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CITY. In ancient times cities owed their origin, not to organized manufacture, but to agriculture. When men left the pastoral life and settled down to the cultivation of the soil, they often found their cattle and crops endangered by wandering tribes of the desert; and it was to protect themselves from such enemies that they created first the village and then the city. Cities were built in areas where agriculture could be carried on, usually on the side of a mountain or the top of a hill, and where a sufficient supply of water was assured. The names of cities often indicate the feature that was determinative in the selection of the site. For example, the prefixes Beer, meaning “well,” and En, meaning “spring,” in such names as Beersheba and En Gedi, show that it was a local well or spring that determined the building of the city. Names like Ramah, Mizpah, and Gibeah (all from roots indicating height), which were very common in Palestine, indicate that a site on an elevation was preferred for a city. A ruling family sometimes gave its name to a city (Beth, meaning “house of”).

Ancient farmers did not have their own farms. At the end of a day’s work they retired for the night to the village or city. Smaller villages sought the protection of nearby cities. That is the meaning of the expression, added to the name of a city, “and its surrounding settlements” (Num.21.25; Num.32.42). In return for the protection offered against nomadic attacks, the cities received payment in service and produce. Sometimes a city was protected by a feudal lord around or near whose fortress the city was built. Often it depended entirely on the strength of its walls and the bravery of its men.

Within the walls, the important features of a city were the stronghold or fortress, the high place, the broad place by the gate, and the streets. The stronghold was an inner fort protected by a garrison to which the inhabitants could run when the outer walls were taken by an enemy. The people of Shechem tried unsuccessfully to hold out against Abimelech in such a stronghold (Judg.9.49), and the king was afterward killed by a woman who dropped a stone from the tower within the city of Thebez (Judg.9.50, Judg.9.53). When David captured the fortress of Zion, the whole city came into his possession (2Sam.5.7). Sometimes towers abutted the inside of the city wall.

The high place was an important part of every Canaanite city and retained its place in Palestine to the time of Solomon’s reign (1Sam.9.12ff.). There sacrifices were offered and feasts held. Originally they were on an elevation, but the term became the general one for any local sanctuary even when it was on level ground.

The broad place was an open area—not a square, but only a widening of the street, just inside the city gate, serving as a place for social intercourse in general. It was the center of communal life. Here the people of the city administered justice, held deliberative assemblies, exchanged news, and transacted business. Strangers in the city passed the night there if they had no friends in the city. It had a defensive value in time of war, as it permitted the concentration of forces in front of the city gate.

The streets in ancient cities were not laid out on any fixed plan. They were narrow, winding, unpaved alleys. The streets of Jerusalem were not paved until the time of Herod Agrippa II. Cities built on steep hillsides had streets on the roofs of houses. Streets were rarely cleaned and were unlighted. Certain streets were allocated to particular trades and guilds—for bakers, cheese- makers, goldsmiths, etc.

Little is known about how city government was administered. In Deut.16.18 and Deut.19.12 mention is made of elders and judges. Samaria had a governor (1Kgs.22.26). Jerusalem must have had several high officials (2Kgs.23.8).——SB

CITY (עִיר, H6551; קִרְיָה, H7953; Gr. πόλις, G4484). Several words are used in the OT to describe a city. The most common is ’îr, which occurs 1,090 times. A more poetic term is kiryah, and another term is geret. The term ša’ar or gate, is used to describe a function of the city as center of justice, notably in the Book of Deuteronomy. It was not size or fortification that differentiated a city from a village (hasar) but some kind of enclosure and esp. the socio-economic and judicial functions of the urban settlement.

Origins of urban life in southwest Asia.

