Ir David – The City of David

“David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah. And the king and his men went to Jerusalem, to the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, “You shall not come in here unless you take away the blind and the lame,” as if to say, David cannot come in here. Nevertheless David took the fortress of Zion; the same is the city of David. And David said on that day, “Whoever strikes the Jebusite and gets up to the aqueduct, and [reaches] the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain” (2 Samuel 5:4-8).

These few succinct Biblical verses describe one of the most pivotal events in the history of the Jewish people—King David’s decision 3,000 years ago to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem and establish that city as the spiritual and political center of the Israelite kingdom.

The exact location of the most ancient part of Jerusalem, the City of David, remained a mystery for hundreds of years, until the end of the nineteenth century. Many considered the area that we call Mount Zion to be the original City of David—and evidently, some still do! (See the debate in this issue between Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Rabbi Leibel Reznick.) But a series of dramatic discoveries, continuing until today, revealed what most archaeologists now agree is actually the site of David’s Jerusalem, nestled on a piece of land just south of the walls of the “modern” Old City between the Kidron and Tyropean valleys. The area recently came under the jurisdiction of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the number of visitors there has soared as the excavations continue to bring more and more of Jerusalem’s past to light.

There is so much to write about that I must warn you at the outset that this article will of necessity be incomplete. Because ongoing excavations are uncovering so many new artifacts almost on a daily basis, it is very likely that by the time you read this, more discoveries will have been made. With this limitation in mind, let’s visit the City of David.

Leave the Jewish Quarter through the Dung Gate, near the Kotel, and walk a few hundred yards downhill. Take the first right and continue down the main entrance to the site. As you enter, glance over your shoulder at the large excavation area in the parking lot across the street. Archaeologists working in that area believe that they are on the verge of uncovering portions of King David’s royal palace!

Once in the site, you may choose between viewing the new multimedia presentation (information and tickets are available at the entrance booth) or simply walking out to the platform overlooking the Kidron Valley to the east.

This is a perfect spot to contemplate. Take out your Tanach and read from Samuel 2, Chapter 11. Picture King David standing on the roof of the palace, located above you, and catching sight of Batsheva below. The platform you’re standing on overlooks an excavation site known as Area G. These excavations reveal walls and structures that date back to Canaanite times, to King David’s time, to the later part of the Israelite period and to the period of the Maccabees—one thousand years of Jerusalem’s history before your eyes! One of the most dramatic discoveries in this section was an ancient seal with the name Gemaryahu ben Shafan, a name known to us from the writings of the prophet Jeremiah (sixth century—the period of the destruction of the First Temple).

With Tanach in hand, as you look out over the steep hill, you will understand the confidence of the Jebusite king (2 Samuel 5:5) who believed that King David would not be able to conquer the city. Perhaps he was confident because he knew that his water supply was secure, a key factor in ancient battles. If an enemy could sever a city’s access to its water, it could eventually force a surrender. The amazing story of the ancient Jebusite water system comes to light in the section of the site known as Warren’s Shaft. The verse tells us (2 Samuel 5:8): “And David said on that day, ‘Whoever strikes the Jebusite and gets up to the aqueduct, and [reaches] the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain.’” For thousands of years, the meaning of this was unclear. Recently, however, archaeologists have discovered a 3,000-year-old underground system of shafts and tunnels that was accessible from within the walls of the city. The underground tunnels lead to the Gihon Spring, the only main natural source of water in the area, which, it seems, was outside the city walls. Archaeologists’ configuration of the water system and their understanding of how King David exploited the system to gain entry to the city have undergone changes as more and more of the amazing underground network has been exposed. What seems clear from the Tanach, however, is that King David called for a volunteer, who was rewarded with becoming the captain of his army, to climb through the system and gain entry to the city. He then opened the gates from within the city and the rest of David’s army entered and subdued it—perhaps even without a battle, since none is recorded in Tanach.

Make sure to take a look at the large building over the spring itself. It is here where Zadok the Priest anointed Solomon as the third king of Israel, succeeding his father, King David. Kings 1 (1:38-39) relates:

And Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet and Benaiah the son of Yehoyada, and the Kerethites [archers] and the Pelethites [slingers], went down, and had Solomon ride upon King David’s mule, and brought him to the Gihon. And Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the Tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the shofar; and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!”

But this is still only the beginning of the tour. The more adventurous can now walk through the 2,700-year-old Hezekiah Tunnel (described in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:2-3 as well as other places). Make sure that you have water shoes and a flashlight—you will be walking through dark tunnels for forty-five minutes in three feet of cool, natural spring water. Alternatively, you can walk through a completely dry tunnel that has recently opened. This tunnel once served as an irrigation system, delivering water from the spring to the fields in the valley below. Today, it has been restored, and electric lighting throughout the 400-foot tunnel helps visitors envision what an ancient irrigation system looked like.

Either route will lead you to the southernmost tip of the City of David, where the original steps to the Shiloah Pool, at the end of the Hezekiah Tunnel, have recently been exposed. Sections of the main street which led back up to the Temple Mount are also being revealed.

If you have plans to be in Israel in the near future, a visit to the City of David is a must. You will get much more out of your visit with a guide, who can make the various artifacts come to life. To quote the City of David web site ( “A tour through the City of David brings visitors face to face with the personalities and places of the Bible. As such, this is the only place on earth where the only guidebook necessary is the Bible itself.” Lehitraot be’Ir David.

Mr. Abelow is a licensed tour guide and the associate director of Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel. Keshet specializes in running inspiring and enjoyable tours of Israel for congregations, schools and families. Mr. Abelow can be reached at 972-54-313-3712 or at

This article was written in memory of the author’s beloved mother, Janet Abelow (Ena Shena bat Adam Yehuda veMiriam), alehah hashalom, who passed away on Pesach Sheni, 14 Iyar 5767/May 2, 2007.

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Jewish Action.
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