Jerusalem in the Second Millennium BC By Dr Jaafar Hadi Hassan11 min read

The archaeological evidence indicates that settlement developed at Jerusalem in the last centuries of the fourth millennium BC. It is difficult to say who were the first people to settle in the area which later became the city of Jerusalem. But pottery, tombs and other remains found in the Jerusalem area which are attributed to the third millennium BC were associated with the Amorites.1 The Amorite people made their appearance in history during the 3rd Dynasty of Ur in the third millennium BC although there was an occasional mention of them in earlier texts. At that time their homeland was Syria. From the historical records found in Mesopotamiait appears that the name “Amuru” is of northwest Semitic origin and their language was Semitic, perhaps the predecessor of Canaanite, Hebrew or Aramaic. The word Amorite is also found in inscriptions from the first millennium BC2and also in the Old Testament in which it occurs 85 times. One of the well known references to the Amorite people, in connection with Jerusalem, is in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 16:1 “Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem : Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was Amorite and your mother a Hittite”. According to the British archaeologist K. Kenyon, these nomadic people put an end to town life in Palestine from 2300 BC and the revival of city life was due to new people coming into Palestine c 1900 BC whom she identifies with the Canaanites.3 During the nineteenth century BC settlers had begun to build and inhabit towns once again. These towns were autonomous and each of them (including Jerusalem) had its own ruler. Although Jerusalem was not a province of Egypt it was at this period under its political and economic influence. The first mention of the city of Jerusalem is in the so called Execration Texts which were discovered in Luxor in Egypt. They belong, according to their hieratic script, to the reign of Pharaoh Sesostris III (1879-1842 BC). These texts contain the names of alleged enemies of the pharaoh and their localities and were written on pots which were then broken as part of a rite of execration. Among the chiefs of localities in Syria and Palestine, two are named in connection with Urushalimmu (Jerusalem). The two chiefs are Yaqir-ammu and Shayzanu.4 These names are Semitic and are of Amorite origin. Urushalimmu is usually translated “Shalim has founded”. The name is compared with the name of the god “Shalim” (Salim) now known as an Amorite god. The first part of the name is taken as cognate with a South Arabian root with this sense.5 The first mention of the name Salim in the Bible is in Gen.14:18 in connection with Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedeq, king of Salim and “the priest of the most high God”. There is no definite proof that Salim here is to be identified with Jerusalem6. Although some scholars believe that the name Salim here is meant to be Jerusalem. The Hebrew name Yerushaleim is based on the name Urusalimmu. The popular later midrashic explanation of the name Jerusalem as the foundation of peace (Shalom) is associated with the poetic appellation given to the city.7 During the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC the Hyksos, a mixture of Semitic and Indo-Aryan people, ruled Syria and Palestine as well as Egypt. Very little is known about the background and nature of these invaders whom the Egyptians called “The Rulers of Foreign Lands”. There are different opinions regarding the position of Jerusalemduring the Hyksos period. Some scholars believe that Jerusalem may have been a Hyksos stronghold for two centuries.8 The Egyptian priest and scribe, Manetho (c 300 BC) who calls the Hyksos “King-Shepherds” also believes these people had inhabited Jerusalem and even built it.9 But some scholars are of the opinion that the city was destroyed by the Hyksos and not rebuilt by them. The latter rely on the archaeological evidence, because no ruins of their special type of defence system or traces of habitation have been found in Jerusalem.10 It is a well known fact that the Hyksos were known for their unique type of fortification system in which deep ditches were dug around glacis. A special type of ceramics is also attributed to them. These were some of the main features which distinguished the culture characteristic of the rule of the Hyksos in Egypt and in Palestine.11 By the end of the sixteenth century BC the Egyptians had expelled the Hyksos from Egypt and then from Palestine and Jerusalem became an Egyptian vassal, a small city state. The ruler of Jerusalem like other Canaanite rulers bowed down before the pharaohs “to beg breath for their nostrils” as an Egyptian inscription boasts.12 It is interesting to note that Josephus identified the Hyksos as the patriarchal Jews, equating their appearance in Egypt with the story of Joseph in Genesis and their subsequent expulsion with the Bible tale of Exodus. Josephus made this identification partly following Manetho who describes a brutal, savage invasion of Egypt by a people from the east, their period of domination of Egypt, and their subsequent expulsion by the rulers of the 18th Dynasty. Following the assumptions of Manetho and Josephus, some scholars have attempted to set the Israelite Exodus from Egypt within the chronological framework of the 18th Dynasty (c 1580 BC)13. About the beginning of the fifteenth century BC the Hurrians from the kingdom of Mitanniin Anatolia, whose distinctive names are well attested in documents from the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC, from north Syria to Palestine, started to establish themselves in Canaan. These people are called Hurites in the Old Testament and may be referred to as Hittites in loose usage.14 Unlike the local people they were of Aryan origin. Although they did not come as conquers they exerted a great influence on the local people and Jerusalem felt their impact. Extensive building activities were initiated and improved fortifications were introduced. It seems that these people brought with them the Akkadian language and taught it and the cuneiform script to the local people and it became the official diplomatic tongue.15 In the fourteenth century BC Jerusalem continued to be one of the city states of Canaanand its territory extended southwards and westwards. Our knowledge of it during this time is derived from cuneiform tablets discovered at Tell-al Amarna in Egypt in the nineteenth century AD. Almost all these tablets belong to the royal archives of Amen-Hotep III and his son Akh-en-aton. The tablets which are dated to the fourteenth century BC consist of a few hundred letters, many of which are from the princes of Canaan, who were apparently dependent on Egypt, to the pharaoh. One of these princes was Abdu-Hipa, ruler of Jerusalem, whose name is Hurrian and means “worshipper of Hipa”, Hipa being a Hurrian goddess well known and worshipped also by the Hittites in Anatolia. It seems from these letters that the city-states were at war with one another and in his six letters Abdu-Hipa, appealed for help from Egypt against his enemy16. In one of these letters he mentions gifts he had sent to the King and begs him desperately for help “At the two feet of my King the Lord seven times and seven times I fall …I delivered ten slaves…..twenty one maids and eighty captives I delivered into the hand of Shuta (an emissary) as gifts for the King my Lord. Let my King take thought for his land ….There is a war against me… I have become like a ship in the midst of the sea.”17. And in another letter he complains about a people called the Apiru (Habiru) “Let the King turn his attention to the archers and let the King my Lord send out troops of archers for the King has no land left. The Apiru (Habiru) plunder all the lands of the King.”18 It was thought when the Amarna tablets were deciphered that the Apiru might be identified with the Hebrews of the Old Testament. But it is now known that the name refers to groups of people of different backgrounds who were unsettled and had mostly lost their freedom. They could be found anywhere in the Near East.19 They were more numerous than the Biblical Hebrews and their presence was attested to in documents from the second millennium BC from Mesopotamia to Egypt where they were called Apiru.20 In the case of the enemy of Abdu-Hipa, the Apiru may have been a tribe trying to penetrate into Jerusalem or which had been displaced from somewhere else. Whoever they were, however, they did not succeed in conquering the land around Jerusalem or the city itself.21 During the thirteenth century BC, the entire Middle East was shaken by the incursion of people who are called “The Sea Peoples in the Egyptian records. They overwhelmed the Hittite empire in Asia Minor and marched down the coast of Canaan and attacked Egypt, which was weak at this time, both by land and sea and forced it to negotiate. One major group of these people had settled on the coastal plain west of Jerusalem and became known to history as the Philistines.22 In many parts of the country the Canaanites were pushed back inland by these people in the land that came to be called Palestine.The Philistines were metioned in the Bible as people who fought many battles with the Hebrews and their troops were described as “like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (I Samuel, 13, 5). They were also refered to as skilled people in making metal tools as stated in I Samuel, 13, 19-21. ” Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said “lest the Hebrews make themseleves swords or spears”, but everyone of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his ploughshare, his mattock his axe or his sickle; and the charge was a pim for the ploughshare and for the mattocks, and a third of a shakel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads”. In some parts of Palestine furnaces for making such tools were unearthed. Pottery from 11th and 21th centuries BC and clay coffins, which were peculiar to them, were also uncovered from 13-10th centuries BC.23 Forts belonging to them were likewise discovered north of Jerusalem. Also, during this period, until the phase of the Israelite occupation of the Central Highlands, Jerusalemrelapses into obscurity and there is no mention of it at this time in the Egyptian records. But an Amorite King of Jerusalem, called Adonisedeq is mentioned in the Bible.24 This king, according to the Book of Joshua (10:1ff), was head of the coalition of Amorite kings which fought against Joshua for the control of Giboan. It seems that in the last two centuries of the second millennium BC, Jerusalem, like other city states of Canaan, was inhabited by different groups of people. Apart from the ancient people, the Amorites, there were the Hittites and the Hurrians, the Habiru and the Jebusites and others, as it is attested in the Bible. The Bible refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, before David’s men took the city, as the Jebusites. It is possible that the Jebusites settled in Jerusalem in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC. The identity of these people is a matter of debate. The Bible considers them to belong to the Canaanites. But some scholars, on the basis of the names of kings connected with Jerusalem, see the origin of the Jebusites in the Hurrians. Others believe they are closely related to the Hittites and claim, on the basis of literary evidence, that they did not arrive in the country until after the fall of the Hittite empire which was situated in what is now northern Turkey in about 1200 BC.25 Others think that the Jebusites were a professional military class who protected the ruler and who were recruited from different sections of the population and to whom the control of the city may have fallen after the defeat of King Adonizedeq.26 The Book of Judges 1:21 refers to a situation in which the Benjamites and the Jebusites lived together, it says “As regards the Jebusites living in Jerusalem, the sons of Benjamin did not drive them out and even now the Jebusites are still living in Jerusalem with the sons of Benjamin”. In fact it was not until King David captured the city that it fell into Israelite hands which probably occurred early in the first millennium BC, at which time a new era for Jerusalem had begun.


