Day six on the ground for Baptists Today pilgrims/learners in Israel and the West Bank took us around and through Jerusalem, from top to bottom.
Due to some recent unrest, we had been uncertain about whether we could go up on the Temple Mount, where security lines on an average day take more than an hour. We arrived there early and the line already seemed long, but moved quickly when most of the people ahead of us turned out to be going to the Western Wall instead of the Temple Mount. We were through security and taking pictures of the Wall from the walkway in less than fifteen minutes, which has to be some sort of a record.
Atop Temple Mount, we watched as Muslim men sat studying the Quran, listened as younger men shouted Arabic chants of “Allah is great” when the occasional Jewish settler passed by, observed more than the usual number of Israeli police standing in the shade, and admired the two main buildings, the Al Aqsa mosque and the shrine best known as the Dome of the Rock. Both were first constructed in the seventh century CE, both were turned into churches by the Crusaders, and both reverted to Islamic holy places after Salahadin led his Muslim army to reconquer the land.
From the Temple Mount we visited St. Anne’s church, built by the Crusaders, and then wandered amid the ruins of a Roman temple and two churches built within what was once the Pool of Bethesda. The pool was located near the bottom of a large slope, where rainwater runoff was collected in a large outdoor reservoir, the pool’s main function. Later, huge underground cisterns were dug and plastered for the same purpose.
After a lunch of burgers and fries from Iwo’s, we made our way to the City of David, the first part of Jerusalem to be occupied by the Israelites after David led them to take it from the Jebusites. There we saw the remains of a large stone building that archaeologist Eilat Mazar believes to have been David’s palace, and explored the water system that served the ancient city. Most of the group descended a deep shaft, lower even than old Canaanite fortifications, to the place where the strong Gihon Spring gushes from beneath the earth.
From there some of us walked through an old Canaanite tunnel (dry) while most of us waded through the famous tunnel built in the late 8th century BCE under King Hezekiah, designed to bring water safely into the city. Walking through the cool water that ranged from ankle-deep to mid-thigh, we sloshed our way for more than a quarter of a mile to where the spring once emptied into the Pool of Siloam, but is now carried away in a huge pipe.
We ended the day at the Garden Tomb, where we pondered the skull shaped face of Gordon’s Calvary and visited a tomb some believe to have been the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. We prayed, sang, and shared communion there as a capstone to a long and productive day above, below, and around the amazing city of Jerusalem.
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.