The rise of cities has been termed the second great “revolution” of civilization. Unlike the earliest revolution, the domestication of plant and animals in Neolithic agriculture, the origins of urban life were more expressive of changes in man’s interaction with his fellowmen than in the interaction with his physical environment. Granted that the concept of surplus food, its production and accumulation had first to be invented and valued, to make urban life possible. But the essential element that distinguished town from village life was the invention, development and diffusion of a whole series of new institutions in greater size and more complex social character. Too much reliance has in the past been placed by archeologists upon the material evidence of monuments, fortifications, settlement layout, etc. to describe and explain the origin of cities in the Near E. Now we are beginning to realize that the origin of urban life lies in the more intangible realities of social stratification and administration. Size too is an inadequate criterion of urban life. What is significant rather is the expansion of full-time specialists in non-agricultural activities. By such criteria, it appears likely that the first towns originated in Mesopotamia in the middle of the 4th millennium b.c. Miss Kenyon has argued that Jericho appears with fortified walls and well-developed mud houses as early as 8000 b.c.; she classifies it as “urban.” Little is known of the social organizations of this early settlement, and writing is absent. Under criticism from Professor Braidwood, she concedes it might be “urban,” c. 5000 b.c. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, commenting on Miss Kenyon’s material accepts a date earlier than 6000 b.c. for Jericho as a “town.” Professor V. Gordon Childe takes both these authorities to task for using such loose terminology as “urbanization” and contends that in addition to size, heterogeneity of occupation, public works, etc., writing is essential to the categorization of the “city,” implying the existence of a highly specialized non-agricultural group that has the necessary leisure to develop this complex skill.

If the presence of a literati, associated with some method of formal education for the propagation of writing is assumed the criterion for urbanism, then the earliest evidence of cities in Mesopotamia is soon after 3500 b.c. Among the earliest cities were Erech, Eridu, Ur, Lagash, and Larsa in Sumer, the southernmost portion of the Tigris-Euphrates valley area. Kish and Jemdet Nasr, just to the N in Accad., are also very early towns. The steps in the transformation of the older village settlements into cities, a process that took many centuries, may be traceable in a number of these sites. Typically, these towns grew up around a walled precinct containing a temple area, devoted to the main city-god and other deities. At Erech, one temple was set on an artificial mound that was 40 ft. high and covered an area of c. 42,000 sq. ft. Streets were narrow, unpaved and lacking adequate drainage. At Ur, excavations have shown a continued rise of street level with the accumulation of refuse. Houses were jumbled together, without planning, apart from the open spaces designed around the temples and government buildings. Special sections of the town later began to be lined with merchants, booths and travelers’ inns. Near the city’s periphery resided the poorest people and large numbers of agriculturists were found within the periphery of the Mesopotamian cities. Excluding the full time farmers, it is likely that the largest cities housed 5-10,000 inhabitants, though even in the 3rd millennium b.c. some were of imposing size: Ur had perhaps 24,000; Lagash 10,000; Umma 16,000; Khafaji 12,000. At the beginning of the first millennium, Ur had 34,000 within the walled city and Greater Ur was prob. 36,000 (Woolley).

In the lower Nile and delta areas, some large walled communities began to be grouped into a number of independent, political units soon after 3500 b.c. Each contained large, cooperative irrigation projects to utilize the annual floods of the Nile. Writing is evidenced about 3100 b.c. and the written records begin to list the cities of Memphis, Thebes, Heliopolis, Nekkeb (El Kab), Abydos, etc. Built of more perishable materials, such as mud and wattle, and buried by the Nile alluvium, their material evidence is much more scanty than that of Mesopotamia. Furthermore, few large cities developed, as it became customary for each new pharaoh to change the site of his capital. Large cities, such as Thebes, with multi-storey houses and a processional avenue, became significant only in late dynasties. The Egyp. evidence of the functions of social, political and economic institutions is meager in contrast with the rich data available in the cuneiform texts of Mesopotamia. We therefore know very much less about the evolution of Egyp. town life. In addition to the royal cities we have glimpses of store-cities of the pharaoh such as Pithom and Ra’amses (Exod 1:11). Egyptian architecture is devoted to the temples and tombs, that is to the gods and the dead rather than to the transient dwellers of the earth. Brick buildings were first imitated from Mesopotamia about 3000 b.c., and mud-brick houses later became the rule.

Cities in the OT.

