The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion
#13: Topography of Ancient Jerusalem part I
By Rav Yitzchak
In the next three shiurim, we shall examine various aspects of the
topography of Jerusalem. This will
allow us, later on, to understand the connection of Jerusalem with the Tribe of
Binyamin the inheritance of the Divine Presence.
In this shiur, we shall focus on the significance of the location
of the city by analyzing the course of the valleys that surround it and studying
their development and their character.
The shiur as a whole is based on the assumption that each valley
has spiritual character and importance .
Location of the
attached map of
The ancient city of Jerusalem (according to archaeological remains and on
the basis of its identity) is bounded by three valleys on the eastern, western
and southern sides. Its northern
border is located in the region of Mount Moriah, where no topographical obstacle
The eastern boundary of the city is Nachal Kidron. On the western side the boundary is a
valley which, during the Second Temple Period, was called "Toiropeon," meaning
"the Cheesemakers' Valley"; we shall refer to it as the "Middle Wadi." The southern border is the point where
these two valleys meet. Let us now
look at more details of the characteristics of each
This valley emerges from the north of the Old City, in the region of the
cave of Shimon ha-Tzaddik, and continues eastward and south-eastward, via Wadi
Joz. From there it heads southward,
between the Mount of Olives on the East and Mount Moriah on the West, and then
eastward of the City of David and westward of the village of Silwan, and
south-eastward via Ein Rogel, to the Dead Sea.
History and Use
Throughout the city's history, Nachal Kidron has represented its eastern
border. We encounter this in
several places in Tanakh:
When Shelomo instructs Shim'i ben Gera not to leave Jerusalem, he tells
him (I Melakhim 2:37-38), "Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell
there; you shall not go out from there hither and thither, for it shall be on
the day you go out and cross Nachal Kidron you shall surely know that you will
surely die; you blood will be upon your head."
At the time of the rebellion of Avshalom, too, we find the following
description of David leaving Jerusalem (II Shemuel 15:23-25): "All the
land wept with a loud voice, and all the people crossed over and the King
crossed over Nachal Kidron, and all the people passed over towards the way of
The King said to Tzadok: Take back the Ark of God to the
Throughout the different periods, we find that the burning of idols from
the Temple was carried out in Nachal Kidron:
In the time of Assa (I Melakhim 15:17): "Also Ma'akha, his mother,
he removed from her throne because she had made a monstrous image for Asheira,
and Assa destroyed her image and burnt it in Nachal
Likewise, in the time of Yoshiyahu (II Melakhim 23;6): "He took
the Asheira from the house of God out of Jerusalem, to Nachal Kidron, and burnt
it in Nachal Kidron and ground it to dust, and cast the dust upon the graves of
the common people" .
It is possible that the burning of idolatry and its removal to the Dead
Sea (Mishna, Avoda Zara 3,3) is carried out via Nachal Kidron
Eastward of Nachal Kidron we find the slopes of the Mount of Olives,
which have served from earliest antiquity - as a central burial ground on the
eastern side of the city of Jerusalem.
A fine cemetery has been discovered at the site, dating back to the
mid-First Temple period (9th-8th centuries B.C.E.) with
more than 50 graves of important people from the city. The existence of a burial site east of
the wadi also proves that this was the eastern border of the
Nachal Kidron lies considerably low and deep; hence, all the other
valleys in the Jerusalem region flow into it: in the North, Nachal Beizita
(south of today's Lions' Gate); further on the Middle Wadi; still further
along Ben Chinnom Valley. It is
these wadis that form the ancient topography of the city and define its
An ancient road passed through the wadi, leading from Jerusalem to the
desert. This arises from the route
taken by David in his flight from Avshalom (II Shemuel 15:23-25) and the
flight of Tzidkiyahu in the direction of the Arava (Yirmiyahu
Nachal Kidron also served an agricultural function. There is some logic to identifying the
"King's Gardens," mentioned at the end of the First Temple Period, with Nachal
Kidron from the southeast to the southern end of David's City, where Nachal
Kidron meets with the Toiropeon (II Melakhim 25:4; Yirmiyahu 39:4;
52:7; Nechemya 3:1) . The
expression "the terraces of Kidron" (II Melakhim 23:4) refers to the
fields on the slopes of Nachal Kidron.
