Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Continuing on our way around the Temple Mount platform, we made our way to the Southern Wall, currently undergoing archaeological excavations--as it has been since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967. From that side of the Mount we had great views of Jerusalem. Below us was the Kidron Valley, and across the way was a section of the Mount of Olives--but not the one usually printed in vacation brochures.:
We could also see the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives with its 70,000 tombs, the earliest of which are in caves in the mountian. Burials started here 3,000 years ago and continue to the present time.
It's proximity to the Temple Mount is important as Jews believe the Mount is where the resurrection will begin. Over the years, many Jews have come to spend their final years in Jerusalem just so they could be buried in this happenin' place.
I am a great lover of good graffiti, and it was fun to come upon this gem on our way to the Southern Wall. Each bird has its own shadow, giving this painting a three-dimensional quality:

The tops of two of the four minarets located on the Temple Mount peak out over the top of the wall:
Southwest corner of the Southern Wall
. . . along with the Dome of the Chain:
My husband's cousin Russ lived in Israel for a month in 1972 and helped with excavations around the Southern Wall. Archaeologists were uncovering the steps leading up to the entrance around that time. These are the same steps Jesus and other Jews would have walked up on their way to the temple, especially during Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot (the Day of Pentecost).
Russ, do you recognize your old dig now? How much has it changed?
The steps have been topped with smooth, flat stone to make them more accessible to tourists:
The steps lead to two sets of bricked-in gates: the Double Gates and Triple Gates, now collectively known as the Huldah Gates.The Double Gates have been almost completely obscured by an addition that dates back to the Crusader era, but the top archway of one of the two gates is still visible:
In contrast, the Triple Gate is clearly outlined. The gates led to tunnels and stairs that were the principal entrance to the Temple Mount during the time of Christ. 
Thomas Friedman, in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, tells a poignant story of Neil Armstrong's visit to Jerusalem after his famous moon landing. Archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov took Armstrong, a devout Christian, on a tour of the Old City. Friedman writes:

When they got to the Hulda Gate . . . Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere around there.

"I told him, 'Look, Jesus was a Jew,'" recalled Ben-Dov. "These are the steps that lead to the Temple, so he must have walked here many times."

Armstrong then asked if these were the original steps, and Ben-Dov confirmed that they were. [Must have been before the caps were installed.]

"So Jesus stepped right here?" asked Armstrong.

"That's right," answered Ben-Dov.

"I have to tell you," Armstrong said to the Israeli archaeologist, "I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon."
A sketch of the gates and stairs shows what they would have looked like in their glory. I don't know why the Triple Gate isn't shown as arches.

Still weary and dazed from travel, our jet-lagged group was happy to sit on the steps for a while and listen to Michael's lecture

There has been a lot of archaeological work done since Israeli Jews gained possession of this area n 1967:
This view from the base looking up to the Southern Wall shows the mikvehs, or ritual baths, that were used by Temple patrons for cleansing rituals.
A view of the same area taken from above:
Most purification rituals require total immersion:
Excavation work is also being done below ground:
We traveled away from the Southern Wall through additional archaeological sites, enjoying more views of the residential part of the city:
The Royal Quarter is a group of what experts says were once opulent homes built on a hillside and inhabited by Jerusalem's elite.
Chariots that must date as far back as the Roman era (or the Roamin' era):
Next stop: Hezekiah's Tunnel, an aqueduct built in the 8th century BC by King Hezekiah as a way to keep the city's water from flowing outside the walls of the city, where it could be used by Assyrian invaders.  
We descended flight after flight of stair in an area known as Warren's Shaft to get to the deep underground channel that contains the flowing water of the Gihon Spring, which in ancient times was the only source of water for the city.
Down, down, down:

The Gihon Spring, which emerges from an underground cave in the Kidron Valley, is mentioned many times in the Bible. Because it only flows when the cave fills up and the water comes out openings in the top, the water supply was somewhat undependable, and so the Pool of Siloam was built in the city to collect and store the water.

