The ancient city of Jerusalem
Today has been a lot to marinate in. We finally made it to explore the ancient city of Jerusalem.
We had an earlier wake up call this morning so that we could get to the Temple Mount before a huge line formed! The anticipation on the drive kept building as we saw bus after bus already parked along the street! The Temple Mount is found inside the gates of the old Jerusalem city and is currently found inside the Muslim quarter. It was originally built on Mount Moriah by Solomon in 900 BC. In 37 BC King Herod enlarged the temple, building the 4 walls that surround it. Eventually, the Romans destroyed it, then the Muslims built an extravagant mosque topped with a gold dome (real gold, by the way). This is called The Dome of the Rock where it is believed that Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22).
Within the city, there are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters. It is an intersection of the worlds most popular religions in a single area. It also means there’s a great deal of security involved in entering this sacred place. Luckily, with Yehuda, it feels like we are VIPs and we’re always able to get in right away with no problem!! We began with the Muslim quarter where we could see the Temple Mount. This came along with some rules. We couldn’t bring in any piece of paper that included writing on it. None. We also weren’t able to be seen touching our spouse or the opposite sex - Not even the subconscious touching when taking a selfie!
From there, we entered the City of David and spent a few moments before exploring the first of two very tight and claustrophobic tunnels: The Canaanite Tunnel. This tunnel spit us out near the Pool of Siloam where would sit at the very steps where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9). Even this late in the trip, we’re still not used to physically being in the very place where Jesus once did His ministry and performed many miracles.
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.
Luke 2:41 begins the story of Jesus as a boy in the city of Jerusalem where His parents unknowingly left him behind and finally found him three days later. As we were sitting down on the very steps that Jesus most likely walked on, we were challenged not to leave Jesus behind, but to go home making Him more alive in our day-to-day lives.
We went back to more tunnels and toured the Rabbinic Tunnels. These lead along the Western Wall where you eventually see the original pavement walkway made of stones laid from the second temple period.
The tour of the western wall tunnels is one of the most popular tourist sites in Jerusalem. These underground tunnels connect the western wall prayer area to the north-west side of the temple mount, passing along the side of the temple mount and under the present day houses in the Old City. Along its path are remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods.
We moved from claustrophobia to motion sickness as 20 of us at a time took a virtual reality tour of the ancient temple. This was actually really really cool!! I’m talking goggles, headphones, and all. Yehuda threatened to come up and turn our swivel chairs if we weren’t taking full advantage of the 360 view of virtual reality!
We were fortunate to pretty much spend the entire day observing all the activity near the Western Wall. After the Romans destroyed their temple in 70 AD, this wall was all that the Jews had left of the second temple of Jerusalem. It is also known as the Wailing Wall after the Jewish temple was destroyed and people would gather to pray and mourn their loss. People from all over the world come to this very place to pray and leave behind a written prayer. What happens to all the slips of paper when the wall gets too full? We learned that they are transported and buried in the Mount of Olives. Each person of the group had 30 minutes to go pray and put their prayer in the wall.
Our personal favorite part of the day was the Western Wall and having the chance to participate in this tradition. It was a powerful and moving experience! It came with the reminder that we serve, pray to, and worship a God who isn’t limited to a particular place, but He hears us from wherever we are.
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.
At the wall, we were reminded of one of our favorite passages: Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.