Our feet hit the stone early as we headed down to the City of David. There’s no way to describe out day without a little bit of a history review…If you are at all familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the little boy Hannah brought to the tabernacle at Shiloh would later anoint the first king of Israel, Saul, and the second king of Israel, David.
Roughly 1000 BC David conquered the Jebusite city on a finger of land sandwiched between the Kidron valley and the valley of Hinnom from the inside out by sending someone up the water shaft. He then moved the capital of Israel from Shiloh to this new city, called Jerusalem which not only had a strategic defensive but also an excellent water source, the Gihon spring.
The city was small but Solomon would later add on and build the first temple—a grand structure that would attract attention from around the world.
We descended on the City of David along with more tour groups than we had seen at any location we had been in so far in our travels. Curtis wanted to stay in front of them, so we didn’t linger long as we passed through the excavations of David’s palace and the likely residences of his staff.
Since the city’s position at the top of hill and it’s water source below created a vulnerability, King Hezekiah connected a water tunnel later to divert the water under the mountain and add to the impenetrability of the city.
We passed through the enormous caverns leading down to Hezekiah’s tunnel which still flows clear spring water. It was chilly, but once you get used to it, the water doesn’t seem so bad. We were the first of the morning through the long, impressive tunnel chisel into rock from two directions for a third of a mile to meet in the middle. It was a lot longer than you think it’s going to be and a little concerning if you’re claustrophobic. Thank goodness I had Lonnie behind me constantly saying, “keep moving!” It is dark, damp, and there are no emergency exits.
The tunnel ends at a pool of water which Jewish men still bathe in for ritual cleansing. We got through just in time to inconvenience a few who were waiting to take their baths in the chilly out of doors.
Despite all the defensives, Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC after a string of godless kings; just like Jeremiah prophesied that it would. There is evidence of the 18 month siege of the city and of course, the temple was destroyed and all of the implements carried off.
A lot happened between that time and the time of Christ, but the main thing to know when you are visiting is that when Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt by Nehemiah and the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, they were built on the hill above the original site. Thus, when we refer to the “Old City” and the “Temple Mount” we would be referring to the Jerusalem that Jesus would have traveled to during his lifetime, not the Jerusalem David would have called home. The mix of this history and the current structures in place make it difficult to picture the cities the way they used to be either at the time of David or the time of Christ (which were very different), but we could catch glimpses such as at the excavated portion of the Pool of Siloam—where travelers to Jerusalem for festivals would have bathed prior to ascending to the temple. There are some excavations revealing the original steps leading to the temple—one of the few places in Jerusalem where you can walk “where Jesus would have walked.”
We worked our way toward the temple mount—the site where the temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity and where Herod would later “renovate” on top of an enormous and impressive temple mount. Curtis took us up the actual front steps of the temple mount…you can’t access the mount itself from there anymore, but I didn’t realize how much happened there on the temple steps until we sat and looked at several of the verses. The Temple was the hub of Jewish life in Jesus’ day and he would have first been carried here as an infant, later be “lost” here as an adolescent and later make a nuisance of himself here as he threw out moneychangers and overturned tables of merchandise.
Herod’s temple, of course, was also destroyed as Jesus himself predicted and access is now restricted due to the site being controlled by the Islamic Waqf. We timed our day so that we would be able to enter the temple mount during the one hour it was allowing tourists. They confiscated the Bible one person in our group had in his backpack and they cracked me up by asking me to wrap my neck due to it being too exposed!
Jews do not go up to the Temple Mount for fear of stepping on the site of the Holy of Holies and thus pray and do their worship at the small section of the Western Wall of the mount that’s been exposed. But I thought it was worth the hassle of covering my collarbone to walk around the sacred site was well worth it even though it is now the site of a mosque and, of course, the Dome of the Rock.
They kicked us off the Temple Mount in no time at all which was a shame except for the fact that I was starting to melt under the raincoat zipped up to my chin.
We were ushered out through the Muslim quarter which was a buz with vendors selling food and trinkets. For a country so concerned with COVID, there were sure a lot of people in the narrow streets.
We eventually found our way to the Jewish quarter and to the Blue and White art studio. There, a world-class Messianic Jewish artist named Udi tells the story of Christ through art. He has become particularly special to our family.
We had walked about seven miles so far in this day and the fun was just beginning. It was Purim and the Jewish quarter was getting into party mode. They dress up in costumes and celebrate the historical rescue of their people from the wicked Haman through the story of Esther as if it were yesterday.
Technically, it was “free time” in the city but most of us followed Curtis back to the Arab quarter to meet up with a new friend–a licensed antiquities dealer with a winner manner and a crazy-disorganized shop.
Ancient Roman glass vases were pulled out of old shoeboxes stuffed with trash…he pulled out one valuable after another from shopping bags and piles of debri. It was getting chilly again so I was glad to be sitting by the heater upon which the tea kettle was perched.
What made the experience especially surreal were the recommendation letters he showed us from an eclectic clientele including Chuck Swindoll, Bill Clinton, Gavin Newsom, Metalica, and others. He has been featured in National Geographic on more than one occasion. We passed a few happy hours shivering and marveling at tiny treasures.
Eventually, my interest in food began to eclipse my appreciation of old coins and pottery and we walked outside the Jaffa gate to a classy Italian restaurant in the Mamilla mall. I was exhausted and my feet were complaining from a long day of walking on stone, but it was Purim and the city was still very much alive so we decided to pay an evening visit to the heart of the city–the Western Wall.
Did I mention the Jews know how to party? They abstain form a lot of things but alcohol is not among them. All in all, though, it seemed to be a sincere celebration of the deliverance of God.
On this particular day, we had walked about twelve miles and climbed the equivalent of 64 flights of stairs. We had covered about 1700 years of history from David to the Dome of the Rock. As we finally puttered our way back to the hotel, I didn’t feel like we could have packed much more into our first day in the Old City.