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).

Israel Day 11 – The Final Day in Jerusalem

I am back in the warmth of Michigan today, having recovered somewhat from the long travel day yesterday. Or yesterdays, I suppose. We drove from Petra, Jordan to Jerusalem, then Tel Aviv, flew to JFK in New York, then to Chicago, then drove from Chicago to Holland and on to the Grace Bible College parking lot in Grand Rapids where it all started less that two weeks before. We gained back the seven hours we lost traveling to Israel, but I could use another week to recover.

We planned to leave Petra about 9AM, which is close to when we actually left this time. It was only about 32 degrees when we boarded the bus in Wadi Musa, about ten degrees cooler than Grand Rapids, Michigan. The sky was bright blue with no clouds, quite striking in the desert. We made great time, only making one stop on the way to the King Hussien Bridge / Allenby Bridge border crossing. Suliman made the border stop as painless as possible, and we left him at the border. The Israeli side was remarkably painless as well, we moved through security much more quickly than when I was there in May. Our driver was waiting and ready to drive us to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem.

As we went up the Jericho road we could tell the weather was going to be chilly and cold. Dark clouds loomed over the city, and as expected we hit rain as soon as we got to the city. I was told that it had rained most of the day, but we got a nice break for the three hours we were there. We had a late lunch at Jacob’s Pizza just inside the Jaffa Gate. (I recommend it, fast and friendly service even though 19 people packed into his little shop to avoid the cold!) This little restaurant is typical of the strange things you see in the Old City – it was still decorated for Christmas (Santa and a Tree), there was strange classical music on the stereo (including the Death March), and two flat screen TV’s playing Tom and Jerry cartoons (with the sound muted).  Positively surreal.

Some of the group split off for some shopping, I lead a group down to the Holy Sepulcher. Since it was cold day in January, the streets down through the Christian Quarter were nearly deserted (making us prime targets for the vendors, “Hey mister, you forgot to look in my shop!”)

The crowd was also light inside the Church so we were able to get to look inside the Tomb without a long wait. I must admit that it was somewhat disappointing. The family ahead of me looked like they were on a trip to Disneyland and were taking the whole thing rather lightly. There was an empty Coke bottle shoved behind a candelabra just before the entrance. The orthodox priest who was there to keep things moving inside the shrine looked like Rubeus Hagrid’s cranky brother. I would have liked my time in the shrine to be spiritually moving, but the whole thing seemed set up to distract my attention away from the Resurrection.

One of my fellow-travelers Ray Crumb spent more time poking around the side rooms and drew my attention to the first century tombs directly behind the Tomb of Jesus. There is a little Coptic Chapel attached to the Tomb, opposite that is a door which leads to the Syrian chapel. My interest was in the two small tombs, but there were a number of people in the Syrian chapel venerating an icon of some sort. My copy of Murphy-O’Connor’s Archaeological Guide gives no details on this very plain room other than a name on a plan of the site.

This points out one of my frustrations with the Holy Sepulcher – I am ignorant about 90% of what is in the church! There are all kinds of chapels and art pieces, but all the guide books are interested in is the Tomb. If any reader knows of a serious “guide to the Holy Sepulcher” please leave a comment. Every time I go in the place I leave wanting to know what each room is for and where “those mysterious stairs lead.”

After some final shopping we were ready to head to the airport, although it was really too early yet. The weather was just too cold to enjoy the evening. I did all my shopping in the Franciscan Book Shop, picking up a copy of Fr. B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth (part 1, 1969). I realize most people have probably already bought a copy of this one, but it makes for some good reading for me. It contains many diagrams and sketches of the Church of the Annunciation, among other things. (This is the sort of report I want on the Holy Sepulcher!)

Assuming that my jet-lag subsides, I will edit the previous posts on the Israel 2012 trip and fix any spelling errors (which I blame wholly on the iPad’s auto-replace feature) and add a few more pictures. I will update my Flickr site as well, so check back sometime this weekend for my final thought on our trip.