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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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CITY . The surprisingly large number of places in the ‘least of all lands’ which receive in Scripture the honourable designation of ‘city’ is in itself evidence that the OT ‘cities,’ like the NT ‘ships,’ must not be measured by modern standards. The recent excavations in Palestine have confirmed this conclusion. In his recent work, Canaan d’après l’exploration récente (1907), the Dominican scholar, Father Vincent, has prepared plans on a uniform scale of the various sites excavated (see op. cit. 27 ff. with plate). From these the modest proportions of an ancient Canaanite or Hebrew city may be best realized. The area of Lachish, for example, did not exceed 15 acres; Taanach and Megiddo each occupied from 12 to 13 acres an area about equal to the probable extent of the Jehusite city on Ophel captured by David ( 2 Samuel 5:6 ff.). Gezer, at the time of its greatest expansion, did not exceed 23 acres, or thereby, the circuit of its outer wall being only 1500 yards, about 1 / 3 of the extent of the present wall of Jerusalem.

With the exception of cities on the sea-board, the situation of the Canaanite city was determined, as elsewhere in that old world, by two supreme considerations the presence of an adequate water-supply and the capability of easy defence against the enemy. ‘The cities of Canaan,’ says Vincent, ‘were almost invariably perched upon a projecting spur of a mountain slope, or upon an isolated eminence in the plain: Megiddo, Gezer, Tell-es-Safy [Gath?] not to mention the hill of the primitive Jerusalem are characteristic examples of the former site, Taanach and Lachish of the latter.’ With this well-known fact agrees the mention of the ‘cities on their mounds’ (Joshua 11:13 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , Jeremiah 30:18 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] [Heb. tillîm , the Arabic tell , now so common in the topographical nomenclature of Western Asia]).

The relation between the city and the dependent villages was regarded as that of a mother (2 Samuel 20:19 ‘a mother in Israel’) and her daughters, a point lost in our rendering ‘villages’ ( e.g. Joshua 15:32 ; Joshua 15:36 ; Joshua 15:41 and passim ), though noted in the margins. From these the city was outwardly distinguished by its massive walls (cf. Numbers 13:28 , Deuteronomy 1:28 ‘walled up to heaven’), on the construction of which recent excavation has thrown a flood of new light (see Fortification). Close to, if not actually upon, the walls, houses were sometimes built, as we learn from Joshua 2:15 (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:33 ).

The streets are now seen to have been exceedingly narrow and to have been laid out on no definite plan, ‘a maze of narrow crooked causeways and blind alleys,’ as at Gezer. Only at the intersection of the more important streets, and especially near the city gates, were broad places ( Jeremiah 5:1 , Nehemiah 8:1 ; Nehemiah 8:3 ; Nehemiah 8:16 RV [Note: Revised Version.] where AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , as often, has ‘streets’) the markets ( Matthew 11:16 , Luke 11:43 ) and market-places ( Matthew 20:3 , Luke 7:32 ) of NT where the citizens met to discuss public affairs, the children to play, and the elders to dispense justice. The importance of the gates , which were closed at nightfall ( Joshua 2:5 ), is treated of in art. Fortification and Sieoecraft, § 5. During the night the watchmen mounted guard on the ramparts, or went ‘about the city’ ( Song of Solomon 3:3 , Isaiah 62:6 ; cf. Psalms 127:1 ). A feature of an Eastern city in ancient as in modern times was the aggregation in a particular street or streets of representatives of the same craft or occupation, from which the name of the street or quarter was derived (see Arts and Crafts, § 10 ).

The houses were absurdly small to Western ideas (see House), for the city folk lived their life in the courts and streets, retiring to their houses mainly to eat and sleep. Every city of any importance, and in particular every royal city, had its castle , citadel, or acropolis, as the excavations show, to which the inhabitants might flee as a last defence. Such was the ‘ strong tower within the city’ of Thebez ( Judges 9:51 ). Indeed the common term for city ( ‘ir ) is often used in this restricted sense; thus the ‘ stronghold of Zion’ is re-named ‘David’s castle’ or citadel ( 2 Samuel 5:7 , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘city of David’), and the ‘city of waters’ ( 2 Samuel 12:27 ) at Rabbath-ammon is really the ‘water fort.’

As regards the water-supply , it was essential, as we have seen, to have one or more springs in the immediate vicinity, to which ‘at the time of evening’ ( Genesis 24:11 ) the city maidens went forth to draw (see Well). Against the long rainless summer, and especially against the oft-recurring cases of siege, it was not less necessary that the city should be provided with open pools and covered cisterns for the storage of water. Mesha, king of Moab, tells in his famous inscription how, as there was ‘no cistern in the midst of’ a certain city, he ‘said to all the people: make you each a cistern in his house’ (cf. Cistern).

In the internal affairs of the city the king in Canaanite days was supreme. Under the Hebrew monarchy and later, law and justice were in the hands of ‘the elders of the city’ ( Deuteronomy 19:12 ; Deuteronomy 21:3 ff., Ruth 4:2 etc.). In addition to freemen, possessing the full rights of citizenship the ‘men of the city’ par excellence with their wives and children, the population will have included many slaves, mostly captives of war, and a sprinkling of sojourners and passing strangers (see Stranger).

No city, finally, was without its sanctuary or high place , either within its own precincts, as in most cities of note (see High Place), or on an adjoining height ( 1 Samuel 9:12 ff.). With due religious rites, too, the city had been founded in far-off Canaanite, or even, as we now know, in pre-Canaanite days, when the foundation sacrifice claimed its human victim (see House, § 3 ). A survival of this wide-spread custom is almost certainly to be recognized in connexion with the rebuilding of Jericho, the foundation of which was laid by Hiel the Bethelite, ‘with the loss of Abiram his first born,’ and whose gates were set up ‘with the loss of’ his youngest son, Segub ( 1 Kings 16:34 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'City'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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