Day Three: Mount of Olives, City of David, Southern Wall and the Herodium

In some ways, this was a normal Israel tour day starting on the Mount of Olives. But this year we added the Herodium at the end of the day, a location I have never visited before. So we did quite a bit of walking and passing through narrow underground passages.

We started early at the Mount of Olives. So early, we were the first group there and claimed a perfect spot for viewing the Kidron Valley and the Dome of the Rock. By now most of the group can point out the key buildings in and around the Old City.

Mount of Olives 2023

Because we had an early time for Hezekiah’s Tunnel in the City of David, we only had a short visit at  Dominus Flevit. I rarely take people into the church, but usually read the story of Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 19:41-44). We only  had time for a look into the cave containing several first century ossuaries (bone boxes) just inside the entrance to the church grounds.

Next 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 this morning. After a quick look at the olive trees we went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed (Luke 22:39-46, Jesus’s prayer and 22:47-53, the arrest).

After Gethsemane, we crossed the Kidron Valley and walked up to the City of David. 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 and fairly clean toilets. Like the tombs of Zechariah, this tomb had nothing to do with David’s son and dates to no more earlier than 150 B.C. It is a useful reference for Herod’s tomb at the Herodium.

There is set of stairs climbing up the west side of the Kidron. This is not steep, but there are something like 180 steps. 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.

The highlight of 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 (which were, tobe fair, somewhat moist).

The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls (more bathrooms and a bottle refill station). After a short walk we met the “wet tunnel” people at the pool of Siloam. 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.Beginning in January 2023, archaeologists removed the garden across from the edge of the site, hoping to find the rest of the pool of Siloam. Unfortunately, they found nothing, and finding nothing after digging out that much dirt is unusual in Jerusalem. There were no coins, pottery, masonry, etc. The likely explanation is someone cleared the land many years ago, but the study of the site is not yet complete.

From the Pool of Siloam, we entered the Herodian era sewer that leads up to the Temple Mount. This is a narrow passage, often the walls are covered in green algae and the steps can be slippery. There are plenty of lights and the air does circulate so I never felt closed in. For much of the way I walked stooped over (some of our taller people had more difficulties). It is 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. Even so, this is a difficult tunnel for older, taller, or wider people.

Once we emerged from the darkness of the Second Temple sewer, we were at the southern corner of the Temple Mount. The site is excavated to the first century, and there are stones pushed from the top of the Temple Mount by the Romans. Most of the stones have been cleared to show a first century street under Robinson’s Arch. But the highlight for most people is the steps leading up to the Temple entrances and exits. This is one of the places in the Old City where I can say with some confidence that is is 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.

There was a new surprise: There is now an Aroma Coffee at the entrance to the Davidson Center, right by the ticket office. This means you can get lunch and drinks without climbing the steep stairs leading to the Jewish quarter. I had a nice sandwich and and iced coffee. Although it was not extremely hot, the iced coffee (and short rest) was perfect.

After our lunch, we rejoined our bus to drive to the Herodium. This is one of several palace fortresses Herod the Great built, the most famous is Masada. For reasons I cannot really explain, this was my first visit to the Herodium, and I must say it lived up to expectations. Following a short orientation film in the visitor’s center, we walked up the long set of stairs into the fortress itself. Herod’s mausoleum about half way up, but it was destroyed by the zealots some time before the Jewish revolt.

Do we really know this was where Herod was buried? In 2007 Ehud Netzer discovered an ornate sarcophagus, and the foundation of the mausoleum looks enough like Absalom’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley to argue the site was used for the burial of a very important man. I am sure someone has challenged the claim, but it seems fairly certain Herod was buried at the Herodium.

Tomorrow we get an early start for Caesarea, then on to Galilee.

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