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Who Named Jerusalem?

Who Named Jerusalem?



As the name Jerusalem rolls off my tongue, my mind conjures images of stone cobbled streets, upon which ancient prophets and kings once trod, and more history than a thousand books could ever hold. I was wondering what the name actually means and who made it up?


The word Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in Hebrew, is not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses and first appears in the Book of Joshua.1 At least, it's not mentioned in full in the Pentateuch—but both halves are there. Let me explain:

Yerushalayim—more specifically, the Temple Mount—was the very spot where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Look in the narrative there and you'll see that after he was told by an angel of G‑d not to sacrifice his beloved son, it reads:

And so Abraham named that place "G‑d will see," as it is said to this day, "On the mountain, G‑d will be seen."2

The Hebrew word for "will see" is yireh. That's the first half.

Now, what was the city called before Abraham renamed it Yireh? To discover this, we need to backtrack a few chapters. After rescuing his relative, Lot, from captivity, we read how Abraham was greeted by "Malchizedek the king of Shalem," who greeted him with bread and wine.3 An ancient tradition tells us that Malchizedek was actually one and the same as Shem, son of Noah, and that Shalem was none other than the very place that Abraham would eventually rename Yireh. So Shalem is the second half: Yireh + Shalem = Yerushalayim.

So how did Shalem and Yireh get together to become Yerushalayim?

The Midrash4 shares a beautiful glimpse into the process:

Said the Holy One, blessed be He, "If I call the place Yireh like Abraham did, the righteous Shem will complain. However if I refer to it as Shalem, the righteous Abraham will complain. Rather, I will call it Yerushalayim, and that name will contain the way it was called by both of them: Yireh Shalem."

On a deeper level, Yireh Shalem has an alternate meaning: "Complete awe." You see, on a soul level, Jerusalem is not just a patch of hilly earth or a dot on a map. It is that special place within each and every one of us where we are one with G‑d and deeply in tune with His presence. Yireh Shalem (or Jerusalem) therefore means "complete awe," a state where one is so in touch with G‑d as to be in constant rapture.5


Ibid. 14:18.


Gen. Rabbah 56:10.


Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah, parshat Pekudei 4a.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
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Marie U Mcgraw Brentwood December 5, 2017

I'm excited about the invitation/decision to delineate Jerusalem capital of Israel!
Makes perfect sense as written in the Holy word of God!
Thank you! Reply

Chava koprivova Ceska republika November 28, 2017

Thank you so much for your explanation. It is near to my heart.
Chava Reply

Anonymous Kentucky August 13, 2015

"Uru"; city & "Salim"; divine = Jerusalem; Divine City :) Reply

Anonymous Kentucky August 13, 2015

Hagar was Ismhael's mother, not Isaac's. Just to clarify. And although Sarah can be seen as "jealous", was Hagar not jealous enough to plant the seeds of anger & hatred in her son, Ishmael, so deeply that they are still alive today? Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Gen. 16: 11-12. Explains why the Ishmael nation is so violent. Reply

Fatmir Tirane, Albania April 2, 2015

Let's have a look on Abraham proper name. So we have "Av" as father, "Rah", or "Rav" as master, god, and "im" as of multitude. All this happened after being baptized and circumcised. So we have Ab-Rah-im=Father God of Multitude. As well as Sarah. Reply

Anonymous Kalemngorok, Kenya June 12, 2011

Could Jerusalem mean this? In The Turkana language a combiation of two words "Erus+Alem" gives a word "Erus-alem". "Erus" is a root word for swamp while "alem" is a root word for top. The top of a hill top is known as "alem". Could someone confirm these two features in Jerusalem? Reply

Chaya Fradle Riverside, CA, USA July 6, 2010

To Steve: I like your view. Very poetic. Reply

Steve northville, mi via July 5, 2010

Jerusalem Was there not two trees in the beginning? Is there not male and female, proton and electron, matter and anti-matter? Why would there not be an Inner (esoteric) and outer (exoteric) meaning to the words in the Torah?

Is the apple simply a solid? Or if we put it under a microscope what do we find?

It seems to me that it is quite possible that the words are literal. But in an inner sense.
So Abraham made a sacrifice-which means to make sacred. He sacrificed his first born.

