Walking the last mile... on camels!
We went on a tour of the undergrounds tunnels on the western wall. There were many interesting aspects on this walk. You could easily see the difference between Herod’s work and the later rebuilding. Herod’s temple was truly a magnificent engineering and architectural feat with rock that was nearly perfectly smooth and aligned with minimal space between. We saw one huge rock that was over 50 feet long and more than 160,000 lbs. No one knows exactly how there were able to place this rock on top of the others, although the one theory is that they used animals, pulleys, and a dirt ramp to get the rock on top of another. Then they may have had small copper balls on top of the bottom rock. When the top rock was being placed, the copper balls would allow them to make adjustments to the placement before the copper balls turned into flattened copper. They have seen other sites where large rocks had flattened copper on them thus providing some validity into this theory. Josephus has an obscure reference to copper balls in his writings as well. The other amazing aspect of the walls is that each rock was slightly inset from the lower rock such that it provided stability. How they could align such huge pieces of quarried rock in such a precise manner is truly amazing. One aspect of the way they chiseled rock is that they would put olive wood in the little cracks and then pour water on the wood so that it would swell and crack the rock. Repeating this process allowed them to successfully break up even huge sections of rock with minimal use of tools. Much of the current tunnels were actually roads during Christ’s time. We can be confident of the dating of this because there are many coins that have been found around the pavement stones that date the roads.
The first temple that Solomon built lasted 400 years. Herod built the second temple in??? He flattened Mt. Moriah and then filled in on all sides to make a much bigger temple than Solomon’s. Herod was a very canny politician. He befriended Marc Antony as a kid growing up in Rome and worked toward helpingAntony when he was vying for the position of Caesar with Augustus. When Augustus prevailed in that internal battle, Herod was seemingly doomed to death because of his support of Antony. However, Herod went to Rome and humbly pleaded that if he was allowed to live, he would fully support Caesar Augustus. If not, then he would willingly die. Augustus was impressed and allowed Herod to continue on in Israel. Part of the conditions that Herod had to accept when he got permission from Rome to rebuild the Temple is that there had to be a Roman guard post structure that was higher than the temple so the Romans could check and see what the Jews were doing. As you can imagine, the Roman soldiers were not very kind and would throw rocks and otherwise humiliate the Jews on a regular basis. That led to the ill-fated revolt in 66 AD. The temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Nehemiah during the reign of Cyrus, King of Persia. It was leveled by Titus in 70 AD in response to the Jewish rebellion of 66AD. Later the Muslims razed the temple in the 7th century.
The Roman road leading to a plaza outside the fortress suggests that the place of Jesus’ trial was outside of the fortress because it was Passover. If the Jews went inside, then they would not have been pure. So it is likely that Pontus Pilate came outside the fortress to have the trial.
We had a very moving experience praying at the Wailing Wall. It is hard to describe how special it was and there were a lot of moist eyes among us. As a special treat, we had at least 3 bar mitzvahs come into the Wall area with plenty of song and celebration. Most of the boys had a terrified look on their faces while their dads and granddads beamed broadly.
St. Anne, the Crusader Church
We saw the small church with unbelievable acoustics that the crusaders built and now a group of French Catholics run. This church was one of the very few sites that the Muslims did not destroy and legend has it that the Muslim commander, Salah-ed-Din, ordered it to be spared because of its beauty. The Muslims turned it into a school while they were in control. In the 7th century. The acoustics are amazing and we have a very special moment as we went to the front and sang In the Garden. It was even more special in that after we sang that hymn, our Jewish guide, Dan, implored us to sing another one and he started us off singing Hallelujah!
Pools of Bethesda
There are actually two pools, fed by underground springs, at this site and it was used for ceremonial washing during the time of Christ. In the biblical account in John chapter 5, people were waiting for a special movement of the water to receive a blessing. This is obviously a pagan act and not according to Jewish law or traditions. So Christ made a large statement when he healed the man without him going into the water. This would have sent the message that you should not depend on pagan traditions or miracles for healing but to rely on Christ alone.
Jewish Archeological Park
We visited the Archeological Park where they have an exact scale model of the Temple during Christ’s time. Seeing this model really helped put into context the whole temple complex. One interesting aspect was the housing within the walls. The Sadducees, who were wealthy Jews, had very large houses with tile roofs. The Pharisees lived below them and had very small places to live. The Sadducees lived the “good life” and not surprisingly, did not believe in the resurrection. I think Christ targeted the Sadducees when he said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. This statement is relevant to day as well.
This is where some believe that this is the tomb of Jesus, in the property of Joseph of Aramethea. The Romans liked to make a spectacle when they killed people to make sure everyone knew that if you defied Rome, you would die a very public and painful death. So Jesus’ crucifixion was likely on a well-traveled road where people would see and hear Him. This place backs up to Mt. Moriah, and could also be where Stephen was executed. General Gordon in 1883, while staying with Horatio Spafford (who wrote It is well with my Soul, noticed some rock that looked like a skull. He started looking for a tomb, and found this tomb. Gen. Gordon went back to England and through many small donations, was able to by the land and make a beautiful garden area. We have a very special time of having communion together in a small place. A young German Catholic couple joined us on our tour and had communion with us as well. Sweet!
No journey in the Middle East is complete without a visit to the local market. We spent about 30 minutes walking through the local market that covered about 4 square blocks. It was full of all types of open-air vendors but primarily consisted of produce that was both beautiful and delicious.
Dinner at Abraham’s
We capped our evening by going to a hill top east of Jerusalem and having dinner in a mock tent, replete with a low table and cushions (no chairs) that you sat on to eat. We had a very entertaining man, dressed like Abraham, narrate biblical events during our time there. But before dinner we all had a short camel ride. The pictures and videos are perfect for blackmailing any of us!
I urge you to read Revelation 21 and especially verse 22, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. “ Our faith is not bound to holy sites for we serve a Risen Savior.
It is hard to sum up our trip. Everyone got along well. Charles and Charlene customized our visit to make it even more enjoyable. Our guide, Dan, was special and I would highly recommend him to any group. He did a great job of showing how recent archeological finds just confirm again the validity of the Bible. I think I can speak for everyone in that we all had a wonderful trip that brought to life much of the Bible and drew us all closer to Him. Please prayerfully consider going to Israel and any of us will be glad to elaborate in a lot more detail the blessings of this trip.