from the days of King David till our days.
Dr. Asher Eder, the Academy of Jerusalem.
"Zion" derives from the root word "zav" which means command, order, order of the day (however, an order or task given to a soldier is not but !). The word in its Hebrew Qal-form would mean to be solid, strong, hard; its common Piel-form means to command, to order, to bequeth. is the will, or testament, and "zavta" is a crew, or team, while "mizvah" is a commandment given to, or practiced by, someone. Taking all these related words into consideration, we may conclude that the mizvah, if practiced, links its doer with the ruler as well as with the others who do it: it brings about the community of the Lord, the people of God. (This practice is described by the Hebrew word , emunah, which means faithfulness, and not merely believe, or faith, as often rendered falsly).
The word Zion, can thus be explained as the expression of all that which is commanded by the Lord, including all the detailed commandments like Shabbath, circumcision, holidays, etc. However, even those which are to be practiced visibly (i.e not hidden behind closed doors), and are even called signs of the Covenant, do not yet constitute Zion as this term describes since King David also a geographical location: the City of David where Jerusalem developed from.
Some scholars understand the phrase "the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David" (1.Sam. 5:7, 1.Chron. 11:5) as if already the Jebusites would have called their stronghold Zion. Should they have spoken Hebrew, or adopted it as a loan word from Hebrew? Or rather, did the people of David, after their conquest of the Jebusites' stronghold, call it Zion? As it may be, the term Zion is since the days of King David inseparably linked to Jerusalem; it even became a basic concept of Jewish faith and thought. In fact, Jerusalem's significance roots solely in David's foundation of Zion. (Interestingly enough, besides this foundation, there is nothing else of importance here: no important trade roads; no agriculture; no industry; no military or strategic importance; no mineral treasures; nor anything else. Even its importance for Christianty and for Islam roots in King David's foundation).
This leads us to another possible ethymological connection of the word Zion: "zien" means to mark, to distinguish; and "ziun" is a sign, or landmark. This describes indeed another characteristic of Zion, namely its visibility, even obviousness, due to its geographical location (again a contrast to prayers in a closed room).
We begin to understand why the word Zion is not yet mentioned in the Torah: it could not be mentioned as an abstract, separate from geo-graphical Jerusalem. However, we find all that what made Jerusalem/Zion into that what it is, already prefigured in the story of the Aqedah, the Binding of Isaac (Gen. chpt. 22). Let us look into some of its details. Abraham was told, to "go to the land of the Moriah...". The word Moriah is made up of components upon which the whole story centers and which are directly relevant in our research to understand the meaning of Zion and Jerusalem:
- a repeated key word of the whole story is , r'eh. It appears three times in different variations (to see, to show, to be seen: verses 4, 8, and 14);
yirah, fear of God (verse 12);
- yoreh, to lay a foundation, to teach, to shoot forth (an arrow etc).
From it derive the words, teacher; Torah, and Moriah - the place to which Abraham was sent for the Aqedah. After its performance he summed up his experience by naming the very place (verse 14): which can be rendered "The Lord will see which today is expressed by 'On the Mount of the Lord one will be seen' (or: 'On the Mount of the Lord it will be seen')". In the days of Abraham, the town next to Mount Moriah was called Salem (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 76:3), as if wholeness and peace, which this name means, would have been already achieved. Since this was not so, King David re-named it Jerusalem which means 'they will establish, or teach, peace', stressing that this was not his own invention or whim, he called it Zion, i.e. that which is commanded and marked by the Lord.
In fact, King David only advanced what had come already through Abraham. He gave birth, so to speak, to what was conceived by the Patriarch. Only after the child was actually born (teaching and peace actually arrived), could it be given the name: Zion. We understand now why this term did not yet appear in the Torah, the book of Moses.
Freedom, an important aspect of Zion. The term Zion does not only describe an idea or spiritual teaching, or a geographical place or landmark; it implies another fundamental characteristic of Hebrew thinking, namely that of human freedom.
