Mount of Olives panorama

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Jerusalem, Day 3, and the End of Our Pilgrimage

Orson Hyde Gardens

We started the last day of the tour in the Orson Hyde Garden, which was built to commemorate the dedicatory prayer of Elder Orson Hyde, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (to read, and hear, about him, his prayer, and this site, go to this blog entry).

It was a cold, windy day, so we huddled together in the outdoor theater for our devotional. Because we do not know exactly where on the Mount of Olives Jesus' experience in Gethsemane took place, and because we had this beautiful setting completely to ourselves, this is where we chose to hold our meeting. Aimee Muir offered our opening prayer, after which I taught about Gethsemane from Luke 22, Mosiah 3, Alma 7, and D&C 19, describing Jesus' experience as an “atoning journey.” We then sang “Reverently and Meekly Now,” after which I had Eli and Jace Wright consecrate the two bottles of olive oil. Steve Nelson then offered our closing prayer.

The Basilica of the Agony and the Traditional Site of Gethsemane

We then walked down the steep hill past the golden domed Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene (which was unfortunately closed, but which you can read about here) to the Basilica of the Agony, which is also called the Church of All Nations.

The Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene above Gethsemane
 In the gardens to its north are some very old olive trees that give us a feel for what the Garden of Gethsemane would have looked like when Jesus visited it.

Here is a video of me reading the Gethsemane story from Luke 22 to my children back in 2011:

The current church replaced a destroyed Crusader Church, which was built over an earlier Byzantine church (which we have found is often the pattern in the Holy Land). All three featured an exposed rock by the altar that is believed to be where Jesus prayed the last night of his mortal life.

Basilica of the Agony

The rock where Jesus is said to have prayed (from another visit, they were having mass when we were there)
The view of the Temple Mount and the Golden Gate from Gethsemane

The BYU Jerusalem Center

Rami next drove us up to the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Ancient Near Eastern Studies, which is on Mount Scopus just north and a little west of the Mount of Olives. this was our family's home for one year, August 2011-August 2012. After watching the orientation video, the group went into the Auditorium with its spectacular views of the Old City. They were treated to an organ concert by Jan Clayton, though I do not have pictures of this because Elaine and I were excitedly visiting with the center director and other old friends. But these are the pictures I have:


The Western Wall

Rami drove us back to the Old City, where we once again entered through the Dung Gate, passed through security, and entered the Western Wall Plaza. This used to be the Mughrabi Quarter, inhabited by Arabs originally from North Africa. Before 1948, Jewish worshipers who wanted to get as close to the temple as they could, needed to access a single stretch of exposed retaining wall in a narrow alley. In those days it was often called "The Wailing Wall."

Photograph from the League of Nations of prayers at the Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1929.  This image is from the collections of The British National Archives. See
After the Israelis gained control of the Old City in 1967, the Mughrabi Quarter was demolished, and the large plaza that replaced it has opened up the Western Wall as a sacred space for thousands of worshipers.

The Kotel, or Western Wall, contains important remnants of the retaining wall that Herod the Great built for the Temple platform.

The Davidson Archaeological Gardens

Rami drove us back to the Old City, where we once again entered through the Dung Gate. Salah and I explained the excavations around the southwest corner and southern side of the Temple Mount, where the massive Herodian ashlars of the retaining walls are in plain view, as are many stones that the Romans pushed off the top of the mount when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.

The large stones rolled off of the temple platform literally dented the Herodian street below. This represents a fulfilling of Jesus' prophecy that "there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down" (Mark 13:2).

On the remains of the steps below the Huldah Gates, we sang “We Love Thy House, O Lord.” This is an area where one can actually say, "I walked today where Jesus walked," because this is the way Jesus and the apostles, like other Jewish pilgrims, would have entered the House of God.

The arch of one of partially exposed Double Gate that led into the Temple Courts
The now closed Triple Gate leading into the Temple Courts
Our group on the temple steps

Gordon's Calvary and the Garden Tomb

After time off for lunch in the Jewish Quarter and a little time for shopping and individual sight-seeing in the Old City, Rami drove us to our final destination.

As British and other European Protestants increasingly came on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century, the often found the Holy Sepulchre and the Greek, Roman, and Armenians rites celebrated there to unfamiliar and even off-putting.  In 1883, a visiting British general named Charles Gordon became interested in a rocky escarpment north of the Old City not far from the Damascus Gate. It was close to the spot where tradition held that Stephen had been stoned to death (see Acts 7:54-50), and Gordon wondered whether this might also have been a place where crucifixions took place. In fact the rocky cliff face looked much like a skull, which was the meaning of "Golgotha." When an ancient tomb was discovered nearby, he wondered whether he had found not only the actual place of the Crucifixion but the site of Jesus's burial as well.