What could be our first born? Could it possibly be our identity, personality, ego that develops mechanically thru outside forces such as a pseudo education, media, culture, etc.

And when one begins to awaken to the inner true self that one must sacrifice this first born so as to cleanse the garden of eden and its animal passions (weeds) so as to allow room for new plants and fruits to be born.

And reclaim Jerusalem within oneself. Find the silence that brings peace w/in.

What about this view? Reply

Sue Kanata, ON July 4, 2010

Wondrous! that was awesome- thank you! Reply

Chaim Mensch July 4, 2010

Jerusalem I always assumed the name was derived from "yerusha" (inheritance) l'am (to the nation). Reply

Anonymous Nederland, Texas July 1, 2010

Thank you very much. I wondered about that. Reply

Anonymous Efrat, Israel July 1, 2010

BEAUTIFUL!!! thanks for a very inspiring meaning explanation on why Jerusalem is called Jerusalem! i live 10 minutes away...and never thought\knew that! Reply

Chaya Fradle Riverside, CA, USA July 1, 2010

It is first mentioned in Scripture under the name Salem (Gen. 14:18; compare Ps. 76:2). When first mentioned under the name Jerusalem, Adonizedek was its king (Josh. 10:1).King David first called it Jerusalem (of course, that is the English spelling). The original name meant City of Peace. By the way, I don't believe the Isaac sacrifice story was to be taken literally. If anyone was sacrificed, it was literally Ishmael who had to leave in order that Isaac could be Abraham's first born (legitimate) son. Abraham didn't kill isaac or his mom, Hagar. He let them go into the desert with only a little water and nothing else. How unkind was that. I would imagine that Ishmael's descendants would be wanting revenge for their ancestor, so no amount of peace talks will ever satisfy their need for vengeance. By the way, in those days, second wives were common, and this may have been the first recorded record of surrogacy. The problem was that Sara became jealous. No? Reply

dolores los angeles, CA June 30, 2010

Origins of Jerusalem What I read about the Pre-history of Jerusalem is the following:

The pre-Israelite inhabitants of the area we call Jerusalem, was populated by a Canaanite tribe called the "Jebusites" who built it and named the city "Jebus." (The other two Canaanite tribes were the Amorites and the Hittites) When the godly King David conquered the area, he then re-named it "Jerusalem." Reply

Anonymous balatonkenese, hungary June 30, 2010

Jerusalem SHALOM
Is there an explanation for why G-D calls Jerusalem - HER ? Reply

Steve Northville, Mi via May 25, 2010

I wish I never asked the question I spent some more time reading on this. From many different angles, including non-jewish. And at this point in time it is totally useless in my opinion to even bother with these type of questions. Because it is clear no one knows and there is no profit at least for me to even know.

It is better I spend two hours and ponder not who or where Jerusalem orginated from. But what in me is preventing me to go back there. And not the physical location but the inner city of peace.

Please lets just drop this and sincerely apologize for even bringing it up.

Peace. Reply

Steve northville, mi via May 25, 2010

From another Kabbalistic instructor. Not sure if he is Jewish or not, I should have verified that before posting it. My apologies. I'll ask for his source and get back to you.

But it does not say Malchizadek is Shem in Genesis. Furthermore, why would it be repeated again here in Psalms; 4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: 'Thou art a priest for ever {N}
after the manner of Melchizedek."

The "few" commentaries I read from various sources do not seem to be consistent. Please keep in mind I said a few and have not done an in depth search.

Peace. Reply

Gretta May 25, 2010

Steve from Michigan What is your source? Who said that Malchizedek had no mother or father? This does not sound Jewish... Reply

Steve northville, mich. via May 24, 2010

Jerusalem I like your deeper alternative explanation of Jerusalem. This makes more sense to me.

But what I do not understand is your explanation of "Malchizedek." If it was Shem why not say so? Furthermore, Malchizedek was not just a king but he was a priest. A man w/o a mother or father. When they met there was 3 present.

What could possibly be a deeper level explanation of this? Reply

Shoshana-edut Fry Brooklyn, New York May 22, 2010

Jerusalem and its meaning Yireh - and I will see
Salem- peace Reply

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