Yesterday I was above Jerusalem, enjoying the panorama of the Old City from its fortified walls and ramparts. Today I was under Jerusalem, exploring some of the tunnels that go under the city!
As part of Ecce Homo’s Biblical Formation Programme, a guide led us on an exploration of the origins of Jerusalem, including the original Canaan settlement, the water supply, the arrival of Abraham from the Fertile Crescent, the City of King David, the first and second Temple, especially the renovation of the latter under King Herod the Great, followed by its destruction under the Romans, Byzantine rule, Muslim rule (various empires), British Mandate and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The particular focus was what the archaeological evidence tells us in relation to the narratives of the different traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
We began with an introduction to the Western Wall, which is the the remaining support wall built under the rule of King Herod the Great for the vast platform on which the Temple stood (for details see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall).
The usual place where men and women pray in segregated areas at the Western Wall is the exposed wall in front of the plaza (as seen in many photos, including an earlier post in this blog). However, the Western Wall is much more than that quite small exposed area. It extends north of that exposed area for a long distance and also for a shorter distance south of that particular area. The northern end of the Western Wall is largely concealed by the residential buildings of the Muslim quarter. These were built on a raised platform to provide ready access to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount for the five daily prayers. Accordingly, the foundations of this part of the Western Wall can only be accessed by “tunnels” that have been excavated. These “tunnels” are simply the emptied-out archways on which the raised Muslim quarter was built and were our first visit for the day.
After a coffee break at Ecce Homo, we then headed for the “City of David” on the southern end of Jerusalem, outside the walls of the city. Archaeological evidence indicates that the first Canaan settlement in the area was here, availing of the spring of water in the Kidron Valley below.
According to the Bible, as recounted in the book of Genesis, Abraham came to this land with his family and entourage. He had a son named Isaac, whom Abraham was called to offer in sacrifice. Having shown his fidelity, God intervened and the child was saved. Jewish (and Muslim) tradition hold that this event occurred on the mountain where the Temple in Jerusalem would later be erected. Isaac had a son named Jacob, later re-named Israel, the father of the twelve sons from whom come the 12 tribes of Israel. Then, according to the book of Exodus, when a later generation of Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt under Moses, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, they conquered the land and settled here. However, as the books of Judges and Kings shows, the people wanted to be like other peoples, with a king ruling over them, so Saul was anointed King, followed by David. Hence, the narrative highlights David, coming from Bethlehem (remember the Nativity story, Joseph being of the House of David), as the King of Israel. David’s son, Solomon, built the Temple on the hill above the city, which, over centuries, was to become the focus of Jewish identity and devotion, down to the present day.
The city also has a strong resonance for Christians, not only for the Old Testament accounts, but particularly as the place where events in Jesus’ life took place, especially his passion, death and resurrection. It also has strong resonance for Muslims, as the place of Prophet Muhammad’s mystical visit and ascent to heaven.
However, the archaeological evidence is much sparser than the above biblical narrative. Certainly, there was a Jewish settlement in that area; certainly, the settlement included a royal palace on the brow of the hill, which may or may not have been David’s; certainly there was a Jewish temple further up the hill, as a place of pilgrimage and worship. There is archaeological evidence of other people who in the biblical narrative are associated with David, so the proposition that this was in fact David’s city is quite possible. But in the end, this is where faith enters to affirm truths and meanings that are not accessible to empirical research.
The point was made that while the brow of the hill is ideal for defence – attackers have to advance uphill – the problem with a hilltop location is that it leaves the water supply in the valley below exposed and vulnerable to attack/siege. In this instance, a fortress was built around the spring, connected to the settlement on the hill by a wall. But this too was vulnerable. So an enterprising ruler had an underground tunnel built from the hill-top settlement to the spring in the valley below so that his people could access the water without fear of attack or ambush. We descended down this tunnel to the ancient spring below.
In a later era, King Hezekiah, facing an invasion from the Assyrians, feared that not even this tunnel would be able to protect the water supply from a prolonged siege. He conceived a novel idea. By that time, the settlement had expanded significantly, spreading over the hill to the west, Mount Zion. The walled fortifications of the expanded settlement now enclosed two hills, the Temple Mount and Mount Zion, and the valley in between the two hills. Rather than simply reinforce the defence of the water supply in the Kidron Valley, King Hezekiah relocated the the water supply. He had a tunnel dug all the way under the hill to the other valley which was safe within the fortified walls of the city and had the water diverted there (for details see .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezekiah’s_Tunnel).
We walked through this ancient tunnel, for the first few metres, knee deep in flowing water, and for the rest of the distance, ankle deep in flowing water. It is 533 metres long and took about 40 minutes to walk through. It was quite narrow, just wide enough for a person to fit through. In places it was only about one and a half metres high, so I had to stoop low to get through. In other places, it was very high, four to five metres. As we were walking through it, I tried not to think that we were in an area subject to earthquakes!
On the other side of the mountain the water was collected in a pool, known in the New Testament as Siloam. Here is an excerpt from the Gospel of John 9:1-41 from the story of a miracle that Jesus performed at the Pool of Siloam:
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
For the final part of our expedition, we took a bus up the hill and entered into the Old City through the Dung Gate!
The day’s expedition had started at the Western Wall; and we finished at the Western Wall. But now we had a new and enriched perspective on it. The original settlement started from the spring of water in the Kidron Valley below; in King David’s time Jerusalem had grown to a town with a walled fortress on the brow of the hill which included the royal palace; his son, Solomon, had the Temple built on the summit of the hill overlooking the royal palace; over succeeding generations, with the ups and downs of history, of conquests and re-building, Jerusalem had expanded and had grown into a city, the imposing Temple on the Temple Mount being the pre-eminent symbol of the city’s identity and allegiance to God.
To conclude the day’s excursion, which had begun and ended in the plaza in front of the Western Wall, I entered the prayer area, touched the Western Wall and prayed. For Christians, it was Pentecost Sunday. This particular day had added significance for it was also the day on which Pope Francis had invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace in the Middle East. Standing at the Western Wall, I joined them in spiritual solidarity and prayed for peace in the Middle East.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam.