Wellspring of Holiness Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City


Wellspring of Holiness

Simon Sebag Montefiore begins a history of Jerusalem by exploring how it came into being and how it became so important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


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Jerusalem is the shrine of three faiths,

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Judaism, Christianity

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and Islam.

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It's a place of exquisite beauty, but also of ugly vulgarity.

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For some, this is the centre of the world

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and the home of God himself, but for others,

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Jerusalem is the best argument against religion there's ever been.

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Jerusalem's holiness has made it the most fought over city in history.

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Over the centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims have competed viciously

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to commandeer and appropriate the history and the holiness

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of this place and as the competition has intensified,

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so has the holiness.

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All three religions have shared origins in the Old Testament

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and all have laid claim to Jerusalem.

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For many, the history of the city is more a matter of faith, than fact.

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But I believe you can piece together Jerusalem's fractured history...

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and that's the story I'm going to tell.

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It's a story of empires won and lost, of power and identity.

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Above all, it's a story of man's search for holiness.

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So, how did this craggy, remote obscure little stronghold

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become the Holy City, the prime place on Earth for God to meet man?

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I'm a historian,

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but I've also got a personal connection with Jerusalem.

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I've been coming here with my family since I was a boy.

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I've always been captivated by the city's spiritual aura,

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but also by the mystery of its origins.

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In the Bronze Age, around 3200BC, people lived in these hills.

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They existed in small square houses, they herded sheep

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and they buried their dead in the caves that have been found around Jerusalem.

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Over the next thousand years, this land, known as Canaan,

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became part of a province ruled by the Pharaohs in Egypt.

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On the fertile plains of the Mediterranean coast,

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there were already several thriving cities.

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But inland, the hill country, was a backwater.

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Before Jerusalem expanded in modern times, east and west,

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the ancient city was founded on two mountains - Mount Moriah and Mount Zion.

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But it all really started down there on that dry little ridge...

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the Ophel.

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The Ophel Hill was where the Canaanite settlers first began to build.

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Their settlement was named Urusalem which some believe means "founded by Salem" -

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the pagan god of the evening star.

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This small, arid little hillside may seem a strange place to build a city.

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It's far from the trade routes, distant from the Mediterranean,

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but it did have two distinct advantages.

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First, its steep ravines make it almost impregnable.

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And, crucially...

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..it had a spring.

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It was this combination that attracted the first settlers to build on the Ophel Hill.

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The earliest known Canaanite structures

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are the foundations of two stone towers.

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They were only discovered in the 1990s by archaeologist Ronnie Reich.

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Ronnie, why did they need this fortification here?

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It's to protect the water,

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the spring and the approach to the spring.

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And, since is the only spring in a very large radius here around,

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this was their lifeline - the spring itself.

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Do you think that the spring, in that period, with its high towers around it,

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also had the holy qualities that it later assumed?

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It is the only spring in the vicinity which points to

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the east, to the sun. If you come in the morning, the sun's rays hit the water.

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Today, it's full with tourists, but you can see it,

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and I can believe there was a sanctity attributed

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to the spring in early days already.

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So what we have here, amazingly, is the first link to holiness in the city.

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So, this is incredibly significant.

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Yes, I was happy to find it.

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So, long before the Christians, long before Islam,

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long even before the Israelites captured Jerusalem...

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this was already a holy place.

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But, for me, the history of Jerusalem really comes alive in 1350BC,

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when, for the first time, in the Amarna letters we hear the voice of a real, human Jerusalemite.

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Inscribed in delicate cuneiform characters,

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these letters were sent by the Canaanite king of Jerusalem, Abdi-Heba,

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to the Pharaoh in Egypt pleading for archers to help defend the city from attack.

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Alas, no more is heard of Abdi-Heba.

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We don't know if the Pharaoh came to his help or if he got his archers.

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And no more is heard of Jerusalem either for several centuries.

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All we know is that this small, provincial town not only survived the attack,

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but carried on growing,

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with several new buildings clinging to the slopes of the Ophel hill.

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If you're looking for a reason why this unremarkable Bronze Age settlement

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became the universal city, it's because of the story told

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by a book of unique and global prestige...

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..the Bible.

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The Bible has been studied and revered

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by millions of believers over thousands of years.

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It's made Jerusalem the most famous city in the world.

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I probably need a kippa.

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Ah, thank you.

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Many of the stories told in the Bible originated in the oral traditions of the Hebrew people.

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They were often only put down in writing hundreds of years

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after they were supposed to have happened.

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To some believers, the Bible is the fruit of divine revelation,

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fundamentally infallible in every detail, but for the historian,

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it's a troublesome, complex and subtle source.

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Some of it is undeniably factually correct,

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some of it is mythological,

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some of it is poetry of soaring beauty

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and much of it is absolutely mysterious to all of us.

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The Bible isn't only a mystical and sacred text.

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It also forms a chronicle of Jerusalem's history

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and a hymn to its holiness.

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It's not always reliable, but it can be useful

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when you can check it against other sources.

