Anat Sela

Jerusalem is often thought of as a center of political debate, and it is so from the narrow temporal perspective of the worlds of Psyche and soma. In this article we will attempt to visit celestial Jerusalem, a source of faith and longing for religions, who left their profound mark on the city’s outline.


Map of the Old City. In gray marking The Cardo (vertical – North-South) and The Decumano (horizontal – West- East)

The old city’s structure is that of a heart with four chambers, each chamber containing a heart of its own: The Muslim quarter with the Temple Mount; the Jewish quarter with the Wailing Wall; the Christian quarter with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; and the Armenian quarter with St. James’ Cathedral.

Historical and geographical orientation
Jerusalem has a known history of about 4000 years of continuous settlement. It was conquered 44 times by 13 different people, from the Jebusites (Canaanites or Hitits) to the Israelis today. Each conquerer brought his own perception of culture and left his legacy in the architecture, infrastructure and the local genetics of the people. The city is built layer upon layer; in each layer the building blocks of the older underlying layer
were used. This has made the task of researchers and archaeologists both interesting and challenging, and is a main concrete and symbolic characteristic of Jerusalem.

mapa jeru
The landscape of the old city gradually drops from west to east and from north to south. The Hebrew city developed firstly from south to north and then from east to west, from lower to upper surface, during the late times of the 1st Temple. The Temple mount that was constructed by king Herodes is on a leveled relatively lower surface about 740 meters high and below it, at about 730 meters is the western wall. The Christian quarter is at the highest point, about 785 meters. The Bible does not give many details on the topography of Jerusalem in the times of the 1st Temple (middle of 10th century BC) and there is even less archaeological evidence from earlier times. However Parker’s diggings (1909-1911) assured that the beginning of the city was on the eastern slope next to the Gihon spring.
Jerusalem is located on the watershed line which crosses Israel from north to south (In purple). The line spreads rain water to eastern and western drainage basins. As can be seen in the map, this line runs parallel to the Syrian – African Quake that also crosses Israel from north to south. These are two interesting features in the relatively narrow land of Israel: one is of abundance, a flow of life. The other is of fraction and collision between tectonic plates. They can be seen as representing the true
nature of the city and the country, celestial potential and sociopolitical manifestation.


Through the eyes of the biblical author

We are used to thinking about Jerusalem as a holy place for the three monotheistic religions, but its earliest settlers as far as we know today were the Jebusites. There is evidence that Jerusalem was a place of worship already then. The Canaanite city was ruled by Malki-Tsedek, a king-priest who worshiped El Elion (superior El or “God most high”) since the time of Abram (approx. 1800 BC). “El Elion” is considered by researchers and historians to be head of the Canaanite pantheon.
In Abram’s faith he is singularly superior and there is no other God. Abram met Malki-Tsedek (Genesis 14) upon his return from war with 4 kings in Mesopotamia, saving his nephew Lot. Malki-Tsedek offered him bread and wine and blessed him in the name of “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (ph. 19). Abram gave him a tenth of all his belongings. Abram then swears in the name of “the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” who is singularly superior and above all (ph. 22). In spite of a difference in faith, Malki-Tsedek and Abram’s acting suggest mutual acknowledgment, perhaps even recognition of Malki-Tzedek as priest. Malki-Tsedek is also mentioned in Psalms 110, 4

The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

According to Gesher Lexicon, the two scripts from Genesis and Psalms suggest that the kingdom of David on Israel and Jerusalem is perceived as a succession of Malki-Tsedek, the ancient king-priest of Jerusalem. Both scripts emphasize the holiness and significance of Jerusalem prior to the Israelites.
Joshua 10, 1 mentions “Adoni-Tsedek” (Master of Justice) as king of Jerusalem. It seems to be a traditional name similar to “Malki-Tsedek” (King of Justice). This may aim at establishing a dynasty and a connection between Justice and Jerusalem (or at stating that its ruler is a king-priest).
Some 800 years later king David conquers Jerusalem, and lets its priest-king stay. It is a physical conquest without sanctification (Samuel, 5). In Samuel 24 king David is punished for his sins and a plaque hunts the city; 70,000 people die, and then we find this amazing quote, on phrase 16:

“And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the
people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite”.