The earliest Palestinian town to be discovered thus far is Jericho. Carbon14 tests suggest possibly that a town of some nine acres in extent existed between the 6th and 5th millennium b.c. In the absence of other urban sites for another 3000 years or more in Pal., it is premature to speculate whether Jericho is a unique phenomenon or not. Nor is there clear evidence that the Chalcolithic settlements evolved directly into the towns of the Early Bronze Age during the 3rd millennium b.c. This is the first great period of town formation, with evidence of towns encompassed by strong fortifications. At Megiddo and Khirbet Kerak the walls reached thicknesses of some thirty ft. The great population centers were in the valleys during the Early Bronze Age, esp. along the important coastal route. The towns were 5-10 acres in size, but at Khirbet Kerak located beside the Sea of Galilee, the town covered fifty acres. The excavated sites reveal a destruction layer, followed by the Amorite culture. The northern migrants represent one of the greatest and most decisive phases of the settlement of Pal., that occurred at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 2nd millennium b.c. One list enumerates some twenty towns and their districts in one group, and some sixty-four placenames—mostly of well-known towns—in a later list. By now two inland towns, Shechem and Jerusalem, had become major centers as key points on the King's Highway|King’s Highway.

Following the Hyksos invasion, in the 18th cent. b.c., large towns with strong fortifications were added to or founded. The capital was Hazor, occupying an immense rectangular area of over 175 acres, surrounded by a huge ramp and was the largest Palestinian town ever built in the Biblical period. It is still difficult to determine without further excavation whether these large Hyksos centers were true towns or just great military camps with perhaps concentration of chariot forces. The El Amarna letters of the royal Egyp. archives of c. 1402-1347 b.c. make it possible to distinguish in the period between Egyp. garrisons, district capitals, and royal cities. Generally, the high density of towns in the coastal plain was such that each town ruled a small hinterland, whereas the more isolated towns in the interior hill lands tended to have a different political control of larger territories, often with a capital such as Shechem or Jerusalem controlling lesser towns and villages as well within its sphere of influence. Presumably, considerable areas of the interior hill lands were still forested and unoccupied.

Following the Israelite settlement in the land, possibly in the 13th cent. b.c., the tribes of Israel changed their way of life from dwellings in booths and tents, following the herds and flocks, to settled agriculture and town life. Sometimes, as at Bethel, an Israelite settlement was built upon the ruins of the Canaanite city soon after its destruction. At Ai, Mizpah and Shiloh, re-occupation of the ruined sites was delayed. Elsewhere the evidence suggests Israelite foundation of new settlements, e.g. Gibeah, Ramah and Geba. There is also evidence of small permanent settlements created in mountainous terrain, formerly forested, in upper Galilee, Edom, Moab and Ammon, in suitable clearings. Aharoni, who has made a detailed study of the Israelite settlement of the land, shows the importance of the preexisting network of Canaanite cities in influencing the invasion routes, stages of conquest and subsequent phases of colonization made by the Israelites. By the use of the water cistern and the deforestation of the interior hills with iron tools, the Israelites created a new pattern of settlement. Now the interior hills became a new focus of urban life, and Jerusalem eventually came into its own. The contrast between the strongly fortified Canaanite cities of the coast and the small, poorly defended Israelite settlements at the beginning of the conquest of the land, was later reinforced by the invasion of the Philistines from the sea in the 12th cent. b.c. Three of the Philistinian cities were on the Via Maris: Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod and two in the Shephelah: Gath and Ekron. Their threat led to concerted action from the Israelite tribes to the founding of the monarchy, and in the establishment of Jerusalem as a national capital in the eighth year of David’s reign.

The significance of Jerusalem as a royal capital was its federal significance. A Jebusite fortress, David had captured it, and so it was neutral territory in relation to all of the rival tribes, each of whom might have quarreled over the choice of the site of the national capital. Hebron, David’s first capital (2 Sam 5:5) could never have provided the necessary cohesion. Later, it was shared with Samaria as capital of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 4:7-19). Some of the administrative districts were named after towns (Josh 13:25-27), others were named after tribes, and it may be that this presented an internal tension that was never resolved. The town districts were essentially in the Canaanite areas conquered by David, where the major cities flourished. The unfair taxation of Judah vis-a-vis the conquered territories led to the revolt that broke up the kingdom (cf. 1 Kings 4:21-24) in the reign of Rehoboam. The list of fortresses referred to in 2 Chronicles 11:5-12, describes the nature of the defense of his kingdom. The town list of Joshua 15:21-62 dividing Judah into twelve districts was an ancient and hallowed one that was eventually cancelled in the reign of Hezekiah, who regrouped them into four Judean districts. Though depleted of territory and population, these remained the frame of civic administration during the Exile and the Pers. period.

