I sit here at my desk in my room and I’m absolutely exhausted. I don’t even know where to begin with this day because it consisted of 10 hours out in the field learning about Jerusalem. This is the first day that I am finally feeling the weight of being in Jerusalem and the enormity of the history that surrounds me. This past week it’s been easy to walk around the city and get a falafel, hop in a few shops or get gelato in the new city, but I walked right by centuries old remains without even a glance. All through our walk today I was hit by the magnificence of Jerusalem. There is nothing like the hills and valleys, the Dome on the Rock, or the fascinating architectural remains that are littered all over the city. There were many times when I scanned the horizon and let my mind wander back to the time of David or Jesus and imagined what life was like back then and I felt such a peace that transcends all understanding because the God who was here when David ruled and when Jesus walked these streets is still the same God of today. I can’t even begin to fathom that! And the intricacies of what is left behind of those times just gives us more hope and trust in my Father, who still watches over the city of Jerusalem.
The first stop was to the Broad Wall (or Avigad’s Wall as it is sometimes called) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This was the wall that Hezekiah ordered built under thee threat of the Assyrians. It’s a thick wall, as the name suggests, and was put up hastily due to lack of time. We can tell that it was put up quickly because of the unevenness of the edges, which is unusual because the walls are expected to be uniform, especially on the outskirts of a city. It was almost 8m tall and was located at the north of the city, which is where most attacks come from because it is heading down the valleys, not up.
Next we went and got a good horizon line view of the South Side of the Old City, where we could see the City of David right below us and Jordan in the distance, along with Mount of Olives to our left and Mount Zion to our right. Dr. Wright explained about the psalms of ascent, and how the psalmists were so attached to the city of Jerusalem. My favorite part of this section is when he read the scripture Psalm 125:1-2 which says, ‘Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem so the LORD surrounds his people from this time forth and forever.’ This really hit home as we were looking at how these mountains really do surround the city and how they always have. It’s such a great promise, and one that I can now visualize and put my hope in for I have seen in my own eyes the comparison.
Next we descended down in the City of David and looked at the remains at what is suggested to be David’s Palace’s remains. I say suggested because there is still a debate going on here about whether or not there is enough evidence to substantiate that this was the Palace. However, it was still fantastic to see where someone important would have lived and how there was even a rounded stone with a hole on the bottom of it (I hope you can figure out what that is meant for), which was very unusual back in those days! We also got to imagine what David’s life would have been like, and it was also very easy to see how David would have seen Bath-sheba bathing across the Kidron Valley in the village of Silwan. That really made that Bible story come to life in my head! Then we descended further and saw the terraces that are mentioned in the Bible as Millo, which held up the sides of the valley and had to constantly be filled in.
The next part of the day before lunch we explored the ancient water systems. We got to go down into the tunnel that leads to Warren’s Shaft, and go down and see the entrance into Hezekiah’s Tunnel which connects the Gihon Spring with the Pool of Siloam. I think Hezekiah’s Tunnel is amazing because it was pure genius! When Jerusalem would get sieged, the water would be located outside the city. Hezekiah then decided to build a tunnel from the Gihon Spring so that the city could have water even when they were under siege! I am hoping to actually go through it sometime when it gets warm!
|Remains of Robinson’s Arch|
After walking up from the City of David back to campus (uphill all the way, of course), we had a great lunch and spent the second part of the day exploring some of the sites from the New Testament. This was definitely my favorite! We got to see part of the Southern Wall Excavations and talked about the history of Herod and his rebuilding of the Temple. This Herodian Temple actually took 46 years to build, and was the biggest open-air courtyard temple at that time. Some of the rocks that are in the foundation (the wall around the Dome of the Rock stands above it today) weight thousands of tons. It was so hard to imagine how they could not only carve out these rocks and carry them from the quarry to the temple site, but how they got them on top of each other! The most amazing part of that wall is the remains of Robinson’s Arch, which was the most dramatic entry to the Temple at that time. Today you can see where it jutted out from the wall, and to think that somehow they got those rocks to stay up there is just mind-boggling!
