It was good to see everyone for breakfast this morning. Actually several people said they were glad to see me since they were under the mistaken impression I had gotten lost. As it turns out, I was the only one who went where I was supposed to. Despite what you might think at the moment, that is not a round-about way of saying I was lost in Jerusalem. The trains are not quite as regular as we were told, and the other party got off two stops further down the line so we just missed each other.
We started the morning on the Mount of Olives. The weather called for chilly temperatures and rain, unfortunately both were accurate. The view across the Kidron Valley was still quite spectacular. We walked carefully down the rain-slicked road to Dominus Fevit, a small church shaped like a tear-drop which marks a traditional location for Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We stopped to read from Luke 19, especially verses 41-44. This gave me an opportunity to outline (briefly) the events of the final week of Jesus’ life and explain a bit about the why Jesus was staying on the Mount of Olives in the first place. While we were there, the sun came out enough to make a full rainbow, with one end on the Temple Mount. It was quite beautiful and unexpected.
From there we continued to the Church of All-Nations, the traditional site of the garden of Gethsemane. We happened to get there just as a couple of other tours were entering, so the olive garden was busy, but the church itself was quiet. Most of the other groups had cleared out by the time we were finished, so we had the garden almost to ourselves on the way out.
Jimmy met us with the bus and ferried us up to the Dung Gate to visit the Southern Wall Excavations and the Western Wall. It was a bar-mitzvah day, and a busy one at that. We were able to watch several young men start there procession down to the Western Wall Plaza, accompanied by music and joyous clapping. Seeing these celebrations was a nice bonus for us as we made our way to the Southern Temple Excavations.
There were few groups in this area, and I have rarely seen l groups there. I am not sure why, possibly the cost of the tour is a problem. The archaeology there is fantastic, you see the Herodian architecture better than at the Western Wall and the Southern wall has a great deal of first-century buildings. If you are wanting to “walk where Jesus walked,” then the Davidson Museum and Southern Wall Excavations is the place for it! I was extremely pleased that they have the recently-discovered Akkadian fragment on display in the museum, along with a nice explanation.
After a brief lunch (falafel, naturally), our goal was to go up to the Temple Platform and walk around the Dome, but the gates were already closed. We visited the Western Wall (one last bar-Mitzvah was finishing up), and then walked around to the Church of Saint Anne to see the pool of Bethesda. Looking back on it, this might have been a mistake since we had to backtrack considerably to get to the Jaffa Gate. Three things complicated matters. First, we walked a bit slower than I anticipated, second, there was an unusually high number of taxis trying to negotiate the narrow streets. I would really like to see motor vehicles banned entirely from the Old City (or at least the parts I like to walk through!)
The third problem was rain. About 3:15 there was a pretty heavy rain, making the narrow streets of the Old City slick and dangerous. Most of us had soaked shoes and hats, a few people bought umbrellas from the street vendors (who probably did quite well in umbrella sales today).
We ended up about 45 minutes late to the bus, and therefore quite late for our appointment at the Garden Tomb. By the time we got to the Garden Tomb it was nearly dark (heavy clouds made for difficult viewing of the garden when we entered, and it was dark by the time we were done). Our guide (a Texan by the name of Joe Armstrong) gave us an excellent explanation of the site given the duress of growing darkness, Muslim call to prayer, and a very short time window. I have always enjoyed hearing the volunteers at the Garden Tomb, the place is always a highlight on my tours.
I must admit it was a bit eerie being down at the tomb at night, but as Ken Kemper pointed out, when the women came to the tomb on Sunday morning, it was only just after sunrise and was still quite dark. A potential positive benefit of the rain is that we were the only people there that late, so we were able to use the larger chapel for communion.
There are t-shirts available in the Old City which say, “I walked my feet off in Jerusalem.” Someone in our group said, “feet, ankles knees…” It was a long day, most people retired early. The travel has probably caught up to us as well.
Tomorrow we head south, hoping to catch a bit of warm and dry weather!