My Visit to Jerusalem
Dreams Come True
I am truly blessed to have visited the Holy Land in October, 2009. I wrote about the first half of my journey in my Hub My Trip to the Holy Land. The second half of our sojourn was six days in Jerusalem, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Many of these photos were taken by David Lawrence.
I traveled with a group of 18 souls, led by the outstanding teachers, Dr. Skip Moen, and Messianic Rabbi Bob Gorelik. Among those in our group were my good friend John Thorman, an excellent writer and business consultant from Ocala, Florida; Bill Asma, a learned lawyer and fine family man from Winter Garden, Florida; Amy Gomes, a lady from Clermont, Florida, who devotes her life to the welfare of Ukrainian children with special needs; Patrick Sullivan, a young web site wizard and entrepreneur from Phoenix, Arizona; his mother Cyndee Sullivan, a very spiritual and handsome woman; Matt Miller, pastor of Grundy Center United Methodist Church in Iowa; Kish Swift, recently widowed after 38 years of marriage and from Indianapolis; and the youngest member of our troup, Keith Cooksey from St. Louis, who met an Israeli girl and set off on his own tour the last few days of our trip.
Mount of Olives
Our first morning in Jerusalem began at the Mount of Olives, where Yeshua (Jesus) wept over the Holy City. Jesus ascended to Heaven from the Mount of Olives and here is where He shall return at His Second Coming. From there one has a panoramic view of Jerusalem. 150,000 Jews are buried on the Mount of Olives, including thousands of rabbis. While under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, 1/3 of the graves there were desecrated by Muslims.
We descended to the Garden of Gethsemane, long a focal site for Christian pilgrims. It was here that Yeshua prayed the night of His arrest; here that Judas betrayed Him with a kiss; here that Jesus was arrested. At the Garden of Gethsemane (means oil press) a church was built at least as long ago as the 4th Century that was destroyed by Muslims in 614. The Crusaders rebuilt the church, only to see it destroyed by Muslims again in 1219. In 1924 the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations opened on this sacred site. I think the Muslims have their eye on it, too.
Our next stop was the ancient City of David, the original Jerusalem, which lies just outside the much newer "Old City" walls. Kind David ruled here 3,000 years ago, after conquering the city from the Jebusites, who had a city there for probably 800 years. We walked the 533 meters of the 2700-year-old Hezekiah's Tunnel, discovered by American Edward Robinson in 1838. We stopped for a lesson from Rabbi Bob at the Pool of Siloam, where Yeshua healed the man who had been blind from birth.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation. It seems that several years ago Muslims decided to expand the mosque now on the Temple Mount of King Solomon, and illegally excavated and dumped huge quantities of archaeological fill in a secret place. The reason for the secrecy is that Muslims deny there ever was a Jewish Temple—laughable if not that many Muslims believe this propaganda—and do not want archaeology to prove otherwise. The Jews found the landfill and moved it to Tzurim Valley National Park, which is where we went to participate in the dig. Our discoveries included coins, mosaic tiles, potsherds, marble fragments and oil lamps. An interesting fact about archaeology is that nothing written in the Bible has been ever proved wrong. On the contrary, many Bible stories have been scoffed at by intellectuals and scientists only to have later archaeology prove the Bible correct.
Late in the day we went to the Israel Museum, founded in 1965, where we viewed the enormous Model of Jerusalem in the Late 2nd Temple Period. Built in the 1960s, the model shows a recreation of how Jerusalem is believed to have looked at the time of Jesus. From here, went next door to the Shrine of the Book, where we were allowed to view sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
That evening, many of us traveled to check out the night life on Ben Yehuda Street.
Early in the morning, we went to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall. This is what is left from the Second Temple, which was built on the foundation stones of the Temple of Solomon, the King of Israel of 3,000 years ago. Jews pray and cry near it, and notes to Heaven are placed in its cracks. I put a prayer note there myself. More than a million notes are placed in the wall each year, which are collected and buried on the Mount of Olives. We were blessed to go early on a weekday when there were not many people there. During Jordanian rule (1948-1967) Jews were barred from the wall.
