Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime! (Day 10)

Sunday, May 8th

Today was Mark's birthday and also Mother's Day - and it was our final day in Jerusalem.  We started the day at the Temple Mount, also known in biblical times as Mount Moriah.

The Temple Mount, a massive masonry platform occupying the south-east corner of Jerusalem’s Old City, has hallowed connections for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  All three of these Abrahamic faiths regard it as the location of Mount Moriah.  This is the site where Abraham is said to have prepared to sacrifice his son.  Though the Bible recounts that this was Isaac (Genesis 22), Moslem tradition relates that it was his first-born son Ishmael who was about to be sacrificed.
• For Jews, it is where their Temple once stood, housing the Ark of the Covenant. Now, for fear of stepping on the site of the Holy of Holies, orthodox Jews do not ascend to the Temple Mount. Instead, they worship at its Western Wall while they hope for a rebuilt Temple to rise with the coming of their long-awaited Messiah.

• For Christians, the Temple featured prominently in the life of Jesus. Here he was presented as a baby. Here as a 12-year-old he was found among the teachers after the annual Passover pilgrimage.  Here Jesus prayed and taught. Here he overturned money-changers’ tables and foretold the destruction of the Temple: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). And here the earliest Judaeo-Christians met.

• For Muslims, the Temple Mount is al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). It is Islam’s third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina, and the whole area is regarded as a mosque. Muslims believe their gold-roofed Dome of the Rock — an iconic symbol of Jerusalem — covers the rock from which Muhammad
 visited heaven during his Night Journey in the 7th century. 

Solomon built First Temple

Israel’s King Solomon built the first Jewish Temple around 950 BC on the traditional site of Mount Moriah. His father, King David, had bought a Jebusite threshing floor on the windy hilltop where Abraham had prepared to sacrifice Isaac and “built there an altar to the Lord” (2 Samuel 24:25) some 40 years earlier.

Solomon’s lavish Temple, built of stone and timber with an exterior of white marble and a gold-plated façade, was to provide a fitting resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
Its altar, the central place where Jews offered sacrifices to Yahweh, was probably close to the sites of Abraham’s and David’s altars.

Solomon’s Temple stood for about 360 years until invading Babylonians destroyed it and took most of the Jews into exile. The Mishnah says the Ark of the Covenant was hidden in an underground chamber. What became of it is unknown.

Fifty years later the Jews were allowed to return from Babylon. They rebuilt the Temple, completing it in 515 BC.

Herod built second Temple

The Temple Jesus knew was rebuilt by Herod the Great in a project he began around 20 BC. Although the Temple had already been rebuilt once, Herod’s Temple is still known in Jewish tradition as the Second Temple.

Herod began his grandiose project by extending the Temple Mount on the north, south and west to create a vast platform bordered by a retaining wall of huge limestone blocks.  These blocks, some weighing more than 100 tons, were cut from quarries at a higher level, just north of the Temple Mount, and put in place with pulleys and cranes.

The expansion — to today’s 14 hectares, nearly twice the previous area — involved burying several structures, including Solomon’s palace.

Of the Temple itself, the historian Josephus said “it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white”.

Surrounding the Temple were four courts: The Court of the Priests (containing the altar of sacrifice); the Court of Israel (for men only); the Court of the Women; and, on a lower level, the Court of the Gentiles. Notices warned Gentiles not to enter the higher courts on the pain of death.

Along each edge of the Temple Mount was a covered and columned gallery called aportico. Solomon’s Portico, on the east, was probably where Mary and Joseph found their son among the teachers of the Law. The Royal Stoa, on the south, was a place of public business and trade.

Romans destroyed Temple

Herod’s Temple was totally destroyed when the Roman army under the emperor Titus took Jerusalem in AD 70, ending the First Jewish Revolt. As Jesus had prophesied, not one stone was left upon another.

Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century and converted the Temple Mount into an Islamic sanctuary. They cleared the rubbish and erected the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

When Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 they Christianised these Muslim structures and gave them misleading names. The Dome of the Rock became a church called the Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord); the Al-Aqsa Mosque became the palace of the King of Jerusalem, then the headquarters of the Knights Templar, under the name of the Templum Salomonis (Temple of Solomon).