Compared to the 1800 acres of Nineveh and even the 240 acres of Carchemish, the cities of the OT in Pal. were small. However, there is the archeological problem of identifying the walls and actual sites of many of the ancient towns. For example, there is still little positive evidence for the course of the walls of Jerusalem until post-Biblical times. If George Adam Smith is right in advocating that “David’s burgh” was on the southeastern hill or Ophel, then it was no more than fourteen acres. I. W. J. Hopkins suggests the City of David on this site may have had about 3000 inhabitants. If the “Millo” which David and Solomon built (2 Sam 5:9; 1 Kings 9:15) is the terraces which expanded on the SE hill, then this could have been the next expansion outside the town to be included with new walls. Many scholars have believed that the SW hill was included into Jerusalem some time after the reign of Solomon. Dr. Kenyon’s excavations here found no evidence of this, though there is evidence for a northward expansion, influenced by the presence of the Temple and the main trade routes out of the city. Even Nehemiah’s Jerusalem was about the same size within the walls as that of Solomon, but with some slight adjustment to the lines of defenses. Possibly the immediate postexilic Jerusalem might have had 12,000 people.

The other cities of Pal. also had modest proportions in OT times. The area of Lachish did not exceed fifteen acres, while Gezer at its greatest expansion was no more than twenty-three acres, the circuit of its outer wall being some 1500 yards. Taanach and Megiddo each occupied twelve to thirteen acres.

Finally, as water supply in an arid or semiarid climate was so essential, one or more springs in the vicinity of these towns was vital (Gen 24:11). Mesha, king of Moab, narrates in one inscr. how, as there was “no cistern in the midst of a certain city, he said to all the people: make you each a cistern in his house.” Such private systems of cisterns are characteristic of towns like Qu’ram, Masada and other excavated sites of eastern Judea. Conduits and water tunnels too are typical of the Iron Age fortresses such as those discovered at Megiddo, Shechem, and Jerusalem. These were built for impressive distances, linking springs outside the defense system into the city, and becoming a standard technique for chariot fortresses (2 Kings 20:20).

Cities in the NT.

During the Maccabean wars, many of the Palestinian towns lost their fortification walls and were in ruins. When the Romans took control of the country after 63 b.c., and esp. after the great town builder and client, King Herod, held office (37-34 b.c.), cities were transformed and several created. Samaria, renamed Sebaste (Augusta), was reconstructed with new walls and towers enclosing an irregular oval nearly five-eighths of a m. in width. A huge temple over 225 ft. long was built, with the Forum on the E side of the temple. Caesarea, on the coast between Mt. Carmel and Joppa took twelve years to build (25-13 b.c.) and its extensive site has not yet been systematically excavated. For most of the period a.d. 6-66, it was the seat of the Rom. government in the country, where Paul was tried before Festus and Herod Agrippa (Acts 25:23ff.) and where the conversion of the Rom. centurion (10:18, 22) led to the establishment of a Gentile church. According to Josephus the harbor at Caesarea was the equal, if not larger than that of Athens; the area of its arena was slightly larger than even that of the Colosseum in Rome.

