January 16, 2019
We began today with a visit to a location known both as Solomon’s Quarries and Zedekiah’s Cave. It is Solomon’s Quarries because Solomon quarried stone here for the building of the temple, as did Herod the Great when he expanded the courts for the second temple.
Evidence of the quarrying was easy to see. Even two and three thousand years later, you can easily see the rectangular outlines of the stones that had been cut from the rock here. Herod the Great used rocks from various quarries in order to complete construction more quickly, and so some, but not all of the stones we saw in the foundation of the temple courts probably came from this quarry. Remember, some of the stones we saw there were longer than a school bus. So this quarrying was an incredible feat.
Now, let me describe the quarry. It was not built on top of the hill. It was built into the hill. It extended back into the mountain a distance of around 250 yards, cut as a cave into the rock, angling down to match the slope of the hillside, entirely contained. In places it was so wide that they hold rock concerts there, and we walked through an area where they were preparing for a wedding reception (yes, underground). Other parts were narrower and felt more cave-like. If you think about it, quarrying in a cave makes a lot of sense in a world without dynamite and cranes. If you are standing above the rock and cutting it, you somehow have to figure out a way to cut underneath the stone without being crushed, and then how to lift it onto a conveyance. By quarrying in a cave, they could tunnel under the stone, cut it free on all four sides, and then, as they cut it from above, it could land on whatever conveyance they used to get it out of the cave. It was still an incredible feat though. Remember, this follows the slope of the mountain, so the farther back they want, the longer they had to drag these stones uphill to the entrance. How they managed it I have no idea.
This was also called Zedekiah’s Cave because of a legend that King Zedekiah fled from the Babylonian army by entering this quarry and working his way through the surrounding network of caves, making his way all the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, where they caught up with him and killed him. That is an awesome story, but it does not fit with 2 Kings 25, which describes him as fleeing through the city walls and being caught in the plains of Jericho. So we’ll leave that in the category of legend.
Tomb of King David
From there we headed to the Upper Room, but ran into a snag and so we paused at the nearby tomb of King David. This is a Jewish holy place, and so men and women are separated in order to prevent them from accidentally making physical contact with one another, which could, if a woman is in her monthly cycle, make a man unclean. Remember, contact with blood makes a person unclean according to the laws of Leviticus. For the same reason, orthodox men and women do not shake hands or otherwise make contact with one another when they meet in public, because it would be a source of embarrassment if a woman had to announce that she is presently unclean, or create an excuse not to shake hands.
The tomb itself was just a small room with a couple of writing desks and then the coffin.. Or, I should say, half of the coffin. The other half was in the women’s area. At a glance it looked like they had actually physically divided the coffin in two, but someone else said they thought that there was just a curtain that divided the two areas, and ran down the middle of the coffin. Either way, it was not a particularly intriguing site, because I would give it about a 0% chance of actually containing the bones of King David. When we asked Ikey how they know that this is the tomb of King David, his answer was, “I don’t think it is.”
We actually never made it into the Upper Room area. The snag I mentioned above was some kind of bag or suitcase or box that someone had forgotten and left in the room. That prevented our entry because when a package is left unattended in Israel, they call the bomb squad. We waited for a little while and talked about the upper room while standing by David’s Tomb, but when Ikey learned that the bomb robot had not arrived yet, he decided it would be best if we moved on. I know that sounds scary, but it really was not. There was no evacuation order, no sirens, and no yellow tape, just a couple of officers who told Ikey what was going on, and few extra police passing by while we talked.
While we were waiting, I read the Matthew account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, and Ikey reiterated what the scripture says about blood: that the life (or soul, or spirit, depending on the translation) of a creature is in the blood. That is why blood makes a person unclean, and it is also why the Law of Leviticus forbids the eating of blood. Think about that law. Then think about the pains to which the Orthodox Jews go in order to avoid even accidentally brushing up against someone who has been in contact with blood. Then think about the shock it must have been for the disciples to hear Jesus say, “Take and drink, this is my blood.” But, the life (soul/spirit) of a creature is in the blood. Jesus is giving us His life.
Ikey interprets the body and blood of Jesus to be a giving of life to our flesh (body) and life to our spirit (blood). The very physical nature of the Lord’s Supper does help us recognize that Jesus did not just come to save our souls. We need His body and blood because He is saving our body and blood, and one day we will rise as He is risen, to live forever, not as disembodied souls in heaven but as resurrected human beings, body and soul, in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
That is a good segue to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the traditional site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Whereas the Garden Tomb that we visited yesterday has only been a major Christian site for the last 200 years, this site has a history that goes back to the days of Emperor Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity. In other words, this is an old tradition, but uncertain.
