Summary: We started on the mount of olives, walked down to the garden of Gethsemane, narrowly avoided a terrorist attack, toured the pools of Bethesda, walked the Via Dolorosa to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then passed through the Christian quarter of the city where shopped before leaving for the day.
Mt of Olives: We started at the top of the Mt of Olives, which affords spectacular overlook of the city of Jerusalem in Biblical times. The Mt of Olives is on the East side of Jerusalem. There is a large valley called the Kidron valley between the mountain and the city. Covering the Mt of Olives are many graves of Jewish people who believe they will rise first when the Messiah comes. On the other side of the valley are the graves of many Muslims, who hope that the presence of the tombs will make the place unclean because there is a prophecy that the Messiah will enter the city from the East. They have also sealed up the Eastern gates to prevent him from entering the city from that side! They take Bible prophesy more seriously than many Christians. The prophesy is found in Zechariah 14:
“Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south.” Zechariah 14:3-4 NKJV
Jesus rode a colt into the city on the first Palm Sunday. Looking at the city, he wept over it. He also taught about the end times from here (recorded in Matthew 24), probably with the prophecy recorded in Zechariah in mind, knowing He would one day return to the place. Instead of riding a colt, Porter and Cheerio rode a camel!
On the mt of olives, we saw examples of the two types of first century tombs, the Kokhim and the Arcosolium. You can google those for more info, but based on the description found in John 19, Jesus was likely buried in the Arcosolium because it had a flat table where he could have been laid instead of shafts typical of the Kokhim.
Garden of Gethsemane: Descending the Mt of Olives, we came to an area recognized as the garden of Gethsemane, full of ancient trees, which is believed to be the location of Jesus’s prayer and arrest (recorded in Matthew 26). This is supported by a very old tradition. The courtyard outside a Catholic Church called the “church of all nations”, which is built on a crusader church built in the 1100’s, which is built on top of a Byzantine church built in 380AD. There are accounts of pilgrims coming to this place that predate those churches. Lending further support to the site, the word Gethsemane is Aramaic for Olive press, and archaeologists have found a channel used for olive oil processing in a nearby cave suggesting there was an olive press in the immediate vicinity. Josephus records that the Romans cut down all of the trees during the siege on Jerusalem, but olive trees can send shoot a from the stumps, so it is possible that the grove of trees dates to Jesus time in that way. There was a gentle rain appropriate for the somberness of the site. Next to us was the Roman Road out of town. We walked right down it to get to the place. Jesus had an easy way out when he prayed these words:
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. ”” -Matthew 26:39 NKJV
Terror Attack: After walking down the Mt. of Olives, past the garden of Gethsemane, we entered the Muslim quarter thru the Lions gate and turned into the pools of Bethesda. About 5 minutes after passing through the gate there was a terrorist attack at the same gate. An Arab man tried to stab a police officer, with the goal of earning a martyrs death. We heard the gun shots as he was neutralized. The city came to a standstill with all of the shops closing briefly. The streets emptied as police appeared everywhere and closed off the area. We passed by a Muslim school as we left the area where you could hear children shouting. We were told they were likely celebrating; it was the only sound in the city. The city is literally built on the bones of religious zealots as far back as history is recorded. It is a place of tension, the kind that can be felt.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” -Psalms 122:6 NKJV
The pool of Bethesda: While gunshots were being fired nearby, we were at St Anne’s chapel near the pools of Bethesda. The beautiful sounds of Christians singing hymns prevailed in the chapel, famous for its acoustics. There are actually two pools of Bethesda. The first (northern) pool was built in 800bc to collect water. A second pool was built in 200bc. They were huge pools, 40 feet deep. It is thought that they may have been used to wash sheep before going to the temple for sacrifice. John 5:5-9 records a miracle that took place in the pool here where a paralytic is healed on the sabbath and Jesus tells the man to carry his mat (a sabbath violation in the mind of the Jews).
Church of the Holy Sepulcher: After a nice lunch we walked over to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church is a crusader era structure located on the site of an early Byazantine church which encloses both Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where Christ was buried and resurrected. Archeological evidence supports the location. The tradition goes all the way back to 66AD! It also has 1st century tombs onsite, and the location is outside of 1st century city wall. The site is sad to visit, and not because of what took place there. There are 6 different Christian groups that are responsible for various areas of the church, and the groups do not get along at all, opposite of Christ’s teaching. There is a ladder visible in the picture below. It has been there since at least the 19th century. The 6 groups can’t agree on who can move it. Every year there are fights and riots between those “Christian” groups that the Israeli police have to break up. The place is in a historic location, but it does not represent Christianity because the people running it are not Christ’s disciples. Sad. Very sad.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:35 NKJV
Hike the Good Hike!
Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)