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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

Of the extent and the position of the walls and gates of Jerusalem of the ancient period, we know but little; we only find in 1 Kings 9.15, that Solomon built the walls of the city; but we find no vestige to determine how far it extended to the south and north. Of the gates but little is mentioned; we only find in 2 Kings 14.13, that "Jehoash, king of Israel, broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, four hundred cubits." It is probable that this breach remained open till the time of Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:9), and Hezekiah (ibid. 32:5). We also find mention made of a gate between the two walls near the king's garden (ibid. 25:4); but beyond these data we know nothing.

But at the rebuilding of the city by Nehemiah, we have a more particular description of the walls and the gates, which probably, therefore, existed previously; since it appears likely that everything was built on the former site, to the former extent, and after the ancient dimensions; I will, therefore, investigate the probable previous position of the gates enumerated by Nehemiah.

Zion, from the North.

The Burial Place of the Kings of the House of David.

He tells, in chap. 2:13-15, "And I went out by night by the Gate of the Valley, even before the Dragon Spring, and to the Dung Gate, &c., then to the Gate of the Spring (fountain, English version), and to the King's Pool, &c., and then I went up in the night by the brook, &c., and turned back and entered by the Gate of the Valley."

Zion, from the South.

He tells, in chap. 2:13-15, "And I went out by night by the Gate of the Valley, even before the Dragon Spring, and to the Dung Gate, &c., then to the Gate of the Spring (fountain, English version), and to the King's Pool, &c., and then I went up in the night by the brook, &c., and turned back and entered by the Gate of the Valley."

I scarcely doubt but that the Dung Gate was at the south, near the valley of Hinnom, or the Tyropoeon;* so we read also in Jeremiah 19:2, "Go out into the valley of Ben-Hinnom, which is before the gate Charsith" (East Gate, English version). Jonathan [ben-Uzziel] renders חרסית with Kikaltha קיקלתא the Chaldean for "dung," which clearly proves that the Dung Gate was near the valley of Ben-Hinnom. We are also told that the Valley Gate was one thousand cubits distance from the former (Neh. 3:13), consequently the Valley Gate must have stood in a northwest direction from the other, for to the east we find no other valley at the distance of one thousand cubits (two thousand feet). I consider the Valley Gate to have led to the valley of Rephaim, which encompassed Mount Zion altogether at the south and partly at the west. Between the two gates just described, was the Dragon's Spring, which is now totally unknown. Southeast from the Dung Gate, stood the Gate of the Spring or Fountain, probably not far from the Lower Spring of Siloah. There also was the King's Pool, which exists at this day, as will be farther mentioned at the explanation of the pools of Jerusalem. There was farther, in this vicinity, the Gate between the two Walls by the king's gardens, of 2 Kings 25:4. Even at the present time, are found in that neighbourhood, near the village Selivan, several gardens, which are abundantly watered from Siloah. There were also the steps which led to the temple, as I have stated above, when speaking of the Millo.

* This Greek name of Josephus can also be explained, since this Dung Gate is called in Nehemiah 3:13, ש׳ השפות, the Gate Shephoth instead of האשפות Ashpoth, of 2:13. Now the word שפות Shephoth is used in 2 Samuel 17:29 to signify "cheese," whence we can conclude that the gate was also called "the cheese gate," or the gate of the cheesemakers, whence again we may assert that the name Tyropoeon, "valley of the cheesemakers" of Josephus, finds it origin in the Scriptures.--[The English version of Charsith with "east," is probably derived from חרס "the sun," thus the gate of "sunrise." --TRANSLATOR.]

I will next describe the supposed situation of all the gates mentioned by Nehemiah:

At the south there were,
1. The Dung Gate, also called the Gate between the two Walls; east of the same was
2. The Gate of the Fountain.

At the west,
3. The Valley Gate;
4. The Corner Gate, properly northwest from the first, at a distance of four hundred cubits.

