Israel Day 4 – Old City Jerusalem
Do you remember I told you how surprised I was at the size of Jerusalem? I think part of me expected that today’s Jerusalem would still be within the walls it’s always been in. Silly, I know. But that’s my brain sometimes.
One of my ah-ha’s yesterday was that there is a section in this bigger-than-I-thought-it-would-be-city that is the Old City, the Jerusalem within the walls. That’s where we begin today…
Our morning wake-up was earlier than usual today because we had to rush out in time to stand in line. You know, that hurry-up-and-wait game we’re all so good at.
BUT, today the wait was definitely worth it. We were able to enter the walls of Jerusalem.
Through the Dung Gate.
Luckily, the use for that gate is no longer for the dung and trash or our line-waiting would have been very odorous!
What’s so special about the Dung Gate?
It leads to the Temple Mount!
We have learned SO MUCH history in the past two days, I’m pretty sure we have mush for brains now. But it’s all so fascinating!
I’ll try to give a short version of why the Temple Mount is such a big deal.
- God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation that would be His (God’s) people.
- Abraham’s son, Isaac, had a son, Jacob – Jacob’s name changed to Israel when he wrestled with God for His blessing. (It’s a long story that you can read about in Genesis 32).
- Israel had 12 sons, each of whom became the head of a tribe – the 12 tribes of Israel.
- Because of famine, all of Israel’s family moved to Egypt. When the new Pharaoh took reign, he enslaved them.
- Hundreds of years later, God had Moses lead the Israelites out of captivity.
- During their years in the desert, God’s presence traveled with them. God had Moses put together an elaborate tent for His dwelling. They called it the tabernacle.
- The Israelites finally entered the Promised Land, still using the tent for God’s dwelling place, their holy tabernacle.
- Eventually David becomes their king. While he desired to build God a permanent dwelling place, it was his son, Solomon, who built a massive, beautiful Temple. In the center of that Temple was a small area called the Holy of Holies, where the Spirit of God dwelled.
Solomon built that Temple in Jerusalem (about 950 BC)…at what is now called the Temple Mount!
Jesus at the Temple:
- Jesus was presented as a baby at this Temple.
- It’s also where His parents found Him at the age of 12, hanging out with all the teachers of the Jewish law.
- Jesus worshipped there.
- And this is where He overturned the money changers’ tables.
Other quick history notes about the Temple:
- In 70 AD, the Roman Empire totally destroyed the Temple. It’s never been rebuilt.
- In 135 AD, Hadrian rebuilt the city in Roman fashion.
- In the 7th century, the Muslim’s leader Mohammed was believed to have ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount, so this location became sacred to the Muslims.
- In 692 AD, the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock, the current sanctuary on the Temple Mount.
What ALL that means for today is that THREE religions see the Temple Mount as their “most holy place.” Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
As a result, the tension between these groups is not only heated when debated spiritually, but politically as well. Each one believes they have the right to claim Jerusalem as their own.
The solution – divide it up! (Recall the Church of the Nativity!)
The Jerusalem inside the walls is divided into four quarters: Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim.
Today we entered the Muslim Quarter through the Dung Gate. The Muslims have control of Temple Mount.
Today is the day we saw the most guns, the most armed soldiers, and felt the most tension. We never felt threatened or in danger, but we got a front row seat to the tensions between the Muslims and Jews.
The line was long because, just like traffic narrowing down for a construction zone, we funneled down to a security check gate that is reminiscent of an airport, only without body scans.
Once through security, we walked up a raised ramp (over the Jewish Quarter and Wailing Wall) and into the Temple Mount proper.
So much to share. So little space.
It was definitely my holy moment of the trip. I couldn’t quit thinking, “This is where Jesus walked. I am where He was.” I wasn’t the only one overcome with the realization.
Spiritually we’re rocked, and simultaneously, we’re emotionally shocked.
Pockets of Muslim women were circled in small study groups all over, peaceful at first. Then their shouting started. Turns out there was a rare Jewish group allowed in. The women’s shouts were meant to be reminders of who has control of the Mount.
So eerie. So fascinating.
The Temple Mount is HUGE. It’s a raised platform of limestone that is actually on top of a famous “mountain,” Mount Moriah. I have nothing to compare it to…maybe several football fields long AND wide? On it are a mosque, sanctuary, several smaller buildings, multiple areas of trees, and lots and lots of limestone slabs that line the ground. Ariel told us hundreds of thousands of people will pack into the Temple Mount for Muslim holidays.
We took many pictures. Saw the East Gate from the inside (the sealed one). And finally headed out toward the west wall.
Outside Temple Mount were Muslim residences. It was little much for my brain to compute. People actually live next door to this holy place.
To exit the Muslim Quarter and enter the Jewish Quarter, we had to go through another security check point, but a much shorter line.
Once inside the Jewish Quarter, we made a beeline to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. It was a busy Thursday because of the many Bah Mitzvahs being celebrated, but it wasn’t too hard for us to find our way to the wall to pray and leave a written prayer in a crack in the wall.
Men pray on one side, women on the other. We followed suit.
I’ve rarely felt so surrounded by prayers. Standing there before the wall of the Temple Mount, I felt a part of a long story, a rich history, a divine and holy place. There just aren’t words to describe it. Truly.
The Jewish Quarter…I absolutely fell in love with it. Its beauty. Its smells. Its people. Its food. Its history. And we only had two hours there. Can I go back?
One of the amazing things about the Jewish Quarter is that most of what we walked through above-ground was built on top of archaeological dig sites. We went underground for a while to see for ourselves a home of a rich family that has been partially uncovered. Just amazing. Helps me get an idea of what life was like in Jesus’ day.
We also got to see the “Broad Wall” that Nehemiah was responsible for building when he was allowed to return to Jerusalem from exile.
All of these walls, buildings, tunnels…they’re amazing works of architecture. No one has yet to figure out how they were able to lift these huge chunks of limestone to build with. Our cranes today can’t even do that!
We left the walled city through the Zion Gate. So cool.
Except I didn’t want to leave.
Our final stop for the day was at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Ariel told us it would be the only stop on our tour where he hoped we wouldn’t enjoy it.
There’s nothing to enjoy about remembering the holocaust, but the way they went about memorializing it was magnificent. The entire building was shaped in a triangular fashion so that the walls would feel as if they were falling in on us.
Then they had us zig and zag through each room in a fascinating and almost rhythmical fashion that followed the chronological history of this era of horrors.
It all ended through glass doors out to a dramatic view of the Judean hills. It gave us a sense of hope for the future.
By the time we all got on the bus we were zapped physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
It’s time for dinner, a shower…then sleep.
Tomorrow we’ll tour sites that explain the beginnings of Jerusalem. So, more on King David and a few others! Till then, richest of blessing to you!