By the time of Christ, the central fort of the city of Jerusalem was no longer on the lower hill of Ophel, S of the Temple area, where it had been in OT times. A new wall, built in the Hellenistic/Hasmonaean period, had been built to enclose extramural growth to the N of the old city. The alignment is obscure, though recent excavations by Dr. J. B. Hennessy seem to show that the line was approximately that of the present N wall. A new wall was begun about a.d. 42 in the reign of Herod Agrippa to enclose the suburb to the N which Josephus calls Bezetha. It was only completed, however, during the period of the first Jewish revolt in a.d. 66. The topography of Jerusalem also changed. For example, the Tyropoeon Valley, which used to separate the eastern from the western sections of the city, was filled up partially with the refuse of centuries. The valley intervening between the Temple and lower city was filled in, when the Maccabees built the fortress of Acra, and reduced the height of the site of the lower city. Later, Herod rebuilt a Maccabean fortress at the point where the second city wall approached the Temple enclosure and named it Antonia, in honor of Mark Antony. The court of the Antonia is paved with huge limestone blocks, that may be “The Pavement” (John 19:13). The Tower of Antonia was the place where Paul was imprisoned when he was rescued from the mob in the Temple (Acts 21:27ff.). Herod also rebuilt the Temple and provided it with an enlarged courtyard, the southeastern part of which had to be supported by columns and immense vaults (“Solomon’s Vaults”). A massive retaining wall was also built by Herod, of which the “Wailing Wall” on the W is typical (at least in its lower section). The Temple itself was one of the most magnificent in the classical world; and yet Jesus’ prophecy of its destruction was literally fulfilled (Mark 13:2) in a.d. 70 when the army of Titus laid waste the whole city. Jerusalem was not rebuilt until after a.d. 132 when the gentile Aelia, covering some 60-70 acres and possibly with 10-18,000 inhabitants, was a poor substitute for the former splendors of the holy city.

Herod the Great built a number of other splendid fortresses and palaces in Pal. at Ascalon, Herodium (S of Bethlehem), Masada, Machaerus, Qarn Sartabeh (N of Jericho), and Jericho. They reveal in their mosaics, stone masonry and other evidence, the opulence and prosperity of a wealthy period that collapsed after a.d. 70.

A distinct group of NT cities are the Hel. cities which came into existence in the 3rd and 2nd centuries b.c. in Trans-Jordan, and at Scythopolis (Beth-Shan). With the coming of the Romans, these ten cities were banded together into the Decapolis and placed under the political control of the Rom. governor in Syria. The strategic importance of this eastern flank of the Rom. frontier, and the preservation of Hel. vis-a-vis Sem. and Jewish interests, explain their identity (Matt 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:31). Among the best known of these towns are Gerasa (Jerash) and Philadelphia (’Amman), laid out as typical Hel. cities. Gadara, five m. SE of Lake Tiberias is, however, the only one connected with the ministry of our Lord, and even that reference is uncertain (Matt 8:28). For though Greeks came seeking for Him, the rural ministry of the gospels was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).

In the civic atmosphere of the Acts and the epistles, a very different structure is felt. There is seen the classical Gr. city development, where the people of the polis run their own municipal affairs, administered within their own territory. Their city councils are large, with 500-600 members in each major city. Citizens are enfranchised, and the sense of justice for the rights of the individual are reinforced in city life. However, whereas the Rom. cities of the western Mediterranean were by NT times an extension of Rome itself, the cities of the eastern provinces were more provincial, more Hel. in culture, with often only a minority of Romans in the cities, sometimes constituting a town within a town. In the Book of the Acts, Antioch, Lystra and Corinth have as many Hellenes and Jews as Romans in their streets (Acts 13:14; 16:2; 18:4). It is primarily within these Hellenized cities that the spread of Christianity takes place in a strategic awareness of the privileges and opportunities for the dissemination of the faith in these self-contained communities. Apart from Edessa beyond the Euphrates, the Church of the 1st cent. a.d. was restricted to the Rom. empire, and esp. to its major cities. Possibly most of the early Christians were concentrated in Asia Minor, where Jewish urban communities had long been stablished in trading centers, and had created around them a circle of half proselytized “God-fearing” Gentiles. It was in these latter circles that the Christian Gospel took effect.

The cities of the NT are much more diverse in character. In place of a long Sem. continuity, the rigid bureaucracy of Rom. military towns and colonial cities, the more open character of the Gr. city states each with its own character, and the hybrid features of the oriental cities of Asia Minor and Syria, provide a growing complexity of detail in the city life of Christian missionary enterprise. Hints of diverse environmental detail are touched upon in the letters to the seven churches (Rev 1-3). Cities too are much larger, many of them formally planned either in Hel. or Rom. style. (See also articles on City authorities, and on major cities.)


