Sacred Places

September 27, 2016 (Day 11)

The Wailing Wall awaited our attention and received it this morning. Pastor Matt donned a cap for his head so he could get close to the Western Wall. He joined an incredibly diverse collection of folks although women and men were separated but all managed to say what they wanted to say. Some said it by writing it on a slip of paper and placed in cracks that were 2,000 years ago. 

We then entered the tunnels that were next to the base of the “western wall” that Herod built to provide the foundation for the Second Temple. The Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews wear their mourning clothes of black. They are still mourning for the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Roman’s in 70 AD. The temple was built a top the massive foundation stones that we were walking along. It was long and dark but still interesting as we reached the pools that provided water for the Roman garrison that was stationed next to the temple to keep an eye on the Jews in their temple. 

We emerged from the underground near the Via Dolarosa near the Lion Gate. We proceeded up the narrow road crowded with shops to,reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that is built of Golgotha. The way was pretty enmity and the shopkeepers seemed resigned to a slow day. As we reached the church courtyard, we braced ourselves for the sights to come. Peggy and I managed to to get close and see the traditional tomb and the site where the cross was placed all of which are inside the church our Protestant sensibilities were assaulted. Nonetheless, the sight of so many wildly different Christian communities from all the world interacting was the real sight.

We exited the Old City and headed for Bethlehem where we would meet a new guide since we would be in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. We visited the traditional field where the shepards were told the good news on Christmas Eve so long ago. The Church of the Nativity is undergoing renovation but we enjoyed our visit to the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. It was pretty easy with the sparse crowd that is the rule in these days of concern over terrorism. We felt nothing of the sort. In fact the constant presence of Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons was and is comforting.


The present day West Bank city of Eizanya or “Place of Lazarus” is under Palestinian control and we will not be able to retrace all of Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem. However, the good news is that the Arab city is only a possible location the Lazarus Tomb and Biblical Bethany. Modern archeologists posit that Biblical Bethany was actually closer to the Mount of Olives in modern Bethpage “House of the Unripe Figs” (Matthew 21:8-22.). It was from Bethpage that Jesus started his journey on a donkey (Luke 19:33) on Palm Sunday. It was also within the 2,000 cubit (900 meters) distance from Jerusalem that was allowed on a Sabbath day. Presently, the itinerary starts at the viewing terrace on the Mount of Olives. I will see if we can visit the nearby Church of Bethpage with the stone that used to climb aboard the donkey.

The view from the Mount of Olives is amazing. Visit to the Garden of Gethsemane is otherworldly. Josephus says that the Romans cut down all of the olive trees in 70 AD for use in their siege equipment. UC scientist using carbon dating techniques concluded that the trees contain root stock that is 2300 years old. What we see standing are the new growth from the ancient trees of Jesus’ time. No matter, the feeling is numbing (Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-52; Luke 22:39-53; John 18:1-11)

Hopefully, we will have time to visit the Cave of the Olive Press AKA the Grotto of Gethsemane. The disciples slept here while Jesus prayed in the nearby Garden of Gethsemane. The grotto has remained basically unchanged from the time of Jesus.

In the House of Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-67) Jesus is interrogated and ordered beaten by Caiaphas a chief priest who dominated the Sanhedrin. Today the house is considered to be part of and under the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu that is built on the hillside of eastern slope of the Mount Zion in 1932. On the roof of the church there is a golden rooster recalling Christ’s prophesy that Peter would deny him three times “before the cock crows.” Gallivant means cockcrow in Latin. The church was built over the ruins of a Byzantine basilica dating from 457. It was that site the church builders believed to be the location of the high priest’s house. It’s hillside location is appropriate for a high official.

In the courtyard of the church is a sculpture depicting Peter’s denials. Perhaps the most interesting part of the structure is the dungeon where it is argued that Jesus was held here in this cave complete with chains. Naturally, there is plenty of argument as to whether this is the actual location of Caiaphas’ domicile. Pilgrims have been visiting the place sine the time of Constantine the Great (c. 300 AD).

Beside the church are steps that were there in Biblical times to descend from Mount Zion to the Kidron Valley. These would probably be the same steps used by Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. We follow them into the city and by the Western or Wailing Wall and the Rabbinical Tunnels.

The Western Wall was part of the retaining wall built by Herod the Great in 20 BC to support the plaza where he built Temple.Men and women are segregated and all are expected to have their heads covered. We will be there on a Tuesday so cameras are OK. While the stones are huge, Jesus said “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down. (Mark 13:1)
While the foundation still exists there is nothing left of the actual temple. Actually there are eight more levels of stone beneath what is visible. The Rabbinical Tunnel allows visitors to walk along some 500 meters of the wall, under buildings of the Old City. Before the tunnel exit lies the largest stone that the builders rejected.

The location of Pilate’s Judgement Hall is naturally part of an ongoing argument between scholars and archeologists. At the time of Jesus’ trial there was a great deal of civic unrest. Pilate as the Roman Procurator was in Jerusalem instead of at his palace in Caesarea. He had two obvious choices for his personal safety. He could hunker down in the Antonia Fortress that guarded the temple or he could be Herod’s guest at his palace on the site of the modern citadel near Jaffa Gate. Tradition and most Biblical scholars give the nod to the Antonia Fortress where the “Pavement” or “elevation” or “platform” from the Aramaic, Gabbatha could have been logically located. This judgement-seat (or bema – like the one in Corinth where Paul will be tried) sits in the Praetorium near the site of the “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”) arch and the Sisters of Zion Convent. This site is the beginning of the Via Dolorosa and is held by tradition to be the place of judgement.

What we see today is a plaza built by the Emperor Hadrian, a century after the crucifixion of Jesus. It was built over a large cistern that can be reached through the convent. Pavement from the time of Jesus lies there with the tell tale etchings of bored Roman soldiers. I am not sure if this on the itinerary.

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