Brief Review of Jerusalem: City of the Great King

I recommend Steven Notley’s new book, Jerusalem: City of the Great King, as an excellent guide to Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. This short, well-illustrated work guides the reader on a journey from the Upper City to the Upper Room to the Lower City and the Temple Mount. If you want to feel like you know Jerusalem as experienced by Jesus and his apostles, this is the book to read.


Three Strengths

  1. Primary sources: Notley not only puts the ancient historical pieces together in an understandable way, he lets us read the primary sources for ourselves. All of the sources are easily identifiable by a color-coding scheme.
  2. Original thinking: Much has been written about Jerusalem and this time period, but Notley’s work is fresh as he approaches archaeology with the skills of a historian. There is much you’ll learn here that you won’t get anywhere else.
  3. Difficult issues: This book tackles tough subjects head on, providing good explanations about the location of the Praetorium, the identity of the Lithostratos, the existence of an Essene Quarter, and the layout of the Herodian city.


Three Weaknesses

  1. Audience: There are a few places where the general reader may get lost in a detailed discussion (e.g., the location of the Baris on page 58). There is certainly great value to the debates, but beginning students may want to skip ahead.
  2. Photographs: Carta is known for excellent visual imagery, but in some places they included inferior photos in this book. Images on Wikimedia Commons are free, but they don’t always serve the readers the best.
  3. Midrash: I don’t agree that John’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion on Passover is a “creative and expansive retelling of biblical stories.” Notley argues this way in his refutation of the theory that Jesus ate the Last Supper with the Essenes, but I think there are better options.


Three Insights

  1. Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel the Elder, was one of the supervisors of the temple construction.
  2. Of the temple, Herod “was forbidden to even approach his own construction” (88). Notley suggests that this explains why Herod built the courts so lavishly.
  3. The Lithostratos refers to the tiled floors that surrounded the two wings in Herod’s palace. Notley provides good comparative evidence from the Jericho palace as well as from recent discoveries made in the Temple Mount Sifting Project.



Notley’s work is well-written and generally a quick read. Everyone will learn from this book, especially those who are less familiar with Josephus and the rabbinical sources. I recommend it to all who want to understand the background of the Gospels. The book is available from Carta-Jerusalem and Amazon.


Todd Bolen is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s College. He also is the creator of BiblePlaces.com.