At the north,
5. The Gate of Ephraim, also called the Gate of Benjamin, in Jeremiah 37:13, since it led into the territory of both Ephraim and Benjamin.
6. The Prison Gate (Neh. 12:39), the site of which can be accurately determined even at present by means of a tradition which defines the position of the prison, the grotto of Jeremiah, or otherwise called the Archer's Court חצר המטרה: it was situated near the Bab al Amud (which see). To the east of this gate were the towers Meah and Chananel מאה וחננאל of Nehemiah 12:39.

At the east were,
7. The Sheep Gate (properly at the northeast).
8. The Old Gate, also called the Middle Gate (Jer. 39:3), since, according to the assertion of Yerushalmi Erubin, 5., it bore different names, to wit, שער העליון the Upper Gate; the East Gate שער המזרח; the Middle Gate שער התוך and the Old Gate
שער איתן
9. The Water Gate (Neh. 8:1, "Upon the broad street, before the Water Gate," is explained by the Talmud to mean "the Temple Mount"
הוא הר הבית
) .10) The Fish Gate (at the southeast), of 2 Chronicles 33:14, is explained in the Chaldean translation of Rab Joseph with מזבני כוורי "where fish are sold, or the fish market," and was probably near the pool of Shiloach; and
11. The Horse Gate, of Jer. 31:40, and 2 Kings 11:16, and 21:11.

Ophel,* of Neh. 3:26, was quite at the southeast, above the lower spring of Shiloach. It was an uncommonly strong fort, the former position of which is still known from tradition. The following statement is extracted from the travels of Rabbi Benjamin, of Tudela: "There is found a large spring, the one called Shiloach, in the valley of Kidron; over this spring stands a large building (בנין גדול), which dates from the days of our forefathers," מימי אבותינו. The Italian Itinerary of the year 5282, of which I shall speak more hereafter, says: "On the summit of the mount, at the foot of which is the source of the Shiloach, stands a building, where formerly was a village with houses having cupolas. It is said that here stood the mint of King Solomon." At present this spot is called Ophel, and is done so, without doubt, according to a correct and true tradition.

* The passage in Zephaniah 1:10, ויללה מן המשנה "A lamentation from the other gate," is given by Jonathan with מן עופא In Opha; wherefore Rashi expounds it withמשער העופות "from the poultry gate," a most singular name, since I could not find any trace of a gate so called in any position. I hold it, therefore, as certain that here is an orthographical error, and that עופא should read עופלא Ophla, or the Ophel described above; and it actually well suits to the description, Mishneh, or "the double," which signifies then the two walls (2 Kings 22:14), or the double wall החומתים, as also Rashi states to the passage cited, and as I shall describe more fully hereafter. This certainly does not confirm Rashi's explanation of poultry gate; but my hypothesis is confirmed from the fact that several editions of Jonathan have the correct reading מן עופלא, instead of מן עופא. From Yerushalmi Taanith, 3., it appears plainly that Ophel was in the valley of Kidron. See also Taanith, 22b. The commentary of Rashi and Tosephoth to this passage, however, concerning "Ophel," does not appear very clear to me.

The number of the gates just given, as also the course and circuit of the walls of Jerusalem as they were in the time of Nehemiah, continued thus till, as Josephus relates, the city was enlarged towards the north, and supplied with new walls. When it was rebuilt, after the destruction in the reign of Hadrian, it was done on a much diminished scale, and with less gates. I could find nowhere any reliable accounts of that period, which give us any information respecting the then size, gates, and wall of Jerusalem. Only of a much later time, the year 4930 A. M., (1170), Rabbi Benjamin, who then travelled through Palestine, relates "that Jerusalem had four gates, the gates of Abraham, David, Zion, and Jehoshaphat, which is east of the temple." The Gate of Abraham probably denotes the one leading to Hebron, "the city of Abraham," as at this day they call the gate leading to Hebron Bab al Chalil, "the gate of the beloved," as Hebron itself is termed Beth al Chalil, "the house of the beloved," referring to Abraham,* the man universally beloved. The Gate of David appears to be the western one, which stands near the Kallai, that is, the so-called fort of David מגדל דוד. The Zion's Gate is the modern one of the same name; and the Gate of Jehoshaphat is the eastern entrance, which is near the valley of Jehoshaphat, i. e. the valley of Kidron. It would thence appear that, at the time of Rabbi Benjamin's visit, Jerusalem had no gate on the north side.

