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  • Writer's pictureAnnemeet Hasidi-van Der Leij

History of Jerusalem part 1:When Jerusalem was called "Rusalimum"

Updated: Jun 5

In the Canaanite Period of Jerusalem, in the second millennium BCE, when the Pharaohs ruled the region, the name ‘Rusalimum’ appears on 4000-year-old figurines or Execration texts* uncovered in Egypt, alongside the names of other Canaanite cities. It was customary to inscribe the figurines with the name of the enemy, add a curse and smash them in a magical ceremony in the belief that the enemy’s power would thus be destroyed.

The name ‘Rusalimum’ is the first recorded mention of the city of Jerusalem in any document, including the Bible. The names of two rulers of Jerusalem, Shas'an and Y'qar 'am, date from the 20th century. The exact pronunciation of the Egyptian name is not clear from the hieroglyphic, but it probably sounded like ‘rushalimum.’ The name resounds more clearly in later Akkadian texts, which refer to the city as Urusilimu. The original Hebrew name was probably Yerushalem. It is assumed that the name of the city reflected the worship of the god Shalem; it was common to name cites after the local god. Jerusalem's name probably refers to the worship of the god Shalem in the days of the Canaanites. The name might mean ‘the city of Shalem’ or ‘founded by Shalem.’ Shalem was a popular god in the western Semitic pantheon. He was the god of creation and completeness, and of the setting sun. It is very likely that the king of Jerusalem was called the king of Shalem. Abraham met Melchizedek king of Shalem after a military victory:

“After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14: 17- 21. The book of Genesis does not record where this meeting took place, but most scholars agree that the king of Shalem was the king of Jerusalem. Perhaps Zedek (the Hebrew word for righteousness) was part of the royal family name. Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) is Hebrew for; ‘my king is righteousness.’ The king of Jerusalem who fought Joshua in later times was called Adoni-Zedek, in Hebrew אֲדֹנִי־צֶ֫דֶק, meaning ‘my lord is righteousness.’ Canaanite Jerusalem had two holy sites; both were above and outside the city walls. The god Shalem was probably worshipped in the area of the Temple Mount, which later became the holiest site for the Jews and the third most holy site for Muslims.

The other Canaanite holy site was probably located near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the crucifixion. Jerusalem must have been an important town in Canaanite times; it and Shechem are the only two cities in the Judean and Ephraim Hills mentioned in Egyptian writings.

*Execration texts, were ancient Egyptian texts listing enemies of the Pharaoh, most often enemies of the Egyptian state or troublesome foreign neighbours. The texts were most often written on statuettes, bowls, or blocks of clay or stone, which were subsequently destroyed. The ceremonial process of breaking the names and burying them was intended to be a sort of sympathetic magic that would affect the persons or entities named in the texts. The fragments were usually placed near tombs or ritual sites. This practice was most common during times of conflict with the Asiatic neighbours of Egypt.


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