the valleys, and of that hill on which it was built, and which was above them, &c. Now that wall began on the north, at the tower called Hippicus, and extended as far as the place called Xistus, and then joining to the council-house, ended at the west gallery (cloister) of the temple. But if we go the other way westward, it began at the same place, and extended through a place called Bethso, to the gate of the Essenes, and after that it went southward, having its bending above the fountain Siloam, where it also bends again towards the east, at Solomon's Pool, and reaches as far as a certain place which they called Ophlas, where it was joined to the eastern gallery (cloister) of the temple. The second wall took its beginning from that gate which they called Gennath, which belonged to the first wall; it only encompassed the northern quarter of the city and reached as far as the tower Antonia. The beginning of the third wall was at the tower Hippicus, whence it reached as far as the north quarter of the city and the tower Psephinus, and then was so far extended till it came over against the monuments of Helena, which Helena was queen of Adiabene, the daughter of Izates; in her days it extended farther to a great length, and passed by the sepulchral caverns of the kings, and bent again at the tower of the corner, at the monument which is called the Monument of the Fuller, and joined to the old wall, at the valley called the Valley of Cedron."

He farther says, that as the population of Jerusalem increased, and when also the weakest and most exposed part of the city, Bezetha, to the north of the temple, was built up, King Agrippa, at the time of Claudius Caesar, caused it to be surrounded with a very strong wall, 25 cubits high, and 10 cubits broad, and strengthened with ninety towers. Several years were consumed in erecting it. Here also stood the high tower Psephinus, from which one had a view as far as Arabia, Judæa, and the Great (Mediterranean) Sea. Josephus also relates in another place that the first wall has sixty and the second but fourteen towers.

Before proceeding with an explanation of these data of Josephus, I find it highly necessary to trace out, if possible, the position of the ancient Hippicus, since it is given by Josephus as the starting point of his description; and it has therefore first to be ascertained before we can properly define the position of the walls as given above.

No investigator has hitherto been able to give even a mere approximation to a definition of the part of the city where this tower formerly stood, and it is universally put, although quite arbitrarily, by all the learned who desire to describe the ancient walls of Jerusalem, on the western side thereof, that is to say, on the spot occupied by the modern Kallai, the so-called Tower of David, whence it has become at present in a measure the fashion to call the Kallai by the name of Hippicus, and the walls of Jerusalem are thus traced from this starting point. No one has hitherto been able to controvert this hypothesis, because there were no counter proofs that Hippicus had not stood on this spot.

I am therefore greatly rejoiced that I have succeeded, by means of a careful investigation of our faithful and credible writings, to obtain reliable data as to the true position of the Hippicus of Josephus.

The Targumist Jonathan Ben Uziel, a scholar of the famous Hillel the Elder (Sukkah, 28a), lived in Jerusalem at the time of King Herod, who erected this tower in honour of his general, Hippicus, who had fallen in battle; consequently we must accept his explanation on this subject as correct, credible, and perfectly reliable. Now, on referring to the מגדל חננאל Tower of Chananel of Jer. 31:38, and Zech. 14:10, we find that Jonathan renders it with מגדל פיקוס Migdal Pikus, evidently Tower of Hippicus, whence it is perfectly clear that this tower must have been erected on the site of the ancient Chananel tower; for who could know more about it than this learned man, who lived on the spot when Herod built this structure?

If we now investigate carefully the position of the Tower of Chananel, as given in Nehemiah, we find it placed to the northeast of the Prison Gate, or Jeremiah's Grotto חצר המטרה, also called the Archer's Court, so that the northern boundary of Jerusalem would naturally extend from the Tower of Chananel, on the northeast, to the Corner Gate at the northwest (Jer. 31:38). Wherefore it is subject to no doubt, but that we must seek for Hippicus in a northern direction. It farther appears, from Jos., Bell. Jud., book vi. chap. vi., that the three strong towels, of which Hippicus was one, were situated on the northern side of the city, and not far distant from the fort Antonia, which was confessedly to the north of the temple. In a northerly direction, above the Grotto of Jeremiah, is found a high rocky hill, since it is at the foot of this hill that the grotto is, properly speaking, cut out of the rock; and here is an unusually favourable site for a tower, and one may even trace some vestiges which betoken that at some time a strong building or a fort must have stood here; wherefore I am almost positive that I may freely assume that Hippicus was erected on this spot.

