“On that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that there were many breaches in the city of David, and you collected the waters of the lower pool. You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or have regard for him who planned it long ago.” (Isaiah 22: 8-11, NRSV)
Part of the Tel Akko Excavation’s Total Archaeology approach is to take in the larger context of the dig—the present day city and its history, the surrounding landscape, the people groups and cultures, the land of Israel and its history. Today, to get a better understanding of the unique challenges Israel faces, we visited the capitol city, Jerusalem, another of the six “Mixed Cities” and filled with spiritual pilgrims from three of the major religions in the world: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
As we walked through the Jewish Quarter during Saturday Shabbat, it was very quiet. The only activity was in the grand courtyard adjacent to the Western Wall of the temple mount, where many Jews from all kinds of denominations had come to pray: men to the left, women to the right, and on the other side of a rampart, the egalitarian section where families could pray together. Cutting through this area is what seems to be a cobbled together tube, completely enclosed, heavily guarded, rising up to the temple mount. No Jew is permitted access, so passports are necessary to enter.
As we walked to the Christian quarter to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we passed an impressive excavation of the wall that surrounded the old Jerusalem during what’s called the First Temple Period—when Solomon’s temple still stood, and Judah had not yet been conquered and exiled by the Babylonians.
The wall is massive, 147 feet long, 23 feet thick—you can read a little more about it on the Rova Yehudi site.
Looking at it, it really came home to me, the reality of the stories we so easily read in the Bible. This wall was built hastily, workers tearing down all the nearby houses to not only clear the way, but to reuse the stones. It was a life-and-death matter. And here it now is, a silent reminder of the ancient, and turbulent history of this city.
All we had to do next was turn a corner, and the quiet, empty streets were suddenly vibrant with color and aromas, stall after stall of brilliant textiles, gleaming gold and silver objects, brilliant ceramics, filled with people, and noise, and commotion. For the Christian quarter, Saturday is not sacred, so everyone was bustling about, tourists, shop owners, students, tour guides, families, and lots of kitty cats darting everywhere. As we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we were told a little of its contentious history, and the millions of devoted believers who go there to worship.
If the streets of the Christian corner were filled, they were nothing in comparison to the Church. The lines were three and four people broad, and so long they curled around each other like conch shells. They waited patiently to touch, kiss, and rest their hands and heads
…on the rock upon which Jesus’ cross stood
…the stone where His body was laid before being interred
…and the fresh grave where His body lay for three days
…are all housed in this one, massive 11th century building, that was pretty much crumbling before our very eyes.
We didn’t have time to enter the Armenian or Arab quarters, but I hope Dave and I will get our chance next week.
[Cover Photo: Church of the Holy Sepulcher | israeltourism from Israel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]