Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Zion; or Mount Zion, meaning "fortress." In the time of David, a hilltop fortress in Jerusalem under the Jebusites. After Jerusalem was captured, Zion was renamed the city of David and the ark was placed there. 2 Sam. 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1; Ps. 76:2. Also the temple in Jerusalem. Isa. 8:18. Or Jerusalem itself. Ps. 69:35; Jer. 31:6.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Zion, a Hebrew word whose precise meaning is not known. It may mean ‘citadel’ or ‘fortress,’ but it has come to refer to at least three different aspects of the city of Jerusalem, as well as ‘the mountain of Samaria.’

According to 2 Sam. 5:6-10, David and his men took Jerusalem from the Jebusites, apparently climbing through a water tunnel or shaft and opening the city gate from the inside. Verse 7 states that ‘David took the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David,’ thus essentially equating the names Jerusalem, Zion, and the city of David. The synonymous use of these terms can be seen elsewhere in the ot.

It is clear both from a close reading of the Bible and from archaeological research that the pre-Israelite fortress of Jerusalem occupied the southeastern ridge, which extends south from the current Temple Mount complex located immediately to its north. This ridge has narrow precipitous valleys on both its eastern and western sides which eventually meet at the southern tip of the ridge.

While this city or fortress can legitimately be called Zion, the Temple Mount area immediately to the north, which was first constructed under Solomon’s reign, may also bear the name. This seems implied from a number of Psalms extolling the virtues of Zion and from related themes elsewhere in the ot. Zion is ‘my [God’s] holy hill’ (Ps. 2:6), ‘the holy habitation of the Most High (Ps. 46:4); it is ‘Mount Zion, which he loves,’ where God ‘built his sanctuary like the high heavens’ (Ps. 78:68-69).

In Byzantine times the name Zion was erroneously assigned to the hill immediately south of the southwestern corner of the present ‘old city,’ and from that time until the present century this site has been proposed as the original Zion. Though it has been shown conclusively that such is not the case, nevertheless two sites of traditional veneration are located there: David’s tomb and the upper room of the Last Supper.

There is yet another possibility for the term as suggested by Amos 6:1, where Zion occurs in a phrase that parallels it to ‘the mountain of Samaria.’ Perhaps Zion here is equated with Samaria in the sense of a ‘citadel,’ although it may be nothing more than a sarcastic comment on the false pride of Samaria’s inhabitants.

The descriptive language of Zion is replete with rich imagery. Streams of water come forth from her (Ps. 46:4), although in actuality the city is supplied by two springs, both of which are located off the hill proper. Zion is called ‘His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation’ (Ps. 48:1-2), adopting language more appropriate to a sacred mountain in north Syria. On numerous occasions Zion is employed as a metaphor for security and protection (e.g., Ps. 125). The nt continues this imagery using the term ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ or Zion metaphorically in reference to the church (Heb. 12:22), the gospel message (1 Pet. 2:6), and the place of God’s dwelling (Rev. 14:1).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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