We then ascended to the Temple Mount, known in ancient times as Mount Moriah. This is the most contested piece of land in the world. Many Jews will not set foot on the Temple Mount as they consider it too sacred. It is believed that this is where God created Adam and Eve; and where the Holy of Holies was located, the most sacred site in Judaism, once home of the Ark of the Covenant. In the 4th Century, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, built a church on the Mount. In 691, after conquering Jerusalem, Muslims tore down the church and built a domed octagonal building on this spot for political reasons—to obscure that this was a holy place for Jews and Christians. This building is called the Dome on the Rock.
The Rabbi's Tunnel runs underground next to the Western Wall. Here one can see one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by human beings without powered machinery, the Western Stone. It weighs in at 570 tons.
On the eastern side of the Temple Mount is the Golden Gate, or Beautiful Gate. For Jews this is the gate through which the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. To Christians, this gate will feature in the Second Coming of Yeshua, and be the place of the Last Judgment. The Golden Gate is the oldest gate in Jerusalem and the only one visible from the east. It was sealed shut in 810 by Muslims, who also built a cemetery in front of it in 1541, in the erroneous belief that the presence of the dead would stop the Messiah from coming.
In the afternoon I wandered around the Old City of Jerusalem. The Armenian Quarter has been occupied by Armenians since 95 BC and is centered around the St. James Monastery, built on the site of the prison where Jesus was held prisoner before His crucifixion.
The Jewish Quarter is an area of Jerusalem where Jews have lived for 2,750 years, and 19,000 Jews live today. The Jews were expelled in 1948 by the Jordanians until they returned after Israel won back Jerusalem in 1967.
The Muslim Quarter has a population of 22,000, and includes a lively Arab market and bazaar.
The Christian Quarter has at its heart one of the holiest places in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This Eastern Orthodox Church is built over the site where many say Jesus was crucified and buried. Protestants do not believe it is in the correct place—which I will address later in this article. This site was venerated by Christians in the 1st Century but then covered with dirt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian out of hatred toward Christianity. Constantine rectified this insult by building a church here in 326. His mother, Helena, oversaw the excavation and construction; and allegedly discovered the Tomb of Jesus; and the True Cross on which He was crucified. In 1009 the church was destroyed by Muslims. Europeans were shocked at this destruction of the most holy place in all Christendom and this led to the Crusades. The church was rebuilt in 1048. Custody of the Church today is shared among Orthodox, Catholics, and lesser so the Christian Churches of the Armenians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Syrians.
And so I walked on the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) that is according to tradition the path Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion.
The next day we got on board our little bus and headed out of town for a day trip to the Dead Sea. As our magnificent tour guide Ariel informed us, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth. The water is 34% salt—more than ten times the salinity of the ocean. Because of this, absolutely nothing can live in it. It is an eerie feeling to go into the Dead Sea. I walked in and by the time the water got waist-deep my feet drifted right up toward the surface. These waters are well known for their therapeutic qualities. The Dead Sea is actually a lake, 51 miles long; 11 miles wide; and 1083 feet deep.
On the way there, we drove by the caves at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These priceless scrolls were found by a Bedouin nomad, who sold them for $29.
We stopped at Ein Gedi, where David took refuge when he was pursued by King Saul. David wrote many beautiful Psalms in the caves here.
Our other destination for this day was the ancient mountaintop Fortress of Masada (Masada means fortress—so that may be redundant). Finally, our feet caught a break as they had a cable car to ascend the mountain. It was here that 968 Jewish rebels committed mass suicide in the year 73 AD rather surrender to the Romans. This is an incredible archaeological site. Herod the Great built awesome palaces and waterworks here about 34 BC, that because of the dry desert air are wonderfully well preserved today.
For our penultimate day in Jerusalem, our scheduled first stop was Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust. Here one gets the true perspective of the Jewish people as to why the modern State of Israel was an absolute necessity no matter the cost. The Yad Vashem Archives has collected information regarding three million of the estimated six million victims of the Holocaust. It houses 74 million pages of documentation; over 2 million pages of testimony given by 46,000 of the survivors; and 350,000 photographs. When exiting the museum you suddenly step from a dark corridor into bright sunlight and a stunning view of Jerusalem.