  1. J. Gray, A History of Jerusalem, p26
  2. H J Franken, “Jerusalem in the Bronze Age 3000-1000BC” in K J Asali (ed) Jerusalem in History, pp21-22
  3. Ibid, p22
  4. J Pritchard, The Ancient Near East vol 1, p225
  5. J Gray, op. cit. p.66
  6. D Bahat, The Archaeological History of Jerusalem, p36 in A. L

Eckardt (ed) Jerusalem City of the Ages

  1. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem
  2. N. Kotker, The Earthly Jerusalem, p17
  3. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hyksos
  4. H J Franken, op.cit. p37
  5. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hyksos
  6. N Kotker, op.cit. p20
  7. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hyksos
  8. J Gray, op cit. p68
  9. K Armstrong, Jerusalem, One City Three Faiths, p13
  10. J Gray, op. cit. p69
  11. J B Pritchard, op. cit. pp272-273
  12. Ibid, p270
  13. H J Franken, op.cit. p24
  14. J Gray, op. cit. p77
  15. H J Franken, op.cit. p24
  16. N Kotker, op.cit. p27

23.Encyclopeadia Judaica,Philistines 24. J Gray, op. cit. p72

  1. K Armstrong, op.cit. p14
  2. J Gray, op.cit. pp76-77



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