The Garden Tomb Association was organized to purchase, develop, and maintain the site, and it is now a lovely venue to recall the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason it is preferred by some Protestants and many, if not most, Latter-day Saints. In my 2011 book on Holy Week entitled God So Loved the World, I wrote this about the differences between the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb:

The identification of the Garden Tomb is not without its own problems. Archaeologists have dated the tomb itself to the seventh century before Christ, much too early to have been the “new tomb” described by the Gospels. Although it is possible that earlier tombs might have been adapted and reused in later periods, this unlikelihood, together with the lack of any earlier local traditions about the site, makes it uncertain that the Garden Tomb could actually have been the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.

Nevertheless, in many ways the Garden Tomb provides an attractive alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because it provides a place that some Protestants and Latter-day Saints find more conducive to reading, praying, and quietly reflecting on the miracle of the Resurrection. In addition, two LDS Church presidents, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball, felt strongly about the location when they visited it. Perhaps one way of understanding the seemingly conflicting suggestions of archaeology and tradition on the one hand and sentiment and inspiration on the other is to remember that, in the end, we commemorate events, not places. The essential point is that we celebrate the truth that on that first Easter morning, Jesus came forth from a tomb in a garden where his body had lain.

I have found that I feel the Spirit in both places but for different reasons. In the traditional site, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I am stirred by the visible devotion of countless pilgrims who come there to honor the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Over the course of two millennia, their faith has made that site sacred. But near the Garden Tomb I am better able to imagine and relive, in a sense, what that first Easter was like. And I draw inspiration from the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said, “Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, in this place or somewhere nearby was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the body of the Lord was interred.” (God So Loved the World, 101)

The Garden Tomb Association provided us with a  nice, Protestant Irishman as our guide. He let us sing “Upon the Hill of Calvary” at Skull Hill.


After he left us for our devotional, I asked Drake Jennings to pray before we sang, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” I then taught from Luke 24, John 20, and D&C 76 before we sang “He Is Risen.” Brigette Wright offered our prayer before the group had time to go up to the tomb.


It was a wonderful way to end our pilgrimage.

Salah and Rami then took us to Christmas Hotel in East Jerusalem for our Farewell Dinner, and what a farewell it was. For just over a week we shared meals, bus rides, historical discussions, fun, and spiritual experiences. It was a wonderful group, and I enjoyed each person in it. It was hard to say good bye.

God be with you, until we meet again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Jerusalem, Day 2

 The Temple Mount or "Noble Sanctuary"

We started Wednesday by having Rami drive us around to the Dung Gate, which is the southern gate of the Old City closest to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. After passing through security, we went up a rickety wooden bridge that gave us access to the Mughrabi, or "Moroccan," Gate, which is the only one by which non-Muslims can access the top of the Temple Mount, which our Muslim friends call al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf or "The Noble Sanctuary."

The Dung Gate, by which one accesses both the Western Wall and the Temple Mount
The Mughrabi Bridge and Gate, which is the only way non-Muslims can enter the Haram as-Sharif

The rickety bridge overlooks the women's worship area of the Western Wall Plaza

After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in A.D. 70, the Temple Mount platform remained empty, except for a possible Temple of Jupiter that Hadrian might have built there after A.D. 135. But by the Byzantine Period, which is the Greek-speaking, Christian, Roman period, it was left abandoned and had become a garbage dump, because the Christians thought that left it as proof of Jesus' prophecy that one stone would stand upon another.

When the Muslim Arabs conquered Jerusalem in A.D. 638, Omar, the second caliph, cleansed the area, and it became the third most holy place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. They saw it as the "farthest sanctuary," where the prophet Muhammad was believed to have ascended into heaven and where he prayed with all the prophets before him, and Omar built a small mosque, which later was replaced with the current Al-Aqsa Mosque.

First view of Al Aqsa as we entered the precinct
Looking at the main entrance of Al Aqsa
Only Muslims can enter Al Aqsa, but our local guide, Salah, took these pictures for us
The miḥrāb, or prayer niche showing the direction of Mecca, and the minbar, or pulpit, from which the Friday sermon is preached.
The paved area of the Haram as-Sharif covers the same area as the Second Temple Court of the Gentiles

The back of the Golden Gate, now sealed, on the east central side of the mount
The Golden Gate, which was built in either the late Byzantine or early Umayyid Period, was probably built on the site of the Shushan Gate, that opened directly into the temple courts. According to Jewish tradition, the Shekinah or presence of God, entered and left the temple through this gate, and one Christian tradition is that Jesus entered here on Palm Sunday. Some traditions also claim that either the Jewish Messiah, or Elijah, as the precursor of the Messiah, will return through this gate. In Muslim tradition, one side of this double gate is the Gate of Repentance and the other the Gate of Mercy. An Ottoman cemetery in front of it ostensibly would keep Elijah, the Messiah, or any false Messiah from entering.

