Images of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible by Leslie Hoppe

There is an Arabic saying that “the multitude of names proves the excellence of the bearer.” Islamic tradition has adorned Jerusalem with 17 names. Jerusalem’s significance in the Hebrew Bible is clear from the several images used to speak of the city. Though not all are flattering, they do point to Jerusalem’s unique status.

Among the most frequently occurring images of Jerusalem is “the holy mountain.” It appears 25 times in the psalms and several prophetic books (e.g., Ps 48:1; Isa 66:20; Zech 8:3). This image reflects the cultural heritage of the ancient Near East. People believed that their gods lived on mountains. Ps 48:2 identifies Jerusalem’s Mount Zion with Mount Zaphon, claiming Baal’s dwelling for Israel’s God. Related metaphors for Jerusalem include “city of God” (Ps 46:4; Ps 87:3) and “city of the Great King” (Ps 48:2).

Another frequently occurring image speaks of Jerusalem as “daughter Zion.” The origins of this female metaphor are not entirely clear. Still, describing the city as God’s daughter implies familial intimacy.  “Daughter Zion” and its people are often depicted as victorious, secure, and prosperous (e.g., Isa 16:1; Mic 4:13; Zech 2:8). But about half of the occurrences of “daughter Zion” speak of Jerusalem as desolate because of its transgressions (e.g., Isa 1:8; Mic 1:13; Lam 1:6). Jerusalem may be God’s favorite, but that does not exempt it from judgment.

Several other feminine images used for Jerusalem are unflattering, pointing to the people’s infidelity to their God: the adulteress (Isa 1:21; Lam 1:19), the abandoned wife (Isa 49:14), and the prostitute (Jer 13:26-27). Taking these negative feminine images to an extreme, Ezekiel uses the allegories of Jerusalem as a foundling who becomes God’s unfaithful wife (chapter 16) and Jerusalem as one of two promiscuous sisters (chapter 23) to speak of the city’s infidelity.  The description of the women’s fate in these chapters is explicit and crude.  It also obscures the fact that Judah’s problems were largely caused by men: its kings, priests, and wealthy landowners.

Because the Hebrew Bible affirms that judgment is not God’s last word to Judah, more positive feminine images appear as the prophets speak about Jerusalem’s restoration. The city will no longer be called “Forsaken” and “Desolate” but “My Delight” and “Espoused” (Isa 62:4-5). The restored city will be a “mother” to its citizens (Isa 49:18-23; Isa 54:1-3; Isa 66:7-14). The city’s children will be returned to her and they will find comfort in their mother’s care.

An image of Jerusalem unique to the book of Isaiah calls the city “Ariel” (Isa 29:1-2; Isa 29:7). The literal meaning of this word is “lion of God.”  What led the prophet to use this name for Jerusalem is not certain. Ezek 43:15-16 uses the word “ariel” (translated as “altar hearth” in the NRSV) to speak of an altar on which sacrifices are burnt. Isaiah may be implying that Jerusalem will be the setting for the judgment that will come upon the unfaithful.

Both the positive and negative images for Jerusalem underscore the city’s significance for the people of ancient Israel. The most important image of all, however, is Jerusalem as a “holy” city (Isa 48:2; Isa 52:1; Dan 9:24; Neh 11:1, Neh 11:18) or mountain (e.g., Zech 8:3).  Jerusalem has been revered as holy for millennia as a place where people have sought and found their God.

Leslie Hoppe, "Images of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible", n.p. [cited 27 Nov 2022]. Online:


Leslie Hoppe

Leslie Hoppe
Professor, Catholic Theological Union

Leslie J. Hoppe, O.F.M., professor of Old Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union, has written on Jerusalem in the theology of the Old Testament and has been the academic director of CTU’s Israel Study Program, located in Azariah, a village near Jerusalem.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

A region notable for its early ancient civilizations, geographically encompassing the modern Middle East, Egypt, and modern Turkey.

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

Those biblical books written by or attributed to prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

Ps 48:1

The Glory and Strength of Zion
A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.
1Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain,

Isa 66:20

20They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedarie ... View more

Zech 8:3

3Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord ... View more

Ps 48:2

2beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.

Ps 46:4

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

Ps 87:3

3Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God. Selah

Ps 48:2

2beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.

Isa 16:1

1Send lambs
to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
to the mount of daughter Zion.

Mic 4:13

13Arise and thresh,
O daughter Zion,
for I will make your horn iron
and your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples,
and shall devote their gain to ... View more

Zech 2:8

8For thus said the Lord of hosts (after his glory sent me) regarding the nations that plundered you: Truly, one who touches you touches the apple of my eye.

Isa 1:8

8And daughter Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a shelter in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.

Mic 1:13

13Harness the steeds to the chariots,
inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
to daughter Zion,
for in you were found
the transgressions of Israel.

Lam 1:6

6From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Isa 1:21

The Degenerate City
21How the faithful city
has become a whore!
She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
but now murderers!

Lam 1:19

19I called to my lovers
but they deceived me;
my priests and elders
perished in the city
while seeking food
to revive their strength.

Isa 49:14

14But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”

Jer 13:26-27

26I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,
and your shame will be seen.27I have seen your abominations,
your adulteries and neighings, your shameless p ... View more

Isa 62:4-5

4You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for ... View more

Isa 49:18-23

18Lift up your eyes all around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord,
you shall put all of them on like an ornament,
and like a b ... View more

Isa 54:1-3

The Eternal Covenant of Peace
1Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate ... View more

Isa 66:7-14

7Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.8Who has heard of such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a lan ... View more

Isa 29:1-2

The Siege of Jerusalem
1Ah, Ariel, Ariel,
the city where David encamped!
Add year to year;
let the festivals run their round.2Yet I will distress Ariel,
and the ... View more

Isa 29:7

7And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel,
all that fight against her and her stronghold, and who distress her,
shall be like a dream, a vi ... View more

Ezek 43:15-16

15and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns.16The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve wi ... View more

Isa 48:2

2For they call themselves after the holy city,
and lean on the God of Israel;
the Lord of hosts is his name.

Isa 52:1

Let Zion Rejoice
1Awake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
... View more

Dan 9:24

24“Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everl ... View more

Neh 11:1

Population of the City Increased
1Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem; and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the ... View more

Neh 11:18

18All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred eighty-four.

Zech 8:3

3Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord ... View more

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