The Tosefta in Menachot (10,5) likewise mentions that the
omer offering was brought from the "Valley of Beit Makleh of Nachal
It appears that within the wadi we may also identify the "last house" (II
Shemuel 15:17), as well as the "house of immunity" (II Melakhim
15:5; II Divrei Ha-yamim 26:21), where the leprous Uziyahu dwelled until
his dying day.
It seems clear that the fact that the Gichon Spring rises on the eastern
side of Jerusalem, and the presence of Ein Rogel on Nachal Kidron to the south
of the city, are factors of extreme importance in the very selection of the
The nature of Nachal Kidron is created by its location, on the eastern
border of Jerusalem close to the Temple, but outside of the city, on the edge
of the desert.
The fact that it is outside the city allows it to be used for purposes
that are impossible to realize in the city itself: burial, burning of idolatry,
purposes related to ritual impurity, etc.
The waste from the Temple is also carried out to Nachal Kidron "waste"
here referring to sanctified articles no longer required for use. This, in a certain sense, represents the
opposite of the reality of Divine service and life inside the Temple, and
therefore they are removed from the Temple, but to somewhere close
Nachal Kidron passes along the edge of the desert and flows into the Dead
Sea. On one hand, the wadi
separates the city from the desert.
The ridge of mountains on the east of the wadi, with the Mount of Olives
at their head, actually create the division between the city whose eastern
border is Nachal Kidron and the desert on its eastern side. On the other hand, the wadi has, to some
extent, the effect of connecting the city to the desert, through the road that
leads to it.
The connection that is effected via the wadi is recognizable both in the
reality of the waste, idolatry, and ritual impurity from the city being carried
through it to the Dead Sea, and also in the manner of repair that is envisioned
for the End of Days, when through the wadi there will flow the spring that
emanates from God's House, to the Dead Sea and to Nachal
other words, there are two aspects to the wadi:
One is a symbol of a place of impurity, profanity, and death. In this sense, the wadi represents the
opposite of Jerusalem; it touches on the eastern desert and just as it bounds
the city physically, so it bounds it spiritually, too.
The other significance of the wadi is that it is a place that facilitates
linking and connection between Jerusalem and the desert. This connection itself has two
significances. On one hand, the desert is a place to which evil and impure
things are taken in order to be destroyed (idolatry, waste, and
le-havdil the goat that bears the sins of the nation on Yom
Kippur). On the other hand, the
desert is a place that purifies, by virtue of the Temple and Jerusalem, through
the water that flows in Nachal Kidron, irrigating along the way, the fields and
gardens in the wadi and causing the desert to bloom.
the Second Temple Era the "Toiropeon") 
The wadi starts to the north of Damascus Gate. It divides the Old City
along Rechov ha-Gai, continuing south-east in the direction of the Western Wall
plaza, bisecting the south-western corner of the Herodian Temple Mount, and
continuing via the spot where the Givati parking ground is located today. To the
west of the City of David it descends on the east side of the Mount Zion slopes,
and flows into Nachal Kidron to the south of David's City.
It is difficult to find the name of any wadi in Tanakh that may be
identified with the Middle Wadi. In
scholarly research it is identified with ha-Gai (II Divrei Ha-yamim 26:9;
Nechemya 2:13; 3:13), but we find it difficult to accept this view. Our contention is that there is only one
river referred to as "Gai" (valley) in Jerusalem, and this is "Gai
Ben-Hinnom." Clear proof of this is
to be found in the words of Yirmiyahu (2:23), "How can you say, 'I have
not been defiled, I have not followed Ba'alim?' Behold your path in the valley
(gai); know what you have done, you are a fickle young camel turning in
Prof. Garsiel  proposes that this wadi be identified with the Charutz
Valley, mentioned in Yoel 14:4.
