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.

Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum

When I plan a trip to Israel, there are certain dates I check in order to avoid problems in Jerusalem. For example, it is very difficult to move a large group around on Jerusalem Day. But one date I have not checked in the past is 27 Nisan, Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. But as it happens, I scheduled a visit to the Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Other than a delay for the Prime Minister’s motorcade (“wave to Bibi” our driver said), our only inconvenience was not visiting Mount Herzl (closed for some official visit, we were told).

As we were waiting to enter the museum, all of the sirens in the city began at exactly 10:00 and we all stood in silence for two  minutes to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It was an eerie moment, but fitting for our experience in the Yad VaShem museum.

I have visited the museum many times, but this is the first time I have used the self-guiding audio players. I highly recommend it, although if you intended to listen to it all it would add several hours to your visit. 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 people justified pure evil by appealing selectively to a few verses badly interpreted.

The 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 (for me) challenging to watch without physically breaking down. In fact, I was standing next to one of our group and I heard her sob as she watched a film of people being loaded on to a train bound for a death camp. Several of my students said they were overwhelmed by the things they saw in the Yad VaShem.

After lunch we visited the Israel National Museum. There are three main things to see at this 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 this museum a few years ago. Although someone 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. Several of my students considered this the highlight of the museum since they are “visual learners.”

The second highlight of the museum is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are presented. 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. There is a new (to me) display just outside the Shrine of the Book with pictures from the original excavation of Qumran (with several color pictures I had never seen before.

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.

Two other items should be mentioned because of their connection to the crucifixion of Jesus. Discovered in 1990, the Caiaphas Ossuary is an ornate bone box inscribed “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” The bones belong to a 60-year-old male, likely the Caiaphas mentioned in the New Testament. In the same corner of the display is an ankle bone from a crucified man. Normally the Romans would not want the nail to pass through bone since it is more difficult to remove and reuse the nail for another crucifixion. In this case, the ankle was entombed along with the nail and later placed in a bone box for secondary burial. Although no one would doubt the Romans crucified many people, this is the only archaeological evidence of a person who was crucified and then buried.

Tomorrow we will start at the top of the Mount of Olives and work our way across the Kidron Valley and up to the City of David and finally to the Southern Temple excavations at the Davidson Museum.

The Old City of Jerusalem

As most tours of Israel must do, we started with a very long travel day. Very Long. We left Grand Rapids about 3:30. The bus ride was smooth and we had no traffic or weather delays (which is unusual), passed through security quickly and with no hassles (also quite unexpected). Our Lufthansa flight had a layover in Frankfurt and the connection to Tel Aviv was delayed. Bottom line, we ended up and the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem after 1AM. The staff at the Leonardo was very accommodating and laid out a nice snack for us even though the kitchen was long closed by the time we arrived.

Fortunately our guide was flexible and we delayed our first day’s activities until 10AM. Most people had a good night’s sleep, some a little two good and we had to pound on a few doors. We did a quick drive around the Old City, visiting the overlook at Mount Scopus. We walked through the Jaffa Gate and made our way through the Armenean Quarter to Zion Gate to visit the Upper Room and the Tomb of David. Neither of these sites are particularly authentic, but the whole area around the Church of the Dormition has been refurbished. Although we did not visit the church, it was until recently known as Abbey of Hagia Maria Sion and commemorates the the location of Mary’s death. Other than several very large groups jockeying for position the students enjoyed the view from the rooftop over the Kidron. The day was clear enough to see the outline of the Herodium, that is not always possible.

We then walked into the Jewish Quarter to see the Byzantine Cardo. This is the Roman street which was discovered after the Six-Day war. Compared to other Roman cities, this main street through the city is on at all well preserved, but they have set up some art to give us an idea of what it might have looked like. From there we walked over to the viewing point for Hezekiah’s wall. Only a small part is exposed, but this is the wall Hezekiah built before the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 18; Nehemiah 3:8; Isaiah 22:9-10). After lunch (falafel for me) we walked down to the  Western Wall Plaza. For those who have been to Jerusalem, the viewpoint about halfway down the stairs is closed for repair; the large menorah has been moved up into the plaza in the Jewish quarter. Since we were there in the afternoon the crowds at the wall were small and I had several good conversations about the history of the Western Wall with students (and got a blessing from one of those random beggars who was not happy with a non-paper “gift”).

