Yesterday we left our apartment in Arad, in the mountainous area near the Dead Sea to travel north to Jerusalem. On the way we tried to find the Valley of Elah, just west of Bethlehem, where David fought the giant Goliath. We found the Valley of Elah but the two cities that help you pinpoint the exact spot of the battle no longer exist and they don’t seem to have any signs indicating the site. So we took some pictures and some video and headed north to Jerusalem. It was a good thing our GPS system was working, since Jerusalem is very large and the traffic was heavy by the time we arrived. The hotel we planned to stay in for the next seven days is located in East Jerusalem in the Palestinian area. It is a wonderful hotel run by Palestinians—nice room, very friendly and helpful staff, and excellent food.
This morning we started out by entering Herod’s Gate on the north side of the old city and attempted to follow all 14 stations of the cross. We realize all these “stations” are arbitrary and traditional locations of the path Jesus took from Pilate’s Judgment Hall to Calvary, but we found them all. Some of them are very interesting and perhaps authentic locations of his experience while others have nothing behind them but tradition, and some of it very thin and lacking in authenticity. Along the way we met some very interesting shop keepers—one by the name of Basmir, who formerly lived in Riverside, CA and has come back home to run his little shop in the old city. Right near him was another young Palestinian shop keeper who was born in Santa Monica, CA but has spent most of his life in Jerusalem. These people are easy to get to know. They love to talk to strangers and of course, as shop keepers, adhere to the old maxim of “get to know them before you sell to them.”
Our next stop was the “The Pavement” (as the King James Version puts it)—the Judgment Hall of Pontius Pilate, where Jesus was tried and sentenced to die. This was located in the old Tower of Antonia which overlooked the Northwestern corner of the temple area (so the Romans could keep an eye on what those “troublesome” Jews were doing in their sacred enclosure). Of course, the Tower of Antonia is long gone but the “Pavement” is still there. These were large marble stones cut and fitted as a floor for most of the old buildings that once stood there. Some of these still exist from the original buildings including Pilate’s Judgement Hall, and they even had some old Roman games inscribed upon them. The guides call these the Roman version of tic-tac-toe.
Eventually, we got to the Western Wall, what most of you know as the “Wailing Wall.” It was dubbed the “Wailing Wall” because this was the last original wall of their second temple, built by Herod the Great. They bemoaned the fact that their temple no longer existed (it was the centerpiece of the Jewish Faith). For centuries they used to come her and pray and insert prayers on paper pushed into the cracks in the wall. Today the Temple Mount contains two mosques (the Al Aksa Mosque and the Mosque of Omar—or Dome of the Rock as it is known today). In order to enter this sacred area, Eric and I had to put on Yarmulkas—the little circular skull caps worn by Jewish men. And then we had to enter the enclosure which is only for men. The enclosure walled off right next to it is for women—separate worship areas.
The next area we visited was in the Archeology Park just to the south of the Temple Mount and outside the walls that enclose it. This area has been known as the City of David. This has been under excavation for years and contains the place where David’s Palace must have stood. But the area that was of most interest to us was the Southern steps into what was Herod’s Temple in the days of Jesus. They have uncovered the original steps you had to climb to enter the Temple from the City of David. These were the same steps Jesus and His Apostles climbed when they entered the Temple. That’s why they are of so much importance to Christians.
The other day, we stopped at Qumran to see the caves where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tomorrow Kathy, Eric and I will go to the Scroll of the Book (museum) and see the original Dead Sea Scrolls. We’ll talk about them next time.
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.