BAR 32:03, May/Jun 2006
Small City, Few People
Professor David Ussishkin claims that the city wall of Jerusalem built by the exiles returning from Babylon, as described in the book of Nehemiah, enclosed an enormous area co-extensive with the city wall that enclosed Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered and burned it in 586 B.C.E. (“Big City, Few People: Jerusalem in the Persian Period,” BAR 31:04). Ussishkin is plainly wrong.
Ussishkin recognizes that the returning exiles “were neither wealthy nor particularly skilled.” In addition, he concedes that there were “few returning exiles.” He also accepts Nehemiah’s statement that the rebuilding of the wall was completed in 52 days. Indeed, everyone agrees that the detailed description in Nehemiah 3 regarding the course of the wall and its towers and gates is authentic and based on a primary source, reflecting an intimate knowledge of the topography of the city.