Where Was Ancient Zion? -- By: Peter J. Leithart

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 53:2 (NA 2002)
Article: Where Was Ancient Zion?
Author: Peter J. Leithart

Where Was Ancient Zion?1

Peter J. Leithart


It is commonly assumed that ‘Zion’ refers to the temple mount or to the city of Jerusalem as a whole. By examining texts in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, the article demonstrates that ‘Zion’ in the historical books of the OT always refers to a specific area of Jerusalem, namely, the fortress that David conquered and named the ‘City of David’. This shows a continuity of usage across several centuries, and raises the possibility that the Psalms and prophets sometimes use ‘Zion’ to refer to the Davidic city and its institutions. The article ends with a brief examination of some of these texts, and argues that the specifically Davidic understanding of ‘Zion’ offers fresh insight into the meaning of these passages.


The consensus of recent scholarship is that ancient ‘Zion’ was located on the southern end of the Ophel ridge on the eastern side of the city of Jerusalem, and, as a corollary, that the hill now called ‘Mount Zion’, the ‘upper city’ in southwest Jerusalem, is a first-century or even a Byzantine misnomer.2 This represents a substantive change from earlier assessments, which took modern Zion as ancient Zion,3

an identification that goes back at least to the first century ad and perhaps earlier.4 Though the supposed confusion of the ancient writers is unexplained, modern scholars have concluded that the Eastern ridge was the original site mainly for two reasons. First, the upper city on the western hill did not have a sufficient water supply to support a settlement. The Gihon spring, which supplied water to the city, is located at the foot of the eastern ridge in the valley of Kidron, and could easily supply water to a fortress on the ridge above. Moving water to the western hill, however, would have been difficult, and there is no archeological evidence of such a system. Nor could the upper city have been supplied by cisterns, which, Kenyon believed,

were not serviceable until the invention of lime mortar, long after the time of David.5 Excavations on Ophel during the 1960s and 1970s, secondly, uncovered what is believed to be the wall of the old Jebusite fortress. According to Kenyon, ‘It was originally built c. 1800 bc. It was still in use in the 8th century bc, and must therefore have...

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