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Israel Study Tour with More Than Music

October 31 - November 11, 2022

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Day 08 - Jerusalem: City of David, Hezekiah's Tunnel, Southern Steps, Israel Museum, Model of Jerusalem, Shrine of the Book

In fall 2018, we included an original song of Dave's titled "City of David" in one of our "beta test" Blue Gospel Scripts shows. During the performance, we played video Dave had shot of the excavation at the actual City of David, and I was fascinated. But I wanted to see how this footage connected to the larger picture... where was it within the scope of the excavation? And where even was the excavation in connection to other parts of Jerusalem, like the Temple, or Mount of Olives, or Garden Tomb?

Today I finally got to find out (Yes, it was deeply satisfying!). The first site we visited was the ongoing excavation of the City of David... so literally ongoing that we watched a mechanized pulley system bring up buckets of dirt. A worker took each off the chain, dumped it out to be sifted through, then put the empty bucket back on the chain to go down. We saw the possible remains of David's grand palace, a portion of the wall rebuilt during the Ezra-and-Nehemiah-return-to-Jerusalem-to-rebuild-it-after-the-exile era, and descended down, down, down (and down some more) to the ancient Gihon Spring which is why the Jebusites even bothered building anything on this spot in the first place! According to 1 Kings 1, Solomon was crowned down here at the spring. 

Once we finally got down to the coronation level, we split into two groups to go through two tunnels: one shorter, dating from the Caananite era (about 4000 years ago), one longer, dug on orders of King Hezekiah (about 2700 years ago) to re-route the Gihon spring to flow into the city when the Assyrians had it under siege. This pre-emptive life-saving reroute of the waters prevented the Assyrians from controlling Jerusalem's water supply from outside the walls. It's an astonishing feat of engineering... two teams of men with pickaxes and buckets dug through solid bedrock and met in the middle! (No one knows how they did this). Hezekiah's tunnel still has calf-deep water flowing through it, and about half of of us overcame any lingering claustrophobia, strapped on our headlamps, put on our water shoes, and spent about half an hour walking through and WOW WOW WOW.  It's pitch dark in there except for the light we brought with us, and one of the most delightfully thrilling things many of us have ever done. It's about half a mile long, not always quite wide enough to fit both shoulders at once, and required some crouching down about half the time and was COMPLETELY AMAZING.  (I recorded video of everyone coming out and all our faces are filled with joy!)

The tunnel ends just below the excavation of the Pool of Siloam; only a small portion has been excavated but our new excellent guide Ariel helped us visualize the portion buried under dirt... it's private property so will likely not be excavated. He also told us people often took water from the pool to the Temple, and pointed us back to see a road Jesus would've walked on to get to the nearby Temple from there. We didn't take it (though they're working on a tunnel so people can make that walk in the future); our fantastic driver Eli brought the bus so we didn't have to make the climb!

We did go back to the base of the Temple to see where the road would've ended. Next, we went to a place Jesus definitely would've been: the Southern Steps, the south side of the Temple where Rabbis went to teach their students. It was certainly a profound feeling to sit there. Dave took us through an example of how people even back then had prepared trick questions for teachers but Jesus certainly wasn't fooled. See Matthew 22 for the full smackdown.  :)

After a Jerusalem bagel lunch (dipping the fresh giant bagels in date honey, labneh, olive oil, za'atar, nutella, and hummus), we visited another site I've been strangely excited to see for years: the Jerusalem Model at the Israel Museum. One lady heard me talking about it and was thinking to herself, "really?  A model?  That's a weird thing to get excited about...." but then saw it and understood my excitement. It's a 1/50 scale model of Jerusalem just before its destruction in 70 AD, and is intricately detailed and very realistic-looking. It was amazing to see as a work of art, and also an amazing tool to help understand all the place we've been in the old city the past couple days. What surprised me was just how huge the Temple Mount was in comparison to basically everything else. It's clearly the focal point of the entire city, dwarfing everything around it (just as Herod wanted) - as commanding as it is today, it's even more prominent in the  model when the entire city existed within the walls. In an era where all other civilizations worshiped numerous gods, it screamed "here is a city clearly focused on only one God." Everything else (except Herod's palace) is plain-looking by comparison... as though the city is all black and white and the temple is in color. 

We finished the day visiting the Museum's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, "The Shrine of the Book." We had been forewarned the actual pieces normally on display were out at the moment, but there were many Essene (the group which wrote the scrolls at Qumran) artifacts and a circular replica of the entire Isaiah scroll. Dan had told us the discoverers were stunned when they opened an Isaiah scroll and recognized the text right away - so I got out my online Hebrew Bible and compared it to the text, and I see exactly what they meant. How amazing it must have been to read it for the first time and realize what a treasure was in your hands!  (No photos allowed in there, but you could see them here: 

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