Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives

After a lighter walking day yesterday, we started at the Mount of Olives with the goal of walking across the Kidron Valley, up to the City of David, through Hezekiah’s tunnel, back up to the Southern Wall excavations and the Davidson Museum. I also planned to give the students some free time to experience shopping in the Old City (which really is quite the experience!)

We left the Hotel about 7:30 hoping to avoid the crowds at the Mount of Olives. this was successful, there was only one other small group there when we arrived so we were able to get one of the prime viewpoints on the Mount. By this time we’ve walked around the Old City and seen several models of the city of Jerusalem so the students were asking good questions about locations of various things we were seeing.

From there we walked down to Dominus Flevit, a church about halfway down the Mount commemorating the location where, according to tradition, Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 20:41-44). There were no other groups when we arrived so we has a nice spot to look over the valley and discuss the Triumphal Entry and Jewish Messianic expectations in the first century. As we were leaving a very large pilgrimage group from India entered the gate to the church singing hymns and waving olive branches.

Continuing down the steep walk we visited the Church of all Nations, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another site which is usually crowded, and today was no exception. After a quick look at the olive trees many of the students went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus wept on the night he was betrayed. We read Luke 22:39-46 (Jesus’s prayer) and 22:47-53 (the arrest). This gave us a chance to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s prayer asking God to “take this cup” from him.

Our guide suggested we visit the Tome of Mary, just a short walk from the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a Greek Orthodox church commemorating the death of Jesus’s mother Mary; the Dormition is the Roman Catholic site and there is a place in Ephesus which claims Mary moved there before she died (or ascended to Heaven). The reason to visit this crusader era church is to see how deep the Kidron valley was in earlier centuries, the tomb itself is 25 feet or more below the current level of the valley. What made this visit very special is that we were able to witness part of a Coptic celebration of the Eucharist. After two men sang several hymns, the priest consecrated the bread and the wine. To be honest, I did not see any other Coptic Christians there, but it was the first time many of my students had even heard of Copts. To witness this this very ancient liturgy was very memorable.

Fir the last several tours I have led the students on a a walk through the Kidron Valley. This involves crossing the busy street (probably the most dangerous thing we did on this tour) in order to follow a walking path down past the Tomb of Absalom and back up the other side of the valley to the City of David. The parks service has cleaned this area up considerably ]and there are free toilets (not the cleanest in Jerusalem but good enough!) In the last two years the the City of David has sponsored a Bedouin style tent experience (we shared some nice mint tea) and there are camel rides steps for mounting the camels (this is more humane than forcing them to kneel). For the first time in the years I have been taking students down into the valley Uzziah’s Tomb was open. Like the tombs of Absalom and Zechariah, this tomb had nothing to do with the biblical king, dating to no more than 150 B.C.

There is a promenade on the west side of the Kidron which makes for an easier walk (I did stop halfway to explain the view and catch my breath). The walk ends at the south east corner of the Temple Mount, near the Southern Temple archaeology park, offering a unique view of that end of the southern Wall. It is just a short walk from there to the City of David. Many of the viewing areas have been upgraded (in front of teh Stepped Wall, for example).

What most people want to see at the City of David is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is the water system built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. After a short walk down through tunnels to the Canaanite spring, there is a split in the Tunnel between the “wet” tunnel and the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. The wet tunnel has water flowing over the knees, and is completely dark. About half the group walked through the wet tunnel. I, however, took the the rest of the group through the dry tunnels.

The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls, and the park has re-configured the walk further down the hill to the pool of Siloam. We no longer exit the park and walk along the street (which is busy and potentially dangerous). There are now a series of wooden walkways within the park and partially through a private neighborhood. This is much more convenient and it appears the site is developing additional viewpoints along the way.

The pool of Siloam is mentioned in connection with Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:7). In the first century it may have functioned as a public mikveh for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem from the south. Since the pool was discovered more than ten years ago, additional work has been done to expose steps which appear to lead all the way up to Wilson’s Arch. After a shuttle ride back to the entrance to the City of David park, we entered the Givat Parking Lot Excavation, an ongoing new work across from the Dung Gate. The highlight of this part of the City of David experience is that the first century sewer has been cleared from the excavations, under the modern road and most of the Davidson museum, exiting just under Robinson’s arch. The tunnel is not too small, occasionally about five feet high (but higher in places) and just wider than my shoulders. It was quite a thrill to get to the end of the tunnel and see the Herodian stones and climb the stairs to the first century streets on the southern end of the Western Wall.

We had to hurry through the Davidson Museum since we arrive near closing time, but had a good long visit to the excavations on the southern end of the Temple Mount, The highlight for most people are the steps leading up to Herod’s Temple. This is one of the places in the Old City where we can say with some confidence Jesus walked up and down these steps, as did the apostles when they went up to the Temple to worship in the book of Acts.

Most of us had a late lunch (yes, I did have falafel again), some were satisfied with ice cream a short rest. Most people took the rest of the afternoon to shop in the Old City. I always enjoy watching people as the encounter the sights and smells of the market and try to negotiate the often bewildering bargaining style. Oddly enough, most Americans are not prepared for the aggressive tactics of some of the shop owners. I noticed more shops with signs indicating the prices marked are in Israeli shekels and are non-negotiable. I appreciate this, especially given some of the more guilt-based sales techniques. I personally just get the old “hey Mr. Mustache, come into my shop” followed by a really awkward pat on the belly.

We leave Jerusalem early tomorrow morning and head north to Caesarea, the Megiddo and finally our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.

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