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The first reference to Jerusalem is in the book of Genesis

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which recounts how the patriarch Abraham visited what was then

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a Canaanite city, ruled by a Canaanite priest.

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It says "And King Melchizedek of Salem welcomed him with bread and wine.

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"And he was a priest of God most high."

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The Bible goes on to tell us that, centuries later,

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Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt to take over the promised land... Canaan.

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The book of Joshua tells how they occupied Canaan

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in a series of battles and massacres.

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There isn't much archaeological evidence of a violent conquest -

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there are hardly any ruined cities, or mass grave.

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But there is evidence of pastoral settlers building new villages in this countryside.

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The Israelites brought with them a new religion.

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They believed in just one god, Yahweh.

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And the first of the ten commandments was to reject

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the pagan gods of old.

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The Israelites may have been united by their faith,

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but politically they were divided.

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There were 12 distinct tribes lined up in two warring factions -

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the northern tribes known as Israel and the southern tribes of Judah.

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Uniting these warring tribes would take a visionary

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and charismatic warrior king...

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..David.

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The Bible presents him as a flawed sinner,

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adulterer and man of blood,

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but also as a sacred hero and poet.

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Just as the American founding fathers chose Washington DC as their capital

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to bridge the gap between north and south,

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so David chose Jerusalem as his neutral new capital.

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This strategic decision transformed a remote hilltop fortress into a capital city.

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There is archaeological proof that David himself existed

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and the Bible describes his Jerusalem as the magnificent capital of a large kingdom.

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But after years of archaeological research,

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there's very little evidence of a city built by David.

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And what evidence there is, is hard to interpret.

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This heap of stones is the most contested archaeological site

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in the most excavated place on Earth.

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Some archaeologists believe that these stones

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are the walls of the palace of King David himself.

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Other archaeologists believe that this may not be King David's actual palace,

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but it dates from King David's reign.

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And yet another group of archaeologists disagree with them

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and believe that this doesn't even date from the 10th century and King David's reign at all.

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The most influential of this more sceptical group

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of archaeologists is Israel Finkelstein.

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He believes these buildings were already here when David arrived.

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When he came here to Jerusalem

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from the fringes of... the highlands of the Judah...

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he found an existing settlement, not a big one,

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a small one which spread over an area,

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possibly between five and ten acres,

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with a modest population also around maybe five, six, seven hundred people,

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not more than that. It was a typical Bronze Age city.

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There is no evidence for palaces and things like that.

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Had there been a big city with monuments, with walls,

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with fortifications,

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I think archaeologists would have been able to find that.

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Why is David so controversial?

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The controversy, in my opinion, is driven, taken over,

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by modern debate, over Jerusalem, over the future of Jerusalem,

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over the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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I think that this is senseless and I do not see this as important.

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I don't think that the past can decide the future.

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With all due respect to the past as an archaeologist, I'm telling you,

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I don't think the past can really decide the future.

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Both sides justify their claims to Jerusalem with contradictory interpretations of the past.

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For Jews everywhere, it was David who made this their holy city

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when he summoned the ark of the covenant -

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the chest containing the ten commandments.

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The Bible says he planned a temple to house them

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just above the Ophel Hill, on the summit of Mount Moriah.

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Whether myth or reality,

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this account would help make this site the Israelites' holiest place.

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It's likely this commanding location was already a shrine for the cults of the Canaanites,

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so that when David decided to build his temple up here,

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he was appropriating a holiness that already existed.

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Building the temple was deemed too sacred a task

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for the flawed character of David, so after his death,

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God chose his son to build it.

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The Bible presents Solomon as a study in superlatives.

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He was the ideal of the oriental emperor.

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Everything he had was bigger and better than any other king.

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He was richer, wiser and more powerful.

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He had 12,000 cavalry, he had 16,000 chariots

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and as if that wasn't enough, he had 700 women in his harem.

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But, overshadowing all these accomplishments,

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was the temple he's believed to have built on Mount Moriah.

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Solomon's temple probably stood right there.

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It's now the Islamic Haram al-Sharif, the sanctuary,

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and the Dome of the Rock stands on the site,

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so it's impossible to excavate.

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Although no remains of the first temple have been uncovered,

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its position is known, and even after 3,000 years,

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for Jews, it remains the place where God resides.

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The famous western wall was part of a later Jewish temple built on

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the same site. Its rabbi is Shmuel Rabinowitz.

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Today, the closest place to Solomon's holy of holies

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where Jews can pray is as remote from the glories of his temple as you can imagine,

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hidden in a cramped, humid tunnel.

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90 metres eastwards and upwards from here was the holiest place in Judaism

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and it still is the holiest place in Judaism -

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the foundation stone of King Solomon's temple.

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For Solomon, this was the holy of holies...

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this was where God actually resided, the house of God.

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For Jews ever since, this has been the place where God can meet man.

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For all the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam,

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this is the essence, this is the source

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of Jerusalem's holiness, right here.

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I'm not a very religious Jew, but, to me,

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this is one of the holiest places on Earth.

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Solomon's temple was the first Jewish temple.

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Pilgrims came from all over his kingdom to pray to their God, Yahweh,

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and their donations soon made the temple very rich.

