For friends, family, and other folk traveling vicariously through Israel and the West Bank with Campbell University Divinity School and Nurturing Faith Experiences, here’s a quick review of our day in (mostly pictures) of our day in the Old City of Jerusalem.
We began with a quicker-than-usual trip through security to climb onto Temple Mount, where the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine have stood since something like 685 and 715 CE, respectively. Except for a brief time during the Crusades, Muslims have controlled the Temple Mount. They call Jerusalem “Al Quds,” and consider it the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia.
Exiting Temple Mount on the north side, we visited the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a lame man (John 5), and sang together in the Church of Saint Anne, a Crusader building on a site where Mary’s grandmother, named Anne according to the tradition, lived in a cave house. The acoustics there are amazing.
Our next stop was Ecce Homo, the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, a set of “Stations of the Cross” that does not go back to Jesus’ time, but was developed much later, after the Crusades. Many of the stations are imaginary (“Jesus stumbled here”), but the first one is likely authentic: the convent at Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) is built over the remains of the Roman Antonia fortress, which guarded the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. This may have been the place where Jesus was tried before Pilate and beaten by the soldiers before beginning the long walk toward the place of execution.
We made a few brief stops to note stations of the cross, sandwiched between a group of Catholics ahead, who stopped for readings and a song at every station, and a large group of Indians in colorful dress who carried a cross and sang in their own language at each station.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Constantine’s mother Helena decided Jesus was crucified and buried about 300 years after the fact, is always crowded with pilgrims, and it was packed on Sunday when we were there. The line to get into the “tomb” stretched for at least fifty-yards, four abreast. We didn’t try going in, but adjourned to Dijanni’s gift shop for a lunch of cheese pizza and a chance to shop in the Arab market.
Most of the group also visited a Russian Orthodox church where excavations uncovered what may be part of the first century city wall with a small cut-out by the gate that may have been what Jesus referred to as the “eye of the needle.”
From there we visited the Western Wall, then walked through the Jewish quarter, stopping to see remains of the first century columned cardo, the main street of Jerusalem, as well as a section of the earliest known wall, known as the “broad wall,” which goes back to the First Temple period, when Judah was still a kingdom.
Our final stop was at the City of David, where we went down many steps to the Gihon Spring, the source of ancient Jerusalem’s water. Ancient tunnels had been cut through the rock to bring water into the city while protecting the water source from enemies. Some of us walked through a dry tunnel that goes back to the Canaanite period, while others waded through the Siloam Tunnel, traditionally attributed to the time of Hezekiah, that still carries water to the Pool of Siloam.
We offered a special treat for a dozen takers Sunday night with a trip to Ben Yehuda street in downtown Jerusalem, where Kenyetta Brown and Rebecca Freeze joined a street musician in singing “I Will Always Love You.”
We’ve learned to love this land more by being here. On Monday we have a chance to visit with some Palestinian Christians, who also love the land.
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.