Q. Why is there a lion on the emblem of the city of Jerusalem?
The Biblical lion was probably not the great African lion but a smaller variety, though it still symbolised strength, majesty and valour.
Israel as a whole are compared to a lion (Num. 23, 24). Both David and Solomon are stated as having killed a lion (Judges 14, I Sam. 17). Lions were part of the decoration of the Temple (I Kings 7:29) and golden lions stood on either side of Solomon’s throne and on both sides of its steps (I Kings 10:19-20). A lions’ den plays a major role in the story of Daniel.
In rabbinic tradition, God’s voice is powerful like the roar of a lion (Ber. 3a), and lions are introduced into many other stories and contexts. The Talmud calls it the king of beasts (Hag. 13b: is this the first time this phrase is used?). The Mishnah urges a person to be as brave as a lion to do the Divine will (Avot 5:20).
In time the lion became a common motif in Jewish ceremonial art and is usually the only specific creature used in synagogue decoration; it very frequently flanks the Ark curtain, Torah covers and Torah breastplates. Clearly it represents dignity, majesty and strength. But is this the reason for its association with Jerusalem?
This is a possibility, but it must be pointed out that the Biblical name Ariel used for Jerusalem several times in Isaiah 29 may mean, not “lion of God”, but “altar-hearth of God”.