Saturday, June 2, 2012

Holy Lands Day 22: May 31 Old toilets, arches, and human greed

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

Psalm of Ascent #134, the last one.

Ancient toilet, a block of stone hollowed out
It's off the the City of David and recent excavations dating to 2005. In the last year, there have been changing views of Jerusalem with new finds and controversies over what they mean. Only 3% of Jerusalem has been excavated to date. During ongoing excavations, archaeologists have found floors covered with ash and a stone step structure that might have supported David's palace. An inscription reads "House of Achiel" (2 Kings 25:9. As we climb down multiple flights of stairs, Ilan points out a special item: an ancient block toilet, complete with hole for plumbing.

Across the valley from the slopes of the City of David lies the Arab village of Siluan with burial sites in yards. One grave found belong to Jahu (perhaps related to Is. 22:16, the person in charge of the house or temple); an inscription reads that there is nothing of value inside the tomb, only bones. This as sues that Jewish thieves 3000 years ago were literate.

Secular scholars perpetuate the myth that Jesus was an illiterate wanderer from an obscure northern village, whose followers made up and perpetuated myths about him. However, Jesus begins verses of scripture from the prophets and assumes that his hearers know the rest of the passage. Actually, he lived in a very literate culture that studied reading in synagogues and was well-versed in scripture.

The House of God had to be built higher than the king's house. The temple was built on Mt. Moriah (Abraham and Isaac story of Genesis 22), a holy site. People lived below the king in their neighborhoods. A 30-meter wall indicates a monumental building, perhaps David's palace.

Researchers found a water shaft in 1867. (British archaeologist Charles Warren; incidentally, in the year Canada was founded.) 2 Samuel 5:6 mentions the Gihon Spring, fortified by the Jebusites. We're underground with rock all around us. 1 Kings 38-39 says that Solomon was anointed at the Gihon Spring, and Hezekiah built a tunnel under the existing Canaanite tunnel to bring water into the city around 701 BC (2 Chron. 32:30). The tunnel is 553 meters long, about 1/3 mile.

The Shiloah Inscription tells us Hezekiah had one group of workmen dig from the spring - his other workmen dug from above - they listened for the sound of chisels and met in the middle Considering the digging of the Chunnel between Europe and Britain was off center, even with today's technology, that's pretty amazing! The slope is .9 cm/meter, moderate enough to bring water continually into the city.

We walk 88 steps up, then 25 down on the rocky slope to where David's tomb is possibly located. Alongside is a quarry where large stones were excavated. David was buried on Mt. Zion, wherever that is. The Raymond Weil arch was a monumental structure with arches - discovered in the 1920s. Quarrying destroyed much of it. A plaque discovered for the Theodotos synagogue reveals that synagogues had water and food for people from abroad during the 2nd Temple period: that was in addition to being a center for the study of the Law.

Josephus mentions the Pool of Siloam outside the city. After another long stair, we find a large ritual pool that would have received running water from the spring. Only 1/4 of its length has been exposed by archaeologists.

A monumental staircase to the southern wall of the Temple (Davidson Center) is our next trek. The full length of the stair was opened this year: even Ilan hasn't gone all the way up before. Coins, etc. were found, left by those who hid in the sewage canals under the stairs.

We go underground and go and go. It doesn't seem long to me but others mention that it's been a hike. I think my body is finally accustomed to steps and hiking. Our only breaks have been Sabbaths - wonderful for body and soul. The fresh food and lots of salads, the constant movements (usually up and down in this land of hills), and the interesting information has brought me out of my dissertation coma.

Parts of the tunnel are 1.5 feet wide and 4.5 high, though most of it is 2.5 feet X 6.5 or bigger. We step over cisterns on iron grates. The tunnel is over the ancient steps where the Psalms of Ascent were sung. One student reads the Psalms and others chant after him. We pass the base of the Western wall, prayers tucked into it even underground. The walk is gradually upward with series of stairs between solid bags of concrete (step-like) and dirt or stone pathways.

