We had another great day in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. We began the day at the traditional drop off point on the Mount of Olives in front of the Seven Arches Hotel. When we arrived we were almost the first bus, so there were only a few people looking out over the Kidron Valley. Several of our people wanted to ride Kojak the Camel, so by the time we were done, there were many tourists crowding the viewpoint.
After the traditional group picture, we walked down the Mount of Olives to Dominus Flevit. This is the traditional site where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We took a few minutes to read from the book of Luke, beginning of the triumphal entry at the top of the Mount of Olives and his brief pause to lament Israel’s rejection of his messianic claims. We had a good time of questions and answers about this passage as we looked out at the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. One of the highlights of this particular location is a small cave just inside the entrance containing quite a few ossuaries, or bone boxes. This is an indication the Mount of Olives has been used for burials for centuries.
From Dominus Flevit we walked down to the garden of Gethsemane. This is the traditional site of Jesus’ prayer after the Last Supper, his betrayal and arrest. We walked around the small olive grove to the Church of all Nations. Many of our group went into the church to see the so-called “agony stone,” and we gathered on the front steps of the church to read again from the book of Luke.
After visiting Gethsemane, we crossed the busy street and walk down into the Kidron Valley to see the Tomb of Absalom. While this rather spectacular tomb has nothing at all to do with Absalom, the national parks authority has created a nice walk along these famous Hasmonean era tombs. This walk now includes stairs going up the east side of the valley leading to the City of David. It is a bit of a long walk, but it was honestly a lot easier than trying to finagle the bus to pick us up and carry us to the City of David.
I have visited the City of David many other times, but this is the first time I have watched the “3-D movie” about the location. To be honest expected the worst, since most National Park films are not particularly well done. In fact this was occasionally quite cheesy. But for the most part the information was good and I thought the 3-D animations of the City and how Hezekiah’s tunnel was constructed were fairly well done. Nothing struck me as particularly out of sync with the Bible, although was a great deal of Israeli nationalism in the film. It was only 20 minutes and gave the students an introduction to the overall importance of the City of David. If you visit this location and have the time I would recommend watching the film.
The obvious highlight of the visit to the city of David is of course Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Once again I have visited the tunnel many times before, but this is the first time I have been through the tunnel since the completion of the construction project and multimedia presentation. Once you get to the bottom of the tunnel you can now see the Gihon spring, and there is a brief multimedia presentation showing how the tunnel cuts through the hillside. I was quite impressed with the amount of work on this particular part of the tour, after many years of work.
One other new feature is a small desk selling small flashlights for five shekels for those who did not bring a flashlight for the wet tunnels. If you’ve never been through the wet tunnels you need to know ahead of time that there is no lighting in them whatsoever. Once we finished with this section we experienced the “parting of the ways” as a handful of our party entered Hezekiah’s tunnel while the rest of us took the less-adventuresome (safe and sane) route through the Canaanite dry tunnels.
We met the brave souls who passed through the wet tunnel at the pool of Siloam at the bottom of the city of David. There was less new work there than I had hoped. You can still walk back up the sewer line and see the Herodian era steps, but they really have not improved the section in many years. Based on what I saw the last time I visited, I expected significant progress to have been made, perhaps exposing more stones and improving the presentation of the pool in general. Other than a much better system for paying for the shuttle up to the Dung Gate, there was really nothing different at the pool of Siloam.
Side Note: I’m always surprised at the two or three people selling “authentic Roman coins” found right there in the excavations. I’m really not sure why that sort of thing as tolerated since it is fairly obvious that they are fake coins. Honestly, if someone walks up to you on the street and tries to sell you an “authentic Roman coin for the special student price of $10,” that ought to be a fairly good indication the coins are fake.
Instead of what I had planned, I walked the group from the Dung Gate to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (rooster). This is the traditional site of the home of Caiaphas, the high priest who arrested Jesus. There was a crusader church at the location but the church is relatively recent. At the very least the archaeology underneath the church was a priestly home in the sight of the temple itself. If it is not Caiaphas is home it is certainly a good example of a wealthy, aristocratic home. Many people believe Jesus was kept in a cistern near the bottom of the house. Since Jesus was kept her overnight, Peter remained in the courtyard where he denied Christ three times “before the rooster crows.” Many students found the unexpected visit a good experience.
After Gallicantu, I marched the group through the Zion Gate and over to the Jewish Quarter. Since Sabbath was near, shops were closing and there were few tourist groups. We took a few moments to view the remains of the Roman Cardo (once again demonstrating how deep second century Jerusalem really is). We also stopped for a brief view of Hezekiah’s wall. We were a bit early for the bus, so everyone browsed the shops near Jaffa Gate (while I enjoyed an iced coffee).
We ended up walking just about seven miles again, which was more than I had planned. But I will make up for it tomorrow, since we will leave early for Caesarea and eventually Ma’agan Holiday Resort in Galilee.