Hezekiah's tunnel is about 1,750 feet long and follows an S-shaped course. In quite a feat of engineering, excavators who created the tunnel began at either end, somehow meeting up in the middle. The average width of the tunnel is about two feet (I would compare it to the aisle of a bus), and after the initial soaring nine- to twelve-foot-high entrance, it is about six feet high through most of the tunnel until the end, when it opens up again, although there were places were we had to bend over to get through.

A sign warned us that the water was quite high on the day we were there, and Lucky Bob could zip off the bottom of his pants.
Of course, if Bob were just a little bit shorter, it appears the water would be up to his waist:

There is no electricity running through Hezekiah's Tunnel, but a lot of us had flashlights, and Lucky Bob had a headlamp. 
Um, Chris--where are your pants?  I guess that's one way to stay dry. (I think I'm going to get in trouble for posting this picture.)

I left my pants on. Here the water is hitting me about mid-thigh:
It took us about thirty minutes of steady walking to complete our reconnaissance of the tunnel. Even though it was cold and wet outside, and we were getting colder and wetter in the tunnel, we had a blast and were actually a bit sorry to finish.

The end of the road is the Pool of Siloam, the water storage area also used by Jews in Jesus's time for ritual immersions. At first we thought this little ditch was the pool:
However, we realized that the other side of the sidewalk was the actual site. These steps into the pool were only discovered and uncovered in 2004. Archaeologists are "100% sure" this is the site of the original Pool of Siloam.
This is one artist's idea of what the Pool of Siloam might have looked like when Jesus healed the man who had been "blind since birth."
Drawing from here
I love this late 19th century painting of the Pool by the French painter James Tissot:

John Chapter 9 tells the story of Christ "passing by" the pool and seeing "a man which was blind from birth." Christ declares himself to be "the light of the world," and then "he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And said unto him, Go wash in the pool of Siloam . . . . He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing."
Michael Wilcox's lecture at this spot focused on our need to wash the symbolic mud from our eyes, the mud that keeps us from seeing things that we should see.
Time to move on. We have places to go and things to see.

This classic treatise on the Middle East won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1989. Thomas L. Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and a New York Times columnist. In the first half of From Beirut to Jerusalem, Friedman writes about his time living as a foreign correspondent in Lebanon from 1979 to 1984, and in the second half he discusses his time in Israel from 1984 to 1988. Although written sixteen years ago, so much of the book is still relevant today, and a 2012 update brings in some more current issues. This is a great book for readers like me who know very little about Lebanon, and it is a great addition to the books I've already read about the past and present conflict in Palestine/Israel. Although he is Jewish, Friedman works hard to be objective, and his articulate first-hand accounts of bombings, terrorism, and brutality committed by Jews and Palestinians alike are both horrifying and thought-provoking.

"First, when it comes to discussing the Middle East, people go temporarily insane, so if you are planning to talk to an audience of more than two, you'd better have mastered the subject. Second, a Jew who wants to make a career working in or studying about the Middle East will always be a lonely man: he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Arabs, and he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Jews."   ~Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem 


  1. Love the picture of Russ in his East High shirt. Jealous of his experience as a young man. The Jews know how to get things done. Love what they've done to Jerusalem since they took control. The archaeology going on is crazy.

  2. Not surprised at all Uncle Bob was ready with a headlight.

  3. Clearly, the picture you identified as *me* is an impostor. *I* was wearing stretchy pants, rolled up to water-safe levels.
    I swear, we were on different tours that day. I didn't see anything like several of the pictures you posted. That's the joy of traveling--there's always more to see.

  4. Did you know you were going to get wet in the tunnels? What an experience! Interesting to see these sites.

    1. Yes, we knew there was water. They told us to bring water shoes, which we did. We weren't quite expecting it to be mid-thigh, however!

  5. Hi there, thanks for sharing your experience and photos! We are a church in Hong Kong and would like your permission to use an image of yours for one of our video projects. If this is ok, please can you email me at and how we can credit you? Many thanks!