This was our first full day in Jerusalem. After a short walk from our hotel we visited the Garden Tomb. As always this was an early highlight for everyone. Our Garden Tomb guide was Peter, and his presentation of the facts about the Garden was excellent and his faith was both genuine and evident. For those who do not know the Garden Tomb, this is a rare British evangelical site next to Gordon’s Cavalry, a rocky cliff side that looks vaguely like a skull. The location has a good case for being the actual site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection although most scholars think the Holy Seplucher is the more likely location. I heard one guide say a Catholic friend told him something like “it isn’t the place where Jesus was buried, but it should be.”
From there we walked up to the Jaffa Gate where we visited the Tower of David Museum, although to be honest it does not have all that much to do with David. Sometimes the traditional names are not very helpful. The reason I wanted to go through this somewhat newer site was the overview of the history of Jerusalem from the Canaanite period to Suliman the Magnificent. There are several small museum galleries dedicated to periods in Israel’s history and one or two very helpful dioramas which help to visualize the Second Temple.
For some reason everyone was hungry about noon, so we walked to the Jewish Quarter where there are several options for lunch. Since I know everyone is wondering I had an excellent falafel.
After lunch we walked down the steps to the Davidson Center to visit the Southern Wall excavations. I have always considered this site a highlight of any tour, if you are in the Old City, plan of at least two hours (or more) for the short orientation video and to walk the site. Unfortunately there was a large and noisy group of high school students being led backwards through the site by a few rather bored looking teachers. We avoided them for the most part.
The Davidson Archaeological Park encompasses the southern Wall of the Temple Mount, including several massive Herodian stretch stones on the corner as well as some original steps going up to the double and triple gates. This is where Christian groups sit on the steps and read parts of the gospel. But sadly not a single Christian group other than mine walked down to the recent excavations in the Ophel. I suppose herding 60 older people down the steps would be difficult, but I think it is important to show the sites for both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
We the went to the Western Wall. I have not been there since they re-oriented the entrance to the men’s section, which looks like a long term change. I noticed quite a few students put their prayers in the cracks of the Wall this time. Since it was late in the day, the plaza was not crowded, but I did see something special: a young Jewish man at the Wall praying with his young daughter. I did not know that was possible, but it was very nice to see.
On our way back to the Jaffa Gate we visited the Holy Sepulcher. It has only be a few weeks since the renovations were completed, and the shrine does look much better. But I thought there were far more people than usual. Every section of the Church was packed and uncomfortable. Even the Syrian chapel was stuffed with two or three large groups. The Rotunda was closed, which was disappointing. If my goal was to confirm my students as official Protestants, I was successful.
We slowly walked back to the Jaffa Gate and then eventually our hotel. I wrote most of this before dinner (the food at our hotel is excellent) and the students are really enjoying their stay here.
Tomorrow we start at Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, then over to the National Museum for the rest of the day.