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Friday, June 17, 2011

Out and About the Temple Mount

It’s our third evening in Jerusalem, and Sabbath just began. Sabbath impacts everything here, from what’s open and what neighborhoods you can drive through to what sort of breakfast you get on Saturday morning (only pre-boiled coffee and pre-cooked food). Friday, as Anton says, is not an easy day in Jerusalem. Tensions tend to run higher and angry people seem to be angrier. So, all of this drives what you choose to do on Friday before Sabbath preparation and Sabbath itself kicks in at 6:00pm. So, today we did some things in the Jewish Quarter that would have been inaccessible or difficult tomorrow.

We spent most of our day around the Temple Mount. As you approach the Temple Mount, the first thing that strikes you is the big high walls. These walls were built by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500s. We passed the Cave of King Zedekiah (see his sad story in 2 Ki. 25:1-7). We saw Herod’s Gate, one of seven open gates (one is closed, the Golden Gate). Driving down the eastern side, following the Kidron Valley opposite the Mt. of Olives, we turned back west and parked near the Dung Gate.

Anton reminded us that this area has been the place of high tensions for a number of years, the mosques here having been closed since 2000 (closed, at least, to non-believers). Most recently, there has been conflict about the Israelis changing a Muslim entrance to the southwestern Western Wall. Rocks have been thrown, mobs have had to be dispersed, and this is, after all, a Friday. There is always high drama (and dangerous drama) here over something. All this in mind, we left most of our gear on the bus and got out to make our group trek to the Wailing Wall.

The Wailing Wall is basically all that is left of the old Temple, a retaining wall built by—you guessed it—Herod the Great. Jews have two great wishes: To come to this place to pray, and to be buried on the Mt. of Olives. Even when they had no Ark of the Covenant after the Babylonians, the Jews still rebuilt their Temple. But with the Second Temple destroyed once and for all (70 A.D.), the only way to cling to the idea that the shekinah-glory of God was still present in this holy place was to attach his glory to the only remaining piece of it. So, the Wailing Wall reminds the faithful of the days when this was a place of greatness for the children of Abraham.

We all walked up to the Wall—men on our side, women on theirs (much smaller). Those of us who didn’t have hats or caps (required) borrowed a loaner from a box. Many of us touched the wall and prayed. I did. I said a prayer for everyone I know right now struggling with cancer or any other physical problem. No magic here, but it is a special place. The piety and devotion of the devout Orthodox Jews is something to behold. Many come here several times a week, some daily. A few practically never leave. They physically shake and read Torah and pray for Messiah to come back and rebuild the Temple. It is noisy and frenetic. Some of our guys got invited by a rabbi for a little side tour that ended with a request for a “donation.” I told them to give the guy a break. He’s a preacher and church costs money J

Our next stop was to walk nearby to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (Davidson Center), located at the foot of the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. This is active, on-going excavation. Just a few years ago, this area was a Muslim area (pre-1967) and covered in dirt. Highlights: Climbing up the original steps of the Huldah Gates that led to the Temple Mount. This was where commoners would have ascended or gone “up to the Temple.” This is where David brought the Ark into the city. Jesus would have engaged the Pharisees right here. Very cool... Also, seeing the Herodian Street, with its huge fallen stones, recalling the destruction of the city… The area of the money changers (where Jesus cleansed the Temple)… Ritual baths, Byzantine residences, the remains of the Muslim Ummayad Palaces, and a huge impressive tower built by the Fatimad Sultan and renovated by Crusaders and Muslims… All with the black dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque looming over the high Southern Wall, where 100,000 to 200,000 Muslims visit every Friday. The big wall was built by the Turks, but the lower white stones go back to Herod the Great.

The Temple Mount is roughly 500 yards north to south. The Israeli Army protects the site (with plenty of visible guns), and the Muslim police guard it too (unarmed). The history, of course, is fascinating. This is where, traditionally, Abraham took Isaac to bind and sacrifice him (Gen. 22). Here at the threshing floor, David chose the spot for the Temple his son Solomon would eventually build. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (Very little has been discovered from the First Temple). The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. with the leadership of Zerubbabel, on a much smaller scale than Solomon’s. Later, it became “Herod’s Temple” when the great builder of Israel expanded and renovated the complex. This was on-going in Jesus’ day. 70 A.D. saw this Temple burned and destroyed for the last time by the Roman armies of Titus, crushing the First Jewish Revolt. For many years, the Jews clung to the idea that the Temple would be rebuilt again, but the last straw was the failed Second Revolt of Bar-Kochba in the 120s A.D.