We then did a tour of the Temple Tunnel, something I have not done for several years. Quite a bit has changed, especially in the first part of the tour (including a a new synagogue and several nice stairways. The tunnel follows the Western Wall underground for about 1500 feet. There are a number of places with first century paving stones and at least one spot that dates to the Hasmonean period.

The exit to the tunnels is across from the Church of the Flagellation, the traditional site where Jesus was flogged by the Romans; it is the second station of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. We walked past many of the other stations to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Our guide took in the “back way” (which sounded sneakier than it really was). We basically avoided the crowd by cutting through the Ethioptic church to enter the plaza in front of the church. The Church of Holy Sepulcher is really a collection of churches and chapels on the traditional site of Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. I took some of the students to Golgotha and had a good discussion of the value of traditions which support the site (some are very good, others are very weak). The line to enter the actual tomb of Jesus was very long so I took the students into the Syrian Chapel. There are usually very few people in the Syrian chapel, but there are two first century tombs in the back of the chapel which are good illustrations of the tomb people are waiting an hour or more to enter.

Se ended the day by walking through the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate and up to the Garden Tomb. As always, this is simply a lovely spot to read the story of the resurrection and reflect on Jesus’s death and burial. It is irenic, especially when compared to the Holy Sepulcher. All things considered, the Holy Sepulcher has a better claim on being the actual location of the crucifixion and location of Jesus’s tomb, but the Garden Tomb is a much better place to actually worship. After a very nice orientation by the Garden Tomb’s own guide we entered the tomb and then celebrated communion. Since we were the last group of the day, most of the students were able to spend a few minutes privately reading Scripture or praying in the quiet garden.

We have a big day planned tomorrow at the Yad VaShem and the Israel National Museum (the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jerusalem Model and the archaeological wing of the national museum).

Top iPad Apps for Bible Study (Part Two): Bible Atlases

Bible Atlas for the iPad

I reviewed several new Bible Atlases last summer (see my conclusions here).  Several of these are available for Kindle (Holman, Oxford), but the IVP and ESV Bible Atlases are not.  Books in the Kindle format read like any other Kindle book.  On the iPad you can zoom in on maps and pictures, but the resolution is not particularly high.  I purchased the Oxford Bible Atlas (fourth edition) for Kindle and was very disappointed. The maps are not really readable, and it is useless to zoom in.  Even if I simply fill the screen with the map it is too pixelated to be of use.  In fact, I am a disappointed with all the Bible Atlases on the iPad.  There is no single app which satisfies my need for quality maps on the iPad.  here is what I am looking for:

  • High Resolution Maps. I want to be able to zoom in close and not have a pixelated mess.
  • Detailed Information, clickable links.  I want to link to a dictionary style entry which gives me a brief overview of the history and geography of the location with the possibility of linking to a serious encyclopedia entry.
  • Current Information.  I do not really want a link to an old Bible Dictionary, I want the latest scholarship on the location.
  • Zoom on Rotation. Many maps are better viewed in landscape rather than portrait orientation.  It should not be difficult for an app to sense rotation and fill the screen.

There is really no iPad Bible Atlas App which comes close to this, here are a few comments on the “best” Atlases for the iPad.

Logos Bible Software.  (Free, App Store).  The free Logos App does not come with any Bible Atlas, but I own the Holman Bible Atlas ($29.95, but included in several of the Logos collections).  There are remarkably few Bible Atlases in the Logos collection, which I find surprising.  The The Holman Atlas has a nice collection of sidebars and charts along with 132 maps and a nicely written history of the Bible. The maps in the Holman Bible Atlas are reasonably clear, but I cannot zoom in to see the details on the map.  There is text on the map giving details for locations which is unreadable on the iPad.  This is a problem with the Logos App not the Atlas itself.   The Logos Deluxe Map Set edited by Thaine Norris ($29.95, included in all Logos collections) are not particularly useful in the iPad either since they cannot zoom nor do the expand when the iPad is rotated.