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Worship in Solomon's temple was a religion based on sacrifice

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outside the holy of holies at the altar up there,

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and conducted by a priestly caste.

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David and Solomon are steeped in mythology,

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but the evidence shows that, within decades, a Jewish temple

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did stand here in the capital of a Jewish kingdom.

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When Solomon died, after a reign of forty years, the kingdom split up.

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The ten northern tribes, unhappy at the exorbitant taxation,

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broke away to form the kingdom of Israel,

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and Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.

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With the Jews divided, Jerusalem became vulnerable.

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In the 8th century BC, the voracious empire of Assyria

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was expanding from its base in modern day Iraq.

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When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel,

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the Jews of Jerusalem knew they were next.

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As the Assyrians approached Jerusalem,

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the King of Judah received a warning from his prophet Isaiah.

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He said only a messiah would be able to protect the city.

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Isaiah prophesied that an anointed king would appear and bring peace

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and this is what he wrote.

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"Out of Zion shall come forth the law,

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"and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,

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"and he shall be a judge among the nations."

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He imagined a mystical New Jerusalem,

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that would exist in a perfect state of peace and harmony, an idealised heaven on Earth.

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And in this astonishing vision, he would ultimately help inspire

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a new world religion and transform Jerusalem into the universal city.

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He was the first, but not the last to see two Jerusalems...

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one heavenly, one earthly.

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700 years later,

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his prophecy would become central to the teaching of Jesus.

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But in the meantime, King Hezekiah had a more immediate concern.

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Hezekiah dared to rebel against Assyria and now its king,

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Sennacherib, was advancing with a huge army.

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They deported thousands of captives, blinded hundreds of victims,

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and burned and flayed their enemies alive.

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Like Jerusalem's earliest inhabitants,

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Hezekiah had two priorities - first, defences.

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Knowing the Assyrian appetite for brutal conquest,

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Hezekiah built his walls 20' wide.

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And second...protecting the city's vital and sacred spring.

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The spring on the Ophel Hill was still the city's only source of water.

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But now it lay outside the new city walls.

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To ensure safe access to it in case of a siege, he decided

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to hack a tunnel through 1,700 feet of solid rock.

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And here it is and it's taken us 35 minutes to walk along it

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and, I can tell you, you never lose the wonder of this place.

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And, as you walk through here, you can actually feel

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the chisel marks of the excavators 2,700 years ago.

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The tunnel was dug by two teams starting at opposite ends.

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It was only rediscovered in the 19th century

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when a pair of curious schoolboys went exploring.

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One of the little boys got frightened and ran back to school,

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but the other one felt his way along the tunnel

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until he could feel that the blades of the excavators

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had changed direction. And, at that place, he found an inscription.

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And it reads, "Each quarryman hewed towards his fellow quarryman,

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"axe by axe. And then, when the tunnel was dug, the water flowed."

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And, amazingly, almost 3,000 years later,

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here is the tunnel and here the water is still flowing.

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No sooner had Hezekiah completed his fortifications,

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then Sennacherib of Assyria descended on Jerusalem like a wolf on the fold.

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He surrounded the city with his armies. All seemed lost.

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Then, at the last minute he abandoned the assault...

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leaving the city unharmed.

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To the Jews of Jerusalem his decision was a divine miracle.

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The truth is we don't know why he spared them.

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But there is a clue in Sennacherib's own account.

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He says he had Jerusalem "like a bird in a cage" and that

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he returned home after receiving gold, probably from the temple.

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Was it divine providence or just a mighty big bribe?

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The emergence of the Jews' faith in one God, Yahweh,

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had been plagued by the persistence of older pagan beliefs.

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When Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh turned his back on Yahweh.

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He brought pagan idols into Solomon's temple.

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And just outside the city walls, he introduced a much darker ritual...

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child sacrifice.

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Here, in the Valley of Hinnom, Manasseh placed the roaster,

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an altar at which innocent children were burned

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and killed to appease the many gods of the Canaanites.

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Israelites were appalled by this and gradually Hinnom or its Hebrew name, Gehenna,

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came to be synonymous with the practices of Hell itself.

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This Biblical story has also helped form our very concept of religious evil,

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and our map of heaven and hell.

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Just as the Temple Mount, in all its beauty and sanctity,

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was heaven on Earth, so Hinnom, right here, was Jerusalem's own hell.

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When Manasseh died, the Jewish religion was revived.

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Idols were cast out of the temple,

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and the child murderers put to death.

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The new king, Josiah,

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hoped to restore the glories of David and Solomon,

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but when he was killed, Jerusalem's hopes were crushed

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and its religion faced annihilation.

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A new empire emerged from the ruins of Assyria - Babylon.

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It too used spectacular cruelty and mass deportations to enforce its dominion.

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The Babylonian empire now controlled the whole Middle East.

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The kingdom of Judah was a semi-independent state

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with Jerusalem as its capital.

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When the Judeans rebelled against the Babylonians,

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King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched south

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and laid siege to the city.

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His men surrounded the walls. Inside, food started to run out.

