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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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By referring to some peculiarities in the building, fortifying, &c, of eastern cities, we shall the better understand several allusions and expressions of the Old Testament. It is evident that the walls of fortified cities were sometimes partly constructed of combustible materials; for the Prophet, denouncing the judgments of God upon Syria and other countries, declares, "I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof," Amos 1:7 . The walls of Tyre and Rabbah seem to have been of the same perishable materials; for the Prophet adds, "I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof;" and again, "I will kindle a fire in the walls of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof with shouting in the day of battle," Amos 1:10 ; Amos 1:14 . One method of securing the gates of fortified places, among the ancients, was to cover them with thick plates of iron; a custom which is still used in the east, and seems to be of great antiquity. We learn from Pitts, that Algiers has five gates, and some of these have two, some three, other gates within them; and some of them are plated all over with thick iron. The place where the Apostle was imprisoned seems to have been secured in the same manner; for, says the inspired historian, "When they were past the first and second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of its own accord," Acts 12:10 . Pococke, speaking of a bridge not far from Antioch, called the iron bridge, says, there are two towers belonging to it, the gates of which are covered with iron plates; which he supposes is the reason of the name it bears. Some of their gates are plated over with brass; such are the enormous gates of the principal mosque at Damascus, formerly the church of John the Baptist. To gates like these, the Psalmist probably refers in these words: "He hath broken the gates of brass," Psalms 107:16 ; and the Prophet, in that remarkable passage, where God promises to go before Cyrus his anointed, and "break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars iron," Isaiah 45:2 . But, conscious that all these precautions were insufficient for their security, the orientals employed watchmen to patrol the city during the night, to suppress any disorders in the streets, or to guard the wall against the attempts of a foreign enemy. To this custom Solomon refers in these words: "The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the wall took away my veil from me,"

Song of Solomon 5:7 . This custom may be traced to a very remote antiquity; so early as the departure of Israel from the land of Egypt, the morning watch is mentioned, certainly indicating the time when the watchmen were commonly relieved. In Persia, the watchmen were obliged to indemnify those who were robbed in the streets; which accounts for the vigilance and severity which they display in the discharge of their office, and illustrates the character of watchman given to Ezekiel, and the duties he was required to perform. If the wicked perished in his iniquities without warning, the Prophet was to be accountable for his blood; but if he duly pointed out his danger, he delivered his own soul, Ezekiel 33:2 . They were also charged, as with us, to announce the progress of the night to the slumbering city: "The burden of Dumah; he calls to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night," Isaiah 21:11 . This is confirmed by an observation of Chardin upon these words of Moses: "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night:" that as the people of the east have no clocks, the several parts of the day and of the night, which are eight in all, are announced. In the Indies, the parts of the night are made known, as well by instruments of music, in great cities, as by the rounds of the watchmen, who, with cries and small drums, give them notice that a fourth part of the night is past. Now, as these cries awaked those who had slept all that quarter part of the night, it appeared to them but as a moment. It is evident the ancient Jews knew, by some public notice, how the night watches passed away; but, whether they simply announced the termination of the watch, or made use of trumpets, or other sonorous instruments, in making the proclamation, it may not be easy to determine; and still less what kind of chronometers the watchmen used. The probability is, that the watches were announced with the sound of a trumpet; for the Prophet Ezekiel makes it a part of the watchman's duty, at least in time of war, to blow the trumpet, and warn the people. The watchman, in a time of danger, seems to have taken his station in a tower, which was built over the gate of the city.

The fortified cities in Canaan, as in some other countries, were commonly strengthened with a citadel, to which the inhabitants fled when they found it impossible to defend the place. The whole inhabitants of Thebez, unable to resist the repeated and furious assaults of Abimelech, retired into one of these towers, and bid defiance to his rage: "But there was a strong tower within the city, and thither fled all the men and women, and all they of the city, and shut it to them, and gat them up to the top of the tower." The extraordinary strength of this tower, and the various means of defence which were accumulated within its narrow walls, may be inferred from the violence of Abimelech's attack, and its fatal issue. "And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower, to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all to break his skull," Judges 9:52 . The city of Shechem had a tower of the same kind, into which the people retired, when the same usurper took it and sowed it with salt, Judges 9:46 . These strong towers which were built within a fortified city, were commonly placed on an eminence, to which they ascended by a flight of steps. Such was the situation of the city of David, a strong tower upon a high eminence at Jerusalem; and the manner of entrance, as described by the sacred writer: "But the gate of the fountain repaired Shallum, unto the stairs that go down from the city of David," Nehemiah 3:15 .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Cities'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Cities of Refuge
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