Only Muslims can enter the Dome of the Rock

The most famous site on the mount is the Dome of the Rock, begun in A.D. 687 by the

Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik. It rises about the Foundation Stone, upon which the ark of the covenant probably rested in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple and which was the only thing in the holiest sanctuary of the Second Temple. The Muslims venerate it as the place from which Muhammad ascended. Only Muslims are allowed inside of both the Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, but Salah, as a Muslim himself, was able to go inside and take these pictures for us.

The Pools of Bethesda, St. Anne's, and the Via Dolorosa

After taking our pictures outside of these sanctuaries and when we had walked around the old temple platform, we exited the mount from the northeast gate by the Lion's Gate and came on to the Via Dolorosa, or traditional route of sorrows.

A model of the Pool of Bethesda "with five porches" about the time of Jesus
The Byzantines later built a church here in the dike between the two pools (from the model of the Byzantine city at St. Peter's in Galicantu)
First we went to the site of the Pool of Bethesda, which in Jesus' time was a double pool, probably used for ritual purification for those who wanted to enter the temple (the upper pool probably emptied into the lower, fulfilling the requirements for "living water" that could be used in a miqweh bath). There was also a tradition that those with infirmities who entered it "upon the moving of the waters" could be healed, a tradition that persisted into the Roman period, when it became the site of a temple to Ascelepius, the god of healing.

Here I taught the story of the healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda from John 5, talked about blood and water imagery in the Gospel of John, and led our group in singing "Rock of Ages."

Salah telling us some of the archaeological history at Bethesda before I started our devotional

We then went into the Crusader-era Church of St. Anne on the site, which has marvelous acoustics. As I was leading our group in singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," I saw another Latter-day Saint group led by my friend Tony Sweat enter, so I invited them to join us in singing "Come Ye Children of the Lord." They had some younger children in their group, so I invited them to come forward and sing the first verse of "I am a Child of God," after which we all sang the final two verses.

Singing inside of St. Anne's
We then walked along the traditional Via Dolorosa, which, since the eighteenth century, has started at the site of the Antonia Fortress and follows various stations of the cross in the Muslim and Christian Quarters until it comes to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can read my more detailed description of it when I brought my mother and niece to Jerusalem in December of 2011 here.

The traditional  Ecce Homo Arch, where Pilate supposedly presented Jesus

The spot where, according to tradition, Simon of Cyrene picked up the cross
In reality, when Pilate was in Jerusalem (the usual capital was Caesarea on the coast), he probably stayed at the old Palace of Herod, now south of the Citadel by Jaffa Gate.

The Pool of Bethesda, St. Anne's, and much of the Via Dolorosa actually lies in what is commonly called the Muslim Quarter, but one will find mosques, churches, and settlements in all of the various quarters of Jerusalem. 

Here is the traditional Via Dolorosa with all of the stations of the cross marked:

Image result for via dolorosa map

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Our group outside of the Holy Sepulchre, which is now entered on the south side.
Our next stop was the traditional site of the Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection, all of which have been contained through the years in different versions of a sprawling church complex. Because of so many changes to the site with each new phase of construction, it is very difficult to imagine what the place of crucifixion and the nearby tomb might have looked like, but a series of artist's renditions can help us envision the developments.

As early as the First Temple Period, there was a quarry well outside of the city walls. By the Second Temple Period, this quarry was no longer used, but it still lay just outside of the Herodian City walls at the time of Jesus. Near one of the main gates and on the road to Joppa, it was used as a place of execution, and the sides of the quarry walls provided ready-made sites to excavate tombs.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, except for a legionary camp, the entire city lay empty until the emperor Hadrian decided to build a new Roman city called Aelia Capitolina on the site. Part of claiming the entire site for the new pagan city was appropriating earlier sacred sites. For instance, a temple to Jupiter is believed to have been built on top of the Temple Mount, and, because the quarry site seems to have been important to local Christians, it was filled in and a temple of Venus was built there.

When Constantine's mother Helena came to the Holy Land looking for sacred sites, local Christians pointed to the temple precinct of Venus as containing both the place where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried. Her son gave her permission to destroy the pagan temple, and on the site a large Christian complex replaced it that included a basilica, the rock of Golgotha, a courtyard called "the sacred garden," and a rotunda over the site believed to be Jesus' tomb. The original cave had been cut away and all that was left was the burial shelf, so a small structure called the Aedicule was built over it under the dome.