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People starved.

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As the Jewish month of Ab began,

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it was clear they could hold out no longer.

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On 9th of Ab 586BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon burst into the city.

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Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, he burnt it to the ground.

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He emptied its teeming streets.

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He demolished the temple and then he rounded up the Jewish elite

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and deported around 40,000 of them all the way to Babylon.

0:28:250:28:30

Nebuchadnezzar's action created a theme that runs through the Jewish relationship with Jerusalem -

0:28:320:28:37

the idea of exile and the dream of return.

0:28:370:28:41

The book of Lamentations mourns the tragedy.

0:28:570:29:00

This tragedy became the template for the end of the world,

0:29:210:29:25

depicted in the Bible, for the Jews and also for the Christians.

0:29:250:29:29

Ever since, Jerusalem has been seen as the location of the final apocalypse.

0:29:310:29:36

The destruction of the temple must have seemed

0:29:410:29:45

like the death not just of a city, but of an entire people.

0:29:450:29:50

Surely the Jews would vanish from history,

0:29:500:29:53

like all the other peoples whose gods had failed them?

0:29:530:29:56

And yet that didn't happen. Somehow this experience transformed

0:29:560:30:00

the Jews themselves and it helped redouble the sanctity of Jerusalem too.

0:30:000:30:06

Exiled in Babylon, the Jews developed new religious practices

0:30:100:30:14

to preserve their identity.

0:30:140:30:16

They wore distinctive clothes, circumcised their sons,

0:30:160:30:19

observed the Sabbath and avoided certain foods.

0:30:190:30:22

It only lasted for 50 years, but the exile was a defining moment

0:30:270:30:32

in creating the Judaism we recognise today.

0:30:320:30:35

In 539BC Babylon was conquered by King Cyrus of Persia.

0:30:380:30:44

Cyrus let the Jews go back to Jerusalem

0:30:450:30:48

and even paid for them to rebuild their temple.

0:30:480:30:51

For the next 200 years,

0:30:560:30:58

the Jewish High Priests ruled Jerusalem as a theocracy

0:30:580:31:02

until the brilliant Macedonian king, Alexander the Great,

0:31:020:31:07

swept across the Near East bringing a new empire and a cultural revolution.

0:31:070:31:11

Alexander's empire didn't last long.

0:31:270:31:30

But his Greek culture became THE international culture,

0:31:300:31:34

just as the American is today.

0:31:340:31:37

In Jerusalem, even young priests started to exercise naked in the gym.

0:31:370:31:42

They even started to try to reverse their circumcisions.

0:31:420:31:46

They wanted to do everything the Greek way.

0:31:460:31:49

But this totally contradicted the ideals of Jewish purity.

0:31:510:31:55

After a century of benign Greek rule,

0:31:580:32:02

Jerusalem came under the control of king Antiochus Epiphanes -

0:32:020:32:06

god-manifest - who was as beautiful and crazy as he was ambitious.

0:32:060:32:12

When the Jews rebelled against him, Antiochus stormed Jerusalem.

0:32:140:32:19

He wasn't satisfied by just sacking the city,

0:32:210:32:25

he decided to wipe out the Jewish religion altogether.

0:32:250:32:27

He placed statues of Zeus and of himself in the temple and had them worshipped.

0:32:300:32:34

But, worse still, he sacrificed swine on the altar.

0:32:340:32:39

He forced the Jews to eat pork.

0:32:390:32:42

Mothers who circumcised their babies were thrown off the city walls with their infants.

0:32:420:32:47

Anyone caught reading Jewish holy books was burnt alive.

0:32:470:32:52

These deaths created the first cult of religious martyrdom.

0:32:520:32:57

When he demanded that the Jews worship him,

0:32:570:33:00

and not Yahweh, his sacrilege provoked a religious revolt.

0:33:000:33:05

In a small village outside Jerusalem, Antiochus's officers

0:33:070:33:11

tried to force an elderly Jewish priest named Mattathias

0:33:110:33:14

to sacrifice to Antiochus.

0:33:140:33:17

Mattathias refused, killed the Greek general, raised the flag of rebellion and fled to the hills.

0:33:170:33:23

He was joined by a group known as the Hasidim - the pious -

0:33:290:33:33

who were so religious, they would not fight on the Sabbath.

0:33:330:33:36

Needless to say, when battles were fought on Saturdays, they were slaughtered.

0:33:360:33:41

Here, on the outskirts of Modin, are the rock cut tombs where the fallen were buried.

0:33:440:33:49

But the fortunes of the rebels were to change when they found a new leader.

0:33:510:33:57

Mattathias's son, Judah, known as "the Hammer" -

0:33:570:34:01

or the Maccabee in Aramaic -

0:34:010:34:04

launched a successful guerrilla war against Antiochus and his Greeks.

0:34:040:34:08

His dynasty became known as the Maccabees.

0:34:080:34:11

To the Greeks, they may have seemed to be a fanatical bunch of Jewish Mujahideen.

0:34:140:34:20

To the Jews, they showed how a small band of brothers

0:34:200:34:24

could heroically resist the armies of a superpower and win.

