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.

Examples of the Value of Archaeology (Part 3)

1873 Wood Engraving

Southern Temple Excavations. There is a great deal of archaeological activity around the southern end of the Temple. Since the first two examples I used concern the Old Testament, I will focus on the importance of these excavations for New Testament studies. There are few who would deny the Western Wall represents the walls built by King Herod to expand the Temple Mount.

In 1838 E. Robinson, one of the first archaeological explorers of Jerusalem, discovered the remains of an arch on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. Photographs show that this arch was only a few feet above ground level at the turn of the twentieth century, and even in 1968 it was near ground level with a vegetable patch growing beneath. Today, visitors to the archaeological park can see the arch some twenty feet from the ground level. Archaeologists have excavated to the level of the first century streets. The arch is part of a stairwell from ground level to the Temple Mount.

Photo Taken May, 2009

One of the most spectacular finds in this area was the “trumpeting stone” from the corner of the wall. On the inside of the parapet is an incomplete inscription saying “to the place of trumpeting.” The stone was 138 feet above the street level! It appears that a priest or Levite would sound a shofar (Josephus, JW 4.582, b. Sukk. 5:5).On the southern end of the Temple Mount a stairway goes up from the street level to a double gate and triple gate. It is likely that there was a plaza at the base of the steps, and there are several public ritual baths near the steps. The double gate is built in the Herodian style, although it was filled in by the Crusaders and a building was added by the Umayyads, nearly covering the entrances. Since the other since of the gate is now part of the Al Aska Mosque, detailed investigation is impossible. Ritmeyer suggests that this may be the Beautiful Gate mentioned in Acts 3, although it is impossible to know for certain. These gates opened up into the Royal Stoa, a huge area on the south end of the Temple Mount.

Trumpeting Stone

In summary, the southern Temple excavations demonstrate what Jerusalem looked like during the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. The archaeology of the Southern Temple area gives the physical context of last week of Jesus life and the early part of the book of Acts. Let me suggest one application of this physical context to the book of Acts. As is well known, on the day of Pentecost 3000 people respond to the preaching of the apostles and were baptized. In Acts 4:4 and additional 5000 believe. How is it possible to baptize such large crowds in the Temple area? The only real possibility are the many mikvoth around the Temple area, including the pools of Siloam and Bethesda. I think that the baptism of Acts 2 and 3 is a self-baptism in one of the many ritual pools around Jerusalem. In this case, the archaeological context helps explain a detail of the text.

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.