Today was a wonderful day. We spent the whole day in the Old City. We started out by visiting the Davidson Archealogical Park which is at the south wall of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. Here archaeologists have discovered many layers of history, digging through the Byzantine layers and Early Muslim layers to discover parts of the Second Temple built by Herod the Great – the one Jesus visited.
At the base of the south wall, with the Al Asqua Mosque over our heads, we could see the remains of the Triple Gate and Double Gate. These are now bricked up, but in Jesus’ time they were the way Jews entered the temple precincts. The steps, built by Herod the Great, that lead up to them are still there. The threshold stones of the entrance are also still there. We stood at the bottom of the steps and prayed together Psalm 122, a psalm of ascent that was most likely written as a hymn to sing when walking up these steps to the Temple. Then, we walked up the way that Jesus almost definitely went, perhaps when he went to overturn the tables of the moneychangers. It was very moving to literally be walking in his steps.
In the year 70, about 40 years after Jesus’s cruxifiction and resurrection, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans during a Jewish revolt. Around the corner from the temple steps, archaologists have discovered the street at the bottom of the temple wall that was built by Herod the Great. You can still see the curbstones of the street and the walls of the shops that lined it. The shops probably sold turtledoves for sacrifice and the other things temple worshippers needed for their visit. You can also still see where the paving stones of the street were broken when the Romans threw down stones from the top of the wall. A few of the huge stones are still there, showing how it must have looked right after the destruction of the Temple. This is something I’ve read about a million times, so it was pretty amazing to actually see it.
Our next stop was the Western Wall, which is the main remaining wall of the Second Temple and the most holy place in the world to Jews. Thursdays is apparently bar mitzvah day at the Western Wall. Dozens of families came, dressed in their best, singing and dancing with drums and horns, with an embarrased but happy looking 13 year old boy in their midst. It was really touching and you couldn’t help smiling at their happiness. However, it was a bit strange as we got closer to the wall. Men and women don’t worship together in Orthodox Judaism, so the wall has a barrier divinding the men’s from women’s side. This means that mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers can’t actually be there for climax of the bar mitzvah, when the boy reads from the Torah Scrolls. So, on the women’s side, there were dozens of women standing on chairs near the barrier so they could peak over to see their sons. They threw candy at them when they came close enough. I saw a number of 3 or 4 year old younger brothers, on the men’s side, scrambing to fill their bulging pockets with candy. I also saw one 3 year old girl who managed to get one lone piece of candy that fell on the women’s side by accident. Apparently they don’t celebrate bat mitzvahs (for girls) here as we do in the States. We were able, on the women’s side, to go up and touch the wall and say our prayers.
We had a free afternoon today, and most of us opted to stay in the Old City. We had lunch with a group, then Connie, our friend Barry from Kansas, and I went to do the Ramparts Walk. This is a walk around the very top of the Old City walls. You can’t go completely around the city, as you can’t go near the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, and the section in the Muslim Quarter was closed today, but we could walk around about 70% of the city. This ancient wall has many gates, which are more like guard towers, that we explored. It was neat to have a view over rooftops into people’s backyards and school playgrounds, as well as an amazing view of the whole city. It’s been great to learn the topography of the city as it relates to Jesus’s journey during Holy Week, and we traced his path from the Upper Room, to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gesthemane, back to Caiaphas’s house, back to Holy Sepulcher where Golgotha is, from our bird’s eye vantage point. After our long walk, we had some mint lemonade at a sidewalk cafe, then headed back to the college to pack our suitcases.
Tomorrow we are heading to the Galilee for 2 nights and 3 days. We’re staying at a German Benedictine monastery. I don’t think I’ll have wifi access there, so there won’t be any blog posts for a couple of days. I’ll post the missing ones when I get back.
P.S. The title of this blog post is from Psalm 122. Go look it up and you will see how relevant it was to our experience today, as well as to the current tensions here. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.