Today was a long walking day, I think I wore out some people. We started early at the Mount of Olives, there were no big groups and we were able to get a prime spot for viewing the Kidron Valley and the Dome of the Rock. In fact, the morning was cool and the strong breeze made me wish for a jacket.
Like most Mount of Olives walks, 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 19:41-44). 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. If you have never visited this site, there is a cave with examples of first century ossuaries (bone boxes) just inside the entrance.
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, but there was only one big group which was just finishing in one of the spots used for teaching. 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.
Just a short walk from the Garden of Gethsemane is the Orthodox and Coptic Tomb of Mary (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church of the the Dormition and the site in the city of 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. There church was almost empty so we were able to enter the Tomb and explore the icons.
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). Like the tombs of 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 the 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 Robinson’s Arch. What is new this year for me is climbing up the Herodian steps part of the way up top the Temple Mound, then through the first century sewer the rest of the way. This is a sometimes narrow passage, often the walls are covered in green algae and the steps are slippery, and for much of the way I walked stopped over. I have been waiting for this passage to be opened for several years and was quite happy with the walk despite the rough conditions. 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.
The Davidson Museum is closed for renovations (still!) and we had reservations for the Temple Tunnel tour, so we were rushed at the steps leading up to the Temple Mount. This was unfortunate (and unavoidable), I like to give people some time to read scripture and walk up the steps. This is one of the places in the Old City where we can say with some confidence likely 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.
The highlight of the day for me was the New Temple Tunnel Tour. I have done this tour many times, but this was a brand new experience for me, the Great Bridge Route. We had an excellent local guide, one of the archaeologists working on the site. He was entertaining and informative, the video portions were very helpful and the site is laid out well with new stairs and railings. I was very impressed with several mikveh in the tour, which passes through Warren’s Masonic Temple. You may not realize it, but the Western Wall we normally see in photographs is only 11% of the western side of the Temple Mount. The highlight was the Western Wall itself; the same stones from the above ground Western Wall but untouched by 2000 years of weathering.
Tomorrow is a Museum Day, starting at Yad VaShem in the morning, then to the Israeli National Museum in the afternoon.