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i thought they would be wearing cowboy hats here… day thirteen

May 11, 2010

We’ve reached our final day in Jerusalem. We still have one more day to go, but it will be spent in outlying regions. So even though this isn’t the last day of the trip, it kind of feels like it. At least we used it to see some pretty amazing sites.

Though before any of that began, we had a worship service in the hotel. Oddly enough, this Sunday we were in our hotel’s bomb shelter. It made getting visitors difficult but the acoustics were unbelievable…

Ferrell gave the lesson this week, tying it into much of what we had seen over the previous two weeks, but focusing on the 24th chapter of the gospel of Matthew. The point made was that while we have seen much built – and much destroyed – over the millennia while in Israel, that Christ is the ultimate builder, and not of buildings, but of lives. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man speak about the Lord with more sincerity than brother Jenkins and it’s been something else to listen to him help the Bible become “colorized” over the last two weeks.

Once services were over, the group loaded up on the bus and we made our way to the pinnacle of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount.

The Muslims only allows infidels (that would be non-Muslims) to ascend the Temple Mount until 10am, so we were somewhat rushed to get everything in. Though as usual, Elie saw to it that we saw and learned about everything he wanted us to.

Just getting into the Temple Mount complex is an effort in itself. Aside from the extended march you have to take up a make-shift platform that runs alongside the Western Wall (affording a unique vantage of the Wall, itself)…

…you have to go through a security station and metal detector. There is definitely a noticeable military presence in this city. Guns have long freaked me out, but after a couple of days of seeing the tips of guns pointing in every which direction, I’m beginning to become numb to the sight of them.

But moving on to the Temple Mount, itself…

The complex is much bigger than you imagine it. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but I would say that the area is roughly the size of four football fields. Huge. And parked right in the middle of it all, the Dome of the Rock. (But we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.)

Located on Mount Moriah (where Abraham took his son Isaac to be sacrificed), the first temple was first built by King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, being completed in 966 BC after seven years of building. In 586, the Babylonians destroyed it and set into motion the ‘Babylonian Captivity’. The temple was rebuilt under the direction of Zerubbabel and dedicated in 515. As the centuries passed by, the temple fell into poor condition until the year 20 BC when Herod the Great, as part of his massive building projects in the Roman province of Judea, started work on a “refurbishment” of the temple complex, expanding its grounds significantly. Herod’s temple was destroyed – as clearly prophesied – in the year 70 AD. The site stood desolate until the 7th century AD when the Muslim Dome of the Rock was built atop Mount Moriah, and that gold-lined mosque has stood until today.

Any questions?

We began our walk around the complex in what was known as the Court of the Gentiles in Jesus’ day. The Temple Mount had, effectively, four tiers: the highest one contained the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter, the second was the Court of the Priests, the third the Court of the Israelites (obviously, you had to be an Israelite to enter that area), and the fourth was for gentiles – basically ancient tourists. (Not much has changed, has it?) I had always imagined the Court of the Gentiles as being a small, overlooked area pushed off to the side. Oh, no. Probably 2/3rds of the mount is taken up by the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this area where the Greek tourists desired to see Jesus and besought Philip for an introduction (John 12).

After some more time atop the complex we circled around to the highest level where the Dome of the Rock is located. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the Dome, but we were able to get as close to the exterior as we wanted. Muslims believe that Mount Moriah not only was the location of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, but also from where Mohammed ascended to Heaven. Interestingly enough, there is another spot, just some thirty yards from the Dome, called the Dome of the Spirit, where some scholars believe the Holy of Holies actually resided. This location gets its credence from the fact that it aligns perfectly with the eastern Beautiful Gate, which the High Priest was to be able to see from the Holy of Holies.

From there, we spent the rest of the morning in the Jewish corner. We saw some 1st century houses (much bigger than you would have thought) that have recently been excavated. They were interesting to see, but I’m not sure there’s much that I can say about them in a blog that would really make them sparkle.