My favorite part of the day was when we walked from the Southern Wall Excavations around the corner to the Southern steps. Back in ancient times this was the main entrance to the Temple and when you stand looking South toward the City of David the view is incredible! Dr. Wright painted a picture of how the people would have seen markets to the sides of them and the City of David directly South. There is also a view of the Mount of Olives to the left and the Hinnom Valley to the right. Rabbis would come to these steps to teach their students and also the public. Both Jesus and Paul taught at these steps, and at that moment I was like, WOW! I am standing where Jesus preached. How is it even possible to fathom that? This moment was when it got real for me. I wasn’t just standing on old steps, I was standing where God’s Word was told!
Our final stop was to the place called Bethesda. This is the remains of a pool that we are not quite sure what exactly it was used for. It is thought to be the pool of Bethesda in John 5 where the angel of the Lord would stir up the waters and the first handicapped person in the water would be healed. Another theory is that is that it was a healing place used by a Roman cult, or that it was a mikvah (cleansing pool). No matter what it was used for, the pool looked awesome because it was so deep and there were arches that were well above where the water would have been. After we finished talking about the pool, we went up to St. Ann’s Cathedral, which is remembered as the place where Mary was born. In the Cathedral we were asked to sing a hymn, which seemed a bit odd. However, the moment we started singing it was magical! The acoustics in that cathedral are phenomenal, and our group sounded like a choir! After the hymn was done we could still hear our echo for a few lingering seconds.
That day was actually Sunday (I didn’t finish my blog), but I’ve had some time to reflect since then and it’s been great to see how much I am learning. It’s finally becoming real that I am in the place where Jesus walked. At the beginning I had kind of expected there to be this big moment where it would all become clear, but it’s not like that. It’s been more of a learning process where my faith is starting to intermix with my knowledge and also the emotions that come along with being in this place. I’m very excited to see where I go from here and how much more I learn from each field study. I can’t believe how much I have grown as a person already since I have left home, and I feel like I’m growing into my own skin and taking my faith on as my own. It’s great to have background and history to the faith that I’ve been brought up with as well. It makes it all seem more real!
On another note, last Friday we had our first Shabbat dinner, which is where we all dress up and the kitchen staff prepare a fantastic meal for us. We got to learn about the traditions of Shabbat and also sing a few songs in Hebrew. The best part of the dinner was definitely the Challah bread, which is a delicacy! It’s only made on Shabbat, so this Friday we are going to visit the local bakeries and get a loaf for ourselves: it was that good! After Shabbat we had a Vespers service with some worship and a few words from Dr. Wright. It was a great night as a community and I look forward to Shabbat’s to come.
One thing that I appreciate here is how close you get to people when we’re all in the same situation. All of us are missing people back home but are excited to get the most out of this experience. That means walking into the Old City as much as possible (amongst the homework) and going out at night in the New City. Some of the best parts of being here is the laughs I’ve shared with friends and the building of new friendships. I had been planning on watching the Super Bowl (it started at 1am here) but when we got to the place it was full and there was a minimum amount you had to spend to stay there, so a few of us got some gelato and went back to get some sleep. I appreciated it the next morning at my 8:30 am class!
I get to go to the Beit Jala school this week on Thursday to get to know some of the kids and put out some posters for the soccer team. I would appreciate your prayers as this process is starting out. I hope that I get some girls to show up to a meeting next week! I am very hopeful about this opportunity and am excited to try something new!
Classes have been great this week. I find myself being challenged to think in new ways that are way above my normal trains of thought. Some think I may have a slight disadvantage here because I am the youngest and many of the other students have 2 or 3 more years of college experience than I do. However, I find this to my advantage because I am being challenged to work harder and advance my thinking skills in order to keep up with the demands of the class. I am already making connections between classes that I might not have thought about before and retaining knowledge better than I have. My History of the Church in the East class is quite difficult, but I’m going to work hard at it so that I will learn something. I am even starting to enjoy the class, which is a big change from last week!
Finally, here is the verse I’ve been pondering this weekend. 1 Corinthians 2: 4-5 ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.’ This is what is keeping me grounded, because although I have all this new knowledge, it means nothing without God’s power.