Here we glimpsed the rock that was identified as Golgotha. This was the same kind of barren stone that we saw yesterday at the Garden Tomb, but the whole of this Golgotha candidate is contained by the church, so most of it was blocked from view by the stone walls of the building, and we could only see a couple portions of the hill. It was protected behind glass to prevent pilgrims from bringing a hammer and taking a rock shard home with them. In one place, we could see a significant portion of the rock wall of the hill through the glass. In another we could look through a smaller window and see a place where the rocks had split (as described in Matthew 27:51). If we had come to spend hours waiting in line, we could have ascended to the top and seen the slot in the rock where the cross was supposed to have been placed.
This church also contains a tomb, which, again, would have required hours of waiting in line to see. If I understand correctly, when the church was originally built, they supposedly cut away the stone all around the tomb in order to build an ornate structure to contain the relics from the tomb. I actually had to do a web search to figure out what was actually in the building because Ikey didn’t describe it very well, which tends to happen when he doesn’t give much credence to the tradition. Based on what I read, if we had gone inside we would have seen lots of religious artwork, a piece of stone said to be from the stone that had sealed the tomb of Jesus, and a slab of marble where they claim that Jesus was laid. People wait in line for hours and bring pieces of cloth or other items to rub on the stone and take with them to keep or give to others.
The other major site within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the stone slab on which they say Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Here we saw people kneeling and kissing the stone in adoration.
The only part of this that spawned more than just mild curiosity in me was the split in the rock. That impacted me a bit, not because it was overwhelming evidence that we were in the right place, which it was not, but because it was another moment of realization that said, “This really happened, and left behind traces that are still here today.” I don’t know for certain that I was looking at a split that resulted from the earthquake at Jesus’ death, but the earliest believers certainly could have come to Jerusalem to check out the story, and seen such splits that were not there the last time they came to town. This was a verifiable story that spread like wildfire, because the story added up and the evidence confirmed it.
As a site, this was mildly interesting. As a church, it was somewhat repulsive to me in a couple ways. This is supposedly the holiest site in Christianity, and it is maintained by a combination of different denominations including the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, and three others to a smaller degree. That results in competition and fighting, including, apparently, physical violence among the monks that has been caught on camera and posted to youtube. It has also resulted in disagreements about handling the maintenance of the building, which, in turn, has led to neglect. But the most obvious result of the division is the almost chaotic feel of the place, and a crowded ornateness that feels to me like the result of the different denominations trying to outdo one another. All that, coupled with the superstitious behavior of pilgrims there, made this a site that seemed to highlight the worst of the church rather than the best.
In order to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we walked though Jerusalem’s Old City. This is about one half mile by one half mile, which would make it approximately four times the size of Trinity’s 40 acres. Within that relatively small space, there is an Arminian Quarter, a Jewish Quarter, a Christian Quarter, and an Arab Quarter. The Jewish Quarter was by far the nicest area that we saw, for the unpleasant reason that it was completely destroyed by the Jordanian army in 1948. When Israel recaptured it in 1967, they rebuilt it from the ground up and had the opportunity to redesign it in a way that preserved some archaeology and created wider streets. And, of course, the buildings are all newer.
We passed through the market, most of which is populated with small three sided shops, open to the street. The majority are tourist traps, but Ikey made sure we went down the one alley that is not for tourists, and so we passed by a number of vendors selling the necessities of life: fruits, spices, clothing, and several butcher shops. The meat in the display cases looked good, ready to throw on the grill. The meat hanging from the ceiling was less appealing. The carcass of a large animal discarded across the alley from one of the shops, along with the odor permeating the area, was enough to turn my stomach.
The Western Wall is another part of the foundation to Herod the Great’s temple courts, this one nearer the former location of the temple. Because of its proximity to the temple where God once took up residence, it is treated by the Orthodox Jews as a place where God is present just as He was in the actual temple when it existed.
We did not come here for the archaeology, which was essentially the same as what we had viewed when we were in the Temple Court area a few days ago. Rather, we were here because this is the holiest place in the world for Orthodox Jews. You likely already know of the tradition of bringing written prayers and placing them into the stones of the wall, in order to petition God. We saw a number of Jews here praying, physically touching the wall, but when we were here it was relatively quiet. The impassioned prayers mourning the destruction of the temple that have given this area the nickname “the wailing wall” were not taking place.
This was a particularly somber moment for me, not because of any grief over the destruction of the temple. The true temple that is the eternal dwelling place of God is Jesus Christ, and that temple was torn down and rebuilt in three days. I don’t mourn the destruction of the temple. Rather, this was a somber moment because this area of the city and especially this site is dominated by the most orthodox of Jews, who are most stringent in their efforts to please God through their careful obedience to laws derived from the Scriptures and their rabbis. In other words, this is the territory of modern day Pharisees, who are confident of their relationship with God because of their own obedience more than God’s grace. Whereas yesterday I was writing about the heartbreak I experienced, mourning for the people of the city whose lives are consumed with basic human desires and the hope that a distant God will look on them with favor, here it seemed that the people around me were quite confident of God’s favor, having earned it through superior obedience to a superior law. And nothing hardens the heart against the Savior like believing that you do not need Him.