As said, many commandments have to be practiced visibly, and many of them can be practiced only at the commanded place, as e.g. the three annual convocations in Jerusalem. Obviously, a precondition is the freedom for doing so unhampered. The relatively modern idea of Freedom of Religion, elevated in the Atlantic Charta to one of the four principles of each democracy, has its roots in the idea of Zion. In Hebrew thought, freedom means to live in accordance with the Divine teaching (the Torah). This idea is expressed beautifully by the word heruth. Read haruth, as in Exod. 32:16, it means engraved (the Decalogue engraved upon the two tablets), but read heruth, it means freedom. It should not be confused with permissiveness. Man finds his true freedom only if and when he is free in God, not free from God and the instructions He gave us to achieve this freedom.
David, the Anointed of the Lord and King of Israel, understood himself as the servant of the Divine King. He faught for himself and for his people to be able to serve the Lord in freedom. He proclaimed the Lord, God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, as the King of all mankind; for, all of us shall finally, guided by God's truth, be freed from the enslavements to base drives which find their political expressions in Pharaos, Nimrods, Inquisitors, Hitlers, etc etc. This idea of true , freedom, is a basic principle of the Divine teaching.
The following two episodes may illustrate it:
- the Exodus. Its motive was "from slavedom to freedom", a well known Jewish slogan till now-a-days;
- at Mount Horeb, the word of the people: "we shall do and we shall hear"; i.e. we shall comprehend the truth and the depth of the commandments only after doing them, from experience. As known, the bigger part of these commandments is linked to the land and can be practiced and experienced only by Israel's living in it.
Indeed, the Hebrew idea of freedom stretches from the Exodus via the Horeb (the Giving of the Law) into the Land in order to serve here the Lord in freedom. In this context, Christian readers may like to read a relevant passage from the prayer of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist: "...that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all those who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy Covenant... that we, being delivered from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.." (Luke 1:71- 71).
III.) Zion's geographical location.
As mentioned already, the idea of Zion is inseparably linked with a geographical localization: Mount Moriah.
King David bought this place in order to build there Temple (1.Chron. 22:1; 2.Chron. 3:1).
It became the place of the Ist and of the IInd Temple (thence colloquially Temple Mount), and also the IIIrd Temple could eventually be built only there.
This localization, as given by the Moriah in Gen. 22;2, is most likely also the reason why Shiloh nor any other place was ever called Zion, although they were surely part of the "land of the Moriah", i. e. the land (of Israel) which belongs to the Moriah.
Geographically and topographically, Mount Moriah and Salem which became the City of David, form one unit. In fact, the latter one is but a protrusion of the former. They are engulfed on the eastern side by the Kidron Valley, and on the western side by the Tyropeon, with these two valleys meeting at the southern tip of the City of David. The latter one became the nucleous from which Jerusalem developed.
Thus, the terms Jerusalem and Zion go often together, as e.g. in Isaiah's famous word: "The Law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem".
Many may ask why all this? Would the Decalogue, and the commandments of loving the Lord and one's neighbour, not suffice? In order to answer this question, let as again go back to Abraham. He was a contemporary of Nimrod, the founder of Babel, and left its capital, "Ur of the Chaldeans". Nimrod's foundation was a spiritual kingdom, however in revolt against Shem and 'Eber. All these names have their significance:
Nimrod means "Let us revolt" (being a des-cendant of Ham which means heat, emotion, he obviously followed those drives);
Babel means "Gate of (or: to) God";
Ur of the Chaldeans means "Light (fire) of those who are guided by the stars" (worshippers of the stars);
Shem (Engl.: Sem) means Name (Noah's first son was given this name which refers to the name of the Lord, since he was meant to form the priestly tribe for mankind after the flood);
and 'Eber (Engl. for Hebrew) means "Of the other side; Beyond".