In this prophecy, speaking of God judging the nations, we find a
description of how the nations gather in the valleys adjacent to the house of
God. It is reasonable to assume
that the reference here is to Nachal Kidron in the East which is the Valley of
Yehoshafat, and to the "Middle Wadi" in the west the Charutz Valley. The prophecy describes how God sits in
Zion, on the Temple Mount, and judges the nations that are gathered in the
It is possible that Daniel, too, hints at this valley in his description
of the future rebuilding of Jerusalem: "
it shall be build again, with its
squares and moat ("charutz")
The first significance of the Valley of Charutz is that it originally
served as a ditch (moat) around the City of David. Such a ditch may also be called a
"charutz." Some opinions
maintain that it is called "charutz" in the sense of "gold" (see
Mishlei 3:14), due to its geographical proximity to the Temple and its
vessels, which are made of gold. In
relation to the prophecy of Yoel, it is clear that the term "charutz" is
to be interpreted in the sense of "ruling judgment" ("charitzat mishpat"
see I Melakhim 20:40).
Josephus interprets the name of the valley in the sense of "charitzei
chalav" cheeses (I Shemuel 17:18) - in commemoration of the cheese
makers, and he translates it as "Toiropeon" the "Valley of the
Relationship Between the Wadi and the City
Today, it is difficult to recognize the "Middle Valley" as a wadi at all,
because over the generations it has been filled with great quantities of dirt
and sand, to a height that is some 15m above its original level; this has
blurred its definition as a wadi.
The Middle Valley was the western boundary of Jerusalem so long as the
city was on the eastern hill. With
the expansion of the city towards the western hill, the wadi in fact came to
divide ancient Jerusalem into two separate hills the western hill (the Jewish
and Armenian quarters and Mount Zion), and the eastern hill (Mount Moriah, the
Milo, and the City of David).
At the end of the Second Temple period there was a bridge that connected
the upper city directly with the Temple Mount (Wilson's Arch). We have no knowledge of any special
passages between the western and eastern hills during the First Temple
period. It is even possible that
some of the sand filling the wadi was intentionally brought there in order to
ease the passage the two parts of the city. Likewise, we have no knowledge of
whether, after the expansion of the city, the original western wall of David's
City continued to exist or whether it was destroyed.
With the expansion of the city westward, a wall was built in two places
that cut through the wadi and joined the two parts of the city. These are located in the north of the
city, in the portion that is joined to the wall of Mount Moriah on the west
side, as well as in the southern part of the city, in the part that joins the
south-eastern part of the western hill with the south of the City of
Important Sites Along the Course of the Wadi
Several archaeological discoveries have been made on the slopes of this
wadi. Let us review the finds from
north to south:
At the beginning of the wadi's course, to the north of the Damascus Gate,
some very ornate burial caves were found, dating to the end of the First Temple
period (in and around the St. Etienne monastery).
An aqueduct that gathers the rainwater at the uppermost trough of the
wadi, from Damascus Gate and southward in the direction of Citrotean Pools (from
the Second Temple Period), and south-eastward towards the Temple on Mount
Moriah. The aqueduct is bisected by
the Herodian, western supporting wall of the Temple Mount.
It may possibly be identified with the "aqueduct of the upper pool"
mentioned in the days of Achaz and Chizkiyahu (Yishayahu 7:3; II
Melakhim 18:18; Yishayahu 36:2) .
Some identify the location of the "makhtesh" area, from the days
of Yoshiyahu (Tzefanya 1:11) with the south-western slopes of the
wadi. The association of this area
with this part of the wadi is based principally on the assumption that the name
"makhtesh" means that the place lies relatively low a description that
fits the proposed site.
At the southern end of the wadi, close to where it meets Nachal Kidron,
there are two pools of water:
Yechezkiyahu's pool, at the end of Yechezkiyahu's tunnel. It was built the end of the Eighth
Century B.C.E., as part of Yechezkiyahu's preparations for the siege of
Sancheriv. This is the pool
mentioned in II Melakhim 20:20.
