Jerusalem 3000 bash snarled in multiple disputes

JERUSALEM — It's supposed to be a giant birthday bash, a no-holds-barred hoopla celebrating Jerusalem's 3000th year of existence.

Yet even as the nation prepares for a star-studded parade of "Jerusalem 3000" events beginning in September — from light shows to operas to symphony concerts — an unlikely crew of party poopers are blasting the whole idea.

The critics include Palestinians who charge that Israel is trying to deny the Arab nature of the city by holding the celebrations.

Some diplomats, meanwhile, are worried that the events are a subtle way to get them to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a way to "create facts on the ground."

Even the ultra-religious charedim are weighing in, contending that the "Jerusalem 3000" concept is too Hollywood, too full of pomp and show business for its own good.

Furthermore, they protest, the real birthday celebration shouldn't occur for another 37 years.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism Party says that charedi objections are first and foremost against the nature of the celebrations, chock full of operas, sound-and-light shows and gala symphony performances.

"These celebrations have no Jewish content," he says. "They are good for Washington, D.C., but not for Jerusalem."

But Porush also emphasizes that the date of the birthday extravaganza is inaccurate. Many charedim believe that the 3,000-year milestone should not be marked until the year 2132.

This calculation is based on the Seder Olam Raba, a midrashic work on chronology dating from the second century that charts Jewish history from the creation of the world to the Bar Kochba revolt.

The work was written without extra-biblical sources. It chronicled the history of the Jewish people according to biblical dates but without taking into consideration the overlap in the reigns of different biblical kings.

Among modern biblical scholars and archeologists, there is a consensus that King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the year 1004 BCE. That is based on both biblical and extra-biblical sources.

"David was 30 years old when he became king, and he reigned 40 years," reads the biblical account in II Samuel 5:1. "In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah 33 years."

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem-based Ben-Zvi Institute has released a circular supporting the determination of 1996 as 3,000 years since King David declared Jerusalem his capital.

According to the institute, the "selection of this date was based on a generally accepted scientific determination — and according to the opinions of most biblical scholars, archaeologists and historians in Israel and abroad.

"The accepted date for this event is based on the account in the Bible, on archaeological data and on external sources, which confirm that it took place about 1004 BCE."

But not all historians agree. Mordechai Cogan, a Jewish history professor at Hebrew University, says that 1004 BCE is not the date of King David's reign in Jerusalem but the date of the start of his 40-year reign over the Jewish people.

The first seven of those years he was in Hebron, says Cogan who does not believe that conquering Jerusalem was one of King David's first acts.

What that means, he says, is that celebrations should be three, five or seven years off.

Zvi Raviv, the international coordinator of "Jerusalem 3000," acknowledges that "there is some question within the scholarly community as to the exact date" — but maintains that 1996 "is a pretty good average."

Raviv also admits that some Palestinians, as well as some members of the diplomatic community, are concerned that the celebrations are not designed to honor King David and his ancient capital but are meant to establish the idea that Jerusalem is Israel's undisputed capital.

He denies there are political reasons for holding the celebrations at this time, however. Former Mayor Teddy Kollek, whose administration hatched the idea, says it was intended to promote tourism and investment in the city.

"When this all started," Raviv maintains, "there was no such thing as the Oslo agreement, and no one knew that Jerusalem would be at the center of international attention."