0:34:240:34:28

They recaptured Jerusalem

0:34:320:34:34

and, in the process, triumphed in the first recorded Holy War.

0:34:340:34:38

One by one, the Greeks were losing control of their kingdoms

0:34:450:34:49

to a powerful new neighbour from the western Mediterranean.

0:34:490:34:54

The Maccabees kingdom was weakened by infighting.

0:35:000:35:04

Now, it was the Romans who decided who ruled Jerusalem.

0:35:040:35:08

In 40BC, the two rulers of the Roman world, Mark Antony and Octavian

0:35:120:35:17

appointed a brilliant young strongman, Herod, as King of Judea.

0:35:170:35:22

Half Jewish, half Arab, Herod was the ambitious son of a pagan convert to Judaism.

0:35:270:35:34

He was Jerusalem's own version of a cross between Henry VIII and Stalin.

0:35:360:35:41

As soon as he conquered Jerusalem,

0:35:500:35:52

Herod killed half the members of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.

0:35:520:35:57

He married ten times, and murdered his favourite wife by public garrotting.

0:35:580:36:04

Oh, and he killed three of his own children.

0:36:040:36:07

But this monster had impeccable taste.

0:36:120:36:16

He had a vision to build a temple and a Jerusalem

0:36:160:36:19

as glorious as that of Solomon.

0:36:190:36:22

And this is what it would have looked like.

0:36:220:36:24

Despite his pagan roots,

0:36:350:36:38

Herod built the most majestic Jewish temple.

0:36:380:36:40

It was a vast enterprise.

0:36:450:36:46

It took 80 years, 1,000 priests had to be trained as builders,

0:36:460:36:51

since only priests could enter the inner courts.

0:36:510:36:55

Whole quarries of golden blocks of limestone had to be brought here to build it.

0:36:550:36:59

And whole forests of cedars had to be sailed down from Lebanon

0:37:010:37:07

to embellish this remarkable building.

0:37:070:37:09

To this day, there are remnants of Herod's Jerusalem visible all over the city,

0:37:150:37:21

most famously, the huge stones of the supporting western wall of the temple.

0:37:210:37:26

But some of the best preserved parts of Herod's Jerusalem are actually

0:37:300:37:35

down here in these tunnels.

0:37:350:37:37

During the 1980s, the first archaeologist to document these tunnels, was Dan Bahat.

0:37:430:37:48

What a room. What is this?

0:37:500:37:52

We are now in the Herodian Hall which was built by Herod the Great.

0:37:520:37:57

It is the best preserved structure in Herodian Jerusalem.

0:37:570:38:03

Herod tried to glorify his city.

0:38:030:38:06

He did it by rebuilding the temple,

0:38:060:38:08

he built streets,

0:38:080:38:10

which we see lavishly paved with enormous stones,

0:38:100:38:14

really, everything to make Jerusalem look beautiful.

0:38:140:38:18

In some ways he created modern Jerusalem, modern Holy Jerusalem?

0:38:180:38:23

Yes, one must remember that Herod the Great was not a great believer

0:38:230:38:27

for whom the temple as such was an important thing.

0:38:270:38:31

He did it because he believed in case he beautified the Temple Mount,

0:38:310:38:36

the nation would accept it with favour and start to like him.

0:38:360:38:41

The fact is that they did not, the fact is they did not.

0:38:410:38:44

Herod was hated by his own sons.

0:38:490:38:52

They planned to grab his kingdom and he murdered any who challenged him.

0:38:520:38:58

Herod the Great, in old age, suffered a most terrible death.

0:39:020:39:07

The lower part of his body, his belly and scrotum, swelled up, suppurating fluid.

0:39:070:39:12

Into this fluid, flies laid eggs, which, to the horror of everyone,

0:39:120:39:16

including Herod himself, gave birth to worms.

0:39:160:39:19

His scrotum and his intestines swelled up.

0:39:190:39:23

He died in terrible, terrible agony.

0:39:230:39:25

Somehow this gruesome end matched Herod's record of barbaric sadism.

0:39:250:39:33

His death provoked chaos.

0:39:360:39:39

Three messianic Jewish kings rebelled

0:39:390:39:41

and were crushed by the Romans.

0:39:410:39:43

Herod's kingdom was divided between three of his sons.

0:39:430:39:47

The one who inherited Jerusalem was so oafishly inept

0:39:470:39:52

that the Romans took control of Judea

0:39:520:39:55

which they ruled in alliance with the high priests.

0:39:550:39:58

In this febrile atmosphere, a child was growing up in Galilee.

0:40:050:40:10

His father, though a carpenter, was descended from king David,

0:40:110:40:16

a lineage both royal and sacred.

0:40:160:40:19

He was steeped in knowledge of the Jewish scriptures

0:40:220:40:26

and everything he did was a conscious fulfilment

0:40:260:40:29

of the Jewish prophecies.

0:40:290:40:32

In particular, he saw himself fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah

0:40:320:40:35

that an anointed king would bring forth the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

0:40:350:40:41

His name was Jesus.

