Today or tomorrow marks the halfway point of this trip. And I am glad for it. While I’m extremely grateful to be here, I am certainly missing my family. Besides that, it seems that a portion of our group, myself included, have hit something of a wall. I seemed to be running on empty until mid-afternoon today. Some of it is simple physical wearniness; some better sleeping would cure that. But another part of it is more mental. There’s an intensity to most of our days that one cannot sustain indefinitely. Basic processing of this experience is neither quick nor easy. Part of the wear lies in this realm too.
But time wasn’t waiting for us, so we plodded on. Back to the Old City.
Right near the Old City is the City of David, a fascinating area thought to be the earliest portions of Jerusalem. Included in this area are Hezekiah’s tunnel, an engineering marvel mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:3, 30; an earlier portion of a connected tunnel (named Warren’s Shaft), thought to be used by David and his men to capture the city in 2 Samuel 5, along with the excavated ruins of what is thought to be King David’s palace. This would be the palace that stood at the top of the town, overlooking everything below, including sights such as a lovely lady named Bathsheba bathing atop her roof. Our guide, Allan, referred to numerous psalms and stories that today’s landscape made easy to imagine. Also within this place, tablets of scribes were found. These were likely used by the scribes in the writing and sealing of their scrolls. One of the found tablets appears to have belonged to Baruch, son of Neriah. That may not mean much, unless you’ve rad Jeremiah 36 recently. Baruch, son of Neriah was the scribe for the prophet Jeremiah! And he was here. And he left behind one of his possessions. And we walked there today! Even in my half-alert state, this was great stuff!
The real highlight of the Old City is walking right through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Even today, water from the Gihon Spring flows through this underground channel from its source to the site of the ancient Pool of Siloam. Yes, that’s the John 9 Pool of Siloam! The tunnel is at least thirty minutes through cool, calf-deep water in a shoulder-width tunnel. By flashlight, one can clearly see the scrapes and scratches on the walls from tools used 2700 years ago!
Along the way, we walked through the Valley of Ben Hinnom. This gets frequent mention in Scripture, generally as a place of death and destruction. Jeremiah sees a terrible vision of bodies filling the valley in a scene of judgment, and Manasseh is said to have sacrificed his children to Molech here. Besides that, the name Gehenna, tied to the Jewish image of hell, has its roots in this valley, once the always-burning dump of the city. And today it’s a green, peaceful park!
A quick stop with our bag lunches rested us up for the afternoon, much of which was spent on the south end of the Temple Mount. Excavations have taken place there recently to uncover more of the Herodian walls. At one point, Allan sat us on stone steps to describe to us scenes of first-century temple visitors. He sketched images of Jewish feasts and festivals, with crowds up to 175 000 filling the Temple. Then he casually mentioned that the steps on which we sat were THOSE steps—the ones that the crowds would have entered the Temple by. Once again, I say, “That’s crazy!” He quickly followed that up with shops still standing from Jesus’ day, along with a pile of stones at the bottom of the Temple Mount, almost certainly pushed down to their resting place by Romans involved in the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD. It was as close to a video re-enactment of the first century as one could hope to get!
Our day ended with a brief stroll (and ice cream stop) through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. That’s one of the quarters that I’ve explored least, and I was quickly impressed that I need to direct my next time of wandering the Old City back to this part to re-discover some unique shops and roads to explore.
One final item worth mentioning was a brief stop at a church across the Valley of Ben Hinnom from the Old City. Near there was discovered a series of cave tombs. These are all over the region. But what separated this one from the bunch was that it had partially collapsed, sealing up its bottom portion from the grave-robbing that every other tomb seems to have experienced over the centuries. Within that lower portion, they found the remains of a woman buried with a piece of jewelry. It was a pendant of rolled silver. Careful work was done over a year to gently unroll the pendant, as it obviously contained inscriptions written before it was rolled up. When the writing was revealed, it read in Hebrew, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” And that is the oldest written Scripture we have. This passage from Numbers 6 on this silver pendant dates back five or six centuries before the Dead Sea Scrolls! And there’s something beautiful about the thought that people of faith 2600 years ago were speaking that priestly blessing to one another as they walked their ways through life, in identical ways to us speaking these words into one another’s lives as we walk our way through this age. That struck me as a powerful moment in this morning’s heat.
We returned hot and tired. Supper begins right away, followed by an evening lecture on Judaism. I’m off to get refueled so that I can be as attentive as possible before hitting the hay later tonight.
Much love from Jerusalem. In the spirit of the day: May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make His face shine upon you and give you peace.