It is a most difficult problem to determine anything accurate and certain from the above description of Josephus; since with all our exertions we could scarcely discover any remains of all these ancient walls; wherefore we must be satisfied with something "probable," or "not unlikely."

I would therefore hazard the following opinion: The first wall of Josephus is undoubtedly the one which was built by Nehemiah, in whose time the fort or tower of Antonia was still outside of the city; so that the northern wall of the temple, that is to say, that of the temple mount, which was, according to the authority of the Talmud, as I shall discuss more circumstantially hereafter, 500 cubits, or 1000 feet, in breadth, formed at the same time part of the northeastern wall of the city, which extended yet farther to the north; so that the eastern city wall only commenced, properly speaking, from the northwest corner of the temple mount, and extended then to the Tower of Chananel, which was exactly opposite this point of the mount, in a northern direction, and was thus the proper northeast termination of the city wall. The part where afterwards the fort Antonia stood, and which was to the north of the temple mount, was therefore outside of the city; and it was only at a much later period, at the time of the Maccabees, that this fort was connected with the city and united with the temple. Hippicus, not far from Jeremiah's Grotto, is therefore exactly north from the northwestern corner of the temple mount, or the wall of the temple, since we comprise under the words temple, temple wall, temple buildings, the whole of the temple mount, with all its buildings, walls, &c. This now will explain the assertion of Josephus, that the first wall extended from Hippicus to Xistus, which, accordingly, must have been situated between the temple mount and the northeastern termination of the wall, that is to say, from north to south, and terminated at the western gallery or cloister, which means at the northwestern corner of the temple mount; but that from this point onward, the wall of the temple mount formed also that of the city. On the other side, that is, in a western direction, the wall extended from Hippicus towards the upper Gichon, then ran southwardly around Mount Zion, then northerly, and again southerly, and formed the double wall (חומתים); ran next around the fountain of Siloah, thence past the lower pool, till it reached the Ophel, and terminated finally at the eastern gallery of the temple. This was the circuit of Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah, and in this wall must we look for all the gates mentioned in the same authority.

The second wall was erected at a later period, and I presume that it is the same which Jonathan the Maccabee caused to be built within the city, in order to separate Acra, where his enemies, the Grecians, were posted, from the other parts of Jerusalem, as Josephus tells us. At that time, however, the fort of Antonia was already united with the city and the temple. I suppose, also, that this wall ran from east to west, and that the Gate of Gennath was between the Valley and the Corner Gate, although it must have been a later structure than the time of Nehemiah, as it is not mentioned by him; and that from this point the wall ran in a northeasterly direction, till it reached Antonia, or, more correctly speaking, to where the first wall came in contact with the fort of Antonia, or it may have passed the first wall, so that it (the second) reached as far as this point. This wall therefore separated Acra at the north from the other parts of Jerusalem.

The third was a structure of a still later period; it also commenced at Hippicus, ran to the north in a somewhat western direction, and bent then easterly till it touched the valley of Kidron; extended next to the south to the northeast corner of the temple mount, or more correctly speaking, to the eastern part of the fort Antonia; since this tower was already connected with the temple, as we understand by "the old wall near the valley of Cedron," of Josephus, the fort of Antonia.

I will next mention the few vestiges which I have been able to find of the several names mentioned by Josephus.

Bethso is probably, as I have stated already, synonymous with בית חדתא Beth-Chadetha "the new town." Some derive it from Beth­Zoah, "dirt or dung." According to the assertion of the Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10. and Vayikra Rabbah 36., the vicinity of the upper spring of Gichon (Isaiah 7:3) is considered as a place of filth, impurity, and uncleanness, and might, accordingly, mark the site of Beth-Zoah; but Josephus places it at the northeast, not at the west, as this hypothesis would do.