0:40:410:40:43

When he started preaching, up country in Galilee, his message

0:40:430:40:47

was direct and dramatic.

0:40:470:40:50

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

0:40:500:40:53

The essence of his ministry was the imminence of the Apocalypse

0:40:530:40:57

and he soon attracted a devoted following.

0:40:570:41:00

Jesus was a practising Jew, so Jerusalem

0:41:020:41:05

and the temple were central to his beliefs.

0:41:050:41:09

He never actually claimed to be the Messiah,

0:41:090:41:11

but his apocalyptic message

0:41:110:41:13

and his mocking of the pro-Roman temple establishment

0:41:130:41:17

were a clear challenge to their authority and to Roman rule.

0:41:170:41:22

In about 33AD, he arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

0:41:270:41:31

The city was at its most tense.

0:41:310:41:33

It was crowded with hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims

0:41:330:41:37

and the authorities, both the Romans and the high priests alike,

0:41:370:41:41

feared another outbreak of messianic rebellion.

0:41:410:41:45

On the day before Passover, Jesus came to the temple, crowded with pilgrims.

0:41:520:41:57

Now Jesus entered the temple's royal portico,

0:42:010:42:04

where pilgrims could change money to buy animals for sacrifice -

0:42:040:42:08

oxen for the rich, doves for the poor and sheep for the squeezed middle.

0:42:080:42:13

And, there, he attacked the temple establishment,

0:42:130:42:16

overturning the tables of the money changers

0:42:160:42:18

and telling them they had turned God's house into a den of thieves.

0:42:180:42:24

By confronting the temple priests in such a public way,

0:42:270:42:33

Jesus was asking for trouble.

0:42:330:42:37

That night, Jesus was arrested

0:42:390:42:41

and brought before the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate.

0:42:410:42:45

The Romans had executed all previous rebel prophets

0:42:480:42:51

and now Pilate sentenced Jesus to the same end - death by crucifixion.

0:42:510:42:57

After Jesus's crucifixion,

0:43:050:43:06

his followers gave him a traditional Jewish burial.

0:43:060:43:10

They laid him in this rock-cut tomb

0:43:100:43:12

and then they sealed the entrance with a large stone.

0:43:120:43:15

Three days later, the gospels tell that Jesus rose from the dead

0:43:240:43:28

and appeared to his amazed followers.

0:43:280:43:32

They became known as Nazarenes after the place Jesus came from.

0:43:320:43:37

The Nazarenes continued to worship as Jews in the Jewish temple.

0:43:380:43:42

In fact, they didn't regard themselves as a different religion at all.

0:43:420:43:46

It would be another 30 years before the Nazarenes

0:43:540:43:57

established a separate identity.

0:43:570:44:00

In 66AD, Roman corruption, incompetence

0:44:000:44:04

and brutality provoked a massive Jewish rebellion.

0:44:040:44:08

The Jewish warlords were determined to overthrow Roman rule.

0:44:100:44:14

When the Roman Emperor Nero heard about the rebellion,

0:44:140:44:17

he was at the Olympic Games in Greece.

0:44:170:44:19

He immediately despatched his trusted general Vespasian

0:44:190:44:22

and his son Titus to wipe out the rebellious Jews.

0:44:220:44:27

Titus advanced on Jerusalem with a massive army of 60,000 men.

0:44:270:44:33

As the legionaries surrounded the city, many of the Jews

0:44:370:44:41

trapped inside tried to escape by sneaking past the Roman lines.

0:44:410:44:46

The escaping refugees would swallow their coins to protect their wealth,

0:44:490:44:54

but the legionaries discovered this and started to eviscerate every escaping Jew,

0:44:540:44:59

sifting greedily through their intestines in the search for treasure.

0:44:590:45:04

Even Titus, hardly a squeamish man, was shocked by this.

0:45:040:45:09

He banned it, but the practice continued.

0:45:090:45:12

Titus ordered that every refugee escaping from Jerusalem should be crucified.

0:45:120:45:17

At its height, 500 Jews were being crucified a day.

0:45:200:45:23

The hillsides around Jerusalem were a forest of crucifixes,

0:45:230:45:27

and the legionaries made it worse by deliberately crucifying Jews in grotesque and comical poses.

0:45:270:45:34

Truly, this was a scene from hell.

0:45:340:45:37

Those trapped inside the city

0:45:420:45:44

did everything they could to keep the Romans out.

0:45:440:45:49

Yuval Harari has studied their methods.

0:45:490:45:52

Jerusalem at the time had three different sets of walls

0:45:520:45:56

and, also, the defenders, when they saw that one of the walls was about to crumble,

0:45:560:46:02

sometimes they built makeshift walls behind it,

0:46:020:46:07

so the Romans are faced by multiple walls and fortifications.

0:46:070:46:12

So what systems did the Romans use to break into the city?

0:46:120:46:16

They tried to go under, they dig tunnels under the walls.

0:46:160:46:20

Then you have attempts to go through the wall with huge rams,

0:46:200:46:25

which is basically a big tree, with a big iron head,

0:46:250:46:29

which they swing and hit against the wall.

