Day 5, Thursday January 26th, 2017 was our first full day in Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel. Jerusalem is divided into the Old City, surrounded by the ancient walls that grew and morphed over successive periods, and the New City, marked by modern boundaries. Unlike the rest of Israel, Jerusalem is divided into four areas that are more religious than political: The Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters. Our new US President’s comments naming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel departed the path of political correctness, but reflect a deep-seated sense of familiarity for readers of the Bible and Torah.
Here are two illustrations I found showing the Old City. The one on the left is a view that shows Golgotha and the tomb outside the city walls. The one on the right shows the four quarters of the city.
By the way, you can click on the days below to see my post about that day of the journey. If it doesn’t work, it may mean I havent completed my post for that day yet.
|January 2017 Israel Trip|
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This picture of a wooden model of the ancient Hebrew Temple was in a shop in Bethlehem. I have always felt a deep awe for the Temple, and its portable predecessor, the Tabernacle. Here again, you can see the motif of paired pillars (yesterday’s post) repeated around the Holy of Holies. Besides a sacred place of worship, this was a defensible fortress. The Romans complemented it with the fortress of Antonia which was as much a military barracks as it was a command post.
When we came into the city with our tour group, there was a bar mitzvah procession with horn blowers and music-making into the Old City. Mika explained that Tuesdays and Thursdays are big days in the Jewish Quarter for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We are outside the Dung Gate in this picture, and you can see the Dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background of the image at right. This picture of the Western Wall below shows the Dome of the Rock that commands Temple Mount peeking out in the background. The Western Wall, and some of the tunnels beneath are treated as sacred places because of their proximity to the most holy place of Judaism: the inner sanctum of the Temple.
In Old City Jerusalem, the most sacred places for most Christians are the fourteen points along the Via Dolorosa, meaning the “Way of Pain” or “Way of Distress” or “Way of Torture” which represent the path from the Judgement Hall where Jesus Christ was condemned by Pontius Pilate to the tomb in which His remains were placed after His death. The points are also remembered in the “Stations of the Cross” I saw in all the Catholic churches I attended as a child. I have, as a Catholic altar boy, followed and prayed the Stations of the Cross a couple times. But I don’t even remember the ritual, it’s been so long. The order of the Stations on the Via Dolorosa are:
- Jesus is Condemned to Die.
- Jesus is made to Bear His Cross.
- Jesus Falls the First Time
- Jesus Meets His Mother
- Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
- Veronica Wipes Jesus’ Face
- Jesus Falls the Second Time
- Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
- Jesus Falls the Third Time
- Jesus is Stripped.
- Jesus is nailed to the Cross.
- Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross.
- Jesus is laid in the Tomb.
There were some people we watched as they carried crosses along the way as part of their own personal pilgrimages or penance. The crosses were, of course, much smaller and lighter than the historian’s understanding of the crosses the Romans used, but the symbolism is striking. This artwork, combining sculpture and painting, was very evocative. I looked at it for awhile, and was touched by the pathos.
Throughout this tour, I was watching people of several different religions and of none, and how they responded to each of the places we visited and the things we saw. Mika alternated between describing political context, ancient architecture, and spiritual context, making the tour very rich and rewarding.
Mika used a microphone to help the 20 to 30 of us on each of the tours hear the narrative. But there were times when she kept her voice quite low in deference to circumstances where we were in the middle of church services or other things going on around us. In contrast, she encouraged us to join in the dancing at one of the Bar Mitzvahs and several of us did. It was really fun, and taking part with the local people was remarkably intimate. Though we are of different nationalities and different religious traditions, we felt integrated, almost as if we were invited to a person’s dinner table.
The Jerusalem Cross icon appeared over and over again. You can see it pretty well in the lower picture at left above the crossed arms. This symbol dates back to the 11th and 12 centuries CE and was actually a symbol of state for the “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” during the crusades. I had seldom seen it in Catholic churches I attended, but apparently the symbol persisted as the emblem of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and remains so today. Perhaps the manifestation of that Order is no more apparent than in the Christian Church at the end of the Via Dolorosa.
For most Christian tourists, the church of the Holy Sepulchre is a must-see landmark in Jerusalem. It adds another prominent dome to the many in the Old City, reminiscent of the multi-cultural and mixed religious heritage of the people of Jerusalem.
The exterior architecture and detail work of the Church is imposing and ornate, forming an unmistakable landmark in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. But the interior is even more ornate and richly appointed. Besides the Rotunda, there are at least ten separate chapels, each dedicated to some saint or event or the tomb itself. The murals, the ornate lighting, and the interior design could
keep me interested for weeks of study, each detail unfolding a piece of history and culture worth learning about.
As it turned out, we only had about an hour to see it, and only a couple minutes to go into the reputed tomb to see where Jesus’ body was laid after His crucifixion, and where Mary Magdalene came after the Jewish Sabbath to find it empty and meet the not-yet-ressurrected Lord. To me, this seminal event in the religious canon, Christ’s passion and sacrifice for all mankind to open the doors of heaven is the key to my faith, and my hope for that cleansing power. All the beauty and majesty of this place is wonderful, but it comes down to a question of faith: can I hold onto a belief in this sanctifying power, and change my behavior toward my fellowmen, treating all with love and caring, enough to demonstrate the sincerity of my conversion.
A completely different aspect of this tour was at least as important as anything we saw: I came to love Mika and David, Dorothy and Serena, Steve and Robin, Raj and Rohit, Chuck and Lynn, Lev and Ashley, Serge and Vera, Kimberley, Mark and Barry, Tatiana and Valentina, Vivian and her husband from Equador, the Filipina women and everyone on the tour. We shared some great experiences and felt a sense of mutual understanding despite our diverse backgrounds.
Near the end of the tour, Mika walked us through the Cardo at Jerusalem shown at right, showing the influence of the Roman era. We saw the Ruin or Hurva Synagogue that had been destroyed and rebuilt more than once in this city’s turbulent history. The first destruction was about 1721, and after it was rebuilt in 1864, the second was destroyed in 1948. After it lay in ruins for another 60 years, it was rebuilt to its current state just six years ago.
When I first came to Jerusalem in 1998, this was only a ruin, but a dozen years later, it reemerged. The simple elegance of this building, and the fact of its existence after mulitple attempts to eliminate it, inspire me. The spirit of renewal is strong in this place.