The original Holy Sepulche complex was destroyed by the mad Fatimid caliph al-Hakim in A.D. 1009. Although the Byzantine emperor no longer controlled the Holy Land, he paid to have it partially rebuilt, and this new, smaller structure was finished with a complicated floor plan by the Crusaders.

The net result is that the site has much in terms of archaeology and tradition to recommend it, but the confusing floor and worship patterns unfamiliar to some Protestants and many Latter-day Saints make it difficult to identify with the site. Still, it is important to come here, and the faith of millions of Christians over almost two millennia has made it truly sacred. 

The rock of Golgotha has been largely covered over with Latin and Greek altars that now sit on top of it. But a Chapel of Adam under it has a window behind its altar that shows a piece of the rock.
The crack in the rock supposedly was formed by the cross being driven into it. According to a legend (better, an allegory), Adam had been buried on this site, so the first to benefit from the saving blood of Christ was Adam when the blood flowed down this crack.
A larger portion of Golgotha can be seen through this window.
The Aedicule under the Rotunda is said to contain the remains of the tomb of Christ

The Chapel of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea behind the Rotunda features shaft graves (Hebrew, kokkhim) that were typical of the time of Jesus

Teaching in a corner of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo courtesy of Carol Belnap.

The inconostasis (altar screen" of the Greek Katholikon or chapel

The mosaic of Christos Pantacrator ("Christ the ruler over all") in the smaller dome over the Greek chapel

After leaving the Holy Sepulchre, we had lunch (schnitzel and falafel again, though a few got pizza) in an open area near the Church of the Redeemer called the Muristan. 

The Jewish Quarter

After lunch we walked through the Jewish Quarter, which had been largely destroyed during the Jordanian occupation of 1948-1967. After Israel seized the Old City after the Six Days War, it was rebuilt, but the previous destruction provided an opportunity for archaeology. Before new building were built and some old buildings, like the famous Hurva Synagogue, were rebuilt, archaeologists were allowed to work, and their efforts uncovered some amazing finds.

First we saw the Broad Wall, which was part of Hezekiah's expansion of Jerusalem on the Western Hill in the First Temple. It was populated largely with refugees from the northern tribes who had fled to Judah's capital when Israel fell to the Assyrians (because the Book of Mormon record maintains that Lehi and Laban were from the tribe of Mannaseh and Joseph Smith is reported to have taught that Sariah and Ishmael were from Ephraim, then these early Book of Mormon families may have lived in this very area.


Although we did not see them, palatial mansions of chief priestly families and other aristocrats have also been uncovered in this area (you can see two of my earlier visits and discussions some of these sites here and here). We did see, however, some of the excavated Cardo, which was one of the main streets of Roman and then Byzantine Jerusalem.

One side of the Cardo with a typical Roman colonnade.
In this picture from a previous trip, Eric joins his buddies from the Roman era, giving them a thumbs up.

The Cenacle, and the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu

We then exited the Old City through Zion's Gate, which takes its name from Mount Zion, the hill outside of the city walls immediately south of the Armenian Quarter (and so southwest from where we had been in the Jewish Quarter). Zion was originally another name for the temple mount, but in the Byzantine and Crusader Periods, they misapplied it to this area, which had been within the larger Byzantine city and was important for some of its churches.

Image result for Zion gate jerusalem huntsmans

The Byzantines had built a large church called "Holy Sion" on the site that they believed was the place of the Last Supper (the Syrians have another site, St. Mark's, in the Armenian Quarter; for it, go to this blog entry and scroll down to "St. Mark's"). When that building was destroyed, the Crusader's built a later building now called the Cenacle (which means "the dinner place"). Before we entered this small, usually crowded upper room, we first gathered in a place of the side of the street that I often find more conducive for devotionals than the site itself. Here I talked about the Last Supper and the institution of the sacrament in 1 Cor 11 and Mark 14. We sang “While of These Emblems, We Partake” before taking them up to the Cenacle. 

The interior of the Cenacle
The other church we went to on Mount Zion was St. Peter's in Galicantu, built, many believe, on the site of palace of the high priest Caiaphas. Not only does it commemorate the Denial of Peter (hence the name, "St. Peter of the Cock's Crow"), its lowest levels contain the remains of a first century dungeon where Jesus might have been held.

Scourging area in the palace's dungeon
We walked out the back amid the remains of the first century palace and talked about the Denial of Peter and how, like him, we fail but we can also be redeemed. We then took a picture by some first century stairs that might have been the ones by which Jesus was brought up from the Qidron Valley after his arrest.

Group picture from the Mount of Olives

We got on the bus at St. Peter's, and Rami drove us up on to the Mount of Olives, where we took a group pictures from the lookout point in front of Seven Arches Hotel, which has one of the best views of the Old City.


It was a long but wonderful day!