As far as we are able to ascertain, this pool is the one referred to as
the "lower pool" (Yishayahu 22:9).
pool further to the south, at the trough of the wadi itself, closed on the east
side by a huge dam (the dam belongs to the Second Temple period, but was clearly
built on the foundations of an earlier one). Until the period of Yechezkiyahu, the
pool lay outside of the city. This
is one of the earliest known pools in Jerusalem; it may have been established in
the days of Shelomo. It is
reasonable to assume that this is the "old pool" for whose water a "pond between
the two walls" was created (Yishayahu 22:11).
Since this wadi cannot be identified in Tanakh, we can draw
conclusions as to its character only on the basis of archaeological
It is important to emphasize that the nature of the place changed with
the expansion of the city. At
first, this wadi represented the western border of the city, outside of the
walls. As the city expanded
westward, the place became more central, and came between the two hills that
were the two parts of the city.
Prof. Avigad proposes that the verse in Tehillim 122:13 "The
rebuilt Jerusalem is like a city that has been joined together" must be
understood against the backdrop of the westward expansion, with the inclusion of
the western hill within the fortified boundaries of the city
THE VALLEY OF
The wadi starts in the region of the high, western portion of Rechavya
(around the Wolfson Towers), and continues eastward via Independence Park and
Mamilla. From there it leads on to
the foot of Jaffa Gate, southward via the Artists' Courtyard (Chutzot
ha-Yotzer) and the Sultan's Pool, to the Cinematheque area, and from there
eastward to Nachal Kidron.
Characteristics and history
The Ben-Hinnom valley serves as a boundary between the inheritances of
the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin (Yehoshua 15:7-8,
As Jerusalem expanded during the course of the First Temple period (as
explained above), the Ben-Hinnom valley became the southern and western boundary
of Jerusalem (the presence of numerous burial caves, along with the remains of a
wall on the southern side of Mount Zion, confirm that the wadi lay outside of
Another significant characteristic of this wadi is that it, too, served
as a burial ground at the end of the First Temple period
(7th-8th centuries B.C.E.), like the other wadis
surrounding the city.
Towards the end of the First Temple period, in the days of Achaz,
Menasheh and Yehoyakim, the valley served as a place where the Jerusalemites
would burn their children in fire, as service to Molekh (II Melakhim
23:10; Yirmiyahu 7:31-32; 19:1-15; 32:35; II Divrei Ha-yamim 28:3;
Yirmiyahu (19:2) describes how he is commanded to buy a potter's
earthen bottle and to shatter it in the sight of the people in the Ben-Hinnom
valley, located at the "entry of the gate of Charsit." It is quite reasonable to assume that in
the Ben-Hinnom valley there were potters' homes, located outside the city in
accordance with the Sages' ruling that "Pottery is not made there [in
Jerusalem]" (Bava Kama 82b) because of the
At the end of the First Temple period, the valley lay outside of the
city, on its southern and western boundary. This location facilitated the use of its
slopes for purposes that were impossible to carry out within the city. Pottery making, burial, and service of
Molekh co-existed here, together establishing the character of the place as
connecting the impurity of death with idolatry.
The choice of this valley as a central location for Molekh worship left a
deep and lasting impression on the place . This place, more than any other,
represents the abysmal spiritual state of Israel, influenced by the surrounding
cultures, to the extent that in the days of Achaz, Menasheh, and Yehoyakim, they
even burned their own children with fire.
This behavior may have arisen from the perception that in a period of
such great political danger, it was necessary to beg for divine mercy by
sacrificing children as practiced among the pagans.
This disgraceful act included a combination of all three prohibitions
concerning which the Torah instructs a person to give up his life rather than
transgress them: idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality. The aspect of sexual immorality is
associated with Molekh worship according to the explanation of Abarbanel: one
who offers his children to Molekh desecrates the foundation of sanctity that
underlies marital relations, for he has brought children into the world for no
purpose, and hence is considered as having spilled his
It was the reenactment of Menashe's actions by Yehoyakim in this sphere,
too, that led directly to the destruction of the Temple and of the city. The symbolic act of the prophet
Yirmiyahu, in going out to the Ben-Hinnom Valley via the Gate of Charsit, to
break an earthen bottle before the eyes of the people gathered there,
demonstrated that this was how God was going to break the nation and the city,
such that they would never be healed.
