Day 6 brought us to the Old City of Jerusalem, and today, Day 7, we spent some time within the original city limits of Jerusalem from the Old Testament, (which is now called the City of David and currently lays outside the modern walls of the Old City), and also in the original limits of Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
We started the morning VERY early – 5 am! But we quickly learned that this was to beat the crowds and lines, and beat them we did: there were few people at the Western Wall when we entered the Dung Gate at 7:30 this morning. It was interesting because there are guarded gates around the Temple Mount area, so we had to go through metal detectors and have our bags checked – much like the airport security!
Then we started our tour of the Western Wall tunnels. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but it was incredible. At the time of the Second Temple, under King Herod, the walls of the Temple Mount were HUGE – probably triple the size they are today – and there were shops, roads, and water tunnels/cisterns at the very base. The Western Wall tunnels explore these areas. It was crazy to walk through the tunnels and touch the stone and masonry-work from Jesus’s time (Roman period)…and before. We were able to touch the Western Wall from inside the tunnels too – it was very interesting, because there were many women praying inside the tunnels rather than out in the open at the more public and common Western Wall area. We ended the tour near the north side of the Temple Mount and then began our walk of the Via Dolorosa, or, Way of the Cross.
Although this is just a traditional route and not the proven route (especially since roads and houses have been built and rebuilt all over the city), it was still powerful. As we walked and stopped at each station (13 total), I tried to imagine what it would be like if Jesus were actually carrying his cross on the road today. Even now, 2000 years later, it is still so painful and difficult to imagine Jesus being mocked and tortured and brutally treated. The Via Dolorosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pronounced Se-pull-ker). The final 2 stations are located inside the church – Jesus being nailed to the cross, and, also, Jesus giving his spirit (dying). At the final station, we were able to touch the traditional stone of Golgotha – the one that is supposed to be where Jesus’s cross was placed – then we went down below it and saw the fault line in the rock that is used to prove the validity of the stone (since there was an earthquake right after Jesus died). It was really cool to see that.
Also in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are stones from Jesus’ grave and the stone that was in front of the grave. I was moved to tears as I touched the stone – to think, whether proven or not, that these stones housed Jesus’s body and witnessed his resurrection…wow. And, the fact that Jesus isn’t dead but is living is so powerful, and of course, the basis for our faith. I found it all really, really neat and moving.
After the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we were able to do some shopping on the streets of the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Our tour guide, Sa’id, brought us to his brother’s silver shop and showed us some other stores in the area as well. It was really fun to get a taste of life in the Old City.
We then did a tour of the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, specifically the Southern Steps. This is a 100% proven spot where Jesus walked. The gates at the Southern Steps are all closed in now but we could still see the frames of them. We also saw preserved ruins from when the Temple was destroyed and the original road along the Western and Southern Walls. We have all been fascinated and in awe of the age of much of the buildings and ruins we’ve seen so far!
From here, we walked out of the Old City walls and into the “original” Jerusalem, now called the City of David. At the time of the Canaanites, the city wasn’t called Jerusalem, and was just south of the current Temple Mount (which wasn’t a built up mount but just a secluded “high” place) – it was just a very small bit of land on a hill. During that time, the Caananites built a water system to bring water up from the valley below. Then, King David and the Israelites took the city, called it Jerusalem, and fortified the water system. After the time the temple was built, Hezekiah updated the water system so that it was under the city and safe from the enemy and gave more access to the people. The water tunnels still stand today, and have water in them…and can be walked through! So we did that this afternoon. We walked for 20-30 minutes, underground, with water to our ankles, or sometimes hips all the way through Hezekiah’s tunnels. It was a little nerve-wracking being underground for so long – and, it’s pitch black if you don’t have a flashlight! – but it was incredible to see a structure that still stands from the Canaanite period. And, there was even a dry side! So people like Caleb, who didn’t have a second pair of shoes could stay nice and dry. 😉
When we returned to the hotel, we got to meet with a Rabbi from Rabbi’s for Human Rights. So far on our trip, we have spoken with only Palestinian Christians and Muslims, so it was good to hear from an Israeli Jew (who was originally from Australia). It was really cool to hear the work that they’re doing to support their Palestinian brothers and sisters and create peace and justice in this land. We are learning more and more how truly completed and complex the conflict here is, but it has been incredible to see the nuggets of hope that God is planting within the community. We pray for his work to continue in this way and that he would build up peacemakers in both Israel and Palestine!