* After careful investigation, however, I found that the Arabs do not apply the name of Chalil to Abraham, but to Isaac, since they call so every one whose name is Isaac; and I believe that this epithet is given solely to Isaac, and only denotes him, as in Gen. 22:2,. את בנך יחידך אשר אהבת "Thy son, thy only one, whom thou lovest." He lived, as his father had done, in Hebron; whence it may properly be called Beth-Chalil, "the house of Isaac" (the beloved).

In the year 5282, an Italian of Leghorn, whose name is unknown, travelled through Palestine. His investigations and remarks are, it is true, but briefly and simply given, but are nevertheless here and there interesting, and are attached as an appendix to the small work, שבחי ירושלים "The Praises of Jerusalem." The traveller relates, "Jerusalem has six gates: 1, Bab al Sebat, the Gate of the Tribes, i. e. the one through which the pilgrims entered when they went three times a year to Jerusalem, on the festivals of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles; 2, Bab al Amud; 3, Bab al Katun, since in its neighbourhood much cotton was spun and worked up; and three other gates, not far from Zion." Even at the present day the eastern gate is called Bab al Sebat; the northern one is called Bab al Amud; and the three near Zion are termed the small southern gate, not far from the ancient Dung Gate, the Zion's Gate, and the Western Gate, which opens on the road to Jaffa. But the Bab al Katun is unknown; yet it may perhaps be the one now walled up, somewhat to the east of Bab al Amud. This then proves that, before Sultan Soliman erected the present wall of the city, in the year 5287 (1527), it had the gates of the present day. At present Jerusalem has five gates: 1, at the south, on Mount Zion, the Zion Gate, also called Bab al Chalil, and Bab Nebi David, gate of the prophet David, from the fact that King David lived at Zion, and is entombed there also; 2, the gate situated to the east of the first, at the foot of Mount Zion, the so-called Little Gate, near the site of the ancient Dung Gate, and also named Bab al Megarbi, for מערבי, by changing Ain into Gain, because the interior of the city, in the vicinity of this gate, is occupied only by Mahomedans, who have emigrated hither from Africa (i. e. the western country, hence "the gate of the westerns"). When the Arabs and Bedouins rebelled against Abraim Pacha in 5594 (1834), he had this gate closed and walled up; but it was again opened when, in 5601, Palestine reverted to the Sultan of Constantinople. 3, At the east, the Bab al Sebat; 4, at the north, the Bab al Amud, "the column gate," because it has a colonnade attached to it; 300 paces to the east is a small walled up gate, but it is not known when and why it was closed; and 5, at the west, the Bab al Jaffa, which opens on the Jaffa road.

On the eastern side of the city wall, just opposite the great mosque on the temple mount, called Al Sachara [Al Aqsa], can be seen two large gates, close to each other, which are walled up; they are called by our brethren שערי הרחמים "the gates of mercy." They are already mentioned in Massecheth Soferim, 19, and are said to have been built by King Solomon, as is also believed by Astori and Rabbi Emanuel Riki, authors of the book עטרת אליהו "the Crown of Elijah." But I have no doubt that they belong to a much later period, since we perceive on the stones figures, drawings, and ornaments, of the Arabic fashion; and their style and character is such that they must to a surety have been erected by the Arabs. The tradition may perhaps be owing to an idea that here once stood the "gates of mercy," erected by Solomon, but they can by no means be themselves the remains of that high antiquity. I moreover found traces of the oldest period only on the following places: the Mourning Wall, or the כותל המעבי the west wall of the temple, of which I shall speak more circumstantially hereafter; the southwestern corner of the city wall; and the lower portion of David's Tower מגדל דוד Kallai. These three are actual remains of that high antiquity, on which is impressed the seal of truth; but all the other remains are the works of later periods.