When you plan a trip like this, you need to be flexible. Today is a good example of this. Because of various circumstances I cannot control, my plan to visit the Temple Mount on Day one was bumped to day two, and my plan to visit the Temple Tunnels on day three was also moved to day two. The upshot of this is: we did a lot of things today!
I intentionally planned a day at two major museums, Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum. This makes for an easier day of walking after yesterday’s marathon.
One of the most important things I include on my tours of Israel is a visit to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Museum. Sometimes college age students are not as well informed about the events leading up to the Holocaust. I try to point students into certain directions, especially to the display on the role of anti-Semitic Christianity in the rise of Nazism. This was terrible theology and not at all the teaching of the Bible, yet many Christians justified pure evil by appealing selectively to a few verses badly interpreted. I try to point out the Holocaust began with burning books and slowly indoctrinating people (often at young ages) through propaganda, and I invite them to think about (obvious?) parallels in contemporary American culture.
The Yad VaShem museum is designed to physically represent the descent into the horrors of the Holocaust. The story is told through pictures and film documenting the beginnings of the anti-Jewish attacks in Germany and elsewhere. Many displays have video interviews with survivors which are challenging to watch.
If you visit Yad VaShem, plan on stopping by the museum bookstore just outside the exit of the main museum (not the store near the entrance/exit of the whole complex). This is the only source for Yad VaShem publications and all proceeds go to support the museum. These are often specialized, academic studies of the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust). But there are many collections of letters or other personal stories written by survivors. For my last three or four visits the same woman was operating the store. She is so nice and informative and recommended several books to me.
There are three main things to see at the Israel National Museum for biblical studies (the focus of this trip). First is model of Jerusalem in the first century. This model used to be at the Holy Land Hotel but was moved to the Israel Museum. Although someone (like me) might raise a minor objection to nearly every detail of the model, it is extremely helpful for visually seeing the whole city as it might have appeared in the first century.
The second highlight of the museum is the Shrine of the Book, a small museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are a series of displays illustrating how the scrolls were found and some artifacts from Qumran, but the main room has examples of several types of scrolls found int eh caves at Qumran. These include Scripture (a few panels from the Great Isaiah scroll were on display), several apocryphal books (including the Genesis Apocryphon), and several of examples of the literature created by the Essenes (the Temple Scroll, the Habakkuk Pesher and the Thanksgiving Scroll).
The Shrine of the Book also has a small display for the Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible in book form (just slightly older than the Leningrad Codex). If you visit the Shrine of the Book be sure to go down the stairs and see this display.
The third highlight is the archaeological wing of the museum. This section alone could take several hours to fully digest, we were only able to see some of the highlights. The Tel Dan inscription is on display and there are several inscriptions from the Second Temple. There is a fragment of the warning to Gentiles to stay out of the Jewish section of the temple courts, the so-called Trumpeting Stone which indicated where a priest sounded a trumpet from the Temple Mount, and the Theodotus Inscription.
After an unfortunately rushed visit to the museum, we drove to the Dung Gate in order to visit the Temple Mount. I should say, we drove near the Dung Gate; traffic was so bad we got out and walked about a third of a mile along the sidewalk. This was much faster, although probably the most dangerous thing we will do on this trip. It was Bar Mitzvah day, so coming through the Dung Gate we were treated to joyous klezmer music(and it is possible some of my students danced…but just a little).
We were well-prepared to visit the Temple Mount. This means no Bibles or clothing with anything vaguely Christian on it. No one had backpacks that needed to be searched, and everyone dressed as modestly as possible. This eased our entry, although several women still needed to cover up a bit more. Keep these things in mind if you plan to visit the Temple Mount.
Compared to one year ago, there were far more people visiting the Temple Mount. I think this is good since there are many important things to see there. We had enough time to walk up to the Dome of the Rock (although we cannot enter) and stand in the shade and discuss several of the buildings and features. Unfortunately they start moving people out at 2:30 PM. We exited the Cotton Gate, and our guide treated us to tea (or Turkish coffee) from one of the shops.
After a visit to the Western Wall, we visited the Temple Tunnels. Last year we followed the Great Tunnel route, this year we followed the Great Stone route. When I visited the tunnels in past years, the Great Stone route was the only option. As is implied by the name, this version of the tour starts with a basic orientation and a visit to the massive stone that is the foundation for the retaining wall around the Temple Mount. The route runs along the Western Wall and ends at the Strouthion Pool. Our guide for the visit was extremely passionate and animated in her presentation (and everyone loved her). Both routes are excellent, and to be honest, I am not sure which I prefer.
One advantage to the Great Stone Route is that the tour exits near the Pool of Bethesda. Even though we only had a short visit there, several people in my group thought Bethesda was the highlight of their day. I was able to talk through the story in John 5 and to discuss some of the archaeological features of the pool.
Tomorrow is another busy day, starting early at the Mount of Olives.