Members of the Campbell University Divinity School “Bible Lands Study Tour” spent a lot of time with rocks and dirt May 27. The day began with a couple of hours volunteer labor with the Temple Mount Sifting Project, a salvage operation in which volunteers sift through hundreds of tons of rubble illegally dug from the Temple Mount by the Muslim Waqf, then dumped in the Kidron Valley. Most of the rubble was moved to sites where staff members assist volunteers in sifting through buckets of rocks, mud, and artifacts.
Finds of various sorts are common — in the short time we were there, we found a couple hundred pieces of pottery, several pieces of marble that once paved the temple mount, cube-shaped tiles from floor mosaics, tiny glass tiles used for interior mosaics, fragments of frescoes that once adorned the walls of ancient buildings, even some small pieces of metal or bone. Alas, the only coin we found was a modern one, a tenth of a New Israel Shekel. At left, Amanda Crump points to a mosaic tile she found. At right, a staff member uses a display table to date artifacts we uncovered.
After a nice lunch of flafel or schwarma at a colorful shopping area, we visited the remains of the City of David, where we looked over the steep Kidron Valley and tried to imagine what it might have been like to live, as David did, on the crest of the Hill of Ophel.
Afterward, we made our way down through Warren’s Shaft to the underground entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a quarter-mile long aqueduct carved from stone during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, sometime before the Assyrian invasion of 701 B.C. The tunnel served to bring water from the Gihon Spring, outside the city walls, into the city, where it fed the Pool of Siloam. It still works, as water from the spring constantly flows through the tunnel, ranging from ankle deep to over the knee.
Recent excavations have uncovered a large portion of the steps leading down to the Siloam pool, but the Greek Orthodox church owns the remainder of it, and will not allow further excavation. The site has now been opened to visitors, as well as a 220 meter portion of an ancient step-stone walkway that once led into Jerusalem.
Our visit took place on a Friday, as thousands of Muslims converged for prayer at the nearby Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa mosque, so traffic was incredibly tight, but our amazing bus driver, Mike, threaded several needles with the huge bus in order to get us where we needed to go.
Our last stop of the day was at the Garden Tomb, where visitors can view a hill called Gordon’s Calvary that includes an obvious skull formation. A nearby tomb matches, in some respects, accounts of the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus’ body was placed after the crucifixion.
We had a good worship experience there, including a service of communion, before returning to the hotel to rest up for a big day tomorrow.
On tap: a walk through the Old City in the morning, plus Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea in the afternoon. It will be a full, but rewarding day.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.