This is not to say that I was treated poorly or condescendingly or anything like that. I was actually quite humbled at the graciousness of the Jewish people to allow someone like me free access to such a holy site. Frankly, I felt like I had no right to be there. What I said above was just my internal reflection upon viewing the scene, which served as a reminder of how dangerous religion is apart from Christ. The better a person is at obeying the strictures of a religious law, the greater the false sense of security it gives, which undermines our awareness of the need for salvation by grace through faith. That’s why increasing obedience is not necessarily a sign of growing faith. An increasing awareness of the depths of my sin, which drives me back to my Savior, is a better formula for spiritual growth.
Finally, and forgive me for mentioning this in a context that should be so reverent, but the restrooms here were worthy of comment. They must be designed with the crowds that are attracted by major festivals in mind, because the men’s room actually had directional signs inside to help you find the part of the restroom you were looking for – they were that large. I have never before been inside a restroom where exit signs were needed to guide you back out. In the sink area there were two handled pitchers, which Ikey had explained were present because in order to be ceremonially clean, you need two handles on the pitcher, one handle to touch with an unclean hand in order to pour water and clean the other hand. Then, the ceremonially clean hand needs a clean handle in order to pour water over the first hand, which is why the pitcher can’t have just one handle.
I was careful not to touch the pitchers when I washed my hands, but again I felt like I simply did not belong in a place like this, where invisible rules govern behaviors I don’t understand, and an interloper like me could easily behave in a way that was disrespectful or offensive, simply from ignorance.
Shroud of Turin
Our last stop of the trip was at a museum dedicated to the Shroud of Turin. The shroud itself is not here, it is in Europe. But the museum walks you through the history of the shroud, which is a fascinating artifact that has been scientifically studied by experts in all kinds of different fields. It is, purportedly, the burial cloth of Jesus, and if so, then it carries the only actual image of our Lord that is more than just an artist’s best guess. The suggestion is that this image was imprinted upon the cloth by whatever energy radiated from Jesus in the moment of His resurrection.
If you want to dive into all the detail, I’m sure you can find websites that will explain it all more adequately than I can, but here are some of the intriguing aspects of the shroud.
- The image in the shroud is the equivalent of a photographic negative. Just as light through a camera lens would expose the film, and then the film would carry an image where the colors are reversed, the image in the shroud is the reverse of the way that we would actually draw an image of Christ. Light is a form of radiation, and so this suggests that the image was created by radiation.
- There is no pigment in the cloth. This was not painted, and there is no explanation for what man-made method could have produced the image in the shroud.
- The shroud portrays a crucified man composed for burial with frightening accuracy, including details such as the precise place in which the nail pierced through a tendon in the hand that would pull the thumb tight to the palm. As a result, only four fingers of each hand are visible in the image, because the thumb is tight to the palm and therefore hidden by the rest of the hand. (By the way, the Romans also sometimes pierced the wrist with nails, instead of through this tendon. What they never did was put a nail in the middle of the palm, like most of our artwork shows, because it would have ripped free.)
- The shroud carries stains that have been confirmed to be blood stains in each of the locations where Christ was pierced: Hands, feet, side (by the spear), and head (by the crown of thorns). It also carries evidence of an absolutely brutal scourging that covers almost the entire body, but was clearly not intended to kill because it avoids the regions of the heart and kidneys.
- The blood from the shroud is of type AB, which is found in only 2% of people in Europe, where the shroud first came to light in the 1200s, but is much more common in the Middle East.
- The cloth also purportedly carries traces of flowers (from the burial spices) and the thorns from the crown of thorns, that have been identified by botanists who determined that the only place where the various species grow in close proximity is the region of Jerusalem.
- The image on the shroud contains three-dimensional information. In other words, areas that were closer to the body are darker, and areas that were farther from the body are lighter, which allows a three-dimensional reconstruction of the body that was wrapped in this shroud. This would be incredibly difficult for an artist to duplicate, even if we could figure out what method an artist might have used to create the image.
That all sounds very convincing, although much of it is not visible to the naked eye and so you have to take the word of various scientists for it. The big strike against the shroud is that when they cut a portion off to carbon date it, they came up with a time period that corresponded with when it came to light (the 1200s) but not the first century when Jesus died and rose. Various reasons for the discrepancy have been suggested, including the very small size of the sample and a claim that the portion that was dated came from “a rewoven portion of the shroud… [that] was not a part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin.”