So, even the Biblical author, who has a clear agenda of nurturing a Hebrew- Israeli identity, describes a situation where God himself has interest in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebisite and will not have it destroyed. On the contrary, king David’s repent is to erect an altar on that spot, by that establishing a lineage and a continuation of Hierophania. The sanctification stops the plaque, and the religious ritual binds Heaven and Earth once again. Order is not only restored, but gains an additional depth, by a proper passage of sanctity from nation to nation.
It is interesting to note that at that time, king David and king Araunah both meet as kings, although David is a conquerer. King Araunah blesses David

“May the LORD your God accept you” (Samuel, 24).

This once again suggests a recognition of priesthood and holiness, unusual in the setting of conquerer and concurred. This myth or chosen story seems to contain a key to the hermeneutics of celestial Jerusalem: the distinction between the Sacred and the profane. As Elliade (1949) writes in Traite d’histoire des religions:

The Sacred is always manifested through something – Hierophania – whether it be a divine image, a symbol, a moral law or an idea, it is not important. In any case the manifestation of the Sacred is limited”.

When the Sacred isat the center and the socio-political power is around it, then there is abundance and a flow of life, as with the watershed line. When the socio-political powers push each other
to get to the center then there is fraction and collision, as with the tectonic plates.

Entering the Walls through Jaffa gate


Jaffa gate photo chrome picture from 1890 from website:

The wall surrounding the old city today was built by order of the ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, in the 16th century. For 400 years his soldiers patrolled along the walls keeping the safety of its residents. The area surrounded by the wall is less than 1 square kilometer, and its length is 4,018 meters. The average height is 12 meters and average width is 2.5 meters. There are 34 watch towers and 7 gates to the city.
Jaffa gate is on the west, leading west to the port city of Jaffa, and east to the Roman Decumano all the way to the Temple Mount. In Arabic it is named “Bab-el- Halil” (gate of the beloved) and is considered leading to Hebron were Abraham, the mutual father of Jews and Arabs is buried. It is one of eight gates (nine – if we count the double gate of Mercy and Redemption as two), and the only gate on the western wall.
Entering the city through Jaffa gate we can see to the left two tombs, near the wall. Tradition claims these are the tombs of the architects of the wall who were executed by Suleiman the Magnificent, either because they did not include King David’s tomb inside the walls, or because of his fear that they would reveal the secrets of the wall to enemies. On the right side of Jaffa gate is the fort known today as King David’s fort. 19Th century travelers mistakingly gave it its name. The fort has nothing to do with King David. It was built by king Herodes, a great builder, on the highest spot in the old city, guarding the west valley of Hinom and overlooking the city to the east. On its ruins, the Romans built the camp of the 10th legion. On top of that the Arabs added a large citadel with inner court, to which the Crusaders added big halls for their guards.

The Mamlukes made the walls thicker and the Turks turned it into an army base with a board for cannons. A mosque turret was added in the 17th century and it stands until today. As can be seen, the story of the fort in one example of the complex history of socio-political powers in Jerusalem.
The panoramic view from the top of Pazael tower, one of three towers in the fort, gives an overview of the old city that stretches to the east, its surrounding wall, and the new city that expanded to the west, north and south. East of the Temple Mount, outside the wall is Mt. Olives, a burying place that is located closely to the Temple Mount. It is the belief of Jews, Christians and Muslims that when time of redemption comes, the messiah or prophet will enter from the east, through the double gates of Mercy and Redemption which are currently blocked. At that time the dead will be
resurrected and will be the first to enter, following Him.
From a symbolic point of view it is interesting to reflect on the situation, that the gates of Mercy and Redemption are blocked.
The Temple Mount is Mt. Moria with its holiest place – the Dome of the Rock, often mistakenly thought of as a mosque. It is where the Jebusite king Araunah’s threshing floor stood, as a place of worship; were the binding of Isaac by Abraham took place, according to Judaic and Islamic belief; where the 1st and 2nd Temples stood since the middle of the 10th century BC until final destruction at 70 AD; where El Aktsa mosque stands since the 7th century AD; where the prophet Muhammad rose up to Heavens upon return from his night journey to Mecca; where the Wailing wall stands, bellow on its west side – a last remain of the external wall of the Temple. It is regarded as the most sacred place for Jews and the 3rd sacred place for Muslims. It is an Umphalus – a center of the world.

