One of the things I love to do while traveling in Israel is to ask questions to Palestinians living and working in Israel and to the Israeli Jews themselves about how each of them looks at the situation here. Of course you will get wildly differing viewpoints. But what I want to hear is what THEY think, not what the news people tell you they think. Their coexistence on this small piece of real estate is a very complicated matter but for the most part the majority on both sides is trying to make it work. When you get one-on-one with both Palestinians and Jews they are very friendly and helpful people, not because they hope to get something from you but because friendliness and hospitality are a part of their culture. I think this is especially true with the Palestinians. The entire Arab culture has this built in tendency to be warm and friendly to strangers. I will miss all of these people and of course, being a Christian pastor and teacher, I will miss this land that just reeks of a history that really matters for the world.
Today was our last day in Jerusalem, and, for that matter, Israel. We’ll be heading home tomorrow at 12:15 Israeli time, Lord willing. We spent most of the day in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. It is almost a sacred place for the Israelis, as you could probably understand (they refer to the Holocaust as the “Shoah).” It is a massive construction involving varying aspects of the Holocaust and spread out over 45 acres. The main building, which presents the Holocaust from the viewpoint of the Jewish people, is a very thorough presentation which really takes about 3 hours or so to do it justice. It is presented in a chronological way, beginning with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. And not only do they present the political aspects, and the deteriorating culture that became so demeaning to German Jews, and the many acts of insult and persecution against the Jews, but they also do these presentations in a personal way by showing individual families by name and how they were affected by all that was happening. Pictures of individuals, letters they wrote to friends and family while all of this was going on, are all presented in such a way that just brings you into the story. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken inside the museum so I have few pictures of the place to show you.
We really enjoyed our stay here and all three of us still have something we would like to come back to see and experience and maybe that is the way it should be. In fact, in all the traveling we have done we have never had a “been there—done that” attitude. Thanks for following our travels.
Ever have one of those days on vacation when everything goes just right? Today was one of those days. We had several experiences in the Jewish part of Jerusalem but two of those were very impressive to me. The first experience had to do with Hezekiah’s Tunnel. If you haven’t heard the story yet, let me give you the cliff notes: When King Hezekiah was threatened with an invasion of Jerusalem (8th Century B. C.) he realized that he was vulnerable because their main source of water was the Gihon Spring, just outside the walls of the lower City of David (so called because this was the first part of the city of Jerusalem David built up). When an enemy invades they seek first to cut off the water supply to the city. So Hezekiah set to work to bring the water inside the city. To do this he first had to seal off any sign of an external water supply and then he put to work many diggers with iron picks to hack their way through solid bedrock until they had made a tunnel sloping slightly downward that ended in some kind of a receptacle inside the city. The receptacle was to be the Pool of Siloam (read the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John for more information about this pool in Jesus day). But what makes this project really interesting is that the workers started from both ends (some began digging from the Spring and some began digging from the Pool) and they met in the middle! Try doing this now with all the engineers and modern tools we possess today! They eventually made it work but they were slightly off and had to make corrections (we can tell by viewing the results). Well, the state of Israel lets you walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel today after paying an entrance fee—but it’s really worth it. I did this twice before and couldn’t wait to do it again with Kathy and Eric. It’s a totally painless experience. You only have to walk 1700 ft. or so through water that sometimes is thigh high but mostly is just about 12 inches high. The water still flows and it still empties into the Pool of Siloam. They do recommend that no one with claustrophobia should attempt this. If you will look at Kathy’s pictures you will understand why.
The weather was very nice today—only about 85 or so with a cool breeze--so we didn’t have to quit early. Thus, we went inside the city through the Dung Gate and into the Jewish Quarter. Kathy had found some information about visiting the “Burnt House.” That was the ruins of a house that had been torched by the Romans when they invaded and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. We bought one of those “compound tickets” where you pay a certain price and you get to see 4 of 5 different things. One of those several things we got to see were underground ruins in what they call the Herodian Quarter located in the Wohl Museum of Archaeology. It seems that during the 1967 (six day) War the Jordanians had destroyed so many Jewish houses in this one area that when the Jews won that war and took over that sector of Jerusalem, the archeologists took advantage of all that rubble and began to dig there. What they found were remains of the homes of the wealthy leaders and priests who lived in palatial surroundings during the time of King Herod (and also during the time of Jesus). I have never before seen a museum like this—the museum was one small room above ground and the gigantic areas of display were all underground, and the displays were amazing. This rediscovered Herodian Quarter now lies from 10 to 22 feet below present street level. The “burnt house” was among these remains. You could see colored wall frescoes with burn marks all over them and the remains of charred ceiling beams that collapsed onto the beautiful mosaic floors. You didn’t have to use your imagination to picture how the houses originally looked. You could see quite well the rooms, the doorways, the passageway, the streets, curbs, and so on. These palatial residences were for the rich and important only, but, alas, everything they had went up in (Roman) flames as well as the poorer homes down in the valleys. I’m sorry I can’t show you pictures of the best of the best because I found out partway through the tour that there was a sign saying “no cameras allowed.”
