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The Hebrews distinguished in size between villages and cities. The individual homesteads (, Ex. viii. 9; Lev. xxv. 31; Josh. xiii. 23; Isa. xlii. 11; Ps. x. 8; Neh. xi. 25, xii. 39) developed either into villages (, Gen. xxv. 16, or , I Sam. vi. 18; Cant. vii. 12; I Chron. xxvii. 25, Neh. vi. 2) or into cities ( or , Gen. iv. 17, xix. 25, 29). The larger settlements were formed where the banks of a lake or river widened into a plain, as at Tiberias and Jericho; at the confluence of several rivers, as at Beth-shean and Nineveh; at a convenient fordingplace, or where an isolated mountainside afforded a natural protection against attacks, as was the case at Jerusalem. Villages and cities are not always distinguished as unfortified and walled places respectively, as Benzinger ("Arch." § 18, 2) maintains: for ("cities of the flat or open country") are also mentioned (Esth. ix. 19); and these are equivalent to , as Ḳimḥi correctly interpreted in his work on Hebrew roots under . The same may be inferred from (Lev. xxv. 29; compare Prov. xxv. 28), according to which there might also be ; i.e., without walls. Naturally, however, most of the cities were surrounded by walls in those ancient times, when attacks from hostile, roving bands were imminent, and this danger probably gave the first stimulus to the building of cities. In any case it is significant that Cain undertook to build a city only after the birth of his first son, and that he named it for this son. It was meant to be a place of refuge for his family.


In the enumeration of the chief features of a city mention must first be made of the water-sources; for an abundant supply of good water for drinking purposes is the first prerequisite for the welfare of a city. This view is supported by passages in the Old Testament. At the siege of Jebus, David offered a prize to the hero who should advance as far as the water-works ("ẓinnor," II Sam. v. 8), and in Isa. vii. 3 King Ahaz's care in having the water-works protected against the attack of the enemy is recorded.

The streets ("ḥuẓ," "shuḳ")formed the second important feature. They were as narrow in the cities of the ancient Orient as they are in those of the modern East (Josephus, "B. J." vi. 8, § 5; Benzinger,l.c. § 18, 4). It was also an exception if a street could be called straight, as, for example, the street in Damascus referred to in Acts ix. 11; for the majority were very crooked, with many corners. The Law commands that the roads leading to the cities of refuge shall be kept in repair (Deut. xix. 3); but in early times the paving of streets was probably unknown. Josephus ("Ant." viii. 7, § 4), indeed, relates that Solomon had the streets leading to Jerusalem paved with black stones; but the statement is ambiguous, since the mud of the streets is often mentioned as something proverbial (Isa. v. 25, x. 6; Micah vii. 10; Zech. ix. 3, x. 5; Ps. xviii. 43). Since Herod, however, had the principal street of Antiochia paved (Josephus, "Ant." xvi. 5, § 3), it may be assumed that he showed like favor to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is certain that under Herod Agrippa the streets of Jerusalem were paved with white stones (Josephus, "Ant." xx. 9, § 7). In antiquity the cleaning of streets was almost as little known as lighting them; the latter being a very recent innovation in Oriental cities. It is recounted, however, that Herod constructed in the recently built port of Cæsarea a subterranean channel, to carry off the rain and the refuse of the streets (ib. xv. 9, § 6).

Streets and Gates.

The streets were named after the place to which they led ("the highway of the fuller's field," Isa. vii. 3), or after the occupation of the majority of its inhabitants ("the street of the bakers," Jer. xxxvii. 21; "the valley of craftsmen," Neh. xi. 35; and the quarter of the "goldsmiths and merchants," Neh. iii. 32). Here and there the streets broadened out into open places, which were formed at the parting of ways (; Ezek. xxi. 24 [A. V., 21]), or at the corners of streets; (; Prov. vii. 8), or where two streets crossed. These points are called "mother of the way," or "head of the two ways" (Ezek. xxi. 26 [A. V., 21]), or "the house of ways" (Prov. viii. 2). Open squares were mainly found near the gates. Here travelers tarried overnight (Judges xix. 15); and here the children played (Zech. viii. 5).

