Mount Zion

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For other places with the same name, see Mount Zion (disambiguation).
Mount Zion
הַר צִיוֹן (Har Tsiyyon)
جبل صهيون (Jabel Sahyoun)
MtZion from Abu Tor.jpg
Elevation 765 m (2,510 ft)
Location Jerusalem
Range Judean
Coordinates 31°46′18″N 35°13′43″E / 31.77167°N 35.22861°E / 31.77167; 35.22861Coordinates: 31°46′18″N 35°13′43″E / 31.77167°N 35.22861°E / 31.77167; 35.22861

Mount Zion (Hebrew: הַר צִיוֹן, Har Tsiyyon; Arabic: جبل صهيون‎, Jabel Sahyoun) is a hill in Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City. Mount Zion has been historically associated with the Temple Mount.[1] The term is also used for the entire Land of Israel.[2]


The etymology of the word Zion (ṣiyyôn) is uncertain.[3][4] [5] Mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 5:7) as the name of the Jebusite fortress conquered by King David, its origin likely predates the Israelites.[3][4] If Semitic, it may be derived from the Hebrew root ''ṣiyyôn ("castle") or the Arabic root ṣiyya ("dry land") or the Arabic šanā ("protect" or "citadel").[4][5] It might also be related to the Arabic root ṣahî ("ascend to the top") or ṣuhhay ("tower" or "the top of the mountain").[5] A non-Semitic relationship to the Hurrian word šeya ("river" or "brook") has also been suggested.[5]

View of Mount Zion from Mount of Olives

Sahyun (Arabic: صهيون‎, Ṣahyūn or Ṣihyūn) is the word for Zion in Arabic and Syriac.[6] A valley called Wâdi Sahyûn (wadi being the Arabic for "valley") seemingly preserves the name and is located approximately one and three-quarter miles (2.8 km) from the Old City of Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate.[6]

The phrase Har Tzion appears nine times in the Tanakh.[7] It is spelled with a Tzadi and not Zayin.[8]


David's Tomb on Mount Zion

According to the Book of Samuel, Mount Zion was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the "stronghold of Zion" that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace and the City of David.[9] It is mentioned in the Book of Isaiah (60:14), the Book of Psalms, and the first book of the Maccabees (c. 2nd century BCE).[9]

After the conquest of the Jebusite city, the hill of the Lower City was divided into several parts. The highest part, in the north, became the site of Solomon's Temple. Based on archaeological excavations revealing sections of the First Temple city wall, this is believed to have been the true Mount Zion.[10]

Towards the end of the First Temple period, the city expanded westward.[11] Just before the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple, Josephus described Mount Zion as a hill across the valley to the west.[9] Thus, the western hill extending south of the Old City came to be known as Mount Zion, and this has been the case ever since.[9] At the end of the Roman period, a synagogue was built at the entrance of the structure known as David's Tomb probably based on the belief that David brought the Ark of the Covenant here from Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Ye'arim before the construction of the Temple.[12]

In 1948, Mount Zion was linked to the Yemin Moshe neighborhood in West Jerusalem via a narrow tunnel. During the war, an alternative was needed to evacuate the wounded and transport supplies to soldiers on Mt. Zion. A cable car capable of carrying a load of 250 kilos was designed for this purpose. The cable car was only used at night and lowered into the valley during the day to escape detection, it is still in place at the now Mount Zion Hotel. The ride from the Israeli position at the St. John Eye Hospital to Mount Zion took two minutes. Mount Zion was conquered by the Harel Brigade on May 18, 1948.[13]

Between 1948 and 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian occupation, Israelis were forbidden access to the Jewish holy places. Mount Zion was a designated no-man's land between Israel and Jordan.[14] Mount Zion was the closest accessible site to the ancient Jewish Temple. Until East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, Israelis would climb to the rooftop of David's Tomb to pray.[15] The winding road leading up to Mount Zion is known as Pope's Way (Derekh Ha'apifyor). It was paved in honor of the historic visit to Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI in 1964.[14]

Biblical references[edit]

