Jerusalem in a Day, part 2

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Street Market in the Old City of Jerusalem. Image by Ester Inbar: Wikipedia


In Part 1, I discussed some of the Christian sites in the city of Jerusalem. Here, we discuss the Jewish tradition.

In 1995 Jerusalem celebrated 3,000 years of the City of David, commemorating when King David entered the city and made it his capital, rather than Hebron. It was a fortress city that David took from the local Jebusites (II Samuel 5:9) and further built up the area. It is located southeast of the current Old City as a jetty of land between the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys and above the juncture of the Hinnom Valley.


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City of David 3,000-year Medal. Image: Numista


I walked through the four quarters of Old City: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. The bazaar, where souvenirs are available aplenty, was fascinating, though the stroll along narrow streets amidst busy crowds seemed a bit claustrophobic. I was there during Passover, one of the three “pilgrimage holidays” in Judaism, so there were international pilgrims in town.

Gehenna (Ben Hinnom) is the Hebrew name of the valley south of the City of David. At one time, the city inhabitants sacrificed their children by fire to the Canaanite deity Moloch in the valley (II Chronicles 28:3.) Later, it was used as a dump that burned day and night. Gehenna became one of the synonyms for Hell,

“where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” –Mark 9:48

David had also brought here the “Ark of the Covenant” (featured in the first Indiana Jones movie.) His son, Solomon, built the Temple for it in the area north and uphill from the City of David on Mount Moriah. About a thousand years earlier, the patriarch Abraham came to this place to sacrifice his son Isaac according to Genesis 22. The City of David area is undergoing heavy archeological excavation.


The Temple in Jerusalem

The First Temple was completed in 959 BC but destroyed by the invading Babylonians in 586 BC. However, with the defeat of Babylon by Cyrus of Persia, the Jews began to rebuild the Temple, but in 20 BC, a great remodeling campaign began under Herod the Great (from the Christmas story.)


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Model of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, Holyland Model of Jerusalem. Image: Wikipedia


I visited the scale model above at the Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem. It is based on eyewitness descriptions by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and other sources.


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Herod’s Temple. Image: Wikipedia


In the foreground is a model of Herod’s Temple, featuring, at the back, the Holy of Holies, then moving forward: the Priests’ Court, the Men’s Court, the Women’s Court, and the larger surrounding Gentiles’ Court. On the east side (foreground) would be Solomon’s Porch, or portico, a colonnade where Jesus’ disciple Peter taught (Acts 3:11 and Acts 5:13). In 2006, this model was moved to the Israel Museum.

The Temple was not completed in Herod’s lifetime but took several decades more. Following a Jewish uprising in 66 AD – “The First Jewish Revolt” – General Titus of Rome entered Jerusalem in 70 AD and destroyed much of the city. A fire ensued at Titus’ command that destroyed the Second Temple.


Western Wall in Jerusalem

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Western Wall. Image: Wikipedia


All that was left standing of the Temple was the western wall. The Western Wall (an 11th-century name for the full 488 meters), or the “Wailing Wall” (a 58-meter subset so named in English in the 20th century), remains one of the holiest places for Jews.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who participated in the 70 AD war, recounted:

This [western] wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. — The War of the Jews, 7:2–4

Today you can go to the Western Wall in any weather, day or night, and find people praying. I was there after 11 pm under drizzling skies, after the Sabbath sundown, and quite a few people were there praying.

There is a large plaza in front of the Wall, accessible only after going through a guard checkpoint. The plaza has been expanded in modern times and is used for military, civil, and religious ceremonies. Young boys will have their Bar Mitzpuh here, and newlyweds will come to pray after their wedding and before their honeymoon.

The plaza has a men’s side and a women’s side separated by a partition that you cannot see through. There is quite a spectrum of people there. Christian tourists come, for Jesus walked here 2,000 years ago, or rather 30-40 feet lower than the current street level.

And there were Japanese tourists, by the bus loads. But especially present were observant Jews, conservative, reformed, orthodox, and Hasidic Jews with different styles of fur hats. All men are to have hats on to pray, and cardboard hats are available from a barrel at the entrance. I once momentarily removed my English-style cap to fix my hair and got a finger wagged at me.

Some men rock when they pray aloud, for they pray with their whole body. A few wear phylacteries, small boxes with scriptures inside tied to their head, hands, etc., with ribbon, obeying the command:

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes (forehead).” –Deuteronomy 6:8

Along the side of the wall is a covered area, almost a cavern, used when the weather gets bad. There are cabinets of the Torah (scrolls of the Law of Moses) and shelves of prayer books and books on the Law. There are shafts covered by plexiglass, which go down to the level of the ancient pavement about 40 feet below.


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Western Wall at night: men on the left, women on the right. Image: Wikipedia


The Wall itself is covered by a permanent oil stain from the years of people touching it with their hands, heads, and lips. It is a horizontal line located at roughly the height of a man’s forehead. There is a similar but lower one on the women’s side.

And in the cracks of the stones are tiny rolls of paper, with prayers written upon them. Beyond and behind the wall is the Temple mount where once stood the Temple, known as the Second Temple, or Herod’s Temple. Now it is the precinct of the Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock. But that is my next story.

Concluded in Part 3.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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