In a walled town the gates were most important parts; for near them citizens were wont to gather in the dusk to watch or greet the caravans of travelers (Gen. xix. 7; Job xxix. 7); and here also court was held (Deut. xiii. 17; Isa. lix. 14; Ps. lv. 12), compacts were made (Gen. xxiii. 10; Ruth iv. 11), and the market-place was situated (II Kings vii. 1).

Extent and Cultural Importance.

The designation "mother city" (metropolis) indicated that the city so styled was one of importance. This epithet is expressly applied to the old city of Abel Beth-maachah (II Sam. xx. 19); while the same idea is indirectly expressed when the "daughters" of a city are spoken of (Num. xxi. 25). Occasionally a city is explicitly designated as a large one, as in Gen. x. 12, where the clause "the same is a great city" can not refer to Calah, but is evidently meant as a designation for Nineveh together with the three neighboring cities. Nineveh is also called "great" in Jonah iii. 3, where it is hyperbolically described as "a city of three days' journey": this must refer to its diameter and not the circumference, for it is more natural to assume that a person would go through a city than around it. The actual size of the cities of Palestine can not be definitely ascertained, as explicit statistics regarding the number of inhabitants are seldom found. Not even the statement that the total population of Ai was 12,000 (Josh. viii. 25) can be regarded as a fact. Benzinger (l.c. § 10, 5) estimates the number of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to have been about 110,000, a number that coincides with the statement that 80,000 of the inhabitants of Jerusalem perished and yet many remained (II Macc. v. 14). The statement of Josephus ("B. J." vi. 9, § 3) that at the time of the Passover Jerusalem had 3,000,000 inhabitants is manifestly an exaggeration.

Life in the villages was more simple and natural than that in the cities. But the large cities had of course many attractions; for there magnificent temples and palaces, and whole streets taken up by bazaars displaying the treasures of the most distant countries, were to be found. These sights are described very picturesquely in reference to Tyre in Ezek. xxvii. 5 et seq. The large cities were also the seats of learning, and contained the colleges and the libraries (Isa. xlvii. 10; Dan. ii. 2). But luxuriousness to the utmost degree also prevailed in the large cities, as may be gathered from Isaiah's description of the feasts (Isa. v. 11, xxviii. 8). Extravagance in dress was also carried beyond due limits (Isa. iii. 16 et seq.), and, worst of all, boldness and shamelessness kept pace with the vices mentioned (Amos iv. 1 et seq.; Isa. xxxii. 9 et seq.; Nahum iii. 4).

Changes in Names.

The frequent changing of the names of the cities is an interesting fact to note; and the Old Testament has been especially careful in recording these changes. The long and detailed series of these records begins with the words "Bela which is [the later] Zoar" (Gen. xiv. 2, 8), other examples being Luz, i.e., Beth-el (ib. xxviii. 19; xxxv. 6, 27; Josh. xviii. 13; Judges i. 23, 26; xviii. 29); Kirjath-arba, i.e., Hebron (Gen. xxiii. 2; Josh. xiv. 15; xv. 13, 54; xx. 7. xxi. 11; Judges i. 10); Kirjath-sepher, i.e., Debir (Josh. xv. 15, 49; Judges i. 11); Jebus, i.e., Jerusalem (Judges xix. 20 = I Chron. xi. 4). This process of changing the names of cities was continued in later times. The ancient Shechem, for example, was called "Neapolis" (New City); and the name of Jerusalem was changed by the Romans (Hadrian) to Ælia and by the Arabs to al-Ḳuds (the Sanctuary). Thus, many of the cities of Biblical antiquity have continued their existence down to modern times under new names, and not infrequently under their old ones. For the city in postbiblical times see Community, Organization of.

  • Schegg, Bibl. Archäologie, 1887, pp. 60 et seq. Benzinger, Arch. § 18.
E. G. H. E. K.
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