In other words, the idolatry in this place was the direct cause of the
destruction. The sacrifice of
children to Molekh in Ben-Hinnom Valley could not be repaired in any way; there
was no repentance that could turn away the punishment that the people had
brought upon themselves by this act.
The prophet declares that the fate of the valley will be that the
inhabitants of the city fall there by the hand of their enemies, and that their
carcasses would be food for the birds of the sky and the animals of the earth
(Yirmiyahu 19:7). In other
words, it was here that the most bitter prophecy of rebuke mentioned in the
Torah (Devarim 28:26 and elsewhere) was realized.
Rav Tykachinsky  explains the great severity of the punishment
involved in this type of death.
Regular burial has an aspect that is reminiscent of a sort of "sowing"
the chemical components of the body combine with the earth and give life to it
and to themselves. The destruction
of the body by fire, on the other hand, precludes this aspect of
continuity. Therefore, when the
prophet Yirmiyahu announces that this valley will contain the carcasses of the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, strewn there as food for the birds and the animals, he
is speaking of a punishment that is measure for measure. Just as the people did
not allow the continuity of their existence by killing their children and
burning them with fire, so they themselves would not be buried, and would not
have any continuity.
The prophecy describes Yirmiyahu's sharp change of focus from the
Ben-Hinnom Valley to the House of God (Yirmiyahu 19:14). The House of God is described by
Chazal as the site of the Garden of Eden, while the valley of Ben-Hinnom
the place of impurity where Molekh worship was performed corresponds to
Gehennom (Hell). The transition
from the valley to the mountain is, symbolically, the ascent from Gehennom to
the Garden of Eden. As punishment
for the sins that were perpetrated in Gehennom, the Temple the place of the
Garden of Eden was destroyed .
Thus, Jerusalem is located in between the Garden of Eden and Gehennom;
its heart is the Temple the site of the Garden of Eden, and its outer
extremity is the entrance to Gehennom the Valley of Ben-Hinnom
In addition to these three main wadis, which form the contours and
borders of ancient Jerusalem, mention should also be made of two smaller
Nachal Bizita flows into Kidron north-east of Mount Moriah (it starts
outside of the Flower Gate).
Nachal Arev (or Nachal Tzolev) passes through David Street (from Jaffa
Gate), and then through The Street of the Chain until it joins with the Middle
Wadi in the region of today's Chain Gate.
The importance of this valley lies in the fact that with the expansion of
the city westward, it became the northern boundary of the western
The three valleys that we have discussed Kidron in the East, the Middle
Wadi (perhaps Charutz valley) in the center, and Ben-Hinnom Valley in the West
and the South actually define the structure of two
the eastern hill, between Nachal Kidron and the Middle Wadi with the
City of David in the South and Mount Moriah in the North;
the western hill, between the Middle Wadi and the Valley of
Ben-Hinnom. It was in the direction
of this hill that Jerusalem was enlarged during the course of the First Temple
period (today this area is occupied by the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter,
and Mount Zion, with the northern boundary of the hill at Nachal Arev, in the
Region of David Street and The Street of the Chain, in the Arab
To summarize this shiur: we have attempted to analyze the course
of the valleys that delimit the ancient city of Jerusalem, and to indicate their
characteristics and their inherent character.
In the next shiur we will address various factors characterizing
the location of the city, the reasons for its choice and the stages of its
development, paying attention to the spiritual significance of its
 It should be noted that this subject is broad in
scope; we shall devote three shiurim to it and include just the
essentials, although there is certainly room to elaborate further. (Concerning each valley we could study
its path, its name, its identity, important sites along its course, its
 This represents biblical proof of the presence of
graves in Nachal Kidron.
Apparently, the concept of the graves of the common people means simple
graves that are not hewn into family burial caves, but rather dug in the ground
on the slopes of the wadi.
