We got to sleep in until like…7:00 am. The hotel breakfast was worth getting up for though. By all accounts, the Israelis know how to do coffee.
We needed to be at Herod’s Jerusalem praetorium by 8:00 because Curtis had pulled some strings and they were opening especially for us despite the night of Purim parties. We also needed to hurry through the key sites we wanted to see because it was Friday and many things were shutting down early for Sabbath.
We had seen a fair bit of Herod’s handiwork by now but there was still a lot more to come. Herod’s Jerusalem praetorium is a fairly recent dig which has answered a lot of open questions about where much of the Roman occupation force would have been housed.
Pilate would have been staying at this location at the time of the trial of Christ. In fact, Jesus likely would have been tried on the steps Curtis later took us which are now just an inconspicuous stack of rocks jutting out of the city wall. Pilate would have been roused to preside over the trial of this humble Jew and the crowds chanted, “Crucify him! Crucify him.” But we’ll come back to that.
After a quick walk through the remains of what was once a pretty impressive complex complete with numerous swimming pools (I don’t believe there are any cruise ships with more swimming pools that what Herod had) They let us up the narrow metal stairs onto the ramparts and we walked on the top of the city walls to our next stop of the day. Your friends have not done this. It was fortunate for us because we had five minutes to do a 10-minute walk to the Western Wall. As we walked those thick, high walls it was crazy to think that Jerusalem, for all its defensives, was attacked 52 times and conquered 44 of those with two complete destructions.
We were headed back to catch a new tour that will take you down to digs under the city that date back to first century and even the Hasmonean period (~100 years before Christ). We had a lively Jewish tour guide who very much seemed to enjoy helping us make sense of the various rocks we were looking at. Given all the destruction, it’s pretty amazing that they can piece together the story as much as they have; according to the guide, they have only finished excavating about 5% of the potential sites so we still have a lot to learn. One thing that we continually marveled at are the huge hewn stones used to construct the Temple Mount. To this day, they have no idea how some of those monsters were transported from the quarry.
We could see ways that the Jews had mixed their customs and ceremonies (like ceremonial baths and the many mikvahs) with Roman/Hellenistic ideas like theaters. It helps make sense of the scene back at those judgment steps when the religious leaders prosecuted Jesus:
“But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.” John 19:15
Some of the religious leaders had been put in place by Rome; some profited from the corrupt and lucrative temple system; some were perhaps just caught up in the excitement; regardless, Israel as a nation was less than a hundred years from their own independence with factions still wanting to rebel and others choosing to make the bold claim to have “no king but Ceasar.”
By the time we finished, the Jewish quarter was shutting down so we had lunch in the Arab quarter (and got ripped off a little bit, I might add…not that I’m bitter or anything). I was starting to get a little tired of roasted chicken, humas, and their many salads, but they also brought french fries. I never get tired of french fries.
My feet were starting to complain again from hours on stone, but we had to crisscross the city a few more times in order to get in the sites we wanted to see.
One, the Church of the Holy Sepulture. This is the traditional site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Meaning, it was identified by Helena sometime in the 3rd century. Churches have since been destroyed and rebuilt on that site a few times since and the current structure is partially owned and managed by like six or seven different churches. And while it may well be the actual site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it was hard to feel any connection for me because the place is so gaudy and even downright creepy.
So, to be frank, it was like a breath of fresh air when we went from there to the Garden Tomb. This is another site that has been identified as a potential place for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. And while we can’t know for sure where these history-changing events occurred, I love how the volunteers there–including our blind guide– encourage worship of the risen Christ. And I will just add, there are some compelling facts pointing to this site.
Did I mention we were taking things out of order? It just kinda worked that way. After a quiet communion there at the Garden and a few minutes in the gift shop, our feet hit the stone again and some of us chose to retrace the steps of Jesus the night before the Crucifixion.
We went out across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives where Jesus went to pray the night of his arrest. The Garden of Gethsemane was empty and there was a slight drizzle of rain that created a peaceful backdrop. There is a large stone there that many believe Jesus prayed on; and a large basilica–one of the few we went in our whole trip.
I could have lingered there a little longer, but we made our way back up to Jerusalem and through the sheeps’ gate and toward the general location of his first trial at Caiaphas’ house. He would later be taken to the Praetorium where we had started out our day or perhaps to the steps we had sat on–just outside the current city walls.
It’s a little hard to absorb it all–even when you’re there for a second time. And it probably didn’t help that we had had to take the places for the events of Jesus’ final days all out of order. But it still helped it all come together in my mind. And there is nothing quite like walking the city on your own two feet, experiencing the awkward blend of old and new; Jewish, Arab and Christian that wets my appetite to know more not only about the biblical history but also the current confusing culture unique to Israel.
Our day wasn’t quite done. We had high hopes to make it to Mamre; but turns out we’ll have to save that for another trip. We did, however, spend a few unplanned Sheckels in a cool gift shop and enjoy some delicious Mexican food in Bethlehem. To close out the night, we drove by the church of the Nativity. Like I said, we took things a little out of order. But we got the bookends right–we started the day with coffee and ended it with a hot shower and a pillow. In the middle, we marveled more than a little bit at this intriguing city of Jerusalem.