ZION zī’ ən (צִ֫יֹּ֥ון; Σιών, G4994, KJV “SION”, stronghold [?]). The SE hill of Jerusalem; poetically, the entire city.



The noun Zion occurs over 150 times in the OT. It appears primarily in the Psalms (thirty-eight times), the pictorial personifications of Lamentations (fifteen times), and the prophets, esp. Isaiah (forty-seven times). As G. Vos explains, “Isaiah’s vision of Jehovah’s giory centers in the sanctuary and the city [of Zion], whereas to Amos and Hosea, and even Micah, it rested upon the land,” Israel as a whole (Biblical Theology, p. 316). Within Isaiah the term Zion is distributed almost equally between chs. 1-33 and the so-called Deutero- and Trito-Isaiahs.


Geographical application.

Canaanite citadel.

In the aforementioned reference Zion has already become a proper noun, apparently distinguishing the citadel of Jerusalem (q.v., II, B).

Jerusalem’s SE hill.

Others have suggested that Zion may designate the whole walled town that covered the SE hill of Jerusalem, since the same v. goes on to identify Zion with “the City of David,” q.v., presumably the once Canaanitish city as it existed at the time of its capture by David in 1003 b.c. After Solomon had expanded Jerusalem northward to include Mt. Moriah, the latter king, at his dedication of the Temple on this new site in 958 b.c., is said to have brought up the Ark of the covenant “out of the City of David, which is Zion” (1 Kings 8:1; 2 Chron 5:2). Only in post-Biblical times did the name Zion become erroneously transferred to the south-western hill of Jerusalem (q.v., I, B).

Temple hill.


The land of Judah.

Finally, in exile, the whole Israelite nation came to be called, “Zion...who dwell with the daughter of Babylon” (Zech 2:7); and, by the time of the postexilic restoration in 537 b.c., the joyful ex-captives are described as “those that returned to Zion” (Ps 126: la ASV, RSV mg.; cf. Jer 50:5). Whatever may have been their actual villages of settlement in Judah, to be “radiant over the goodness of the Lord” was to “come and sing aloud on the height of Zion” (Jer 31:12). The “daughter of Zion” comes to personify the entire people of Israel (6:23), e.g., “gasping for breath” or “stretching out her hands” and calling forth with words (4:31); and the sons of Zion are used as a parallel, equally national, with the sons of Greece (Zech 9:13).

Theological connotations.

Particularly in this broader context religious connotations come to the fore.





But since Zion is thus “the joy of all the earth” (Ps 48:2; cf. Isa 18:7), it became synonymous with redemption as occurring in any nation; accordingly, to know God and to be written in His book is equated in the Psalms with being “born in Zion” (Ps 87:4-6). It suggests Isaiah’s description of the elect of God as “every one who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem” (Isa 4:3; cf. E. J. Young, NICOT, Isaiah, I:180, 181).



G. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (1883), 509-521; G. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, the Christ (1948), III:32-63; BDT, 296, 297; J. B. Payne, Theology of the Older Testament (1962), 482-504; IDB, IV:959, 960.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(tsiyon; Sion):

1. Meaning of the Word

2. The Zion of the Jebusites

3. Zion of the Prophets

4. Zion in Later Poetical Writings and Apocrypha

5. Omission of Name by Some Writers

6. The Name "Zion" in Christian Times


1. Meaning of the Word:

A name applied to Jerusalem, or to certain parts of it, at least since the time of David. Nothing certain is known of the meaning. Gesenius and others have derived it from a Hebrew root tsahah, "to be dry"; Delitzsch from tsiwwah, "to set up" and Wetzstein from tsin, "to protect." Gesenius finds a more hopeful suggestion in the Arabic equivalent cihw, the Arabic cahwat signifying "ridge of a mountain" or "citadel," which at any rate suitably applies to what we know to have been the original Zion (compare Smith, HGHL, under the word).

Considerable confusion has been caused in the past by the want of clear understanding regarding the different sites which have respectively been called "Zion" during the centuries. It will make matters clearer if we take the application of the name: in David’s time; in the early Prophets, etc.; in late poetical writings and in the Apocrypha; and in Christian times.

2. The Zion of the Jebusites:

Jerus (in the form Uru-sa-lim) is the oldest name we know for this city; it goes back at least 400 years before David. In 2Sa 5:6-9, "The king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites. .... Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion; the same is the city of David .... And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David." It is evident that Zion was the name of the citadel of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. That this citadel and incidentally then city of Jerusalem around it were on the long ridge running South of the Temple (called the southeastern hill in the article JERUSALEM, III, (3) (which see)) is now accepted by almost all modern scholars, mainly on the following grounds:

(1) The near proximity of the site to the only known spring, now the "Virgin’s Fount," once called GIHON (which see). From our knowledge of other ancient sites all over Palestine, as well as on grounds of common-sense, it is hardly possible to believe that the early inhabitants of this site with such an abundant source at their very doors could have made any other spot their headquarters.

