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Last Sunday’s field study was amazing!  This was a tour of several sites of Old and New Testament Jerusalem.

We began by walking in the Jaffa Gate (the real one, not the hole that was blown out for Kaiser Wilhelm II).  And the first site we stopped at was Avigad’s Wall, known in the Bible as the Broad Wall.  It’s called Avigad’s Wall today after the archaeologist who rediscovered it, Nahman Avigad.

Avigad's Wall, built by King Hezekiah

Avigad’s Wall, built by King Hezekiah

Avigad’s Wall

“Next to him Uzziel, the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths, made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall (Nehemiah 3:8).”

It is likely that this wall is also referred to in Isaiah.

“In that day you depended on the weapons of the Forest House, and you saw the breaches in the City of David were many; you collected the waters of the Lower Pool. Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem and tore down houses to fortify the wall. And you made a reservoir between the two walls for the waters of the Old Pool. but you did not depend on him who made it, nor did you take into consideration him who planned it long ago (Isaiah 22:8-11).”

In this passage, Isaiah is speaking to King Hezekiah. We don’t know where the the wall that he speaks of is for sure, but there is a good possibility that it is the Broad Wall. I had read the story of Hezekiah many times, but this time, as I read it was so much more interesting than ever before. Hezekiah was a real guy! Here was a wall that he probably built and there were the houses he probably tore down to make room for it!

Remains of the houses that were torn down to build Hezekiah's wall.

Remains of the houses that were torn down to build Hezekiah’s wall.

Overall, the Bible considers Hezekiah to have been a great man of God. However, he certainly did not put his complete trust in God at all times. Isaiah was always there to point this out to him.

“Did you take into consideration him who planned it long ago?”

In this situation and in the more famous one where Hezekiah strips the gold plating from parts of the Temple to pay off King Sennacharib of Assyria, Hezekiah attempts to take matters into his own hands. Now, Hezekiah did blow it, but imagine if you were king how difficult that would be to completely trust God with your life and the lives of all your people. It would be so easy to take matters into our own hands, just like Hezekiah.

Silwan Village on the south end of the Mt. of Olives

Silwan Village on the south end of the Mt. of Olives

Locating Biblical Sites

Following our visit to the wall, we walked to the City of David and from a rooftop surveyed the city. Yesterday morning, I hiked a few miles along the top of the Hill of Evil Counsel to a point where I could watch the sun rise over Jerusalem. The Hill is called by this unfortunate name because it has traditionally been believed that Caiaphas’ house stood upon this hill. When the rulers of the Jews decided to put Jesus to death they were at his house. Unfortunately for tradition, it is probably wrong, again. A more likely site for Caiaphas’ house is near the Silwan village on the south end of the Mount of Olives. Or perhaps it was somewhere on the Eastern Hill, below the Temple Mount. As I have been quickly learning, most of the traditional sites of biblical events are entirely inaccurate. If you are simply aware of the locations of the sites, you will become a bit suspicious of their validity. For instance, the traditional sites of David’s tomb and the Last Supper are in the same building. Isn’t that convenient? The Byzantine rulers set up these sites during their occupation without much regard for history or geography. These became the sites of tradition. The unfortunate thing is that not until the 20th century was an effort begun to utilize valid archaeological findings to determine likely sites of biblical events. Since then, many sites of tradition have been discredited though there is still a large amount of uncertainty as to where the true site is. For instance, the fourteen stations of the Via Dolorosa mark the path tradition says Jesus walked from near the Roman’s Antonia Fortress to the present-day site of the Holy Sepulcher. Every year hundreds of thousands of people walk this route (most of them are wearing bright yellow hats, stickers, or scarves, just to make sure that everyone knows they are tourists). The problem with this route is that no one knows for certain, despite what they may tell you, where the sites of Golgotha or Jesus’ tomb are located. Without knowledge of these sites it is impossible to have any idea where the route Jesus walked is. However, because some guy from the Byzantine era pointed to particular spots and said “This is where Jesus did this,” much blood has been spilled on this land.

