Holy Land Wanderings – Day 7 – The Old City and the Western Wall

Either I am staying too late or these nights are getting too short or I am just getting too tired. Nevertheless breakfast, no matter how early, calls my name and I obey its call everyday. Most days in Jerusalem that is at 6:30AM. Our group is holding up very well.

Yesterday began with a quick bus ride to Yad Vashem, The name means “a name and a place,” and it is taken from Isaiah 56:5 – I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Yad Vashem is an archive, research institute, museum, and most importantly, a memorial of the more than six million who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

It was a somber way to start the day, but the visit was an important one. Throughout the museum we deal with history and the pathos of humanity. We are also given the chance to reflect and hopefully look ahead. In fact the exit of the museum opens out onto a large sweeping porch that overlooks the city of Jerusalem.

It was a marked contrast to leave the reflective morning of the museum to enter once again into the marketplace. In this case we visited an antiquities dealer whose family helped preserve the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The Kando family has a display of one of the clay jars whose contents included the scroll of Isaiah.

We made our way to a Kibbutz and enjoyed a meal together. As I have written in the past, there is no danger of going hungry.

Following hummus and all the other side dishes and meats one could as for, we made our way to the Old City, entering through the Jaffa Gate. Winding through the narrow streets of we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is in the judgment of many, the most important complex in all of Christendom. It is believed to be the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Helena, daughter of Constantine was the first to suggest a basilica to be built and so one was constructed between AD 326 and 335. It was at the time the site of the Temple of Aphrodite, which was demolished, cleared and excavated for construction. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times in its nearly 1700 years’ existence.

Crossan describes the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as one of the few sites with any credibility of being original, second to Peter’s house in Capernaum. We do know that when the site was excavated for construction in the fourth century that it was the location of an ancient Jewish cemetery.

Fierce debates continue regarding ownership. During the Ottoman empire in 1852 a decree known as the Status Quo divides the ownership among Armenians, Greeks, Egyptian Coptic, Roman Catholics, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syrians. “Everyday, the church is unlocked by a Muslim keyholder acting as a neutral intermediary…” a task held by a member of the same family for several generations. (DK Eyewitness Travel, p. 94)

On the roof is the Deir al-Sultan monastery, built nearly a thousand years ago. There is a ladder placed near the entrance 100 years ago and it has not been removed because of debate or who is responsible.

We left this church, filled with its complexity of traditions and history and briefly visited our guide’s church, the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. It is one of the oldest churches in Christianity and its congregation continues to worship within its comparatively simple walls.

Caiaphas’ house was our next where we viewed the probable location of Jesus’ imprisonment before facing Pilate. In the depth of an old cistern there were ancient Christian inscriptions and markings. We shared together a reading from Psalm 88 that begins: “O LORD, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.”

We end our day at Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb – traditional but not historic sites of the crucifixion and burial. It is located within a beautiful garden much like an English landscape. There is a dual-chambered cave that Anglicans and Protestants claim could have been the tomb of Jesus. This tomb was excavated in 1891, but archeologists generally agree that it was a Jewish tomb of about the first century B.C. and was later used as a Christian burial place.

Today most scholars agree that this particular tomb was unlikely to be the site of the burial of Jesus. The tomb itself is too old and the trough was not a groove for a stone (those would be vertical) but water for a cistern. Nonetheless it provided a nice background for a special time for services and meditation. Jake Malone and I shared communion with the group, Wade Blount led in music, and several others participated with prayers and scripture reading.

We ended the day with another lovely meal at the hotel. Of course that was not the end of the day for several of us. Since Jerusalem is a city that doesn’t sleep at night we hit the stores alongside the Old City. No one bought a thing but the site-seeing was fantastic.



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