On the origins of urban life in the Near E., an anthropological approach is that of R. McC. Adams, The Evolution of Urban Society (1966). See also V. G. Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East (1952); R. J. Braidwood and G. R. Willey (ed.), Courses Towards Urban Life, Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, No. 32 (1962); K. M. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (1965). The best study on town life and its organization in Biblical times is Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, a Historical Geography (1967); The standard work on the Hel. cities is A. H. M. Jones, Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (1937); G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1957); and A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (1963).

For individual town studies, the following are useful: W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of St. Paul (1907), or paperback edition (1960); G. A. Smith, Jerusalem 2 vols. (1907); K. M. Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho (1957); G. E. Wright, Shechem, the Geography of a Biblical City (1965); C. F. Pfeiffer (ed), The Biblical World (1966); W. D. Thomas (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967); I. W. J. Hopkins, Jerusalem, a Study in Urban Geography (1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`ir, qiryah; polis):


1. Origin

2. Extent

3. Villages

4. Sites

5. External Appearance

6. General


1. Tower or Stronghold

2. High Place

3. Broad Place

4. Streets

5. General Characteristics




I. The Canaanite City.

1. Origin:

The development of the Canaanite city has been traced by Macalister in his report on the excavation at Gezer (Palestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1904, 108 ff). It originated on the slopes of a bare rocky spur, in which the Neolithic Troglodytes quarried their habitations out of the solid rock, the stones therefrom being used to form a casing to the earthen ramparts, with which the site was afterwards surrounded and which served as a protection against the intrusion of enemies. Later Semitic intruders occupied the site, stone houses were built, and high stone defense walls were substituted for the earthen stone-cased ramparts. These later walls were much higher and stronger than those of the Neilithic occupation and were the walls seen by the Israelites when they viewed the country of their promise.

2. Extent:

"The people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great" (Nu 13:28) was the report of the spies sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan, to see "what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds" (Nu 13:19,20). The difficulties of the task set before the advancing Israelites and their appreciation of the strength of the cities, is here recorded, and also in De 1:28: "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there." This assessment of greatness was based upon comparative ignorance of such fortifications and the want of war experience and the necessary implements of assault. It need not, therefore, be supposed that the cities were "great" except by comparison in the eyes of a tent- dwelling and pastoral people. On the contrary, most recent exploration has proved that they were small (see Pere Vincent, Canaan, 27, note 3, and Pl. I, where comparative measurements of the areas of ancient cities show that, in nine cities compared, Tell Sandahannah (barely 6 acres) is the smallest). Gezer measures approximately 22 1/4 acres and Tell el-Hesy somewhat greater. By way of illustration, it is interesting to note that the Acropolis at Athens, roughly computed, measures 7:1/4 acres, while the Castle Rock at Edinburgh is about 6 acres, or the same as the whole Seleucidan city of Tell Sandahannah. The Acropolis at Tell Zakariya measures about 2 acres or nearly one-fourth of the area of the whole city (about 8 1/2 acres). It is unlikely that Jebus (Jerusalem) itself was an exception, although in Solomonic and later times it extended to a far greater area.

3. Villages:

Besides the walled cities there were "unwalled (country) towns a great many" (De 3:5), "villages," unfortified suburbs, lying near to and under the protection of the walled cities and occupied by the surplus population. The almost incredible number of cities and their villages mentioned in the Old Testament, while proving the clannishness of their occupants, proves, at the same time, their comparatively small scale.

4. Sites:

Traces of similar populations that rise and fall are seen in China and Japan today. As a little poem says of Karakura: "Where were palaces and merchants and the blades of warriors, Now are only the cicadas and waving blades of grass." "Cities that stood on their mounds" (Jos 11:13; Jer 30:18) as at Lachish and Taanach are distinguished from those built on natural hills or spurs of hills, such as Jebus, Gezer, Tell es Sail (Gath?), Bethshemesh (see Vincent, Canaan, 26 ff). The Arabic name "Tell" is applied to all mounds of ancient cities, whether situated on a natural eminence or on a plain, and the word is common in the geographical nomenclature of Palestine Sites were chosen near a water supply, which was ever the most essential qualification. For purposes of defense, the nearest knoll or spur was selected. Sometimes these knolls were of no great height and their subsequent elevation is accounted for by the gradual accumulation of debris from town refuse and from frequent demolitions; restoration being effected after a levelng up of the ruins of the razed city (see Fig. 2: Tell el-Hesy, Palestine Exploration Fund, which shows a section of the Tell from which the levels of the successive cities in distinct stratification were recovered). Closely packed houses, in narrow alleys, with low, rude mud, brick, or stone and mud walls, with timber and mud roofs, burned readily and were easily razed to the ground (Jos 8:1 ff; Jos 11:11).

