June 30, 2016
We began the morning with a walk to and through Hezekiah’s Tunnel – an ancient underground water system built to ensure safety from enemies during times of war. It allowed Jerusalem to survive when Assyrians had conquered every other part of the country. For those of the team that are claustrophobic, this was a clear opportunity for them to give that fear to God and rely on him as we walked through dark, skinny, and short tunnels with water ranging from ankle-deep to knee-deep.
A 1750-foot (530m) tunnel carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other, Hezekiah's Tunnel together with the 6th c. tunnel of Euphalios in Greece are considered the greatest works of water engineering technology in the pre-Classical period. Had it followed a straight line, the length would have been 1070 ft (335m) or 40% shorter.
After drying our feet and swapping our shoes, we came to the first of two museums of the day – the Shrine of the Book. This beautiful and intentionally designed museum houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the oldest copies of the Bible we have found (see back to our visit to Qumran). Outside of this museum is an amazing model of what they believe Jerusalem looked like at the time of Jesus. Rod and Libby helped us picture biblical stories like Jesus turning tables in the temple courts, where Jesus would have been teaching, and where his trial before Pilate and death on the Cross would have been. It helped us wrap our minds around Jerusalem and really frame some gospel stories.
Just before lunch we had one of our first opportunities to shop at Johnny’s Souvenir Shop, a Christian-owned, family run business in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace (now Palestinian territory). With daily lessons on the politics of current Israel and its surrounding counties, we’ve learned that life continues to get more and more difficult for believers in Bethlehem and it was our pleasure to encourage him in this way.
As we’ve travelled throughout Israel and explored some of the most well-known archaeological finds, we’ve come to know King Herod and his skillful architecture quite well. When it came to building, Herod did the impossible. He built Olympic size pools where water is scarce, he built fortresses on desert mountains, he stored 10 years’ worth of food and water for 10,000 men in one of his palaces. Today we visited his Herodium – 38 acres of his jaw-droppingly beautiful and impressive work. We know him as a king who wanted to be seen as god and accomplished things at that time that no one else could do. King Herod prepared for himself palaces of comfort, beauty, and riches. He was a paranoid ruler, demanding love from his people and killed anyone who he thought could challenge his fame and power, including his sons, his wife whom he loved, and thousands of his people.
Constructed over a small pre-existing hill, the Herodium was a fortress for Herod to quickly flee to from Jerusalem and a luxurious palace for his enjoyment. He chose to be buried here and the mountain is the shape of a tumulus. Herod's tomb was discovered by archaeologist Ehud Netzer in 2007.
Jesus enters the scene at this time in history, providing a stark contrast from a king who demanded power, security, and comfort. Our king stepped down off his thrown in heaven to be born in a stable, leaving his power, giving up any security, and filling the uncomfortable places that no one else would go. He ate with sinners, healed the sick, and welcomed the unclean. He knowingly gave himself up for us, carrying our sin on the cross, a perfect man dying a criminal’s death so we could be saved. We asked ourselves – What kind of king does my life emulate? And how can we serve our king in a Herod kind of world?
We ended our day at the Holocaust Museum – Yad Vashem – meaning to Know the Names. It’s an amazing museum with a wealth of moving memorials (sorry, no pictures allowed) and knowledge about the Holocaust and everything leading up to it including racialization, the political landscape, and the silence of the world. We talked about how the church failed to take a stand for justice, and in many ways, religion was used to further injustice in this case. We allowed ourselves to take in the hard truths of the persecution of the Jews and the role our ancestors played in it.
Tomorrow is our last day in Jerusalem, the last day before we travel back home. Our prayer as we near the end of our trip is that what we’ve learned and experienced sink in deep. That these lessons are not swept away by the life we are returning to but only grow stronger as God shows us how to turn our thoughts and desires into actions.