So these were the two experiences I had that made my day. And by the way, both Kathy and Eric enjoyed these two experiences as well as several others. We have one more day left in Jerusalem before we fly home on Wednesday, so hopefully, I will have one more blog to share with you.
Today is “Jerusalem Day” in town. That is comparable to our Independence Day and it celebrates their capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. We decided to go over into West Jerusalem to see what was going on over there. We have been living, eating and seeing the sights in East Jerusalem (the Palestine sector) for so many days we thought it best that we see the more modern side of (Jewish) Jerusalem. We heard of a free walking tour of West Jerusalem in English at 11:00 AM and showed up in time for it only to be told they had changed it to 1:00 PM. So we did the tour on our own. There is quite a difference between the two areas—East Jerusalem is crowded, dirty, and the buildings and housing are old and often run down. West Jerusalem is clean, modern, and very upscale. That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, but it is the first thing visitors see when they visit both sides. So West Jerusalem is very Jewish and East Jerusalem is very Palestinian (Christian and Muslim).
Since it was Jerusalem Day we found spontaneous celebrations breaking out in West Jerusalem. People wrapped themselves in the flag of Israel or waved it on a banner, marched, sang, and danced down the streets. Our tour of West Jerusalem took us to the turn-around point at the Market area. It reminded me of the market area in Tiberias only much larger and well equipped. You can find almost anything you want here—household items, tools, clothing, but mostly food—vegetables, sweets, spices, fruits, nuts, etc. If your thing is vegetables they have everything you can think of and some things you probably have never seen before. You could say that about many things there. I am an olive lover—especially Mediterranean olives--and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the olive tables. I never knew there were that many different kinds of olives. Well, you get the idea about the market. It is a delight to the eye and the senses and you want to stop and buy so many things they have on display. We found a nice café for lunch. We have been eating Palestinian food for lunch every day so we hung around West Jerusalem long enough to taste another variety of food. Their (Jewish) salads were wonderful—as tasty as what we have been eating in East Jerusalem, only different.
We went back into the old city long enough for Eric to find a place that sold the kinds of things he was looking for as gifts to bring back home. He has really learned the art of bargaining. He is better at it than either Kathy or myself. Bargaining is the way shopkeepers live here. You never pay the original price. They may say that X is what they will take for an item but it can always be bought cheaper if you know how to bargain. He finally found what he wanted and thought he had made a good deal, only to find it on sale for less in another place. Oh well, that is the risk you always take when shopping in the markets and bazaars.
One of the celebrations we decided to attend on Jerusalem Day was a free concert by a local orchestra held in the Tower of David, which is really a large citadel (fortress) built mostly by the Crusaders over Byzantine and Roman ruins. The concert was well attended and was held on the inside grounds of the fortress. They have nightly sound and light shows that tell the history of Jerusalem that are held here. The mayor of Jerusalem was in attendance at this event and the lines of people waiting to get in went by the mayor so he could shake the hands of the people attending. So the lines were backed up. Leave it to Eric—he found another way to avoid the backup and it took us up to another level of the fortress where no one had yet gone and it was a perfect place to see the concert because it served as a balcony. Once he made the move to find another quicker way to find seating many others followed him and we all had good “balcony” front row seats. The concert was composed of old Israeli “folk tunes” and, of course, all in Hebrew. Once the concert was over we explored the whole fortress, since we were already inside for the concert. The rampart walls served as a great place to get pictures looking out over the city. After the concert we went over to the Jaffa Gate to watch a parade that started at the Damascus Gate and ended at the Jaffa Gate. That ended at about 7:30 PM and since it was another day in the 90’s and hot, we decided to go back to our hotel and call it a day. Tomorrow we plan to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel which goes under the old City of David and deposits its water into the Pool of Siloam. I mentioned that yesterday, and I will tell you more about it tomorrow.
The National Hotel, where we are staying for our eight days in Jerusalem, is located in the Palestinian sector of East Jerusalem, as I said earlier. It is run by Palestinians and specializes in Palestinian cuisine, which is awesome. We have had a great stay in this beautiful place and have been treated with much grace and friendliness by the staff as well as the residents of the area. The problem, however, is that vacationers have been scared off by the recent attacks against Israelis and foreign visitors. Since this city relies upon tourists and is usually filled with them, this year they seem to be staying home or vacationing elsewhere. We experienced the same thing in Egypt two years ago when the locals begged us to go home and tell our friends not to fear this place—we need tourism. And just as when we traveled in Egypt we have never felt unsafe here. We make it a point to move out among the people and get to know them as best we can in the hustle and bustle of this place.
