Choosing a Capital CityFrom the time that King David conquered Yerushalayim and built the City of David, Jews have cherished it as both the political and spiritual center of Israel. What, though, led David to choose the site as his capital? The city's conquest is David's first recorded act after becoming king over all of Israel, but the verses focus only on the military aspects of the battle, sharing nothing of David's motives. Was David's selection of the city due to political considerations, military concerns, or economic needs? To what extent did the city's religious significance play into his decision? Was the site considered holy before David's reign, or was it sanctified only in the aftermath of his choice and Shelomo's building of the Beit HaMikdash?
Yerushalayim in the Torah
Yerushalayim is never mentioned by name in the Torah, raising the possibility that it may not have had any special status during the Patriarchal period. Nonetheless, two passages might allude both to it and its chosen status:1
- "וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם... ה' יִרְאֶה" – Bereshit 22 describes Avraham's ultimate test, Akeidat Yitzchak, which took place in the Land of Moriyah. From Divrei HaYamim II 3, it becomes clear that this very area was later chosen as the site of the Mikdash.2 Did history play a role in this later choice, or, as might be inferred from Tanakh's silence on the matter, was it a mere coincidence?3 What does Avraham's naming of the place, "י"י יִרְאֶה", suggest? Did he already then foresee that Mt. Moriyah was to be a chosen site of revelation in the future as well?
- "הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה'" – Devarim 12 speaks of the prohibition of private altars and the obligation to bring sacrifices to one centralized location. Though ultimately this referred to the Mikdash in Yerushalayim, is this the simple meaning of the verse, or might the Torah have allowed for multiple "chosen sites"? If David had selected another city as his capital, might it instead have become Hashem's choice? Finally, if the verse does indeed refer to Yerushalayim, why not mention it by name?
The larger city of Yerushalayim is built on two hills, the lower, eastern hill which David conquered and designated as the City of David, and the upper, western hill (Mt. Zion and the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of today), to which the city later expanded. The City of David lies 690 meters above sea level and is bounded by the Kidron Valley to the east, the Tyropoeon or Central Valley4 to the west, and the Hinnom valley at its southern tip, providing natural defenses on three of four sides.5 The Gichon Spring lies on the city's eastern slope, while Ein Rogel is further south, providing for the city's water needs.
What role did these topographic features play in David's selection of the city? Were its natural defenses and sources of water better than those of other cities? Presumably, cities not lying on the edge of the desert were blessed with greater natural resources and more fertile lands than did Yerushalayim, and other hilltop cities such as Beit El and Chevron would have offered greater security. If so, what about Jerusalem made it King David's choice?