(2) The suitability of the site for defense.--The sites suited for settlement in early Canaanite times were all, if we may judge from a number of them now known, of this nature--a rocky spur isolated on three sides by steep valleys, and, in many sites, protected at the end where they join the main mountain ridge by either a valley or a rocky spur.

(3) The size of the ridge, though very small to our modern ideas, is far more in keeping with what we know of fortified towns of that period than such an area as presented by the southwestern hill--the traditional site of Zion. Mr. Macalister found by actual excavation that the great walls of Gezer, which must have been contemporaneous with the Jebusite Jerusalem, measured approximately 4,500 feet in circumference. G. A. Smith has calculated that a line of wall carried along the known and inferred scarps around the edge of this southeastern hill would have an approximate circumference of 4,250 feet. The suitability of the site to a fortified city like Gezer, Megiddo, Soco, and other sites which have been excavated, strikes anyone familiar with these places.

(4) The archaeological remains on these hills found by Warren and Professor Guthe, and more particularly in the recent excavations of Captain Parker (see Jerusalem), show without doubt that this was the earliest settlement in pre-Israelite times. Extensive curves and rock-cuttings, cave-dwellings and tombs, and enormous quantities of early "Amorite" (what may be popularly called "Jebusite") pottery show that the spot must have been inhabited many centuries before the time of David. The reverse is equally true; on no other part of the Jerusalem site has any quantity of such early pottery been found.

(5) The Bible evidence that Zion originally occupied this site is clear. It will be found more in detail under the heading "City of David" in the article JERUSALEM, IV, (5), but three points may be mentioned here:

(a) The Ark of the Covenant was brought up out of the city of David to the Temple (1Ki 8:1; 2Ch 5:2), and Pharaoh’s daughter "came up out of the city of David unto her house which Solomon had built for her"--adjacent to the Temple (1Ki 9:24). This expression "up" could not be used of any other hill than of the lower-lying eastern ridge; to go from the southwestern hill (traditional Zion) to the Temple is to go down.

(b) Hezekiah constructed the well-known Siloam tunnel from Gihon to the Pool of Siloam. He is described (2Ch 32:30) as bringing the waters of Gihon "straight down on the west side of the city of David."

(c) Manasseh (2Ch 33:14) built "an outer wall to the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley" (i.e. nachal--the name of the Kedron valley).

3. Zion of the Prophets:

Zion, renamed the City of David, then originally was on this eastern ridge. But the name did not stay there. It would almost seem as if the name was extended to the Temple site when the ark was carried there, for in the pre-exilic Prophets the references to Zion all appear to have referred to the Temple Hill. To quote a few examples: "And Yahweh will create over the whole habitation of mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night" (Isa 4:5); "Yahweh of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion" (Isa 8:18); "Let us go up to Zion unto Yahweh our God" (Jer 31:6); "Yahweh will reign over them in mount Zion" (Mic 4:7). All these, and numbers more, clearly show that at that time Zion was the Temple Hill.

4. Zion in Later Poetical Writings and Apocrypha:

5. Omission of Name by Some Writers:

It has been pointed out as a curious and unaccountable exception that in Ezekiel as well as in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, there is no mention of Zion, except the incidental reference to David’s capture of the Jebusite fort. The references in the other Prophets and the Psalms are so copious that there must be some religious reason for this. The Chronicler (2Ch 3:1), too, alone refers to the Temple as on Mount Moriah. It is also noticeable that only in these books (2Ch 27:3; 33:14; Ne 3:26 f; 11:21) does the name "Ophel" appear as a designation of a part of the southeastern hill, which apparently might equally fitly have been termed Zion. See Ophel. Josephus never uses the name "Zion" nor does it occur in the New Testament, except in two quotations (Heb 12:22; Re 14:1).

6. The Name "Zion" in Christian Times:

Among the earlier Christian writers who mention "Zion," Origen used it as equivalent to the Temple Hill, but in the 4th century writers commence to localize it up the southern part of the western hill. It was a period when Biblical topography was settled in a very arbitrary manner, without any scientific or critical examination of the evidence, and this tradition once established remained, like many such traditions, undisputed until very recent years. To W. F. Birch belongs much of the credit for the promulgation of the newer views which now receive the adherence of almost every living authority on the topography of Jerusalem.


See especially chapter vi in Smith’s Jerusalem; for a defense of the older view see Kuemmel, Materialien z. Topog. des alt. Jerusalem.