 It is interesting that the prophecies of the time to
come describe a flow of water from the Temple to the desert (Yoel 4:18;
Yechezkel 47:1-12; Zekharya 14:4-11). It is reasonable to assume that the
water flows out via Nachal Kidron, thereby repairing the previous situation
whereby the remnants of idolatry were carried via this wadi to the Dead
 It is interesting that an ancient canal was
discovered on the eastern slope of David's City, with windows carved along its
length facing eastwards. It is
possible that one of the functions of this canal was to irrigate agricultural
plots along the way.
 The expression Middle Wadi defines the location: the
wadi is in the middle of and divides the ancient city into two hills, an eastern
and a western. We make use of its
Greek name here even though it belongs to a much later period, because as far
as we are able to ascertain this wadi has no clear name in Tanakh,
other than in the vision of the End of Days.
 Prof. Garsiel, "The Biblical Source of the Valley of
Toiropeon in Jerusalem, Mentioned by Josephus," Beit Mikra year 40, 5755,
 There are differing opinions as to the dating of the
aqueduct and its identity; we shall not elaborate here.
 We humbly maintain that this verse refers to the
connection between the city and the House of God, rather than between the
eastern and western hills.
 The source of the name of this wadi is not clear; it
may have been named after the son of a Canaanite named "Hinnom," but there is no
way of ascertaining this.
Chazal explain the name as echoing the murmuring (nehima)
of the young children sacrificed to Molekh in the valley of Ben-Hinnom
(Yalkut Shimoni Yirmiyahu 7, 477): "
For the voice of the infant
would murmur (nohem) because of the fire. Another explanation: that the spectators
would murmur, 'May it be delightful to you, may it be sweet to you, may it be
fragrant to you.' Therefore it was
 This subject deserves a shiur in its own
right; we shall not elaborate here.
We hinted, in the shiur on the Akeida, at the contrast between the
Akeida and the worship of Molekh, despite their outward
 Rav Tykachinsky, Gesher Ha-chaim vol. II, p.
 Various rabbinical sources identify the location of
Gehennom in Jerusalem. Thus, the
Gemara in Eruvin 19a (and in Sukka 32b): "Rabbi Yirmiya ben
Elazar said: There are three openings to Gehennom. One is in the desert, one in the sea,
and one in Jerusalem. In the desert
as it is written, 'They and all that was theirs descended live to Sheol'; in
the sea as it is written, 'From the bowels of Sheol I cry out; You hear my
voice'; in Jerusalem as it is written, 'Says the Lord, Whose hearth is in Zion
and Whose furnace is in Jerusalem.'
And we learn from Devei Rabbi Yishmael: 'Whose hearth is in Zion' this
is Gehennom; 'and Whose furnace is in Jerusalem' this is the entrance of
Gehennom. Is there no other? Rabbi
Merion said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and some say Rabbi Merion
from the house of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, 'There are two date palms in
Ben-Hinnom valley, and smoke rises up from between them. This is what we learn from the words,
'the date palms of the mountain of steel are fit' is this the entrance to
Gehennom? Hence we are told, 'of Jerusalem.'"
Likewise, the Midrash in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana
29: "'Behold, a day is coming for God' - why do they come to Jerusalem? Rabbi
Shemuel bar Nachmani said: because Gehennom is located in Jerusalem, and the
Holy One sits and judges them, and declares them guilty, and sends them down to
Gehennom. And from where do we
learn that Gehennom is located in Jerusalem? As it is written, 'Says the Lord,
Whose hearth is in Zion and Whose furnace is in
 It is interesting that the names of the wadis that
surround Jerusalem on all sides reflect its darker side: "Kidron" from the
word "kederot" (?); "Ben-Hinnom Valley (gai ben hinnom)"
Gehennom; and "Emek Refaim" the Valley of Dead Spirits. This may be meant to emphasize the
sanctity and great worth of Jerusalem and the House of God in contrast to what
is outside of the city.
Translated by Kaeren