When Abraham entered the land of Canaan around 2000 BC the city of Jerusalem was called Salem (Genesis 14).
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. - Genesis 14:17-20
Melchizedek’s city was called Salem, or Shalem, which is also the name of the God whose worship was centered in the city. The full name of this God was “God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth” since he was the God of creation. It is interesting to note that Abram recognizes this God in verse 22 when he swears by his name and, at the same time, calls him “Lord” which is the word YHWH, the name of the covenant God of Israel:
Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord (YHWH), God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you.” - Genesis 14:22-23
The name of the city Jerusalem was originally “Yerushalem”. We already know that “shalem” comes from the name of the God worshipped in the city by Melchizedek. (The Jews taught that Melchizedek was Noah’s son Shem, who, according to biblical records, was still alive at this time.) The word “yeru” means “foundation stone” or “cornerstone.” The name Jerusalem, then, means “the foundation stone of Shalem” and refers to the original cornerstone laid by the Creator of the Universe when he built the earth.
Melchizedek was the king of this city, which was located on the southern part of the Eastern Hill between the Kidron Valley and the Central Valley.
Abraham met Melchizedek in the Valley of Shaveh, that is the King’s Valley (Genesis 14:17). This would be at the south end of the ridge of the city where the Kidron and Hinnom valleys meet. Melchizedek was also a priest of God Most High, who was Abraham’s God as well.
Abraham was in Jerusalem again a few years later when he offered Isaac on Mount Moriah, as described in Genesis 22. Mount Moriah is on the northern end of the Eastern Hill that Melchizedek’s city sat on. So, in Genesis 14, Abraham met Melchizedek on the south end of the Eastern Hill in the valley, but in Genesis 22 he went to the highest point, the north end, of that same ridge.
Around the time of Jacob and Joseph (1800-1700 BC), Jerusalem, or Rushalimum, is mentioned in an Egyptian text as a chief city in the central hill country with two rulers named Y’qar‘am and Shas‘an. Just a few years later in another Egyptian text, the name Jerusalem is mentioned along with the name of one single ruler, which is illegible.
Canaanites continued to live in the city through the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s 12 sons. After the Hebrews spent 400 years in Egypt and 40 years in the wilderness, Joshua led them into the Promised Land.
The Jebusites (also called Amorites) were a group of Canaanites. The king’s name at that time was Adonizedek (Joshua 10:1-3) who appears to be an heir or descendent of Melchizedek. (Notice the spelling: Melchi-zedek.) The Zedek family, or the Zedek title, had been ruling Jerusalem from 2000 to 1400 BC. In about the year 1404 BC, Adoni-zedek met Joshua on that fateful day when the sun stood still and was killed by Joshua (Joshua 10:3; 12:7, 10). Joshua continued to lead the Israelites through this Promised Land given to Abraham by God.
After Joshua’s death, the men of Judah attacked and captured Jerusalem. The people in the city were slaughtered and the city was burnt.
The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire. - Judges 1:8
After that time the city of Jerusalem was resettled by Jebusites and the city was named Jebus by its inhabitants.
Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah. - Joshua 15:63
The Amarna Collection was found in Egypt in 1887. It is a collection of ancient letters written on clay tablets varying in size from 2 x 2.5 inches up to 3.5 x 9 inches.
A substantial amount of the content of the letters written to Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1410-1377 BC) are appeals from many of the kings in Canaan for military help and provisions. At that time the land of Canaan was being overrun by invaders referred to in the letters as “Haibru.” The word “Habiru” simply means “nomadic invaders,” but its pronunciation sounds like the name of a people called “Hebrews” who invaded the same land of Canaan in a similar fashion at the very same time. The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt is dated as occurring in the year 1444 BC. After 40 years in the wilderness the Hebrews would have entered Canaan in 1405-1404 BC. For the next seventy years, letters written from the land of Canaan focus on the chaos and fighting caused by these Habiru invaders.
A letter sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep IV of Egypt between 1350 and 1334 BC from Jerusalem has survived among the Amarna letters. The letter is from Abdi-Hepa, the ruler of Jerusalem, which indicates that Jerusalem was an important city at that time. In these letters Abdi-Hepa, a Hittite name, discusses a failed attempt to break into his palace in order to assassinate him. The natural location of this palace fortress would be the same place in Jerusalem that the kings before him and after him would choose: the north edge of the city near the Ophel. (David would eventually take this fortress around 1005 BC). In these letters the ruler of Jerusalem is clearly having trouble with invaders and raiding parties a generation after Joshua brought Israel into the land of Canaan. Abdi-Hepa was asking for help from the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Jebus, or Jerusalem, is also mentioned in the account of a traveling Levite in the book of Judges from roughly around 1200 BC:
Unwilling to stay another night the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.” His master replied, “No. We won’t go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” - Judges 19:10-12
By David’s day in 1005 BC, these Jebusites had built up the southern half of the Eastern Hill. The Jebusites had built walls around their city and had added considerable defensive structures on the north end in the middle of the Eastern Hill in the area called the Ophel. The northern section of the ridge, Mount Moriah, was being used as a threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:16-24). This city covered about 10 acres.
When David was 37-years-old and had reigned in Hebron for 7 years his men entered the city of Jerusalem through the water system and took it from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:4-9). David began extensive building in Jerusalem which he renamed “the City of David.” The Bible says that David captured the “stronghold of Jerusalem,” which would be the same palace fortress mentioned by Adbi-Hepa and used for centuries by the kings who proceeded David:
The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here.”. . . . Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. . . . David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces (Millo) inward. - 2 Samuel 5:6-7, 9