Carta Compact Atlas HD ($4.99, App Store) and Biblical Jerusalem – A Carta Atlas ($7.99, App Store).  These apps are essentially collections  of scans from Carta Atlases.  This is not bad, but there is not a lot of detail beyond the maps.  The Compact Bible Atlas has no search capability, and the maps are more or less the type you find in a good Study Bible.   Biblical Jerusalem is a bit better with respect to maps, but the app itself is little more than an index to the maps.

Big Bible Maps (Version 1.8, $2.99, App Store).  BibleStudyPro has a host of iPad apps, including several map collections.  For the most part, everything on this site is public domain, which limits the usefulness of the apps.  This is especially true for maps, since a free Atlas from 1850 is not particularly useful. BibleStudyPro apps are inexpensive, all are priced at $2.99.  A few Android versions of their apps have appeared, I expect all to be ported eventually.  The best of the apps from BibleStudyPro is Big Bible Maps.  The app tags satellite maps from Google Earth with biblical places.  Since the images are from Google, you can zoom in extremely close for amazing detail.  The obvious problem is that Google Maps are modern maps!  Once on the map, you must touch a pushpin to identify the location. The location flag will appear, and if there is an arrow you can open a description of the location.  The text is drawn from the original International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, although this is not identified in the software as far as I could see.

The opening screen offers three options.  First, locations are arranged by chapter and book.  If I select Joshua 4, I am taken to a Google Earth map with push-pins at locations for that chapter (Jericho, Gilgal, the Jordan River, and oddly enough, Israel).  I could not find all the locations in a book, a chapter must always be specified.  Only chapters with locations appear on the menu, so Matt 6 does not appear, but Matt 4 does.  Second, you can select locations from a list (Jerusalem and Jericho appear at the top, otherwise it is alphabetical). Third, you can search by typing the name of the location.

This app is mystery to me since Google Earth is already a free app and the ISBE is freely available on Google books.  What is more, Google Earth links locations to Wikipedia and Flickr, providing (in some cases) better information than ISBE.  There is some value to having this information in a single place, so this app may satisfy a need.

The bottom line is that a good Bible Atlas has yet to arrive for the iPad.

Israel Tour in the Grand Rapids Press

Last month I was interviewed by Matt Vande Bunte of the Grand Rapids Press about our May 2011 trip to Israel.  The article appeared in today’s Grand Rapids Press Religion Section (follow the link for the MLive version).  The article is primarily about  our stay at Tamar, managed by DeWayne Coxon and Blossoming Rose.  Matt’s article is great, I appreciate his interest in the Biblical Tamar park.  You can see more photographs from my previous tours by clicking through the Flickr gadget to the left, of this previous post from the 2009 tour.  You can also view this short student video on YouTube.  This is a five minute documentary on Tamar featuring DeWayne Coxon and Tali Erickson explaining the archaeology of the site.

Our tours are unique in that we spend significant time southern desert (the Negev).  I am particularly excited about this year’s trip since we have arranged an archaeological project at Tamar. There is still time to join the spring tour to Israel and Jordan (May 2-16, 2011).  I am planning a January 2012 trip designed for adults with less hiking. if you are interested in either tour, please feel free to contact me.

Two Pools in Jerusalem – Bethesda and Siloam

At the 2010 meeting of the Near Eastern Archaeological Society, James Charlesworth gave a brief report on the two pools mentioned in the gospel of John, the pool of Bethesda (Bethzatha, John 5:2) and the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). Because these two pools were unknown until recently, scholarship has occasionally dismissed John’s Gospel as non-historical.  For example, since  Bethesda was said to have five “roofed colonnades,” medieval commentaries took this as an allegory for the five books of the Law.  In fact, there were two connected pools with a shared colonnade between them, hence five in all.  Siloam was thought to be the pool at the end of Hezekiah’s tunnel, but it is now virtually certain that a nearby pool was the pool of Siloam.  

Charlesworth cited Ronny Reich as claiming that both pools were mikvoth, pools used for ceremonial cleansing before going up to the Temple.  In both cases there are stairs leading to a platform, which is consistent with other mikvoth around Jerusalem.  What is missing is the divider found on most of these pools.  Charlesworth indicated that there were other mikvoth which did not have the divider, even though it is a common feature. Charlesworth speculated that the pool was a reservoir which was re-configured during the Herodian period to serve as a mikveh.

