Friday, March 23, 2018

Deep under the Old City

Today's post is long, but packed with interesting facts.
It’s Friday, and we enter through the Damascus Gate, then walk through the Muslim Quarter. It’s the day for sweets and desserts, but Yossi warns us that they may not be safe for us to eat. People here eat very sweet desserts so they can tolerate the hot spices after the taste buds have been numbed by the sugar. But isn't dessert eaten last? I kind of like the idea of eating it first.

Super sweet treats to numb the taste buds

We stop at one of the signs that say, ‘Via Dolorosa’, the sacred street. There stands a group of police, which includes the requisite female officer.

Part of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows

The female officer had stepped out of the photo.

Yossi takes us to the fourth and fifth stations of the cross, where he met his mother and where Simon the Cyrene took up Jesus's cross, and deep beneath that Monastery is an original floor from the Byzantium period. 
Like many places here, silence is demanded.

Looking at the depiction of Jesus meeting his mother.

Explaining the mosaic floor.
This tour feels so fast to me now. I barely remember going from one station to the next, but in our guide's defense, there is much to see.

Entering the Monastery

Soon we enter the tunnels under the city. We learn that Herod the Great considered himself a god, and that the Temple Mount today is only a small portion of its original size. Yossi stops us at a large stone, and at 586 tons, made in 12 BC, it is considered to be the world’s largest man made block. We discover that many Muslims ask the rhetorical question, ‘If the Jews were given the Temple, why did God allow them to get kicked out of the Holy Land and the Temple to be destroyed?’ It seems strange for me to hear that question. If only people would read the Bible. The answer is simple. God doesn't want things. He wants our hearts.

Part of the world's largest cut stone.

We pass a small prayer room for men, and our guide opens the door to peek inside. Naturally, it is shut immediately, leaving our guide to admonish us. “Shame on you, ladies.” He goes on to tells us that part of the traditional men’s prayer says, “Thank you for not making me a woman.”

No peeking!

Still deep along the tunnels, pathways only a few feet wide and in spots barely six feet high, we stop again at the women’s section, the closest place the Jews can get to the Holy of Holies. It seems odd to me that women are allowed so close. We pass a woman who yells at us that only Jews are supposed to be here. 

Going deeper under the city

I can see small prayer requests tucked into cracks in the wall, just like outside at the Western Wall. Our guide reiterates that the Temple Mount is not sitting on stone, but a powder keg, and again, says that Israel needs our prayers. 
We look down a shaft whose length is about ten feet, but only inches wide, and yet, 30 to 50 feet deep. We can see the original stones, and learn that archeologists need the rabbis’ permission to dig and as a result, parts of the old wall are surrounded by cement to prevent defiling. After all, our guide reminds us, archeology is a destructive trade. 

Later that day, we visit the Shrine of the Book, a museum that houses parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The one on display is a clever reproduction, though, as the original is in a vault somewhere else. The Russian Mafia wanted it destroyed. A young man kindly translates some of the verses for me, explaining what a pseudepigrapha is. (So you don’t have to look it up, it’s a collection of Jewish proverb-like books) 
Our guide tells us that the Dead Sea Scrolls that feature Biblical texts are 99% identical to our present-day versions. We also discover that the margins of the Talmud (a group of writings that expand on Jewish teachings) mention Jesus, calling him the son of Satan, saying how he called on the forces of darkness. We can read this as proof of Jesus’ existence, since his enemies admitted he walked this earth and did miracles. How can people say he didn't exist when there is extra-biblical evidence of him?
Scale model of Jerusalem

Can you see the temple in this model.

We head out to the scale model of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time on earth, and I wonder why Israel chose to recreate that time period. It’s a huge, fascinating model, and we see how Golgotha (where Christ died) is outside the walls, and how King Herod’s palace is under the Armenian Quarter. It's unavailable to be excavated because the Armenians say that the Jews don’t recognize the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks over a century ago. Even now, politics feature heavily in the search into our past.

We hear about Jesus here, how much he loved those who were crippled, in contrast to armies of the past that sent cripples and bodies ahead of itself to act as a human shields. I wonder if this comes from 2 Samuel 5:8, where ‘the lame and the deaf will hold you off’. 
Next, we are going to see the very highlight of this museum. 

To me, it's the Mona Lisa of this world.

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