Gennath. In Maasseroth 2. § 5, we find mentioned a Ginnath Veradimגנת ורדים "a rose garden" in Jerusalem, which was situated to the west from the temple mount, according to the Tosephoth Yom Toba on the passage; and it is probable enough that this Ginnath, garden, is identical with the Gennath of Josephus.

Monuments of Helena. Josephus, Antiq., book; 20. chap. 2., says that the sepulchral monument of this queen was 3 stadia (about one-third of a mile) from Jerusalem. More than this is not known of this structure.

Sepulchral caverns of the Kings. In Erubin, 61b, is mentioned "the great cavern of Zedekiah." In Midrash Tanchumah to Numbers 3., it is placed at 12 mill or 8 English miles, and in Midrash Rabbah to the same passage at 18 mill or 12 English miles from Jerusalem. The traveller from Leghorn of the year 5282, already quoted above says: "Not far from the Bab al Amud, is the cave of Zedekiah, which extends under ground to the mountains near Jericho. Several persons told me, that they themselves had walked a mile in the same. It is so spacious that a man on horseback with a lance in his hand, can ride through it quite comfortably." I now believe that this cave of Zedekiah, wherein it is probable that at a later period graves and caverns had been cut out of the rock, may denote the sepulchral caverns of the kings of Josephus. The present sepulchral monument, or rather the cave in which it is, is that of the rich Kalba Seboa, who is mentioned in Gittin, 56a, and which is five-eighths of a mile north from the Bab al Amud,* is held to be the cave of Zedekiah, and consequently identical with the sepulchres of the kings. About half a mile to the northwest of the cave of the Kalba Seboa, there is a sepulchral cave, consisting of two chambers, one above the other, and cut out of the solid rock; in both the chambers, there are about seventy niches hewn out in the rocky walls thereof, and the whole presents a very beautiful and remarkable work of antiquity.** It is commonly called the Cave of the seventy Sanhedrin שבעים סנהדרין, and is supposed by some to be the sepulchral caverns of the kings of Josephus; but this hypothesis is without any satisfactory proof, and even the name it bears of "the cave of the seventy Sanhedrin" is also quite arbitrary. This name probably was given to it, because it has about seventy niches, although they are quite empty, which may have led people to suppose that seventy elders were buried here. But who, and of what time were they? as there were always seventy such elders in Israel. I could find no trace for this appellation in our ancient writings, and only found it in quite recent works.

* In the year 5607 (1847), the Arabs, on digging near this grave, found a deep vault full of gigantic human bones, which excited the astonishment of every one at the great stature of the persons, the remains of whom they were. The Pacha forbade farther digging, and the cave was again closed up.

** Since I have inspected this beautiful vault with its niches cut in the walls, I understand clearly the Mishna of Baba Bathra 6., §8, which describes the ancient manner of forming sepulchral vaults with their niches one above and alongside the other.

As Josephus makes no mention of an eastern wall, it appears, as was said already, that the eastern wall of the temple (i. e. of the temple mount) formed likewise the eastern city wall, as it is still the case at the present day; he says likewise in another place, that the arches, vaults, and outbuildings of the eastern temple wall extended beyond the valley of Kidron, as it passed beneath them. The fact that the eastern wall of the city and temple were the same, may be derived also from Talmud Zebachim, 116b, and Tosephtah Kelim, i.

It is true, that Josephus does not state in the passage quoted, that the city wall passed over the valley of Kidron, and reached to the southern part of the Mount of Olives; but it is stated in another place (Jewish War, book v., chap. vi.), that "Simon held in possession the upper town, the great wall as far as Kidron, and from the old wall all the part which extends east of Siloah, up to the palace of Monobazes, and the spring of Siloah;* Akra, the lower town, as far as the Palace of Helena, the mother of Monobazes" (Izates).*

* In another passage, Josephus tells that the spring of Siloah, outside of the town, was in the possession of the Romans. Simon, therefore, could not have occupied the spring of Siloah itself, but only the wall and the part of the city which was not far from the spring, which being out of the circuit of the walls, was in the possession of the enemy.

