After our long, demanding day yesterday, of walking up and down hills and stairs traversing the Old City to and fro, we were thankful for a slightly less demanding, although equally exciting day. It started with another early departure on the bus at 7:30 a.m., to make our way to the City of David. The City of David is not synonymous with the Old City of Jerusalem, but is actually a narrow ridge running south of the Temple Mount which constituted Jerusalem during the time of King David. I Chronicles 11:4-9 tells the story of David’s conquest of the city of the Jebusites (a.k.a., Jerusalem). There have been excavations at this location revealing the structure believed to be David’s palace. I will never read the Bible the same way again! Thanks to this trip, I will have a mental picture that I can overlay onto the words of scripture.
After walking through some of the excavations of David’s city, we then entered into a remarkable archaeological find, Hezekiah’s Tunnel. 2 Kings 20:20 records the construction of a tunnel beginning at the Gihon Spring which is outside the walls of the City of David and ending at the Pool of Siloam. (It was at the Gihon spring that Zadok anointed Solomon, David’s son, to be King over Israel.) This engineering marvel was begun by Hezekiah in response to threat of the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. The City of David, itself, was well fortified, but a major weakness was that the water supply lay outside the city walls. So, according to the Bible, Hezekiah stopped up the water of the spring and diverted them through a channel all the way to the Pool of Siloam. Two teams of workers started at each end, chiseling away the solid rock and remarkably met in the middle. Most of our group brought shorts and water shoes, and walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel, from the spring to the pool, a little over 1500 ft. We all brought flashlights as we walked through what would have been a completely dark tunnel with water most of the time up to our mid-calves, but at one point up to our mid-thighs. For much of the walk, I could stand erect, but on occasion had to bend beneath sections of approximately four-foot vertical clearance. The tunnel was shoulder-width along its entire length. It was a remarkable experience walking through this 2700 year old tunnel built by Hezekiah to thwart a siege by the Assyrians. The tunnel is still a working tunnel, with fresh water running along the way of the entire tunnel, from spring to pool.
Upon exiting the tunnel we arrived at the Pool of Siloam, which has only been partially excavated. This pool is prominently mentioned in John 9 in the healing of the man who was blind from birth. Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with which he anointed the eyes of the blind man. The man born blind was then told to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and having done so, he would be healed. John 9 is one my favorite stories of the bible, containing the miraculous sprinkled with the comedic. And here I was – standing on the very site of this miracle of Jesus!
Leaving the Pool of Siloam, we took a short bus ride up to Mount Zion, where we walked past the Catholic Church of the Dormition of Mary, where tradition states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, died or fell asleep. The church looked beautiful, but we did not enter as we were walking further along to the site of the Last Supper. Since at least the 4th century, a room in a building on Mt. Zion has been celebrated as the Upper Room. In this room, which we were graced to visit, the disciples were believed to have celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus. It is also held to be the site where the disciples were gathered in Acts 1-2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, marking the birthday of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.
From there, we walked down the stairs and into the tomb of King David. The tomb is situated in the ground floor corner of a former Byzantine church. Men and women separated once again as we approached the tomb, because this is being used as a place of prayer for the Jews. The men were also required to have their head covered. It is considered to be a holy place, similar to the Western Wall.
After visiting these sites, we took the bus to another site on the eastern slopes of Mt. Zion, the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. Gallicantu means “cock’s crow.” Here stood the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. John 18:13-27 describes how Peter entered into the courtyard of the high priest and denied Christ, as Jesus had predicted he would do before the cock had crowed twice. Our main business at the church, however, was to descend into the the dungeon which lay deep beneath the church, and where Christ was imprisoned after his arrest. Father Reid provided a brief devotional followed by the group singing, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” I run out of superlatives in trying to describe how amazing these experiences are.
We walked out into the courtyard, where Peter likely denied Christ and looked down the ancient, first-century steps upon which Jesus and the disciples likely descended as they made their way from the upper room to Gethsemane over on the Mount of Olives. It is also likely that Christ ascended these same steps under the escort of Roman soldiers after his betrayal by Judas in the Garden.
We then took a short bus ride to the Israel Museum, where we had a quick lunch, and then walked in to explore an exceptional model of Second Temple Period Jerusalem (as it would have existed during Jesus’ lifetime). The city model, impressively large, is built on a scale of 1:50. Included as part of the city, is a model of how Herod’s Temple would have appeared. Being able to look at the city from a vantage point of standing over the model was very helpful in understanding the layout of the city and the locations of the stories which took place there. After looking over the Holy Land Model, we entered into the Shrine of the Book (no pictures were allowed inside). The Shrine of the Book houses, among other things, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex was the earliest copy of the Hebrew scriptures that we had. They date to tenth century. One of the most remarkable things about the Dead Sea Scrolls is that we now had most of the Hebrew Bible, as copied by the Qumran community, dating from the 1st century – And they confirmed the accuracy of 10th century Aleppo Codex. One thousand years had passed with virtually no corruption of the text. Remarkable!
Our last stop of the day was at the Pool of Bethesda, located in the Muslim Quarter of the city. We entered into the Old City through the Sheep’s Gate (also known as the Lion’s Gate). Prior to its discovery in the 19th century, there was no evidence outside John’s gospel that such a pool had ever existed. This led some to claim that John’s gospel was written much later and that the pool was metaphorical rather than actual. The discovery of this pool, near the Sheep’s Gate confirmed the site of John’s story in chapter 5 of his gospel. John relates how that Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years at the Pool of Bethesda, near the Sheep’s Gate. The pool was located deep beneath the ground level of present day Jerusalem. But excavations have gone deep below the surface to reveal a portion of the pool of John 5.. On this site, over the pool, are also found the ruins of a Byzantine church.
Standing near to the site of the Pool of Bethesda is a Catholic church known as The Church of St. Anne, a crusader church built in the first part of the twelfth century. It was not destroyed like many other Crusader churches during the later twelfth century conquest of Jerusalem. Therefore, it still stands where it was built nearly nine-hundred years ago. It is held by some to be the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, hence it is dedicated to Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin. Our group had a wonderful experience inside the church after we entered and sat in the nave. We sang, “He Touched Me (fitting due to the healing of the paralytic at the pool), “Amazing Grace,” and “How Great Thou Art” beneath the great dome. The acoustics of this place is out-of-this-world. How beautiful to hear ourselves sing at this special site! I can imagine stepping back in time and listening to Gregorian Chant being sung in worship at this special site.
At the conclusion of another wonderful day in the Holy City, we returned to our hotel to rest for another busy day, tomorrow. It will start with a visit to the Holocaust Museum.