It would seem that, viewed from the outside, these cities had the appearance of isolated forts, the surrounding walls being strengthened at frequent intervals, with towers. The gates were approached by narrow roads, which mounted the slopes of the mound at the meeting-point of the meandering paths on the plain below.

5. External Appearance:

The walls of Tell ej-Judeideh were strengthened by towers in the inside, and presented an unbroken circuit of wall to the outside view (see Fig. 4, PEF). Houses on the wall (Jos 2:15; 2Co 11:33) may have been seen from the outside; but it is unlikely that any building within the walls was visible, except possibly the inner tower or stronghold. The whole of the interior of the early Jerusalem (Jebus) was visible from the hills to the East, but this peculiarity of position is uncommon. Strong and high walls, garrisoned by men-at-arms seen only through the battlements, showed no weakness, and the gates, with their narrow and steep approaches and projecting defense towers, looked uninviting traps. The mystery of these unseen interiors could therefore be easily conjured into an exaggeration of strength.

6. General:

The inhabitants of the villages (banoth, "daughters," Nu 32:42 margin) held feudal occupation and gave service to their lord of the city (’em, "mother," 2Sa 20:19), in defense of their own or in attacks on their neighbor’s property. Such were the cities of the truculent, marauding kings of Canaan, whose broken territories lent themselves to the upkeep of a condition, of the weakness of which, the Israelites, in their solid advance, took ready advantage.

II. The City of the Jewish Occupation.

After the conquest, and the abandonment of the pastoral life for that of agriculture and general trade, the condition of the cities varied but little, except that they were, from time to time, enlarged and strengthened. Solomon’s work at Jerusalem was a step forward, but there is little evidence that, in the other cities which he is credited with having put his hands to, there was any embellishment. Megiddo and Gezer at least show nothing worthy of the name. Greek influence brought with it the first real improvements in city building; and the later work of Herod raised cities to a grandeur which was previously undreamed of among the Jews. Within the walls, the main points considered in the "layout" were, the Tower or Stronghold, the High Place, the Broad Place by the Gate, and the Market-Place.

1. Tower or Stronghold:

The Tower or Stronghold was an inner fort which held a garrison and commander, and was provisioned with "victuals, and oil and wine" (2Ch 11:11), to which the defenders of the city when hard pressed betook themselves, as a last resource. The men of the tower of Shechem held out against Abimelech (Jud 9:49) who was afterward killed by a stone thrown by a woman from the Tower of Thebez "within the city" (Jud 9:51,53). David took the stronghold of Zion, "the same is the city of David" (2Sa 5:7), which name (Zion) was afterward applied to the whole city. It is not unlikely that the king’s house was included in the stronghold. Macalister (Palestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1907, 192 ff) reports the discovery of a Canaanite castle with enormously thick walls abutting against the inside of the city wall. The strongholds at Taanach and Tell el-Hesy are similarly placed; and the Acropolis at Tell Zakariya lies close to, but independent of, the city wall.

2. High Place:

The High Place was an important feature in all Canaanite cities and retained its importance long after the conquest (1Sa 9:12 ff; 1Ki 3:2; Am 7:9). It was a sanctuary, where sacrifices were offered and feasts were held, and men did "eat before Yahweh" (De 14:26). The priests, as was their custom, received their portion of the flesh (1Sa 2:12 ff). The High Place discovered at Gezer (Bible Sidelights, chapter iii) is at a lower level than the city surrounding it, and lies North and South. It is about 100 ft. in length, and when complete consisted of a row of ten rude undressed standing stones, of which eight are still remaining, the largest being 10 ft. 6 inches high, and the others varying to much smaller sizes.