From that point forward, the Temple Mount spent centuries bare and undeveloped. Rome had pagan worship there, but when Christianity rose up with 313 B.C., the Temple Mount was cleared and remained that way throughout the Byzantine Era (4th-7th centuries). Christians never occupied or did anything with the Temple Mount. They believed its vacancy symbolized the Messianic promise of one stone not being left on another, so they let the weeds grow. When the Muslims came into Jerusalem in the 7th century, they found the Temple Mount being used as a garbage dump. This was the place where Islam said the prophet Mohammed came on his famous night dream ride. So, they cleaned the exposed bedrock (literally), put a golden dome over it, and the rest is history. The Dome of the Rock is a not a mosque but more like a shrine, a place to walk around and pay tribute. The Al-Aqsa (black domed) Mosque is a place of worship. “Al Aqsa” means “farthest place” and stands for the notion that this was the “farthest place” where the last prophet came in his night journey.

Going on south, we went “down” to the City of David. Jerusalem grew upward and northward over the centuries, from the old Jebusite city at the far south end of the Kidron (Mt. Zion), up the mountain to the city David established (City of David), and finally to the Temple Mount and beyond. Jerusalem’s great military weakness was always to the exposed north. At the City of David, we saw ruins that may well have been part of King David’s palace.

Then we went up into the Jewish Quarter, where we walked around for two hours or more. We went through narrow streets that go back to the time of the Crusaders (11th and 12th centuries), lined with monasteries and schools. Our first stop was the traditional Last Supper Room, which is a second floor room in a building built by the Crusaders (which means, even if it’s the right site, the building itself is too recent). But the room is still a powerful reminder of the type of place where Jesus shared his final Passover Seder with his disciples, giving the bread and wine a new interpretation. While we were there, another Christian group (Americans) sang (a cappella!), and it was a very nice experience.

Next we went to the traditional (again, Crusader) site for David’s Tomb. Not impressive. It was under construction, and there was very little to actually see. There is, however, in this district, an amazing and impressive statue of King David.

Then we walked over to the Burnt House. This site was discovered after 1968, when excavations unearthed a huge complex that probably belonged to someone important. Speculation has been that this was the home of the high priest (lots of ritual baths, signs of affluence, etc.). It’s called the “Burnt House” because it burned in the fire that destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. A Roman spear was even found in the ruins. It is a pretty impressive display, complete with all manner of artifacts—lamps, measures, and even signs of pagan influence (little fertility amulets). We went to watch a video (more like a movie) about the Burnt House that illuminated the story well.

We had lunch at a Jewish kibbutz called Rabat Rachel, just outside the city. After eating, we went west to what was once the village of Emmaus (now Abu Ghosh, an Arab city). This is where, on the local mountaintop, King David went out to meet the Ark, being delivered by the sons of Abinadab. This was the first stop, then Uzzah’s little miscue, then on to the house of Obed-Edom (see 1 Sam. 6). There is a shrine here to that event. However, the event most of us associate with Emmaus is, of course, the resurrected Jesus revealing himself to two disciples here (Luke 24). We went to the Crusader church that promises to mark the spot where Jesus broke bread and made himself known to Cleopas and, well, Cleopas’ friend, whatever his name was. It’s a beautiful church. Downstairs we sat around a stone table and well that are perhaps the very spot where two heart-broken disciples got their hope restored.

After Emmaus, we drove back to the hotel and called it a day. Tomorrow promises to be big: The Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Garden Tomb are on the schedule. Our last day in Israel. We will give you a wrap-up tomorrow night.

For those of you in Texas, sorry to hear about the heat and drought. Makes us want to stay here, where it’s relatively cool and pleasant, particularly in the morning. Maybe 90 in the afternoons. Not bad at all. However, we are all pretty ready to see home and kids and family too! Grace and peace to all of you, from Jerusalem.

שבת-שלום  Shabbath Shalom
Brent and Melinda

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