We come out at Robinson's Arch, which was destroyed. Huge boulders lie beside the lower part of the wall. A cover rock inscription mentions the Levite blowing the trumpet from the South corner. Shabbat is still introduced with the blowing of the shofar.

Top of the southeast wall
By the time we're at street level, we pause to wonder at the amazing architecture. Some of the stones of the Herodian Wall were 600 tons; the "small" stones were 1.5 tons. USA building cranes have a capacity of 150 tons... who and how did those stones move into place? They are set back precisely 2 cm on each level and not mortared. Rain drainage was cut below bedrock to create this largest religious structure in the Roman Empire. However, with Muslim buildings stuck on top, no temple ruins are accessible.

We sit on the steps beside the south wall. "Pentecost most likely happened in the temple," Marc asserts. Others heard the tongues, and pilgrims would have been at the temple. The language indicates a disconnect between the upper room (Acts 1) and Pentecost (Acts 2); no upper room would have been large enough to contain 120 people nor would there be thousands of listeners or ritual pools for 3000 baptisms as there was at the temple area that day.

Partial remainder of an arch in the south wall
The Herodian Gate on the south wall was an exit from the Temple Mount. "This is the only place we are 100% sure that Jesus was here," Marc continues. "We know he was at the temple and he would have exited this door. Don't take off your shoes. Jesus would have had his sandals on; no one went barefoot to the Temple."

The Ottomans (Turks) built a wall around the Old City that still stands. W buys a 12" sesame bread ring before we hop on the bus at 11:15.

Shimon drops s off at the Jaffa Gate. Pontius Pilate would have come to Herod's Palace beside the gate. Perhaps Jesus stood before Pilate here? Church tradition places the trial in Antonius' Palace further down and closer to the Via Dolorosa that bisects the Old City. Recent architecture relates Herod's Palace to the gate. The double moat is interesting: if the city walls were breached, attackers would have to cross a deep dry moat on the inner side.

 The Church of Ascension (also called The Church of the Resurrection) is outside the ancient city gates so crucifixion may have been close by. The Jewish leaders used the cloak of darkness as well as the post-Passover stupor from festivities, wine, and travel to hold the clandestine trial.

Marc mentions that if people had heard Jesus (a Jew) had been handed over to foreign powers to be killed, they'd riot. Instead, Pilate warded off any perceived messianic coup with a "done deal" the day of Passover. We walk through the Jewish quarter where Jesus would have been at home (though several layers lower.)

It's time for lunch at 12:45; we're told to meet back at 1:20. W chooses BBQ MEAT & GRILL; we share a shwarma burrito. Everywhere we look, there's a plaque or inscription in stone about donors who have provided the means to excavate, rebuild, or explore the country. Hospitals, museums, courtyards, art, archaeological digs, and new buildings ... Jerusalem has been rebuilt through the generosity of Jews in Canada and the United States.

Drummers enter the square, singing and chanting. One old fellow blows a trumpet. Everyone wears a T-shirt with on it. Streams of tour groups pass through the square, to the happiness of the beggar wearing a winter down jacket and yarmulke and holding a cardboard box. Lots of people contribute: he collects money for a while before putting the offerings in a money bag and pulling out his cellphone to chat.

There's no sense of danger in this modern bustling city with a throng tourist industry. Hearing the news of shootings in Seattle, New York, and LA, it seems more dangerous to go home! I point to a purple tree and some young army cadets try to figure out what it's called. A gal calls her mom: She calls it acarunga. Hm.

Low dining "table" on a 3-footed stand
Below the street after lunch, we visit a C1 AD villa through which a later road was cut. "These people have lots of water, mosaics, so we know they are wealthy," Mark says. The mansion showcases items found inside or nearby: 2 large stone water jars like Jesus might have encountered at the wedding in Cana, a huge dining room, wall frescos, imported china, and low tables for reclining diners.

Marc explains the menorah, the seven-candle stand that showcases God's seven days of creation and the seven days of the week. The menorah was often found in priestly areas in C2, so this home might have belonged to a politically connected priest.