Nimrod's revolt against these latter one's found its expression in "the tower whose head should reach up to the heavens". We can see in him an archetypal figure of anti-Semitism. According to oral tradition, Abraham who realized the futility of this enterprise, was thrown by Nimrod into the furnace, but he came out alive and went into a land which God would show him. It was the land of the Moriah. Assur tried a third way. He did not stay on in Babel, nor did he join Abraham; he founded his own (spiritual) kingdom, Ninveh. Later on it became hostile against Israel, too. Inevitably so; for, there is no third way.
With this background, we may now conceive Zion not only as one land-mark amongst many but as the visible sign of God's answer to Babel, and to Ninveh as well. In the Land of the Moriah which was then inhabited by the Canaanites (Gen. 12:6), the Lord God Creator of Heavens and Earth made with Abraham the Covenant which included the land as an integral and inseparable part of the faith to be practiced by him and his seed after him. It forms so-to-speak part of a Jewish trinity consisting of the Torah, the people of Israel, and the land of the covenant.
Land is something very earthy, material, visible and touchable. This aspect finds its expression in this country the more so as it forms the bridge between the three continents Africa, Asia, and Europe. Indeed, due this location it became a focus of world politics throughout the ages. Moreover, it is also the meeting place between the civilisations of the farmers and of the towns in the west, and the nomades and shepherds in the east. The gift of this land to Abraham and the people of Israel after him turns thus out to be a tremendous challenge.
Israel as the "Kingdom of Priests" unto the nations finds itself before the permanent task to balance the opposing trends of these different cultures, and eventually to establish peace. Israel as a nation cannot afford to lead a merely contemplative life; it is part and parcel of the world events. Nimrod and his people choose the smooth plain of Shinear to build there as a rallying point a tower whose top (liter.: head) should be in the heavens, while Zion is tied to a central point of God's creation, commanded by him (Is.14:32: "The Lord has founded Zion"). Since Nimrod's revolt the world is divided into two camps (realising it, 'Eber called his son Peleg, "The World is Divided", Gen. 10:25): one centered in Zion and what it represents; the other which wants to pursue its own aspirations and have its own Bab-El (Gate to God), an enterprise which is bound to end up in confusion and "with nothing" (which is, in Hebrew, ba-bel. It equates Bel, a chief god of Babel, with nothingness. See Jer. 50:2, 51,44).
Zion, to repeat it, should not be confused with an abstract belief, nor was it founded merely for Israel's sake; it is God's gift to man for the sake of his dignity and freedom in the creator's image. All prophecy aims at this dignity and freedom.
IV) Zion in Judaism.
1.) Mile stones in history:
- Its foundation by King David, as mentioned above.
- The putting up of sanctuaries by the Northern Kingdom of Israel was condemned by the Prophets as idolatry, notwithstanding that some of them related to the Patriarchs (e.g. Beth- El). History prooved that they did not function as a spiritual and national focus for the disppersed tribes, as Jerusalem did for the Jews.
- Political, legal, and prophetic significance of the edict of King Cyrus who confirmed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, even against the claims of its adversaries (Samaritans, Arabs, etc; cf 2. Chron. 36:22; Esra 4:6-9; Nehem. 4:1).
- The war of the Maccabees against the Greek imposers. This war was the first war in history which was waged for what is now-adays called freedom of religion; or, as we might say, for the sake of Jerusalem/Zion (celebrated annually as Hanukkah).
- The war against Rome was actually also fought for the sake of Zion. Names like Caligula, Nero etc, speak volumes. Within this frame one should see also the crucifixion of the Nazarene. This war goes still on (more about it below in part B).
2.) In Psalms and in prophecies.
- Zion founded by the Lord - Is. 14:32;
- Zion described in a nutshell - Ps. 146;
- Anointing of the kings in Zion - Ps. 2;
- Zion the residence of the Divine Name - Ps. 76:3, Is. 8:19;
- The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob - Ps. 87:2;
- "Zion, you are my people" - Is. 51:16; "Daughter Zion" - Is. 16:1; Zech. 2:14; and others; "Sons of Zion" - Lament. 4:2, and others; These passages speak of Israel's spiritual relationship to Zion
g) "The Lord sees", and "He (it) shall be seen" through the eyes of Zion - Gen. 22:14; Ps. 14, and 53;
- Jerusalem, the geographical expression for Zion, "shall remain located (liter. seated) in its place, even in Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:6); i.e. it shall not be transfered neither to Rome, nor to Mecca; nor to any other place, not even to the western hill of the Christian Hagia Zion.