We proceeded to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization founded in 1901 to purchase land from absentee Muslim landlords for development by Jews who were beginning to move back to their ancestral homeland. The JNF has since planted 250,000,000 trees in Israel, reforesting what once was a barren desert wasteland. The JNF has also developed 250,000 acres of land for agriculture, residences and businesses; built thousands of miles of roads; constructed 200 dams and reservoirs for this parched nation; and established more than 1,000 parks. Each of us planted a tree in an inchoate forest area.
The Antonia Fortress, named after Mark Antony, was built next to the Temple Mount by Herod the Great. It is believed by some to be where Yeshua was brought before Pilate.
The Upper Room is where Yeshua taught His disciples and instituted Eucharist (Holy Communion) at the Last Supper. This is also where the Apostles regularly met; where Jesus appeared after the Resurrection; and where the Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost. The current building was constructed in the 13th Century by the Crusaders. On this site originally stood a Jewish synagogue later used by the first Jewish Christians. The Roman Emperor Theodosius built a church above it in 394. The Muslims razed it in 1009 but the Crusaders rebuilt it. The Muslims destroyed it again in 1219 (I'm starting to sense a pattern here) before it was restored by Roman Catholic Franciscans to roughly what we see today. The Muslims took it in 1552 and converted it into a mosque and Christians were not permitted to visit it again for 400 years—until the State of Israel was formed in 1948.
The Pool of Bethesda is where Jesus healed the man who could not walk. It is also interesting to visit all seven of Jerusalem's gates, which are actually mini-fortresses.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Mahane Yehuda Market, where you can buy most anything it seems. It was very busy as Jews were stocking up for the Shabbat (Sabbath). I saw (and tasted) there the most beautiful fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts I have ever seen.
Our last stop of the day was back at the Western Wall to witness the joyous Shabbat celebrations of the Jews. The place was packed. They were singing and dancing and praying—people of all ages. It was an unbelievable scene to see this much public praise and worship of God.
All good things must come to an end. Our last day in Israel began with a drive out to the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz, where we could view Bethlehem, the birthplace of Yeshua. But we could not go there, since our driver, tour guide and Rabbi Bob are of course, Jews. We did have a nice view of the Shepherd's Fields, where David tended his sheep and where the angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
The last stop of our tour was to be the Garden Tomb and Calvary. I mentioned earlier that Protestants (and Jews) have largely rejected the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as regards to the Crucifixion and Burial place of Yeshua, primarily but not solely because the Church is within the walls of the Old City. Catholics believe Protestants rejected the Church because of anti-Catholicism. In 1883, British General Charles Gordon found a rock face that looks like a skull (even after years of erosion) and nearby a tomb, carved out of rock, next to a garden. A large ancient winepress and a huge cistern were discovered near the tomb, consistent with a wealthy landowner such as Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb has a stone groove just outside its entrance that would be used for a stone wheel, weighing perhaps 3 tons, to seal the tomb. Our guide explained that the skull-like rock face is right next to the Jerusalem-Damascus Road—the busiest road of its day in the area—and that Jesus would have been crucified in front of the rock, not on top of it as is depicted in movies. The Romans were famous for crucifying people right next to busy roads to scare the travelers—this was no city for mischief.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world—with settlements dating back 5,000 years—and home to nearly 800,000 people. It is known to have been attacked and captured 44 times. There are 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques in the city. Jerusalem or Mount Zion, on which it was first built, appears in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) 823 times; appears in the New Testament 161 times; does not appear in the Quran at all. 100 years after the Muslims first conquered Israel in 638, they gradually began calling Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims, recognizing that it was the most holy city on Earth to their religious rivals, Jews and Christians. Before the 8th Century there is no mention of Jerusalem in Muslim literature. But once they took the city, as per their custom, they began destroying everything in sight. That is why it is difficult to ascertain the exact location of some of these holy places.