How Jerusalem Became “The City of David” – A Brief Explanation

In the Bible, it’s not uncommon for Jerusalem to be called “The City of David.” In most English translations, the phrase “City of David” is found around 45 times. The first time this name for Jerusalem appears in Scripture is 2 Samuel 5:7 (cf. 1 Chr. 11:5). As the story goes, king David and his army defeated the Jebusites who lived in and around Jerusalem (Jebus). It then became “The City of David” – that is, the city that David captured/conquered. In studying this recently, I found the following paragraphs from Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books a good resource for the background and history of Jerusalem:

Jerusalem is referred to as the city of David more than forty times in the Hebrew Bible, all but one of these occurrences coming in the Historical Books. This designation sometimes refers to the city as a whole and in other places to one sector; just as often it simply is a general term for the oldest part of the city. It first appears in 2 Samuel 5:7 in relation to the establishment of the city as a capital by David, in accordance with the tradition of naming a capital city in relation to its founder or conqueror (cf. Gibeah of Saul). It also refers to a burial ground in which at least nine of the kings, beginning with David (1 Kings 11:43), were interred. By the late monarchic period, perhaps by the time of its greatest expansion, it is used for the “original” Israelite city (e.g., 2 Chron 32:5).

The origin and meaning of “Zion” as a name for Jerusalem is uncertain. This term appears mainly in the Prophets and in Psalms, often as a designation for the temple, the city, its inhabitants or even all Israel. But it is found six times in the Historical Books, where, except for one poetic reference to “daughter Zion” (2 Kings 19:21), it has a geographical connotation, referring to the stronghold taken by David (e.g., 2 Sam 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1). Because “Mount” sometimes precedes it, its association with a strategically situated pre-Davidic and Davidic settlement seems likely, as does its etymological connection with Arabic terms for “ridge” or perhaps “fortified ridge” (see Zion Traditions).

The pre-Israelite name for Jerusalem may have been “Jebus,” a term used only four times in the Hebrew Bible, all in the Historical Books. Because this name does not appear in extrabiblical sources, and because it is used parenthetically in Judges (Judg 19:10–11; cf. Josh 18:28) and in 1 Chronicles (1 Chron 11:4, 5), as perhaps a later editorial addition, the historicity of the word as a toponym is in doubt. Rather, it may derive from the gentilic designation of the site’s inhabitants in the pre-Israelite period, the Jebusites. These people were considered Canaanites because they lived in the land of Canaan (see Gen 10:16), but it is likely that they were a non-Semitic people perhaps related to the Hurrians or Hittites.

Although it is not found in the Historical Books, the name “Salem,” perhaps a shortened form of “Jerusalem,” appears twice in the Hebrew Bible: once as the city of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), and once in Psalms as a synonym for Zion. Because of Melchizedek’s priestly role, the Genesis usage serves to anticipate the priestly presence in later, monarchic Jerusalem.

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, p. 549-550.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015