A center of the world
According to Elliade (1949) in Traite d’histoire des religions ch. 143, the symbolism of a center of the world is composed of three complimentary ensembles:

1.At the center of the world there is a sacred mountain which is the meeting point of Heavens and earth.
2.Any Temple, a palace, a city and a royal habitation is considered a “Sacred mountain” and therefore a “center”.
3.The Temple or Holy fort is the center of Heavens, earth and the underworld, as it is an axis mundi.

Elliade gives several examples for a holy mountain, such as Mount Meru for the Hindus, the Ziggurat in Mesopotamia, the Gulgolta (place of the scull) for the Christians
– also within the Old City of Jerusalem, the Kaaba for the Muslims, and more.
Examples for a Holy habitation are the Temple Mount and the Temple of the Ziggurat. According to Elliade, every fort-city in the east was a center of the world. Babylon for example was “Bab-el-yani”, gate of the Gods. It was built over Bab Epsu, the gate of Epsu that represented the chaotic waters before creation. The Temple Mount is another example he gives. The symbolism of an Umphalus is of a cross point or an axis between cosmic planes. It is both Hierophanic and real, a profound space for creation, and only in it creation can occur. As a fetus begin its development from the navel, so God begins creation from the navel and from there there is a spread into all directions (Elliade, 1949, ch. 143).
One of the most known interpretations of Ezekiel the prophet says:

“The land of Israel is at the center of the world, and the Temple is at the center of Jerusalem, and the Holy of the Holies is at the center of the Temple, and the ark of the covenant is at the center of the Holy of the Holies, and the Drinking Stone is before the Holy of the Holies”.


“Dome of the Rock” – the drinking stone

In Jewish tradition, according to the Zohar legend, when God created the world He threw one precious stone from His throne and it sank into the void with its top above it and it is a point at the center of the world. From that point the world spread to right and left and to all directions and it exists thanks to that middle point – The Drinking Stone. The tablets given at Mt. Sinai were cut from the Drinking Stone, which later on
was inside the Holy of the Holies of the Temple. The Drinking Stone is regarded as a test stone where at the end of time everyone will be judged. The axis provides direct contact with Heaven and Hell.

Judaic and Islamic belief is that the Stone covers the void’s opening and holds its water from bursting and destroying the world, as happened during the Flood. At the end of time, water will burst out of the Drinking Stone – Judaic belief is that this time not for destruction but for heeling the world. Islamic belief is that it will be a sign for the end of the world. Amazingly, these days, we can sometimes find a piece of news that tells that Orthodox Rabbis and Islamic Imams meet to check if there are signs of water in the Stone.
The perception of The Drinking Stone and of Jerusalem as a center connected with the time of creation is accepted by the 3 monotheistic religions.
West to the East, or East to West?
During the time of the first Temple (mid-10th century- 586 BC) the direction of prayer was from east to west. The entrance to the Temple was from the east and the Holy of the Holies was in the most western chamber. This was probably a Canaanite influence, as the Canaanite name “Yeru-Shalem” (meaning “founded for Shalem”) was passed on to the Israelites, along with the designated Holy place, King Araunah’s threshing floor. Shalem is the name of the God of Dusk, or west. In Canaanite mythology (Darshan, 2009), the superior God, El, encountered two flames of fire, one pointing up and calling “father, father”, the other pointing down and calling “mother, mother”. He took them home and hugged them.
From his hugging they both became pregnant, and gave birth to the “pleasant Gods” Shahar (Dawn) and Shalem (Dusk). The Ugarit pantheon also mentions Shahar and Shalem { Sahru-wa-Salimu }, who represent the polarity of the divine: Dawn and dusk, complementing each other (Zeldin, 2010). Some Biblical interpretations claim that the “pleasant Gods” are the
children of the sons of God with the daughters of men. Analogical twins to Shahar and Shalem are Castor and Pollux, regents of the Gemini Constellation.

“They symbolize the poles apart of day and night, the horse tamer and the wrestler, the immortal and the mortal. They are the guarantors of Harmony by opposition and draw the East-West axis in the horizon. They undertake a funeral role since they are the protectors of the dead souls and guardians of the doorways that join the visible and the invisible.” (Schwartz, 1989).

