Since we are staying in the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem we decided today to take a journey southward through the Kedron Valley and see some sights along the way. The Kedron Valley separates the old city from the Mount of Olives. On the east side of the valley are some things connected with the ministry of Jesus. The Mount of Olives is found on the east hill just across from the Eastern Wall. At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night He was arrested. Some of those olive trees they show you today are supposed to be as old as 2,000 years. If so, they were a living witness to the prayers of Jesus on that night. Right next to the old trees is a more modern church called the Basilica of the Agony (of Jesus) and also referred to as the Church of All Nations. In the altar area is a large stone upon which it is believed that Jesus prayed in agony about his coming crucifixion: “Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Just above that church is another church called the Russian Church of St. Mary Magdalene, built with five brilliant golden onion dome spires with a Russian cross on each dome. There is no particular reason for the church to be built at this site except that Czar Alexander III decided to build it in 1885 in memory of his wife whose “patron saint” was “Mary Magdalene.” There are other lesser known churches on that hill but we decided to take the foot path that leads down to the lower city of David, southeast of the city wall. Here it is believed David built his first city after taking the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the 10th Century B. C. In walking down this path you can get the feeling of how steep these hills are and how deep these valleys are. We passed several monuments along the way—one of them being a monument that has been called Absolom’s tomb, about a 30 foot high monument bearing the name of King David’s son Absolom. Actually, it has nothing to do with Absolom but was called by that name in the Middle Ages. What makes the structure significant is that it has been there since before the time of Jesus and is in excellent shape. This city has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times over the centuries since the time of Jesus that it is rare to see anything still standing from Roman times or before.
Continuing down the valley we came upon the entrance to the Gihon Spring, the natural spring that brought water into the City of David in ancient times. The significance of the this spring is that it is connected to the Pool of Siloam by a hacked out tunnel constructed in King Hezekiah’s time to bring the water from that spring inside the city so that his enemies could not shut off their water supply during a siege. You might want to look that up in the Old Testament and I can tell you more about that when we walk through this 1,700 foot tunnel in a few days. The Pool of Siloam is also significant because when Jesus cured the blind man in the Gospel of John (chapter 9) he put mud on his eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. We also saw what is left of that pool further down the valley.
After climbing all the way up to the southern wall of the city from the lower city of David (Oh my aching legs!) we decided to stop at the traditional site of the last supper in the “upper room,” or what they point out as the place where the upper room was located. Right next to that is the tomb of King David, which we entered (men on one side of a barrier and women on the other side—according to Jewish tradition). We went back out and entered the Armenian Quarter of the old city through the Zion Gate and stopped for lunch (boy, it was hot!) at the Armenian Tavern. We had a great lunch of Greek salads—all three of us—and boy, do they pour on the Feta Cheese!!! (Yum).
By then, we were so tired and hot that we decided to work our way out of the old city through the Damascus Gate (our hotel is just north of there). But before we could make it out we chose to take a walking tour of the rooftops of Jerusalem. I know that sounds weird, but you can actually go up to the rooftops and walk above the bazaar areas and shops and restaurants and get a very different picture of the old city from there. The old city is like a maze of stairways and alleys and narrow streets and paths and (whatever word you want to use to describe this fascinating place). You could easily get lost in this place but we had Eric with us who NEVER gets lost. It’s amazing how he figures out where he is at any given time and how to get where you want to go just by briefly gazing at a map. Anyway, we found our way back to the Damascus Gate which is our way in and out of the old city, but before we exited the old city we just had to buy some of the Arab sweets that you see for sale everywhere in this place—wow! Are they good!
We had the intention of stopping by the Garden Tomb on our way to our hotel (since it is just about two blocks or so from where we are staying), but I suggested we do that later when we all have fresher legs. We’ll tell you about that then.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.