September 26, 2016 (Day 10)
Entry to the Temple Mount can be a very maybe deal. We left the hotel in time to be there when the gates opened. This meant reaching the Dung Gate by 8AM. They haven’t used the gate for dung in a long time but the name stuck. No matter, we cleared the various security stops and found ourselves looking at the Dome of the Rock with its famous golden dome. Our guide Eriz gave us an impassioned explanation of the site’s significance to the Jewish nation as well as the Muslim interest in Jerusalem. We were careful to remain separate from eavesdroppers in case what was said might be seen as controversial. We were more concerned with not touching each other ( male and female) or looking like we might be sneaking a prayer. All of those activities are severely frowned upon by the Muslim watchers who govern the site. It was strange but OK. We did have the chance to wander around in a mostly crowd free environment. Actually, the site was being cleaned and there was no trash unlike most of the Arab areas where there is no shortage of debris. This is just an observation.
We went to the ancient site of the Pool of Bethesda and the Church of St. Anne, Jesus’ grandma. The pool was for healing and was located where sheep for temple sacrifice were prepped and cleaned. The old Sheep Gate is no longer there but rest of the archeological remains in good shape. The Catholic Church was there for us to sing a hymm and hear the acoustics in this Roamaesque church with Crusader roots. It was actually fun and quite good. We left the old city via the Lion Gate to catch our ride to the Mt of Olives. It was great that we had an Israeli armored personnel carrier to block for us as we headed up the narrow road to reach the view point.
The view from the top of the Mt. of Olive was iconic. We could look down on the Temple Mount that we had just left. The dominant feature between where we were and the wall around the old city and the Temple Mount were the cemeteries. The Jewish cemeteries covered the eastern side of the Kidron Valley while the Muslim cemetery nestled up to the city wall and the Eastern Gate. Muslims were betting that the Jewish Messiah would not cross a cemetery and enter the gate where he is to return. We walked down the path of Jesus on Palm Sunday. I can’t say that the walk was what I imagined it wou,d be as we were surrounded by 12 foot walls on both sides of the narrow road. Despite the less than scenic route, we reached the Garden of Gethsemene and found a quiet place to read scripture about the night in this garden. It was a much more satisfying visit than the one I remember from a few years ago. The Olive trees don’t look any older. I asked to visit the nearby cave where tradition has it that the apostles slept while Jesus prayed. Our guide was patient and we made a very quick visit to the cave.
We reached the Israel Museum to view the original Qumran fragments and the Aleppo Codex. The architecture illustrated the Essene beliefs in People of the Light and the Dark. We definitely we in the presence of a unique documents and sacred history. We spent an hour looking at the artifacts from sites that we have been visiting since arriving in Israel. The original placard from Pontius Pilate was a high light for me. The gigantic model of ancient Jerusalem consumed a great deal of interest as we oriented ourselves to the city we would see and have been seeing.
It is difficult to write about the Holocaust without sounding trivial. The museum retold the story in a moving and effective way. The units of the Israel Defense Force touring the facility certainly drove home the central place that the Holocaust plays in Israeli history and society.
The Temple Mount or “mount of the House of God” is possibly one of the most contested pieces of real estate on the planet. Assuming that we are able to walk on the mount we will have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the spiritual center of the earth. Muslims call the mount Haram esh-sharif or the “Noble Sanctuary of Jerusalem) where their Dome of the Rock or the al-Aqsa Mosque dominates the mount today. It is off limits to Christians. The Mosque also covers Mount Moriah, the rock where Issac was bound and where Abraham was tested by God. Muslims believe that Mohammed was transported by God to Heaven from the same rock thus the importance of the Dome to their believers.
The authors of the Talmud believed that is from here that the earth expanded to its present form and from where God gathered the dust to create Adam. Joshua defeats Adoni-Zedek, then king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1-11). In Judges 19:10-11, the tribe of Judah captures Jerusalem and killed everyone but soon the Jebusites lived there (Judges 1:21). In fact the city was known during Judges as “Jebus” and the city of the Jebusites (Judges 19:10-11).
Daniel captures the city and makes it his capital for 33 years. He called the Jerusalem “the city of David”. It occupied the spur of land south of the Temple Mount and was outside of the present city walls. David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-12) and purchase the treating floor of Araunah the Jebusite which later becomes the site of Solomon’s temple (2 Samuel 24:18-25). David is buried in Jerusalem (1 Kings 2:10). It is Solomon (reigns 970-931 BC) who builds the temple on the Temple Mount along with much of the capital.
At the Pool of Bethesda Jesus heals a man (John 5:7-9). For centuries the idea of the pool was thought to be part of an allegorical tale. In the 19th Century, archeologists discovered a pool near the Sheep’s Gate that matched John’s description. Until the discovery of this pool, many believed that the pool was actually the Pool of Siloam in the Kidron Valley. As with many things Biblical controversy surrounds John’s narrative. Archeologists have concluded that the Pool of Bethesda was a “healing pool” or Ascelepion thus the large numbers of infirm folks waiting their turn to have their infirmities washed away. Some versions of the Bible talk of visits by angels to stir the water to enhance the effect. Nonetheless, Jesus didn’t need any assistance and even chose to help the infirm on Shabbat – Saturday, the day of rest.
The Crusaders built the original Church of St. Anne (Jesus’ grandmother) in 1138 near her birthplace. After Saladin’s reconquest of Jerusalem, the old church was turned into a religions school and eventually became a “midden” and also covered the Pool of Bethesda. The Church of St. Anne was built by the French in the 1850’s on land donated by the Ottomans. The Ottomans and the French were cozy in those days because of the threat posed by the Russians to the Ottoman Empire.
The “Upper Room” or Cenacle (the term is derived from the Latin “to dine”) where the Last Supper was held (John 13-16) and where the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Pilgrims have been visiting this room since the 4th Century. The Gothic structure of today is the result of numerous cycles of destruction and construction. Archeologists accept that the site is the original location the Cenacle. By tradition the site could also be the burial site of King David marked by a large sarcophagus first found by Crusaders in the 12th Century (1 Kings 2:10). Near the Cenacle is the Church of the Domition where Mary lived among the Apostles until her death or dominion. The Ottomans turned the Byzantine era church into a mosque and created a mithrab in the Cenacle that still is there. A mithrab indicates the direction of Mecca for prayer. The building was off limits to Christians until the creation of Israel in 1948. The architectural history of the building is fascinating but beyond the scope of this book.
The Israeli National Museum will help us understand the layout of Biblical Jerusalem as well as the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. The current website is fascinating. Please take some time to poke around to see if there is something special for you to see. I love the interactive museum map that links to collection pictures by “topic”.
The Yad Vashem or Holocaust Remembrance Museum concludes the day. Peggy and I have had the privilege of visiting numerous European Holocaust sites including Auschwitz. I am eager to see this memorial but I know it will be an emotional experience if you have not had enough for the day after visiting the Upper Room. I would have you poke around their website. before we depart.