Muslims under the sultan Saladin reconquered Jerusalem less than a century later, restoring the Noble Sanctuary to its former Islamic status. Even after Israeli forces captured the Temple Mount from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel left its management in the hands of an Islamic foundation (called the Waqf), which has undertaken controversial digs and earthworks.
The picture below shows the southern wall of the Temple Mount.  The gray-domed building is the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is a place where Muslims go to pray.  Muslims consider this building more important to them than the Dome of the Rock.  They have sanctified this as the third most holy place in the Muslim world (after shrines in Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia).  The original mosque was built in 715 but it has been destroyed numerous times by earthquakes.

The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine.  Muslims believe that this is the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Ishmael.  Muslims/Arabs are considered to be descendants of Ishmael, which is why this point is so important to them - they believe the Abrahamic Covenant should go through Ishmael's blood line.  We believe, as do most other Christians and Jews that it was Isaac who was almost sacrificed.  

These were two Muslim men praying up on the Temple Mount.

Because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount, archaeologists are prevented from working on the site.  Consequently scholars lack evidence for determining the precise location of the first and second Temples.  It is thought that the Holy of Holies originally was located not under the Dome of the Rock but under the Dome of the Tablets (aka Dome of the Spirits) shown below.  Here the original rock of Mount Moriah is exposed.

More great architecture as we turn to leave the Temple Mount...

Walking through the streets of Old Town Jerusalem...

After leaving the Temple Mount, we walked back around to visit the Western Wall.  The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount.  It was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex.  It is also the place where Jews down the ages have expressed their grief over the destruction of the Temple, their anguish giving the wall another name — the Wailing Wall.  The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967.  At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.  Three times a day the Jewish people pray (morning, afternoon, evening) and they do so with phylacteries tied around their forehead and wrist and with the white and blue prayer shawls.

The prayer area in front of the wall is divided into 
separate sections for men and women.

Men who approach the wall are expected to have their heads covered.  A kippah (skullcap) is provided if you don't have one of your own - but a baseball cap is also considered fine.

The men's prayer area continues from the outdoor section through a passageway to the north.  Within this area is a massive arch originally constructed by Herod and now known as Wilson's Arch - after a British explorer in the 1860s.  Though only 25 feet high now, the arch originally was 75 feet high when the Central Valley was much deeper.

This is the library located at the Western Wall under Wilson's Arch.

Mark is standing in front of the Torah ark under the Wilson's Arch portion of the Western Wall.  It can house over 100 Torah scrolls.

Orthodox Jewish men, fully bearded and garbed in black, bowing their heads as they read and pray from the Torah...

An ancient silver sheqel on display...

A catapult model near the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount...

In the exposed part of the wall today, the seven lowest layers of stones are from Herod’s construction. Most of these stones weigh between two and eight tons.  An especially large course of stones is visible on the southern and western walls today. The largest of these weighs 570 tons and is 44 feet long, 10 feet high and 12-16 feet deep. The next largest stone in the wall is a mere 40 feet long. The largest stone in the Great Pyramid weighs 11 tons.

Above these are stones placed in later centuries, replacing those forced out when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt by sacking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple in AD 70.

This street was fully uncovered in the mid-1990s and dates to the decades before the city's destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.  The street is 10 meters wide and was paved with large slabs up to a foot thick.  The street was covered with massive stones pushed down by the Romans; only part of the street has been cleared by the excavators.  Christ foretold of the destruction of the Temple in the New Testament when he said:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee...Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.  And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things?  Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Matthew 23:37 - 24:2)

You can see the what the force of such heavy stones did to the road when they fell and hit it...

In the picture below, on the upper right hand side (where you can see water stains), you can see what is left of what used to be a massive and beautiful archway spanning the street below.   This was named Robinson's Arch (after a 19th-century archaeologist).  It supported a grand, monumental staircase going from the street to the Temple Mount.  

