The original inhabitants of Jerusalem were Phoenician Canaanites. Jerusalem was originally a village built on a hill. The name “Urushalim is first found on Egyptian statues, circa 2500 B.C. “Urushalim”, in fact is a word of Canaanite derivation; the prefix “uru”, meaning “founded by”, and the suffix “salem” or “Shalem,” Phoenician Canaanite god of dusk. This evidence is reinforced by archaeology and by tablets found in Elba, Syria, dating back to 3000 B.C., on which the god Shalem being venerated in a city called Uruksalem is mentioned. The old name of the city Urushalim figures also in the Egyptian texts called Texts of Proscription of XII dynasty ‘ws’mm pronounced in Akkadian language Urushalim city of god.
In the 14th Century B.C., King Abdi Hepa, king of the Phoenician Canaanites, wrote to the Pharaoh Akhnaton and implored him to rid Jerusalem of new invaders. He described a group of people known as the “Habirus”, as having already conquered Rushada, and advancing on Jerusalem. In the Bible, the story of Abraham mentions Melchizedek, the King of Salem (King of Jerusalem) and Priest of the Most High God (El Elion), who offered bread and wine to Abraham.
In 1000 B.C., King David, conquered Jerusalem, and established it as his capital. At the time of his conquest, the city was known as “Jebus” but he renamed it Jerusalem, once again.
Phoenician Canaanite High-Priestly “Apostolic Succession” of Yahweh’s Temple
King David re-invested the Phoenician Canaanite High-Priest of Jerusalem to continue functioning in that position. Scholars have noticed two high priests are referred to in the account of Kind David’s life: Abiathar and Zadok. Abiathar is mentioned early in the narratives, even before David is (e.g. 1 Samuel 22:20), but Zadok the Priest appears suddenly, and only after the conquest of Jerusalem. Zadok was the Canaanite High Priest of Jerusalem, whom David permitted to continue to serve. Further, Zadok would also have been King of Jerusalem (city-state like all other Phoenician city-states). It is known that both functions were played by the same person in these Phoenician city-states. Zadok is identified with Araunah, the person who sold David the threshing floor for the purpose of building the altar (2 Samuel 24:18-25). The word Araunah is not a personal name; rather, it is a title meaning “the Lord.” King David conformed to the tradition which Abraham started when he recognized the validity of the older Phoenician Canaanite High-Priest and King of Jerusalem, Melchizedek.
In the year 597 B.C. the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed along with the city.
During the time of Christ, Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life, though under Roman rule, nevertheless, the site was the place where the original spark of Christianity began and spread across the world.
In the year 70, Jerusalem fell to the Romans after a Jewish revolt.
During Byzantine rule, the city prospered and Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen, built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, which opened in 335 A.D. in the presence of 300 bishops. Other churches were also built by Helen in Jerusalem, as well as the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem and so did the Phoenician Christian and Jewish Christian Converts community.
From 632-636 AD, Arab Muslims the Eastern Mediterranean. The conquering Muslims were smaller in number than the original inhabitants. Muslim occupation did not change the religion of the inhabitants to Islam, yet many did convert at a later date.
When the Calif Omar entered Jerusalem and received the keys to the Holy City from the Christian Patriarch, Sophronius, the inhabitants were allowed to live in relative peace. The Dome of The Rock was built on Temple Mount by Calif Abdel Malek over the esplanade of The Second Temple in the year 685.
Phoenician Christians and Jewish Christian Converts enjoyed a short interval of Islamic tolerance during the early years of Arab control. However, soon thereafter, Christian, regarded by Muslims as the allies of the Byzantines, were mistreated and deprived of fundamental human rights. Christians were looked upon as enemies and their churches were destroyed in many places, including the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher which was burnt down.
The Christians, especially the Melkites who lived in the eastern provinces of the empire, had much to endure. The Muslim Calif imposed many vexing measures upon the Christians. In 756, he forbade Christians to build new churches, to display the cross in public, or to speak about religions with Muslims. In 757, he imposed taxes on monks, even on those who lived as hermits, and he used Jews to strip sacristies for the treasury. In 759, he removed all Christians from positions in the treasury. In 766 he had the crosses on top of the churches brought down, forbade every nocturnal liturgical celebration and forbade the study of any language other than Arabic.
In 722, he required both Jews and Christians to exhibit an external sign to distinguish them from other believers. Abu Gafar al-Mansur also put in prison, for different reasons, the Melkite Patriarch Theodoret, the Patriarch Georges, and the Nestorian Catholicos James. Al-Mahdi (775-785) intensified the persecution and had all the churches built since the Arab conquest destroyed. The Christian tribes of Banu Tanuh, which counted 5000 fighters, were forced to embrace Islam. Angered by the defeats he incurred at the hands of the Byzantines, al-Mahdi sent troops to Emsa/Homs in Syria, to have all the Christians abjure their faith.
For further reading about the status of Eastern Christians under the Arab Islamic rule, follow this link to the Phoenician Christians page, Advent of Islam and Christians of the East.
Sadly, Jerusalem remains today a hot point of conflict between the Israelis and Arabs while the Christian minority which still resides in the Holy Land have very little say with regard to the future of the city.