The Dangerous Geography of Jerusalem

Since the beginning of my preparations for coming to Israel, I have been more and more impressed by how crazy it would be to settle this land and to base a kingdom here. Not only is the land crossed by the main trade routes of the world, but it’s capitol city of Jerusalem is in a valley! Technically the City of David was built on a hill. However, it is surrounded on all sides by much higher hills that are close enough for any besieging army to easily catapult rocks into the city or to shoot arrows over the walls. I do not know God’s reasons for choosing this land for His people. But, one increasingly apparent reason from history and our present time is so that we would know there is no other way for us to survive, but to trust Him completely.

The Jebusite wall of the City of David

The Jebusite wall of the City of David

The City of David

It was amazing to read Psalm 121 in David’s City, and to see what it was referring too. In light of the position of Jerusalem, which, while protected in some ways, is rather precarious in others, this Psalm takes on greater meaning. I do not look to the hills for my help. “My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth!” “The LORD will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” He is amazing!

We continued our hike down into the City of David and saw what was possibly a retaining wall upon which David built his palace. We also saw Warren’s Shaft and walked down the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. There are two tunnels here. Hezekiah’s Tunnel links up with an older tunnel that was carved out during the Iron Age. Today, we followed the Iron Age tunnel. I will have to go back and walk Hezekiah’s tunnel some other time. This Iron Age tunnel is possibly the tunnel Joab crept into Jerusalem through, so that he might open the city gates and let the army in to take the city. With all of his armor and weapons on, he must have been much smaller than me to make it through that tunnel. I and my backpack had plenty of trouble squeezing our way through without having to maneuver a sword and spear through as well!

Southern Steps of the Temple Mount

Southern Steps of the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount

We exited the tunnel by the Gihon Spring. From there we walked just down the Kidron Valley to the Pool of Siloam, which is at the other end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. After this we climbed the real Mt. Zion to the Temple Mount and visited the archaeological museum there and then walked around the Western Wall. We saw the remains of Robinson’s Arch. It’s called that because a guy named Robinson was the first to realize there used to be an arch there. It was torn down when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70AD. You can still see where the massive stones making up the arch fell. All of the paving stones beneath where the arch one stood are heaving and cracked.

Next, we went to the Southern Steps of the Temple. This is where the Rabbis would teach and discuss the Scripture. Jesus probably taught from these steps. Paul probably was educated by Gamaliel on these steps, and this is probably the site where Peter taught on Pentecost (Acts 2). While here we read Matthew 23. Most of the illustrations Jesus uses can be seen or probably could have been seen from these steps. Lots of what this chapter speaks of amazed me as I sat there. Here are just a couple of things I learned.

“But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people. You do not enter in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in…”

The Jewish rulers actually stood at the Temple gates, allowing some to pass and refusing others, based on their own prejudice. Sound familiar? One other thing was Jesus’ reference to the scribes and Pharisees being “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness…Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Just to the East of the steps is the Mt. of Olives, which is covered with tombs and monuments to the dead. That’s some vivid imagery!

Looking east at the Temple Mount and the Mt of Olives beyond it

Looking east at the Temple Mount and the Mt of Olives beyond it

St. Anne's Church next to the Pools of Bethesda

St. Anne’s Church next to the Pools of Bethesda

The Pool of Bethesda

Our day ended at the Pool of Bethesda. It is really a series 5 or so pools called aesclepion pools.  They were believed to have healing powers.

This pool is right next to the Church of St. Anne, which marks the spot where Mary supposedly grew up. Nobody knows, but if it was, then Jesus probably spent some time here as a child, with his mother’s family. He probably would have known the man who had been lying there 38 years. That doesn’t change the story much, but it’s interesting to ponder, and it’s quite possible that it’s true.