Regarding the mystery of the shroud, I would put myself at 51% convinced that it is the burial cloth of Jesus. I think it is slightly easier to believe that the dating was incorrect than to believe that twelve centuries after the crucifixion an artist (or con-artist) had access to the kind of detailed knowledge of crucifixion practices and human anatomy required to create such a thing from scratch. Add that to the fact that we cannot figure out how the image was created, especially with the three dimensional information it contains, and I end up leaning towards accepting that the shroud is what it claims to be.
All that said, the real impact of the shroud museum was not the intrigue that surrounds the shroud. The real impact came through everything that the shroud taught me about crucifixion. The nails that pierced the hands not only went through a tendon that pinned the thumb to the palm, they also went through a nerve, so that every time Jesus lifted Himself up to breath, He was lifting Himself by His nerves – excruciatingly painful. I always pictured the scourging as being targeted exclusively at Jesus’ back, but the shroud depicts it covering him, 120 or so lashes covering arms and chest and back and legs, so that every movement would create agony. I learned from the shroud that the crown of thorns likely employed a couple different kinds of thorns, including some so tough that they were used to pierce leather. It was like a crown made of needles and nails, that was not just placed on Jesus head, but beaten into it (Matthew 27). In other words, I gained a much deeper appreciation for Jesus’ physical suffering. It was hard to imagine Him having the strength to carry His cross at all. No wonder He needed help from Simon of Cyrene. And I could immediately appreciate how the behavior of Jesus on the cross could convert the man hanging next to Him. No mere man could be suffering as He did and then forgive His accusers, take care of His mother, refuse an anesthetic, and, through it all, be at peace. Jesus did. “What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul!”
That was the last stop on our Holy Land tour, but I do have a couple more notes to write below.
It only snows in Jerusalem about once every three of four years, and there was snow predicted earlier this week, which didn’t come, and then there was snow predicted for tonight, which did. I went out on one of the hotel balconies to talk to Katie on the phone, and all of a sudden I was watching tiny flakes of snow coming down hard and fast. When I stepped out into it, the snow was falling and blowing so hard that it actually stung my face.
We were scheduled to get half a night of sleep in the hotel, then wake up at 1:30 for a 3am departure for the airport, but at 9pm we received a phone call telling us to get our stuff ready. Because of the snow, they were worried that we would not be able to get out of Jerusalem in the middle of the night, and so they moved our departure up to 10pm. So now I finished most of my writing while sitting in the airport in Tel Aviv (where there was no snow, but some heavy rain).
Ikey had already made a trip to the airport this evening to escort the part of our group that was from Michigan, and he drove back to Jerusalem in order to get us to the airport as well. I suspect that part of the reason why he came was because he wanted to see the snow in Jerusalem, but it was nice to have him talking us through things at the airport in any case. The bus ride out of Jerusalem was kind of hilarious for a group from Wisconsin. The snow was coming down fast and hard, but the flakes were so tiny that it was really not doing much more than forming a layer of slush. But Ikey kept announcing it like it was a fascinating part of the tour, “It’s covering the ground! See that white over there!” Who would have thought that we would experience more snow during this trip than our families back home would?
Your trip to Israel
If you have read all the way through this blog, I would imagine that you have some curiosity about making a trip to Israel yourself. If so, I have some thoughts for you to consider.
- Safety: We never feared for our safety. We did see police regularly, and they carry some big guns, but they are also usually smiling and laughing and talking with people. In one case, Ikey hopped out of the bus and chased down one of those police officers in order to request that he move his car so we could maneuver our bus closer to our destination. There are dangerous places in Israel, just like there are in Chicago or any major city. The guides know that and don’t take you near there. I wouldn’t worry about safety in the present climate.
- Preparation: Learn your Bible History before going. A trip through Randy Frazee’s The Story like Trinity took a few years ago would be a good place to start. But if you can convince a pastor to do a more in depth study, it will help you immensely. The history is all layered over itself, and so the same site can connect with three or four completely different time periods. The more you know going in, the more you will learn, paradoxical as that sounds.
- Don’t Wait: As Ikey said, “The longer you wait, the more expensive it will be, and the steeper the stairs will be.” We walked a lot, and this is a country of small mountains, so there are steps almost everywhere. You want to come while steps are easy for you, and you have the energy to do a fair amount of walking.
- Come to encounter Jesus: Many of our destinations were very well prepared for tourists, but if what you are looking for is a relaxing vacation, this is not the place to come. Come here to be in awe of what the ancients accomplished, and even more in awe of what God accomplished through Jesus Christ. Come so that every scripture reading will become more deeply meaningful to you for the rest of your life. Come to encounter Jesus.
Thanks for praying for us and our families! I’m posting from the bus driving us back to Trinity from O’Hare. We’re home!