This morning we decided to stay close to our home base and minimize the walking. Kathy wears a Fitbit and normally has been averaging five miles a day walking. But because it turned hot here (95 degrees today, with humidity) we decided not to go too far from home. So we went about two blocks away to the see Garden Tomb. This place rivals the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in that both claim to have the possible place where Jesus was crucified and buried. The tradition of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the time of Constantine (4th Century A. D.). Chapels and churches have been built one after another over the place since that time and it is a very old tradition. But it appears that the place was inside the walls during the first century (Jews would never allow a burial within their city). But the tradition of the Garden Tomb only goes back about 150 years. And yet it has several things that make it the possible place of crucifixion and burial. For one, it is located just outside the Damascus Gate of the city. The Romans always preferred to crucify people in plain view of everyone else to discourage insurrection. Also, the place was a garden (as Scripture indicates) and has a hill next to it that looks very much like a skull (it was called “the place of the skull” in Scripture). As they dug there they found a rock hewn tomb that was constructed for a family burial plot (Jesus’ tomb was donated by Joseph of Aramathea) and it had an inscription on the inside wall when they discovered it that was a cross with the Greek letters alpha and omega (what Jesus called himself in the book of Revelation). So it appears that someone in the distant past once thought this was Jesus’ burial place—perhaps Christians made this a holy place since the beginning. While we were there we realized that the students in the crowd of English speaking tourists were all from Pepperdine University—Eric’s alma mater. So we introduced ourselves and had a great conversation about mutual friends and interests. Somehow on these trips we always seem to run into someone who knows someone we know (!)
We then went a few blocks further and found the Rockafeller Museum, just across the street from Herod’s Gate (on the north wall of the city). It is a beautiful building containing items from every period of Jerusalem starting from pre-history to the modern day. The nice thing about it—it’s entry was free.
We concluded our activities today by having lunch in a small street shop across from the Damascus Gate and then went back to home base to cool off. We plan to go out later when it is cooler. Jerusalem sits on a mountain top 2,500 ft. above sea level. The breeze blows nicely at this altitude so it always cools off at night. We’ll be back later.
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.
Today we decided to take in some of the Museums. Fortunately, there are several of them grouped in one area. Unfortunately, they weren’t near enough for us to walk there. When you look at a map of Jerusalem the old city is where everyone wants to go in order to see the most famous biblical sites. We chose our hotel for that very reason. We are only about an eight minute walk north of the Damascus Gate, the main entrance through the north wall of the old city. But the city has so spread out over the centuries so that many of the things you may want to see are a good cab ride away. So the girl at the hotel desk called us a cab which took us to a location that included the Holy Land Museum, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book all there together. And all of these are directly across the street from Israel’s Knesset building (their version of our capitol building in Washington D. C.).
We decided to tackle the Israel Museum first. It is a beautifully laid out structure with the history of the Land of Canaan from Pre-history (10,000 years B. C. or so) to the modern state of Israel—all that in one museum! But the flow from one era into the next was done so well that it keeps you interested in what’s coming up next. We got so interested in everything that we began to lose sight of how much time we had to spend there. So we grabbed a quick lunch and headed toward the Shrine of the Book Museum that was just next door. This Museum was built in 1965 to tell the story of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls—thought by many to be the most important archeological find of the 20th Century. In a small commune just east of Jerusalem and on the shore of the Dead Sea a group of Essenes (a strict Jewish religious sect) lived out their lives in seclusion during the days of Jesus. They occupied their time together in prayer and devotion and in preserving and copying religious texts, the Bible being chief among them. It seems that in about A. D. 66 when the Jewish nation revolted against Roman rule and decided to take on the Roman army these Essenes were caught in the middle. When they saw the war coming into their territory they decided to hide their precious scrolls in the caves that surrounded their commune so they wouldn’t be destroyed. Unfortunately, they were caught in the crossfire and were scattered, killed or sold into slavery. And for over 1,900 years those scrolls sat there in pottery jars mostly protected from the elements until a Bedouin boy accidently discovered some of them. The story gets complicated from there but eventually all of the scrolls were acquired by those who could read them and discover what they contained. For Bible students this is important because they contained passages or parts of passages from all of the books of the Old Testament except Esther. But the biggest prize was they now had two complete copies of the book of Isaiah—one of the most important books on messianic prophecy ever written. Bible scholars everywhere were thrilled to now possess manuscripts of the Bible that were at least 1,000 years older than the ones they had possessed up to that time. When they compared the accuracy of the newer ones with these much older ones they found to their amazement that they were almost completely the same texts. So to memorialize this event they constructed this museum—the Shrine of the Book-- to tell this story and completely unrolled one of the books of Isaiah and mounted it on a circular board for everyone to see, or read, the ancient Hebrew text for themselves.
Also, while we were here we saw, just between the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, a model of the city of Jerusalem that was constructed for everyone to get an idea of what the city looked like just before it was destroyed in A. D. 70. Not a little table model, mind you, but a model that is constructed on a large lot. It’s one thing to see piece by piece the places associated with the ministry of Jesus and his apostles when all of these sites have been built over many times by more modern structures; it’s quite another to see the city as it probably looked when all of those things were actually going on. So, to see these two museums and the model of Jerusalem in the same day, it really helps you to orient yourself to the old Jerusalem we identify with the New Testament.
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.