- "In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance", Joel 3:5
- "The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion" - Ps. 128:5;
- "Blessed be the Lord out of Zion..." - Ps. 135:21. In this context, may the Jewish custom be mentioned to read every week the Book of Psalms as a guide for one's way of life.
3.) Zion in the prayers of the synagogue and at home throughout the millenia:
- It is a focus of the three daily prayers (morning, afternoon, and evening; especially in the Amidah);
- in grace after meals;
- in the prayers of the Feasts, especially of Rosh ha'Shannah;
- in the Shabbath liturgy (one of its prayers, after reading the Thorah, speaks of Zion as the "house of our life". This turned out to be true not only in a spiritual sense but in the physical as well: Zionist Israel became the only haven of refuge from the onslought of the violent anti- Semitism).
V. Zion in the teachings of the Apostles.
Although Christianity broke away from Israel, it should be mentioned in our context that the apostles saw themselves still within the fold of the Jewish people and the Jewish teaching:
- In their first council they declared (in quoting Amos 9:11,12) as the goal of their work "the rebuilding of the tent of David which has fallen" (i.e. of Zion);
- Peter, in his epistle to "the exiles of the dispersion", refers especially to Is. 28:18 which speaks of Zion as the cornerstone (1.Peter 2:6);
- Paul declares that he wants to bring the nations to the "obedience of the faith" (i.e. not only to some convenient make beliefs), and to establish the Law (Romans 1:5; 3:31; 16:26).
VI) The new "Zionist Movement".
- The impact of the teachings of the Kabbalists from Safed, their prayers and folksongs ("lechah dodi", and others);
- the pseudo-messianic movements (Molcho, Shabtai Zvi, Karl Frank and others) left their traces inspite of their failures;
- Hovevei Zion; Bilu, and similar movements of the last century;
- the Zionist Movement of Dr. Theodore Herzl (Rav Alkalay was an uncle of his!). He described as its goal not only to retrieve the land but in the land to build a society based upon justice and righteousness which could serve as a model for the nations. Surely it is not accidental that he choose the term Zion for the movement which was to bring about the "Jewish State";
- the State of Israel - three years after Auschwitz and Hiroshima;
- the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967;
- Prophet Micah's warning not to build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong (3:10); it shall be re-built in justice and righteousness. However, after the Holocaust, Judah by his very existence in his homeland, shall for the hostile nations be "like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves" (Zech.12:6).
VII) Zion and the nations
- Out of Zion shall go forth the Law (Torah), and from Jerusalem the word of the Lord (Is. 2:3);
- spiritual re-birth in Zion - Ps. 87. Along with it goes the healing of Babel's confusion: "I will turn to the peoples a pure (liter. purified) language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent" (Zephan. 3:9);
- "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Is. 56:7);
- Zion will then be the expression of humanity's true worship of its Creator and Lord. In Zion they will find healing and blessing.
(This has nothing to do with a "Zionist conspiracy" as alleged by anti-Semites. Why don't they speak of a "Catholic conspiracy", or a "Muslim conspiracy"? These religions aspire to missionize the whole world while Judaism does not missionize at all? Israel is the smallest of all nations precisely to prevent any thirst for power with the help of masses or quantities. In Zion not the Jews shall rule, and not Rome or Mecca either, but the Creator of all).
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The above parts A and B are elaborated manuscripts for two lectures delivered in Germany, Sept. 1992, at the annual conference of the ACI (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christen fuer Israel). Dr. Asher Eder
This item is part of the Academy of Jerusalem proceedings. If you wish to comment or receive further related material, contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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