Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Friday, May 24, 2019

An Extra Day in Jerusalem

While most of our group returned home the night of May 23, my friend Paul Jennings and I spent an extra day in Jerusalem. Joined by Steve Densley, the chief operations officer of Cruise Lady, we visited a number of additional sites in the city.

City of David and Hezekiah's Tunnel

The first site we visited was, to be honest, a bit controversial. It is a very important archaeological site representing the earliest settlement area, both Canaanite and Israelite, in the Jerusalem area. But today's City of David also lies in what was formerly part of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

 While today's City of David is outside the current Old City's walls, which are Turkish dating to A.D. 1538 and follow the course of the earlier Hadrianic Roman walls of c. A.D. 135 (but not the more extensive Byzantine walls of Jerusalem's Christian three centuries), it was always the heart of Jewish Jerusalem.

The earlier Canaanite city and the City of David itself were situated on a narrow "thumb" of land extending south from Mount Moriah, later known as the Temple Mount.  It had steep valleys on the other three sides---the Central Valley on the west, the Hinnom Valley on the south, and the Qidron Valley on the east.  The Qidron Valley continues northward, separating the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives on the east.  Interestingly, the City of David and the slightly higher Mount Moriah to its north are NOT the highest of the hills of Jerusalem.  The Western Hill (appearing here labeled as "Hezekiah's Extension" and "Mount Zion") and the Mount of Olives to the east are much higher.  But the reason that the City of David was chosen for settlement first is because it is the only hill with a good, constant supply of water in the form of the Gihon Spring.

Davidic-era ruins built on bedrock

There are a lot of interesting First Temple period excavations to look at in this park, though some of them, like the important stone retaining wall of Area G, were not readily viewable because of renovation projects going on in the park. Also, given our friends' interest and our rather tight time schedule, we hurried on to the probably the most interesting part of the City of David, which is Hezekiah's Tunnel.

East side of the City of David with the "stepped structure," which might have held up Davidic buildings
Hezekiah's tunnel was built in advance of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. It brought the waters of the Gihon Spring into the expanded city of Jerusalem, funneling them under the City of David into the new Pool of Siloam at the base of the Central Valley, which was within Hezekiah's expanded city which now included the Western Hill.

So we doffed our shoes for water socks or sandals, unzipped our gators (turning field pants into shorts) or rolled up our pants, and plunged into the tunnel and its waters. We then slogged through 533 meters of the winding tunnel with only one flashlight and our a couple of headlamps. It was fun.

The water has, at least since the Byzantine period, emptied into a small-ish pool that recounts the events of John 9, when Jesus healed the man born blind. However, fairly recent excavations have uncovered a much larger pool from the Second Temple Period that better fits the description.

 We then walked up an other tunnel, this one created by archaeologists to reveal the previously buried street that led up the valley from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount. At one point, our modern tunnel veered and went under said street so that we could walk through the Herodian drainage tunnel that ran under that street.

This archaeological tunnel can be taken up to the Davidson Archaeological Park at the base of the Temple Mount, but we exited it a bit early to see the new Givati excavations, which some think may be the remains of the palaces of the Queen of Adiabene.

Mount Zion, the Citadel Museum, and the Church of Alexander Nefsky

After returning to Mount Zion to visit Dormition Abbey (the chapel, unfortunately, was closed), we hurried to the Citadel Museum at Jaffa Gate. 

The Tower of David Museum is located in a fortress properly known as the Citadel, though it is also called the Tower of David.  I had taken Elaine here back on October 10, but one of the advantages of living in an area so long and revisiting some of the sites is that one notices things that he or she missed the first time.  Going to that link will provide more background of the Citadel, and it also has several video clips that Elaine and I filmed then, including a video tour of Jerusalem from the Phasael Tower.

Jerusalem expanded onto the Western Hill across the Tyropoean Valley from the City of David and the Temple Mount at the time of Hezekiah.  This area now comprises the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and Mount Zion.  After the Babylonian Exile, Jerusalem expanded into this area again in the Hellenistic Period under the Hasmoneans, when it became known as the Upper City.  This area was protected by deep valleys on most sides, except the northwestern corner was exposed, so Herod built three massive towers here to protect the city.  Together they comprised a strong fortress just north of his palace, which was along the western wall of the city.

When the Romans destroyed the city in A.D. 70, they left these three towers standing, together with a section of the western wall, both to serve as a reminder of the strong city that they had taken but also to serve as the legionary camp of the Tenth Legion that they posted amidst the ruins.

Looking down into the middle of the Citadel
When the Arabs took the city in A.D. 638, they built their own fortress on the site, using the foundations of the towers as the basis of their new citadel.  Subsequent rulers of Jerusalem---the Crusaders, the Mamluks, and then the Ottoman Turks---rebuilt and modified the citadel.  Though King David's Jerusalem had never extended to this area, the tall minaret of the mosque that the Turks had built in the citadel came to be known as "The Tower of David."

Climbing to the top of the tallest tower, which still bears the name of Herod's brother Phasael, affords great views of Jerusalem, both the Old City to the south, east, and north and modern Israeli West Jerusalem to the west.

We then took a break for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, The Armenian Tavern.

After lunch, we visited two more churches in the Old City.

