Cities in Bible Times -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 04:4 (Autumn 1975)
Article: Cities in Bible Times
Author: Anonymous

Cities in Bible Times

Knowledge of architecture in the biblical period has been limited both by the lack of information on architectural details in the ancient records and by the infrequent survival of the buildings themselves as the passage of the centuries and the activities of succeeding generations of builders contributed to their eventual destruction. Of those buildings which have been found among the ruined cities of Canaan and early Israel, we are fortunate if one or two layers of masonry remain above the foundation level.

Throughout most of the biblical period, men built their own homes, and their towns, too, were the creation of their own unskilled, communal efforts. Thus, the vast majority of structures that have survived, including town walls, gates, and temples, are “homemade” in character. Only in periods of exceptional prosperity or political expansion do we find, both in the northern kingdom and in Judah, traces of ambitious architectural projects. These were official or religious in nature, and display the handiwork of professional craftsmen and the sophisticated use of foreign styles or materials.


The first mention of a city in the Bible appears not long after the Creation narrative. The Bible relates that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam, built a city for his son Enoch (Gen. 4:17). It is interesting to note that later accounts of the Sumerians, whose culture is the most ancient in Mesopotamia, relate that the first city to be divinely created was called Eridu. This name bears a striking resemblance to that of Enoch’s son, Irad. The antiquity of Eridu, located some 12 miles south-southwest of ancient Ur, is well documented; it is the oldest site excavated in southern Mesopotamia, its pre-urban levels reaching back to the 6th millennium B.C.E.

The point at which a settlement becomes a “city” is a subject of discussion by students of urban culture. There is, however, a large measure of general agreement that in antiquity a “city” was a settled community having a socially stratified population that practiced a variety of trades and professions and was capable of producing surpluses of food for those of its members who were not engaged in agriculture. The development of a pre-urban settlement into a city is the result of an extremely complex interrelationship of economic, social, and technical factors. However, it is generally assumed that the first criterion of an urban settlement is the appearance of communal building projects, first a temple, then a palace, followed by city fortifications, etc. Such undertakings require an organized labor force for their execution, as well as direction and control, generally exercise...

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