But while in the Jewish quarter I did make a purchase. (It looks like Erin has already ridiculed me for it.) One of the few things that I knew I wanted to purchase while over here was a Hebrew Tanakh – the Old Testament to Christians. It took some doing, but I finally found a bookstore that sold them. They also had Hebrew/English Tanakhs, so I bought one of those, as well. It’s divided into three segments: the law, the writings, and the prophets. There are commentaries in this one in English, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to glean some additional insight into the original languages. So much of what was written in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible has to be ruined in order to get it into English, as the differences are just so great between the languages.

So get off my back with the lack of even a fundamental knowledge of Hebrew!

Our final action from within the Old City of Jerusalem was to have a proper visit to the Western Wall. As you know, Erin and I had come on our own to the Wall two nights ago to experience the beginning of Sabbath. But this time, there were only a few Jews praying at the Wall. The rest of the prayer plaza was filled with “white hats”. Men must have their head covered to enter the prayer area, so for those who don’t bring anything with them, white yarmulkes are supplied at the entrance. You can pretty much tell who isn’t actually a Jew by whether or not they’re wearing these small, round pieces of silk.

The Western Wall is the remaining portion of that expansion undertaken by Herod the Great. While Jews can go to the top of the Temple Mount, very few are willing to do so out of a fear that they might step on holy ground. Therefore, to most Jews the Western Wall is as close to where the Holy of Holies once stood as they can get. To them, it is the most sacred spot on earth.

The Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall. When European pilgrims visited the site in the last few centuries they observed the devout Jews praying at the Wall with a mannerism that resembled (and sometimes actually was) excessive sobbing, or… wailing. Though few Jews would, themselves, refer to it as the Wailing Wall. That would be a bit akin to Texans referring to “the Alamo” as “that place where the Mexicans whooped us”.

Just as a point of comparison so that you can see how many more Jews show up at the Wall on Sabbath as opposed to any of the other six nights of the week, I took this picture Of the Wall from the same location as the one Erin took on the Sabbath, only two nights later. Noticeable smaller crowd.

Once you get close to the wall you can see small pieces of paper shoved into the cracks between the stones. These are prayers that have been written down. It’s interesting that when these prayers are cleaned out that they aren’t thrown away. Since they’ve been incorporated into the wall, they are considered holy and therefore are buried in a cemetery.

I must say, the Western Wall is one of the more profound places I’ve ever been to. Sites of historical significance are a dime a dozen around the globe, but every do often you come across one that still manages to meet its weight with regard to modern relevance. The Western Wall is one of them.

Our next stop was just outside the southern end of the Temple Mount, to the steps that once led up into the Court of the Gentiles. It was from these steps that Jesus would have spent some time teaching in front of the Pharisees and other assorted listeners.

From the southwest corner of Herod’s wall, a right-hand turn to the north confronts one with significant ruins from the temple’s destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. The indention in the ground level is from where a giant arch fell to the ground.

To round out the day we stopped by the Shrine of the Book museum and its scale of model of 1st century Jerusalem.

The Shrine of the Book museum contains actual fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls, along with the Aleppo codex. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the museum so I don’t have any pictures to show you. But suffice it say that laying eyes directly on some of the most important manuscripts of all-time was really something.

The outdoor model was also something to behold. Spanning some 20 yards square, it is a massive and extremely detailed recreation of what the city of Jerusalem would have looked like during the reign of Herod the Great. Here is the view of Jerusalem facing west:

And with that, it was back to the hotel and the conclusion of our final full day in Israel. Tomorrow evening we leave for the States. It’s definitely coming as a shock how quickly we went from thinking how great it was to have so many days left on the trip to now realizing that they’ve all come and gone somehow without anyone apparently realizing it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    May 11, 2010 9:23 pm

    I am sure you will have another post once you get home, but I wanted to thank you for taking me on the journey with you. It was beneficial to get to hear about the sites as well as see them with your help. I look forward to being able to make a journey over there one day soon.

  2. Stacy permalink
    May 11, 2010 9:58 pm

    Ah the memories! 🙂 It was a great vicarious trip.

  3. May 12, 2010 7:35 am

    Yes, a great traveling through Jerusalem … and wonderful pictures !! Thanks !!

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