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.

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