Mount Zion

Zion (Hebrew: צִיּוֹן‎‎ Tsiyyon), also transliterated Sion, or Sayon, Syon, Tzion and Tsion, is a place name often used as a synonym for Jerusalem. The word is first found in 2 Samuel 5:7 which dates from c.630–540 BC according to modern scholarship. It commonly referred to a specific mountain near Jerusalem (Mount Zion), on which stood a Jebusite fortress of the same name that was conquered by David and was named the City of David. The term Tzion came to designate the area of Jerusalem where the fortress stood, and later became a metonym for Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the city of Jerusalem and “the World to Come”, the Jewish understanding of the hereafter.

In Kabbalah the more esoteric reference is made to Tzion being the spiritual point from which reality emerges, located in the Holy of Holies of the First, Second and Third Temple.

Etymology

The etymology of the word Zion (ṣiyôn) is uncertain. Mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 5:7) as the name of the Jebusite fortress conquered by King David, its origin likely predates the Israelites. If Semitic, it may be derived from the Hebrew root ṣiyyôn (“castle”) or the Hebrew ṣiyya (“dry land,” Jeremiah 51:43). A non-Semitic relationship to the Hurrian word šeya (“river” or “brook”) has also been suggested.

Orthography

The form Tzion (Hebrew: ציון‎‎; Tiberian vocalization: Ṣiyyôn) appears 108 times in the Tanakh (Bible), and once as HaTzion. It is spelled with a Tzadi and not Zayin. A tz would only be used if the preceding vowel is short, and hence use of Zion in 19th-century German Biblical criticism. This orthography was adopted because in German the correct transliteration can only be rendered from the one instance of HaTzion in Kings II 23:17, where the a vowel is followed by a double consonant tz.

Judaism

Zion is the Hebrew name for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and was the seat of the first and second Holy Temple. It is the most holy place in the world for the Jewish people, seen as the connection between God and humanity. Observant Jews recite the Amidah three times a day facing Zion in Jerusalem, praying for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, the restoration of the Temple service, the redemption of the world, and for the coming of the Messiah.

In the Tanakh

View of Mount Zion from Mount of Olives

Some examples from the book of Psalms, which have been frequently recited and memorized by Jews for centuries, state:

  • “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Tzion.” (Psalm 137:1)
  • “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Tzion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof; O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us.” (Psalms 137:3-8, italics for words not in the original Hebrew)
  • “The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcast of Israel. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy GOD, O Tzion.” (Psalms 147:2,12)

Daughter of Zion

Mentioned 26 times in the Tanakh, the biblical phrase “Daughter of Tzion” (Hebrew “bat Tzion”) is a reference to Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. A cryptic verse in the book of Zechariah, Zechariah 4:7, seems to refer to Mount Moriah, but may be ambiguous, depending on the punctuation. In Hebrew it reads “Mi attah Har-haGadol lifnei Zerubbabel l’mishor…”; the plain text has no punctuation, but the Masoretic Text puts a pause following Har-haGadol, to mean “Who are you, great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, [you will become just] a plain…” However, if the pause is placed following Zerubbabel, it would mean instead “What are you, “great mountain” before Zerubbabel? [You are just] a plain…” Since this hill is where Zerubbabel built the Second Temple, it appears to be a reference to the “Daughter of Zion” (the hill), as distinct from Tzion (the mountain). Naming the holy city “daughter Zion” was a common practice in the Hebrew language. Not only was Jerusalem called this way, but Babylon, Tyre and Tarshish were also referred to as “daughter”.

However, “Daughter of Zion”, and a variety of other names like “Daughter of Jerusalem”, might also be interpreted as referring to Jerusalem, the Holy Temple, and the Jewish people personified, instead of a Mount Moriah specifically.

Latter Day Saint movement

A similar metaphoric transformation of the term “Zion” occurs in the modern Latter Day Saint movement, originating in the United States in the 1830s. In this interpretation, Zion refers to a specific location to which members of the millennial church are to be gathered together to live. Latter Day Saints also believe their location congregations to be the stakes of Zion, where they gather weekly to renew vows and Covenants made to GOD the Father and to the Son of GOD.

Arab and Islamic tradition

Sahyun (Arabic: صهيون‎‎, Ṣahyūn or Ṣihyūn) is the word for Zion in Arabic and Syriac. Drawing on Biblical tradition, it is one of the names accorded to Jerusalem in Arabic and Islamic tradition. A valley called Wâdi Sahyûn (wadi being the Arabic for “valley”) seemingly preserves the name and is located approximately one and three-quarter miles from the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate.

For example, the reference to the “precious cornerstone” of the new Jerusalem in the Book of Isaiah 28:16 is identified in Islamic scholarship as the cornerstone of the Kaaba. This interpretation is said by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah (1292–1350) to have come from the People of the Book, though earlier Christian scholarship identifies the cornerstone with Jesus.

Rastafari movement

I say fly away home to Zion, fly away home…One bright morning when my work is over, man will fly away home…
— Rastaman Chant , The Wailers

In the Rastafari movement, “Zion” stands for a utopian place of unity, peace and freedom, as opposed to “Babylon“, the oppressing and exploiting system of the materialistic modern world and a place of evil.

It proclaims Zion, as reference to Ethiopia, the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the movement calls to repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. Some Rastafari believe themselves to represent the real Children of Israel in modern times, and their goal is to repatriate to Ethiopia, or to Zion. The Ethiopic text Kebre Negest serves as inspiration for the idea that the “Glory of Zion” transferred from Jerusalem to Ethiopia in the time of Solomon and Sheba, c. 950 BC.

Rastafari reggae contains many references to Zion; among the best-known examples are the Bob Marley songs “Zion Train”, “Iron Lion Zion“, the Bunny Wailer song “Rastaman” (“The Rasta come from Zion, Rastaman a Lion!”), The Melodians song “Rivers of Babylon” (based on Psalm 137, where the captivity of Babylon is contrasted with the freedom in Zion), the Bad Brains song “Leaving Babylon”, the Damian Marley song featuring Nas “Road to Zion,” The Abyssinians’ “Forward Unto Zion” and Kiddus I’s “Graduation In Zion,” which is featured in the 1977 cult roots rock reggae film Rockers, and “Let’s Go To Zion” by Winston Francis. Reggae groups such as Steel Pulse and Cocoa Tea also have many references to Zion in their various songs.

The term “Zionism” coined by Austrian Nathan Birnbaum, was derived from the German rendering of Tzion in his journal Selbstemanzipation (Self Emancipation) in 1890. Zionism as a political movement started in 1897 and supported a ‘national home’, and later a state, for the Jewish people in British Palestine. The Zionist movement declared the re-establishment of its State of Israel in 1948, following the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Since then and with varying ideologies, Zionists have focused on developing and protecting this state.

The last line of the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah (Hebrew for Hope) is “….Eretz Zion, ViYerushalayim”, which means literally “The land of Zion and Jerusalem”. Yerushalayim is a plural, because there are 2 “Jerusalems” in Judaism, there is the physical land and the spiritual spot where GOD’s presence on Earth (Shechinah) is centered.

Other uses

The Jewish longing for Zion, starting with the deportation and enslavement of Jews during the Babylonian captivity, was adopted as a metaphor by Christian Black slaves in the United States, and after the Civil War by blacks who were still oppressed. Thus, Zion symbolizes a longing by wandering peoples for a safe homeland. This could be an actual place such as Ethiopia for Rastafari or Israel for some of the Igbos in Nigeria for example. For others, it has taken on a more spiritual meaning—a safe spiritual homeland, like in heaven, or a kind of peace of mind in one’s present life.

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