Perhaps under this influence, the gates of Redemption and Mercy are on the eastern wall, and Mt. Olives cemetery is just across of it to the east. This double gate is known before the Ottoman walls from the period of Umayyah rulling, and there are even some remains of an older gate on that spot from the times of the second Temple. If there was a gate prior to that it is still buried under Herodes elevated construction of the Temple Mount.
Mt. Olives is sacred in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. In the time of the first and second Temples the ritual of “Red cow” took place there: a healthy cow was slaughtered, then burnt and the ashes were spread to purify those who were impure, such as people handling burials. Burials on Mt. Olives have been continuing since the time of the first Temple (other locations are known as well) and until today (Aharon, 1992).
During the reign of King Hezekiah (727-698 BC) many of the people were already on exile in Assyria. The remainning israelites were scattered and un-organized. King Hezkiah worked for the reunion of the people, religiosly and politically throughre-establishing Jerusalem as a religios and a politic entity. His first major act in that matter was to invite all the Israelites to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. Passover symbolizes a sense of national unity, rejuvination, and breaking of mental slavery. From their lowest point spiritually and organizationally, the people rised toward the east.
With the destruction of the first Temple at 586 BC and the mass exile of the remaining of the people, east was strengthened as the direction of longing and prayer.
The second Temple once again established the east-west axis, and after its destruction, the second massive exile and until today Jews pray towards the east. The Gemara, Tractate Brachot gives instructions for the orientation of a synagouge and its entrance:


The Ebstorf map is a Mappa Mundi, (13th century). Orientation east-west. Jesus head is at the east, his hands on the sides and feet below. Reproduction, original was destroyed in 2nd world war (from wikipedia).

“If standing outside of Israel, (the praying) will direct his heart towards Israel… If standing inside Israel, will direct his heart towards Jerusalem… If standing in Jerusalem, will direct his heart towards the Temple… If standing in the Temple, will direct his heart towards the Holy of the Holies… Therefore in the east turn west, in the west turn east, in the south turn north, in the north turn south, and so all Israelites are turning their hearts toone place” (There, p. 30, 1).

Nostalgia to Eden
There are many more threads to pursue in the Sacred Geography of Jerusalem, acity whose secrets continue to unveil layer after layer.The geometrical form that symbolizes Jerusalem in many old maps is a circle,but the practical geometrical form for the past 400 years at least, is a square. Durand (1992) writes that the round shape is related to the stomach and to the Garden of Eden, while the square shape is related to protection and shelter. Jerusalem is of mineral
symbolism (defense) while the Garden of Eden is of floral symbolism (intimacy). Here too we may find the gap between the mythical idea and its practical manifestation.
In the chapter “Nostalgia to Eden” Elliade (1949) writes that Man cannot live anywhere but in a sacred space. If the Sacred place is not revealed to him, he will create it. Any home is in some way a representation of that center. In this way we should refer to Man’s will to always be, without effort, in the heart of the universe, the heart of existence, the heart of the Holy, or in other words – to surpass his human condition and re-gain a divine condition.
The history of religions, Elliade writes, is mostly the history of changes in the evaluation of the process of Hierophania. The actions of idle worshipers and idle destroyers are natural spiritual attitudes towards the phenomena of Hierophania.
This brief presentation of celestial Jerusalem touches on an idea that has many manifestations in the monotheistic religions, and it may be what HPB called “the seal” of these religions. From recognition and respect to the Holy place there seem to have arose an un-controlled need of each religion to exclusively be in a sacred place, in the center. Seclusion and ethnocentrism have been pushing to the center, like tectonic plates.
It is for us, philosophers and disciples, to remember what the idea of “chosen” means esoterically and to be able to act on this idea as a watershed line that spreads its richness to all directions.

The Bible
City of David – Jerusalem walls national park website
Gesher Lexicon on Mikra-net website – of the Israeli Bible teachers World united synagogues website
Aharon, Y. (1992). Mount Olives. In the periodical “Et-Mol” for the history of the land of Israel and the people of Israel. Vol. 104. Yad Ben Zvi Publishers
Darshan, G. & Darshan N. (2009). Canaanite Mythology. Mapa Publishers
Durand, G. (1992). The anthropological structure of the imaginary. Boombala Publishers
Schwartz, F. (1989). Role, style and function of the God Hermes
Yeivin, S. (1973). While reading the book of Ezekiel, in Beit Mikra”, periodical no. 43. The society for Bible research in Israel
Zakovich, y. (1991).Bible traditions on the beginning of sanctification of Jerusalem, in jerusalem in the days of the 1st Temple. Yad Ben Zvi publishers
Zeldin, G. (2010). In the beginnings. Reuben Mas Publishers. Jerusalem