The small church of St. Mark's is the seat of the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Jerusalem.  Despite its name, the Syrian Church is not part of the Eastern Orthodox communion.  Rather it is an independent Eastern or "Oriental" church, together with the Copts in Egypt, the Armenians, and other ancient communities that did not accept the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).  They believe that their church was built on the site of the home of Mary the mother of John Mark (the traditional author of the gospel of Mark).  If they are correct, then this would be site of the Last Supper, though the Byzantines and the Greek Orthodox and Catholics since maintain that this was instead on Mount Zion on the site of the current Cenacle. Many of them still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his first disciples.

On previous occasions with my students, we were hosted by Sister Justina, an Iraqi Christian who left her home and her home and career as a math teacher to come to Jerusalem to serve in what the Syrian Orthodox believe is the first church in Christianity, the place where the Last Supper was held and then where the Holy Spirit descended upon the church at Pentecost.  She told us the history of the church, shared stories of miracles that had occurred there, and sang Psalm 150 in Aramaic.  She invited me to take single picture of the altar, something that is usually not permitted, and then let us go "to the church down," the basement room that contains the remnants of what the Syrians believe was Mary' house.  There we read from Mark 14 and Acts 2 and sang.

My only pictures of the altar of St. Mark's
Group pic in "the house down"
A copy of the church's most sacred icon, traditionally held to have been painted by St. Luke
The church of Alexander Nevsky was our next visit. 
Many pass the unobtrusive entrance to Alexander Nevsky
Most Russian sites in Jerusalem are either on the Mount of Olives or in the so-called Russian Compound in the New City right next to Mea She'arim.  But in the mid nineteenth century the imperial Russian government bought a prime piece of property in the Old City near the Holy Sepulchre.  Planning as a hostel for Russian pilgrims, they began construction, only to find significant archaeological remains.  These are preserved below and to the east of the sanctuary that they eventually built here as part of a larger complex.  This church is named after the Russian saint Alexander Nevsky, the patron of the Czar Alexander who was ruling Russia at the time.

These remains included the triumphal gateway into the Temple of Venus complex built in A.D. 135 by the emperor Hadrian when he re-built Jerusalem as a Roman city. It is believed that the Venus temple was built here to coopt  the holy site of the Christians, namely where they had been commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Nearby are the remnants of the earlier Herodian Wall,  giving evidence for where the course of the wall was in the time of Jesus.  In this wall are the remnants of a city gate, called The Gate of Judgment and believed to be the one through which Jesus passed on his way to Jerusalem.  Just to the side of the gateway is a narrow slot that some have tried to argue is the "Eye of the Needle" to which Jesus referred in the Synoptic story of the Rich Young Man.  While this might be possible, see this link for a philological and historical discussion of the expression. All of these remnants support the traditional claim of the Holy Sepulchre to be the site at least of the crucifixion, and the original church complex built by Constantine extended at least this far.

The iconostasis of Alexander Nevsky

Hanging above the sanctuary of Alexander Nevsky is a beautiful series of passion paintings executed by by Russian artist Nikolay Koshelev.  If you like the work of Danish Carl Bloch, you will love these paintings, even if my pictures of them are not the best.  I only got shots of a handful of the some-18 paintings that illustrate the story from Gethsemane to Resurrection.

One of the arched gates of Hadrian's Temple of Venus
Some maintain that the slot to the left of the Gate of Judgment is the "Eye of the Needle"
The threshold over which Jesus may have passed on his way to Gologotha

Final Sites: The Hidden Gate and the Herodian Family Tomb

Below are pictures of sections of the wall south of the citadel and north of Mount Zion, called "The Builders of Jerusalem Garden."  Fascinating, though few tourists ever go here.  You need to walk on foot from Jaffa Gate . . .. 

As we exited the Citadel, we looked at the different periods of fortifications represented in the stretch of walls that extended to the south.  The walls themselves, of course, date back to the Turkish 1538 construction, but there are some foundations and lower courses visible from the Hasmonean, Herodian, and Byzantine periods.  It was the Herodian remains that interested me most, because they date to the time of Jesus.

The most interesting part of this to me is the so-called Hidden Gate, which is believed to be an exterior gate of the fortified complex comprising Herod's Palace.  I have long held the position that Roman governors such as Pilate would have subsequently occupied the palace, as they did in Caesarea. The multi-colored, fine-paved courtyard known from literary sources would then be the lithostroton or pavement where Pilate tried Jesus (it is unlikely that a governor and his family would have lived and worked in the Antonia Fortress, the traditional location, because it was little more than an army barracks).

 Archaeologist Shimon Gibson, however, maintains in his The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence that the trial would not have been held inside the palace but rather outside, in front of crowds, making this a very important possible location.
In this drawing, note the steps leading out of the barracks area . . . this is where Jesus would have been presented to the waiting crowds.

Interestingly, the Herodian Family Tomb lies directly across the western valley and can be seen when standing in this gateway area.  In other words, Herod may have seen himself and his family living in their palace across the valley from the tomb where deceased members of the family were interred (though Herod himself was buried in his massive Herodion southeast of Bethlehem).

The top the tomb complex is a bit of light rock n the center of the picture, divided by a pine tree in front of it

Closer view of the tomb complex as seen from the west gate of Herod's palace

A Final Dinner with Friends

Paul and I ended our Holy Land visit by having dinner with two of my friends, Shon and Jen Hopkins, at the roof restaurant of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem. It had great food and stunning views!