Going underground was a major theme for the Campbell University Divinity School travel group on Friday, May 24, as we began and ended the day beneath the earth.
The City of David was our first stop — a southern spur of the larger mountain on which most of Jerusalem sits, but the first part to be settled and built up, because it is closest to the Gihon Spring, the city’s only source of water in ancient times.
After a 3-D movie that helped to orient us to the changing shape of the mountain and the city over the millennia, we saw the remains of structures as much as 3,000 years old, including a large retaining wall that may have been part of the “millo” mentioned in 2 Sam. 5:9, and the foundations of a large building that the current excavator believes to be the remains of David’s palace.
During the late 8th century BC, when Jerusalem was threatened by the Assyrians, King Hezekiah ordered the construction of a rock cut tunnel leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. That tunnel still exists, of course, and a large part of our group walked (or crouched) through ankle deep water from the powerful spring along its quarter mile length, while others walked through a shorter dry tunnel that some attribute to the Canaanites.
Emerging at what remains of the Pool of Siloam (the Greek Orthodox Church owns the land above most of it and won’t allow excavations), we had a time of devotion before heading to the bus for a short trip to the Davidson Center, where we viewed excavations along the southern wall of the Temple Mount, and we sat on steps carved from bedrock, part of the wide “Southern Steps” that first century pilgrims would have used to climb to the temple, entering through the triple Huldah Gates and exiting through a smaller gate.
After a quick pizza lunch (Domino’s delivers to the Haas Promenade overlooking Jerusalem!), we drove past Bethlehm and turned west toward Beth Shemesh, known from 1 Samuel 6 as the place the milch cows pulling a cart bearing the Ark of the Covenant stopped when returning it from the Philistines.
Further on, we passed through some of Samson’s old stomping grounds and the Valley of Elah, where David and Goliath faced off, before arriving a Maresha, a city that was occupied by the Idumeans (to whom King Herod the Great was related) before it was largely destroyed around 110 A.D. by the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus. Residents there dumped many of their belongings into the bell shaped caves carved beneath their houses before moving, and we participated in an archaeological project to recover whatever treasures might remain.
There we climbed down a long winding staircase to the cool environs of the cave, where we discovered pottery sherds (including parts of cooking pots, oil lamps, and imported ware), animal bones, and charcoal fragments that had not seen the light of day for 2200 years. After schlepping many buckets of dirt back to the surface, we sifted through it for even smaller finds, then had the opportunity of touring either an excavated factory cave containing three massive olive oil presses, or spelunking through several rooms of an unexcavated complex.
We returned to hotel tired and dirty, but with continuing excitement about our experience in this special land as we prepared for our final night in Jerusalem and a very long day on Saturday as we leave the hotel for a full day before arriving at the Tel Aviv airport late in the evening for an early morning flight back home.
We’re anxious to see loved ones, of course, but many may find it hard to bid Jerusalem farewell.
Blogs from other members of the group can be found at these links:
David Stratton: davidsdeliberations.blogspot.com
Josh Owens: joshuakowens.blogspot.com
Susan Sevier: sevierlybaptist.com
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.