How did the place first become holy? The answer is lost in prehistory. At the point where the Judean desert begins to give way to the more fertile lands of the north, there was a mountain, cradled in a small bowl surrounded by other peaks. It was not particularly tall. But there must have been something special about it. As early as the Bronze Age, it was venerated as home to the local god Shalem, still remembered in the word Jerusalem. Later it was the shrine of the Canaanite deity Baal. Over millenniums, men would claim that it was Mount Moriah, on which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac; the mountain from which Muhammad journeyed to heaven; and even Adam's grave site.
To Jews, the most important moment in this reverent progression occurred in about 1000 B.C. That is the date believers assign to the biblical description of King David's unification of the Israelite tribes and his choice of Jerusalem as his capital. The Bible's book of Samuel also recounts David's inducing his God to accept the location for his earthly seat, the Ark of the Covenant. It tells of David's purchase, for 50 shekels of silver, of a "threshing floor" on the mountain. And finally the book of Kings tells of David's son Solomon, who built upon it a splendid temple to the Lord, composed of successive courtyards, each one more holy than the next, with the innermost containing the Ark.
Or did he? Outside of the Bible, there is only the scantest evidence of either King's existence. A mere two commemorative inscriptions have been found referring to a "House of David," both from a later period. Solomon's trail is even colder. His name appears on a cylindrical seal owned by a London collector, but it may not be the same Solomon and the object's provenance is cloudy. Few experts believe that the father-and-son team's Unified Kingdom could have stretched, as Kings claims, "from the [Euphrates] River ... to the Border of Egypt." A vocal minority of historians known as biblical minimalists claim that most of Kings was a myth concocted hundreds of years later to legitimize a later regime. ("He was making it up," says University of Copenhagen minimalist Niels Peter Lemche, of Kings' anonymous editor.) The minimalists argue that there is no good reason beyond piety to think that Jerusalem in 1000 B.C. was a major city or that David and Solomon were anything more than tribal leaders.