The other candelabra we often see here is the Harmukah, a 9-branched affair representing the eight days that one day's worth of oil burned in the temple during the Maccabee revolt. This stand is pulled out for the memorial of Hanukkah.

 This 6,000 ft mansion shows people thriving under the Roman occupation. A priestly "mafia" existed -- violent, clandestine, maintaining power. Jesus' popularity threatened the ruling class: his teachings about the treatment of others and the abuse of power made him a target. "The issues are power, sex, and money. In this case, sex was not part of it. Jesus said God will cut off the priesthood because of corruption." Marc explains that Jesus spoke in the temple against sellers who were tied into these luxurious homes, so the bosses would want to destroy him.

Likely, the Bethany journey was too far during feast days, so Jesus and his disciples camped out on the Mt. of Olives with many others. Jesus probably was arrested at night so people wouldn't turn on the priests. Mark thinks the "crowd" shouting for crucifixion was leaders of Israel, not the people celebrating the feast. By the time the Passover participants awoke the next morning, the crucifixion was underway.

Marc explains that in 705 BC, 300 years after David, Saragon III (Assyrian king) died and Hezekiah refused to pay tribute. He knew a siege would come, so built water tunnels to make water accessible to the people and keep the city supplied in a region where water made life possible.

At 4pm, we meet Mashe, an Orthodox Jew who emigrated from Canada to Israel 26 years ago. He and his brother Dav own Shorashim, a scripture shop which serves as a focal point for 3-4 groups daily to discuss common Christian and Jewish roots and our understandings of God. His defining date is 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell: "Jews returned from the land of the north as promised in Ezekiel 37, Ps 123,  and Jeremiah 3:18: 'In those days the people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.'"

He speaks to us about the God of now. "What what God is doing," he encourages us. Why? Is. 25; 2 Cor 3:4 - all nations have a veil over them when they experience God. Expect a surprise rather than remaking God in our own image. Christians have been grafted into a living root, as in Romans 10:17-21. We can expect to see the final chapter of the Bible fulfilled, peace in the land, hearing how God speaks to us through the miracle is Israel's current history. Ez. 36 talks about Israel's children coming home to blooms in the desert and fruit. This is happening. Deut. 29 says that men of foreign tongues will testify against Israel - the desolation of the Holy Land would come, but Israel would be rebuilt as Jews from Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere returned home from places where they could not own land.

Though the vocabulary of Judaism and Christianity is similar, the meanings are not always the same. We believers ask others, "Do you love God? Do you know he loves you? Is God involved in your life?" speaking of relationship that is personal. Mashe says his whole life is devoted to God in expressing love through study of Torah and pleasing God. We ask, "How do you know you're going to heaven?" Orthodox Jews believe in heaven, salvation, and eternity, but with a present focus of, "Does this make God smile?" Pleasing God, not eternal salvation, is the goal. We also want Jews to "come out from under the burden of the Law." Mashe says that fulfilling the Law is a pleasure for an Orthodox Jew. Like a husband trying to please his wife, they are going beyond duty to wrap God's request in a lifetime of love rather than obligation

"The common thread for all of us in Israel," says Mashe, "including for you, is that you are here. Some of you have no idea why you came. Others came to evangelize or bless Israel. Yet you find God blessing and evangelizing you! The Father in Heaven wants to spend time with you. You will never be able to explain the trip to those back home. God brought YOU here to be a better servant."

Mashe explains that Israel's national symbol is the Menorah and two olive beaches, as per Zacharia's dream in Zach. 4:12. It represents Israel's partnership with God. "God is partnering with us. He does not choose us, but gives us the chance to choose him. For Christians, sin is a noun, an awful state of doing the wrong things. For Jews, sin is a verb, imperfection that is understood by a perfect God who made us. Take the step into the Red Sea and God will open the way and help you walk."

We catch busses back to the hotel at 5:30pm after free time, browsing the Old City. 

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