See High Place.

3. Broad Place:

4. Streets:

The streets serving these quarters were not laid out on any fixed plan. They were, in fact, narrow, unpaved alleys, all seeming of equal importance, gathering themselves crookedly to the various centers. Having fixed the positions of the City Gates, the Stronghold and the High Place, the inhabitants appear to have been allowed to situate themselves the best way they could, without restriction of line or frontage. Houses were of modest proportions and were poorly built; planned, most often, in utter disregard of the square, and presenting to the street more or less dead walls, which were either topped by parapets or covered with projecting wood and mud roofs (see Architecture, fig. 1; HOUSE).

The streets, as in the present day in Palestine, were allocated to separate trades: "bakers’ street" (Jer 37:21), place "of the merchants" (Ne 3:31,32 the King James Version), "goldsmiths," etc. The Valley of the Cheesemakers was a street in the Tyropceon Valley at Jerusalem.

For a discussion of the subject of "cisterns" , see the separate article under the word

5. General Characteristics:

The people pursued the industries consequent upon their own self-establishment. Agriculture claimed first place, and was their most highly esteemed occupation. The king’s lands were farmed by his subjects for his own benefit, and considerable tracts of lands belonged to the aristocracy. The most of the lands, however, belonged to the cities and villages, and were allotted among the free husbandmen. Various cereals were raised, wheat and barley being most commonly cultivated. The soil was tilled and the crops reaped and threshed in much the same manner and with much the same implements as are now used in Syria. Cities lying in main trade routes developed various industries more quickly than those whose positions were out of touch with foreign traffic. Crafts and trades, unknown to the early Jews, were at first monopolized by foreigners who, as a matter of course, were elbowed out as time progressed. Cities on the seaboard of Phoenicia depended chiefly on maritime trade. Money, in the form of ingots and bars of precious metals, "weighed out" (2Ki 12:11), was current in preexilic times, and continued in use after foreign coinage had been introduced. The first native coinage dates from the Maccabean period (see Madden, Jewish Coinage, chapter iv). Slavery was freely trafficked in, and a certain number of slaves were attached to the households of the more wealthy. Although they were the absolute property of their masters, they enjoyed certain religious privileges not extended to the "sojourners" or "strangers" who sought the protection of the cities, often in considerable numbers.

The king’s private property, from which he drew full revenue, lay partly within the city, but to a greater extent beyond it (1Sa 8:15,16). In addition to his private property, he received tithes of fields and flocks, "the tenth part of your seed." He also drew a tax in the shape of certain "king’s mowings" (Am 7:1). Vassal kings, paid tribute; Mesha, king of Moab, rendered wool unto the king of Israel (2Ki 3:4).

See G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, I, chapters v-x, for detailed account of the conditions of Jewish city life. For details of government, see Elder; JUDGES; SANHEDRIN.

III. Store Cities.

These were selected by Solomon and set aside for stores of victuals, chariots, horsemen, etc. (1Ki 9:19). Jehoshaphat "built in Judah castles and cities of store" (2Ch 17:12). Twelve officers were appointed by Solomon to provision his household, each officer being responsible for the supply in one month in the year (1Ki 4:7). There were also "storehouses in the fields, in the cities, and in the villages" (1Ch 27:25 the King James Version).

IV. Levitical Cities.

These were apportioned 13 to the children of Aaron, 10 to Kohath, 13 to Gershon, 12 to Merari, 48 cities in all (Jos 21:13 ff), 6 of which were cities of Refuge (Nu 35:6); see Cities of Refuge. For further details see Architecture; House.


PEFS; Bliss and Dickie, Excavations at Jerusalem; Macalister, Excavation at Gezer; Bliss and Macalister, Excavations in Palestine; Sellin, Excavation at Taanach; Schumacher, Excavation at Tell Mutesellim; Macalister, Bible Sidelights; G. A. Smith, Jerusalem; Historical Geography of the Holy Land; Bliss, Mounds of Many Cities; Vincent, Canaan.

Arch. C. Dickie