Here is what Robinson's Arch would have looked like at the time of Christ...

Over the centuries the deep valley that ran beside the Western Wall in the time of Jesus became filled with rubble. Today’s wall stands 62 feet high, but a further 43 feet of Herod’s blockwork lie hidden beneath ground level.
A great view of the Southern Wall (and a really cute tourist!)...

The western flight of stairs leading to the main entrances of the Temple Mount was 200 feet wide.  Excavators uncovered the easternmost part of this staircase with its alternating long and short steps.  These are Solomon's Steps (the worn ones on which I am sitting).  The alternating step width caused the Jewish worshippers to proceed toward the Temple Mount with a steady, unrushed pace - paying careful attention to the significance of going to the Temple.

Being Mother's Day, we were all surprised with a rose for the occasion!  The lady with the roses was our Israeli Jewish guide while we were in Israel.  The man to her right was our bus driver.  They were both so kind and fun to be around.

More pictures of the Israeli military...

From here we walked down to Hezekiah's Tunnel.  To understand what this entails requires a little bit of background.  The Kidron Valley lies east of the Temple Mount and west of the Mount of Olives (in between the two).  The Gihon Spring lies in this valley and was Jerusalem's only water source throughout its long history.  The second book of Samuel 5, tells how David infiltrated men through the Jesubite's water shaft as he moved to conquer the city.

Centuries later in 701 BC, King Hezekiah faced the approach of the invading Assyrian army as described in the Old Testament books of 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 32.  Fearful of the coming siege, he sent two gangs of men to excavate an underground tunnel from the spring to within the safety of the walls.  Working non-stop day and night, incredibly the two groups met precisely - meters under the earth.  Then they covered the Gihon Spring with rocks to hide it from the advancing army.  Doing so protected them from having their water supply cut off by the opposing army.  Having secured Jerusalem's water supply, Hezekiah's Tunnel allowed the city to outlast the Assyrian siege.  Till today experts are baffled by this feat of ancient engineering, and visitors can walk the length of this underground tunnel that stretches from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam - a distance of about 1/3 of a mile.  The Pool of Siloam is where the man born blind washed as instructed by Jesus and came away seeing.

While walking through the tunnel we had water up to our upper thighs at the beginning for about 20 feet.  The rest of the tunnel it was below our knees.  The water was flowing, but not very fast.  We wore water shoes to help keep us from slipping on the slick bedrock.  I didn't feel comfortable bringing my big camera into the tunnel for fear I might slip and it might end up in the water, so this next picture I took from the internet just so you can have an idea of how small the tunnel was...
The tunnel is not lit, so everyone had a flashlight.  As you can see from the photo above, the tunnel is only about shoulder width, and in a good portion my head was grazing the ceiling.  I'm 5 feet 5 inches tall, so that meant that most of the men were stooping for most of the tunnel - comfortable for me, not so much for them - but everyone thought it was an incredible experience!

The walk through Hezekiah's tunnel was one of my most favorite parts of this trip!  It felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie.  So fun!!

After that we entered through Joppa Gate to do some shopping.  Another fun thing about old town Jerusalem is all the haggling you do walking through the markets in the city.  The shop keepers start usually at a price about three times higher than what you can actually get it for.  Once you figure out what you think is a good price, you have to be willing to walk away 4 or 5 times.  They keep calling you back to keep bargaining, and most of the time you get the price you're asking if you keep walking away - very much like the yard sales I used to go to.  Lots of fun!  Great day!

This was our last night with John and Bonnie Lund.  Tomorrow they would be going with us to Masada, and then back to pick up another tour group.  Because of this he held a fireside this night to talk about our trip into Egypt.

He spoke about the "Final Judgement Scene" that we would see on many of the walls of the temples there.  He made the connection that it is very similar to the veil of the temple actions.  Interesting!  There are also hieroglyphics showing "washings and anointings" being done to the Pharaoh.

Another thing he said that I loved was, "Don't lose faith in what you know because of what you don't know or what someone tells you or claims to know."

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