** They point out, even at present, a large ruin north of the temple mount, in the district called Bab al Chotta, which the Jews call, from a tradition they have, "the Palace of Helena."

That what Josephus terms "which extends east of Siloah," is already, without doubt, on the Mount of Olives. We find, likewise, in 1 Maccabees 12:37, "The wall which was to the east, beyond the valley of Kidron, had fallen down, and they built therefore this part of the wall, and called it Caphnatha." I presume that this word is derived from the Chaldean word Caphnaioth (כפניות דקלים) which is synonymous with Zini, a species of palms, as stated in chapter 1., article Zin. This name, however, signifies a spot on Mount Olivet, as I shall state more particularly hereafter, which was not far from Beth-Pagi בית פגי; the name was derived from the circumstance that there, on the declivity of the mount, were found some olive trees and palms פגי תאנים וכפניות דקלים "The Pageh of figs, and Caphnaioth of dates;" hence Caphnatha and Pagi.

It is also stated distinctly in Shebuoth, 16a, likewise in the Tosephtah cited there, that a part of Mount Olivet, naturally referring to the southern part thereof, in the vicinity of the spring of Siloah, was actually within the city wall. A part likewise of the just­named Beth-Pagi was within the city, as I shall prove farther down. At the present day even you can find traces of a wall, which ran in a southern direction, near the village Selivan, which is on the declivity of Mount Olivet, close to the Siloah spring.

I have not succeeded, as I must confess, to discover many remains of the ancient walls, although I have read much in the works of several moderns, that they had actually discovered many remains, whilst they at the same time describe the direction of the walls according to their own assumed ideas, explain and expound the words of Josephus in many ways, setting out from the erroneous assumption that the modern Kallai is identical with the ancient Hippicus, and fix the course of the walls from this principle, and then fancy they can discover remains of antiquity, and endeavour to impose their belief on others. I have no doubt, that no learned man, who is a friend of truth, will or can contest my proof that Hippicus must have been on the north, and not at the west, since the Migdal Chananel occupied a northern position. Although this view must upset some darling scheme of certain scholars, the fact cannot be gainsaid, unless men are determined to dispute altogether the correctness and truth of the learned Jonathan, who lived at the time when Hippicus was built.

The present city walls occupy only in a few places the site of the ancient ones. Only the southeastern, and nearly the entire western appear to me to stand on the old sites; whereas the present northern, northwestern, and southern walls stand where none other was before. The modern Jerusalem is therefore considerably smaller than the ancient one. Josephus also says, that the ancient city was 33 stadia in circumference, that is 4½ English miles; whereas at present it is but 3 miles, to wit, 5152 ells (each of a little less than 3 feet, or 1 yard English); the ancient city extended farther to the north, and a little less to the south than the present.

I believe that I may therefore boldly maintain that it is clearly proved, from what has been said, that the alleged grave of Christ is quite wrong; as it must have been indisputably without the city, at a distance at least of 100 paces, or 50 cubits, according to Baba Bathra, ii.; § 9, whereas, the so-called holy sepulchre is pointed out as being in the city, not far from the ancient temple, exactly opposite to the northwest corner of the temple mount; although many pious men, who believe in all the Christian legends, take all possible pains to place it beyond the limits of the ancient city; and maintain, therefore, that this alleged position was beyond the first wall; that Hippicus is the present Kallai, and that the first wall ran from the Kallai to the temple from west to east. This idea is so ridiculous, that it deserves no refutation; for Jerusalem must have had, in that case, a truly wonderful shape and size; for it could not have been more than 150 cubits (300 feet) in breadth from south to north, excluding Zion, if the northern line extended from the Kallai to the temple. It appears even from 1 Kings 18:17, that the city wall extended in the time of Hezekiah to the vicinity of the Upper Pool, since those stationed on the wall could hear the speakers who stood there. Any one therefore endowed with common sense must accordingly acknowledge, that the alleged locality of the so-called holy sepulchre rests on an impossible idea, and that the whole matter is nothing but a fabulous tradition of the pious but deceiving Empress Helena, and of her equally deceptive priests, who discovered this grave, and had a structure erected over it.