0:46:290:46:34

Finally, the Romans have artillery, which fires huge balls of rock.

0:46:340:46:42

They fire it over the walls, into the city.

0:46:420:46:45

It's not a way to take a city, but it's a way to terrorise the civilian population inside.

0:46:450:46:51

Either way, you were pretty sure to die somehow.

0:46:510:46:56

By the time the Romans are around the city,

0:46:560:46:58

the chances of survival of the civilian population is very bad.

0:46:580:47:04

Four months into the siege, Jewish resistance was weakening.

0:47:110:47:15

On 9th of the Jewish month of Ab,

0:47:180:47:20

the very day almost 500 years earlier

0:47:200:47:23

when Nebuchadnezzar had stormed Jerusalem,

0:47:230:47:26

Titus prepared to attack the Temple.

0:47:260:47:29

That night, his men broke through the last and strongest of the city's defensive walls.

0:47:350:47:40

The ensuing battle was witnessed by a renegade Jewish general

0:47:450:47:49

who'd defected and was travelling in Titus' entourage.

0:47:490:47:53

Josephus describes the horror of the battle for the Temple Mount.

0:47:560:48:02

"Around the altar, the heap of corpses grew higher and higher,

0:48:020:48:05

"while down the holy of holies steps, poured a river of blood

0:48:050:48:09

"and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom."

0:48:090:48:13

And then the soldiers let rip in the city.

0:48:180:48:21

The soldiers were like men possessed - running,

0:48:260:48:27

galloping through the streets, killing men, women and children

0:48:270:48:34

and burning every house they could see.

0:48:340:48:37

Josephus tells how, at dusk, the slaughter finally ceased.

0:48:430:48:47

But now, the flames and the fire gained mastery over the holy city.

0:48:470:48:52

Through the roar of the flames could be heard the sound of these cracking stones,

0:49:010:49:06

the screaming of men, women and children, the screaming of burning people.

0:49:060:49:11

It was the sound of the greatest city of the East dying.

0:49:120:49:16

So ended the siege of Jerusalem.

0:49:180:49:22

The next day,

0:49:350:49:37

Titus ordered his men to destroy what was left of the temple.

0:49:370:49:40

Some of the stones still lie where they fell.

0:49:440:49:47

Unlike after the Babylonian destruction,

0:49:500:49:52

the temple was never to be rebuilt.

0:49:520:49:54

The treasures that he looted were paraded through Rome

0:49:570:50:01

where Titus's triumph was celebrated by the building of a monumental arch.

0:50:010:50:06

As many as 600,000 Jews were killed

0:50:090:50:12

and those who were left were banned from Jerusalem.

0:50:120:50:16

60 years later, the emperor Hadrian decided to annihilate Judaism altogether.

0:50:170:50:23

When the Jews rebelled, he crushed them with genocidal brutality.

0:50:230:50:27

This was a turning point for the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.

0:50:290:50:33

They had to get used to life and faith without Temple Mount and without Jerusalem.

0:50:330:50:40

From now on, Jerusalem remained the holy city for the Jewish people.

0:50:400:50:45

But it also became the lost motherland,

0:50:450:50:47

an ideal, a sacred talisman.

0:50:470:50:50

Hadrian renamed the province of Judea as Palaestina,

0:51:110:51:15

after the Jews' enemy, the Philistines.

0:51:150:51:18

He rebuilt Jerusalem as a typical Roman pagan city,

0:51:180:51:22

with a new main street and two forums.

0:51:220:51:26

There are fragments of Hadrian's Jerusalem hidden all over the city,

0:51:300:51:35

some of them are in the most unlikely places.

0:51:350:51:37

Hi. Can we go and look at the wall and the arch at the back? Thank you.

0:51:370:51:42

This archway and this pillar were once part of Hadrian's forum...

0:51:520:51:58

It is rather exciting to find them here

0:51:590:52:02

in the back of a Palestinian patisserie, in the back storeroom,

0:52:020:52:07

lost and forgotten here.

0:52:070:52:09

And, look, all their tools and bits of building material and old chairs turned over.

0:52:090:52:15

This is very Jerusalem. I love it here.

0:52:150:52:18

Jerusalem was pagan for over a century

0:52:220:52:24

with a shrine to Aphrodite on the site of Christ's crucifixion

0:52:240:52:30

and a statue of Hadrian himself on the Temple Mount.

0:52:300:52:34

After the destruction of the temple, the Nazarenes had separated

0:52:360:52:40

from the Jewish mother religion to become a distinct new religion...

0:52:400:52:46

Christianity.

0:52:460:52:47

They kept alive the traditions of their holiest site,

0:52:510:52:54

where Jesus had died and been buried.

0:52:540:52:56

Even in the centuries when this was a pagan temple,

0:53:000:53:03

Christians still used to sneak into these caves and secretly keep this place alive as a Christian shrine.

0:53:030:53:11

And take a look at what they wrote here...

0:53:110:53:13

"Domine Ivimus" - "We come to the Lord".

