The Biblical Jerusalem

Biblical texts present Jerusalem as a concrete city and also begin to develop it as an abstract symbol.

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Nonetheless, even in this ethereal portrait of the latter-day Jerusalem, biblical ideology remains earthbound. Late prophets, such as Jeremiah, do not fail to present that ideal Jerusalem in an almost disturbingly realistic fashion: "See, a time is coming--declares the Lord--when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate; and the measuring line shall go straight out to the Gareb Hill, and then turn to Goah. And the entire Valley of the Corpses and Ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi of Kidron, and the comer of the Horse Gate on the east, shall be holy to the Lord. They shall never again be uprooted or overthrown" (Jeremiah 31:38-40).This vision of the future Jerusalem certainly was written by an author who knew the historical Jerusalem and could wish for nothing better than to have it restored in future to its one-time measurements.

Jeremiah's words throw some light upon yet another factor that has been decisive for the significance that attaches to the city of Jerusalem in Jewish tradition to this very day: it is the entire circumference of the city that is, and will be held, holy. Unlike other religions, which have pinned their pious reverence for Jerusalem on select localities within it that are connected with specific events in their own scriptural historiography, Judaism has sanctified the city as such, and in doing so has kept alive the biblical tradition.

Reprinted with permission of The Gale Group from Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, edited by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, Twayne Publishers.

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Shemaryahu Talmon

Shemaryahu Talmon is the J. L. Magnes Professor, Emeritus, of the Department of Bible Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.? He is one of the leading biblical scholars of modern times.?Among his many works, he is co-editor of Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text.