If these identifications are correct, then the pool of Siloam was a massive mikvoth at the southern approach to the Temple mount.  The pool is fed by the Gihon spring (providing living water) and could have serviced the thousands of pilgrims which came to Jerusalem during the feast days.  That Jesus would heal a man and send him to a mikvah is significant.  The blind man is healed, ritually cleansed, and then he goes up to the Temple to worship.

The pool of Bethesda was likely another water reserve re-configured as a mikvah. The pool may have been built by Simeon, a high priest who lived about 200 B.C. (Sirach 50:3). Charlesworth showed several snake figures excavated at the pool, indicating that the area also housed an Asclepeion, a pool dedicated to the healing god Asclepius.  It is possible then that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for the God of Israel to heal them, but rather the god Asclepius.  If this is true, then there is a tension in the story: who are you going to believe can heal you, the god Asclepius, or the God, Jesus?

In both cases, the identity of these pools help to illuminate the stories as they appear in John.  The writer of John is not simply familiar with major features of Jerusalem, these locations are critically important to the point of these healings.

Atlases for Touring Israel (Part 2)

There are a number of Carta Guides that I wish I owned (Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, all by Hanan Eshel), but the handiest for my tours has been the Carta Guide to National Parks and Nature Reserves.  This is a handy sized 447 page text with slick pages and plenty of color illustrations.  Each site listed has a road map and directions, a summary of services (WC, snack bar, picnic area, hiking trails, etc.)  A set of icons on the title page for each site indicates whether the location is a Jewish, Christian or Muslim site, a recreational site or an antiquities. The title section includes a phone number and best times to visit, along with a notice of fee (if any).  Each heading includes a brief line drawn from the Hebrew Bible associated with the site.

The Guide is divided into regions which are color-coded in the outside margins.  Beginning in the north with Mount Hermon the Guide works its way south to the final entry, Eliat.  Several regional maps appear at the beginning of the Guide and are marked with page numbers in the guide.  Each sub-region is arranged geographically so that it is sometimes difficult to find a location within a region.  The sub-sections do not strike me as logically arranged.  Hermon and Gamla are in the first (northernmost) section, but Tel Dan is in the second, despite the fact that Dan is well north of Gamla.  Fortunately there is a detailed table of contents, but no alphabetical index.

Each location is illustrated with a few photographs (250 in all), although these seem dated to me. The Roman Theater at Beit She’an certainly is more than ten years old (p. 211) and the Masada photographs do not reflect reconstructions from the last ten years.  A few photographs were taken on hazy days (Nahal Gamla, p. 53 and Arbel Cliff, p. 167), but for the most part these are helpful illustrations.  The Guide includes a site plan where applicable with points of interest clearly marked (50 total in the Guide).

Since the Guide has entries for 60 national parks, it includes information on the flora and fauna of Israel.  While this is not “biblical,” it is often necessary information when visiting a site to point out items of interest.  (For some reason people always ask me what is planted in some farmer’s field or what the name of some shrubbery is.)  Nature reserves are accompanied by hiking maps, although it is always best to obtain a more recent map when arriving at the park. Several Nature Reserves conclude with a short “Outside the Park” pointing out local places to eat or other memorials or parks.  For example, For Ein Feshkha, the Guide points out the trail to Rosh Tzukim as well as five nearby monasteries.

Because the Guide is for National Parks and Nature Reserves, there are quite a few interesting locations that are not in the Guide. For example, The road down Ma’ale ‘Akrabim (Scorpion’s Pass) has several sites of interest (Roman toll buildings, Ein Hazvot / Tamar) as well as several hiking trails.  Mount Hor is in the area as well.  Since none of these are on the official list of national parks, they are omitted from this guide.

For my Israel tours I purchase an Israel National Parks pass which allows unlimited entry to national parks listed on the card for two weeks.  This allows us to visit some sites that are not usually included in tours, such as Korazin and Kursi in Galilee; Bet Guverin and Tel Arad in the south.  With the Carta Guide, I can check on a location to see if there is any interest for a biblical tour and get a quick summary of what I ought to be looking for when we explore the site.   This Guide could be used along with the National Parks pass for a self-guided trip around Israel.