Mount of Olives panorama

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Jerusalem Day 2

The Haram as-Sharif or "Temple Mount"

We started Wednesday by having Levon 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
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.

The paved courts of the Haram cover the same areas of the Second Temple's Court of the Gentiles, where Jesus taught.

Looking through a defensive slit down at the Qidron Valley in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, which may have been the "pinnacle of the temple"

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.
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. 

With my colleague and friend Tyler Griffin and his wife, Kiplyn

Only Muslims are allowed inside of both the Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, but Salah, as a Muslim himself, went inside and took these pictures for my last group.

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 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.

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 miqveh bath).

A model of the Pool of Bethesda "with five porches" about the time of Jesus
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. Later, the Byzantines built a commemorative basilica church across the dike separating the two pools. This, in turn, was replaced by a slightly smaller Crusader church.

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)
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."

We then went into the Crusader-era Church of St. Anne on the site, which has marvelous acoustics.There we sang "A Mighty Fortress" and "I Am a Child of God."

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.

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 fifth station, which commemorates Simon of Cyrene's picking up the cross

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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.
This picture shows the older Byzantine columns with characteristic basket capitals behind with heavier Crusader capitals in front

The Aedicule, or shrine, which covers the remains of a first century funerary bench which was believed to have been where Jesus' body lay

The Chapel of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea behind the Rotunda features shaft graves (Hebrew, kokkhim) that were typical of the time of Jesus
Two kokhim shafts that demonstrate that this was the site of an early first century grave yard
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.
Before rejoining the group, Paul and I hurried with Tyler and Kiplyn Griffin to the roof of the Austrian Hospice, which affords some of the best views of the Old City.

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.

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.

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, Mark 14, and 3 Nephi 18 and 20. We then sang “While of These Emblems, We Partake” before taking them up to 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.

The church was full and the day was hot, so I let Salah, who was fasting for Ramadan, take a rest while I led the group to the bottom of the site rather than through it. We talked about Jesus’ hearing before Caiaphas and looked at the first century steps leading up from the Qidron Valley, up which Jesus may well have been dragged. We then went in to the basement of the church, where the “sacred pit” was empty. Descending into it, we talked about Jesus’ captivity, and I read Psalm 88. Some of our group were fading with the heat, so I let most take a break in the shop while showing the rest the model of the Byzantine city.

The so-called "Holy Stairs" are the remains of a first century stair case leading up from the Qirdon Valley. Jesus may have been dragged up these stairs before he was tried before Caiaphas.

We then ended our day early to get back to the air conditioned comfort of our hotel.

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