The Tanakh reference to Har Tzion (Mount Tzion) that identifies its location is derived from the Psalm 48 composed by the sons of Korah, i.e. Levites, as "the northern side of the city of the great king", which Radak interprets as the City of David "from the City of David, which is Zion (1 Kings 8:1-2; 2 Chron. 5:2)".[16] 2 Samuel 5:7 also reads, "David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David," which identifies Mount Tzion as part of the City of David, and not an area outside today's Old City of Jerusalem. Rashi identifies the location as the source of "joy" mentioned in the Psalm as the Temple Courtyard, the location of atonement offerings in the northern part of the Temple complex.[17]


Christian cemetery on Mount Zion

According to local legend, the two engineers who planned the restoration of the Old City walls in 1538 mistakenly left Mt. Zion and King David’s tomb outside the walls. The Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, was so enraged that he had the two put to death.[18]


Derekh Ha'Apifyor (Pope's Way) leading up to Mount Zion, so named by the Israeli government in honor of Pope Paul VI's historic visit to Israel in 1964

Important sites on Mount Zion are Dormition Abbey, King David's Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper. Most historians and archeologists today do not regard "David's Tomb" there to be the actual burial place of King David. The Chamber of the Holocaust (Martef HaShoah), the precursor of Yad Vashem, is also located on Mount Zion. Another place of interest is the Catholic cemetery where Oskar Schindler, a Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews in the Holocaust, is buried.[19] Notable burials in the Protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion include the architect Conrad Schick.


In 1874, an Englishman, Henry Maudsley, discovered a large segment of rock scarp and numerous ancient dressed stones on Mount Zion that were believed to be the base of Josephus's First Wall. Several of these stones were used to construct a retaining wall outside the main gate of the Bishop Gobat school (later known as the American Institute of Holy Land Studies and Jerusalem University College).[20]

Archaeological excavations on the eastern hill south of the Old City uncovered an Iron Age building that has led to a theory that this was the original location of Mount Zion.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Significance of Jerusalem: A Jewish Perspective
  2. ^ This is Jerusalem, Menashe Harel, Canaan Publishing, Jerusalem, 1977, pp.194-195
  3. ^ a b Terry R. Briley (2000). Isaiah, Volume 1 - The College Press NIV commentary: Old Testament series. College Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-89900-890-5. 
  4. ^ a b c Tremper Longman, Peter Enns (2008). Tremper Longman, Peter Enns, ed. Dictionary of the Old Testament: wisdom, poetry & writings, Volume 3 (Illustrated ed.). InterVarsity Press. p. 936. ISBN 978-0-8308-1783-2. 
  5. ^ a b c d Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1982). Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J Volume 2 (Revised ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 1006. ISBN 978-0-8028-3782-0. 
  6. ^ a b Palestine Exploration Fund (1977). Palestine exploration quarterly. Published at the Fund's Office. p. 21. 
  7. ^ The Responsa Project: Version 13, Bar Ilan University, 2005
  8. ^ Kline, D.E., A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for readers of English, Carta Jerusalem, The University of Haifa, 1987, pp.XII-XIII
  9. ^ a b c d e Bargil Pixner (2010). Rainer Riesner, ed. Paths of the Messiah. Translated by Keith Myrick, Miriam Randall. Ignatius Press. pp. 320–322. ISBN 978-0-89870-865-3. 
  10. ^ This is Jerusalem, Menashe Harel, Canaan Publishing, Jerusalem, 1977, p.193, 272
  11. ^ This is Jerusalem, Menashe Harel, Canaan Publishing, Jerusalem, 1977, p.272
  12. ^ This is Jerusalem, Menashe Harel, Canaan Publishing, Jerusalem, 1977, p.273
  13. ^ Mt. Zion Cable Car
  14. ^ a b Bar-Am, Aviva. "On the spot". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  15. ^ Jerusalem Divided: The Armistice Regime, 1947-1967, Raphael Israeli, Routledge, 2002, p. 6
  16. ^ Ronald L. Eisenberg, The streets of Jerusalem: who, what, why, Devora Publishing, 2006, p.169
  17. ^ Menachem Davis, ed., The Book of Psalms, Mesorah Publications, New York, 2001, p.128
  18. ^ Bible sites: Mount Zion
  19. ^ Rubinstein, Danny. "A sign points to the grave". Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  20. ^ Jerusalem's Essene Gateway