0:53:130:53:17

Christians were sometimes tolerated,

0:53:200:53:23

but at other times viciously persecuted.

0:53:230:53:27

They were forced to keep their rites secret while the city was under pagan rule.

0:53:270:53:32

Without the Jews, and with the Christians lying low,

0:53:320:53:36

Jerusalem ceased to be a religious centre altogether.

0:53:360:53:39

Without religion, it was just another small, provincial town of the Roman East.

0:53:390:53:46

The population fell to 10,000, less than half its former size.

0:53:480:53:55

The walls crumbled.

0:53:550:53:56

Until the fate of the city was transformed by the caprice of one extraordinary man.

0:54:010:54:08

Constantine was a rough, tough soldier who slashed his way to power,

0:54:150:54:20

but Jerusalem was to benefit from his brutality.

0:54:200:54:24

In 312AD, the Roman Emperor converted to Christianity

0:54:270:54:31

and set about rebuilding Jerusalem as the religious centre of his Christian Empire.

0:54:310:54:36

Here, at the place where Jesus was crucified,

0:54:400:54:43

Constantine knocked down Hadrian's pagan temple

0:54:430:54:46

and built a Christian church.

0:54:460:54:49

He sent his beloved mother, Helena,

0:54:500:54:53

who'd also converted to Christianity, to rebuild Jerusalem.

0:54:530:54:57

When she came, the Empress Helena heard from local Christians

0:54:590:55:02

that parts of the true cross - the actual wood on which Jesus had been crucified - was buried up here.

0:55:020:55:08

When she started to dig, she found not one but three crosses.

0:55:150:55:19

She did not know which one was the true one, so she presented each one to a dying woman.

0:55:190:55:24

When the woman recovered, she knew which one was the true cross on which Jesus had been crucified.

0:55:240:55:32

Relics of Jesus's life became increasingly important in Christianity,

0:55:340:55:40

none more so than the life-giving wood of the true cross.

0:55:400:55:45

It had to have a special guard because pilgrims tried to bite chunks off when they kissed it.

0:55:450:55:50

Jerusalem was a totally Christian city.

0:55:500:55:53

Pilgrims could follow every step of Jesus's life through its shrines.

0:55:530:55:58

But the Christians also inherited the holiness

0:55:580:56:01

and the ancient Jewish stories of Jerusalem itself.

0:56:010:56:04

One of the fascinating things about this place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,

0:56:060:56:12

is that, over time, the Christians simply took some of the stories

0:56:120:56:15

of the Jewish Temple Mount

0:56:150:56:17

and moved them to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

0:56:170:56:21

Now, they came to believe that Adam was buried here and his skull is beneath the church.

0:56:210:56:27

They came to believe that Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac here,

0:56:270:56:32

not on the Temple Mount.

0:56:320:56:33

And they came to believe that this was the true centre of the world.

0:56:330:56:38

Just as the early Israelites appropriated the Canaanites'

0:56:410:56:44

sacred places, the Christians too borrowed the holiness

0:56:440:56:48

attached to the Jewish temple, but they turned the Temple Mount itself

0:56:480:56:52

into a rubbish dump to celebrate their victory over Judaism.

0:56:520:56:58

Where once Jewish pilgrims came from all over the East

0:56:580:57:01

to celebrate Passover in the temples of Solomon and Herod,

0:57:010:57:06

now Christian pilgrims came at Easter to worship at the Holy Sepulchre.

0:57:060:57:10

The Jews themselves were still banished from Jerusalem.

0:57:200:57:25

Persecuted by the Christian emperors,

0:57:250:57:27

they were allowed onto the Temple Mount once a year,

0:57:270:57:29

to be mocked by the Christians who saw their lamentations

0:57:290:57:34

as proof of Jesus's prophecies that the temple would fall.

0:57:340:57:38

By the 6th century, Rome had fallen

0:57:420:57:45

and Jerusalem was now ruled from Byzantium,

0:57:450:57:48

the capital of the Eastern Roman empire.

0:57:480:57:51

But the holiness of the city was about to make it the coveted prize

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of a new religion and a new empire.

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As the Byzantine hold on the Middle East was waning, weakened by war and corruption,

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out of the deserts of Arabia, was about to burst forth

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a new revelation that would change the course of human history

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and transform the face of Jerusalem.

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The new revelation was Islam.

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And Jerusalem was in its sights.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Author and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore presents a three-part series illuminating the history of the sacred and peerlessly beautiful city of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. For the Jewish faith, it is the site of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second Jewish temple. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest sanctuary of Islam.

In episode one, Simon delves into the past to explore how this unique city came into being, explaining how it became of such major importance to the three Abrahamic faiths, and how these faiths emerged from the Biblical tradition of the Israelites.

Starting with the Canaanites, Simon goes on a chronological journey to trace the rise of the city as a holy place and discusses the evidence for it becoming a Jewish city under King David. The programme explores the construction of the first temple by Solomon through to the life and death of Jesus Christ and the eventual expulsion of the Jews by the Romans, concluding in the 7th century AD, on the eve of the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslim caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab.


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