“They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed. They led Him through the streets in shame. They spat upon my Savior, so pure and free from sin; they said ‘Crucify Him! He’s to blame!’ Upon His precious head they placed a crown of thorns. They laughed and said ‘Behold the king!’ They struck Him and they cursed Him, and mocked His holy name: all alone He suffered everything. When they nailed Him to the cross, His mother stood nearby. He said ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ He cried ‘I thirst for water,’ but they gave Him none to drink, then the sinful work of man was done. To the howling mob He yielded; He did not for mercy cry. The cross of shame He took alone. And when He cried ‘It’s finished!’ He gave Himself to die. Salvation’s wondrous plan was done! He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world, and set Him free! He could have called ten thousand angels, but He died alone for you and me.” Ten Thousand Angels, Ray Overholt
This afternoon we visited the “Saint-Peter-in-Gallicantu” church building that was built high on the slope of Mount Zion. This is the traditional site where some believe the palace of Caiaphas was built and where Jesus was taken and jailed after His arrest. “Gallicantu” means “the cock’s crow” and refers to Peter’s denial of Christ.
Jon and Gary were both filming A-roll here about Jesus’ final hours. Since this building is up on a slope, there were 6,482 steps leading down into the area where they were interested in filming. Well, maybe only 100, but still! We had already climbed the other 6,382 over at the temple mount and I was tired, so I stayed at the top of the hill, level with the roofline of the church, looking down into the garden area. To my left was the huge structure of the temple mount, about a mile away, with its imposing white limestone walls and the shiny top of the Dome of the Rock glinting in the sun. Deep below me, beyond Gallicantu, stretched the Hinnom (I think, I’m still learning!) Valley and rising sharply above the valley were the hundreds – probably thousands – of dazzling white tombstones that cover the side of the Mount of Olives (facing the temple mount with the expectation of being raised first on the Day of Judgment.) The sun was shining and a breeze was blowing and I was happy to be standing where I was, watching the filming process, and just soaking it all in!
Then Jon appeared at the bottom of the 80th step and said “Y’all really need to come down here and see this dungeon.” By that time, most of the guys had come back up the stairs, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t want to go down. But by the time we finished the B-roll up on the balcony, I thought to myself (for the thousandth time since we’ve been here) “Who knows if I’ll ever get to see this again, let’s go!”
This dungeon may have been where Jesus was placed before the mockery of His trial. It is not terribly deep; I’m guessing there were 20 curving steps leading down into it from the bottom floor of the church building. A group of about 25 Asian nuns were in the chamber while we waited to go down. They sang a song together; the words foreign to us, but the voices were beautiful. The dungeon was hewn from stone, and seemed to have two connecting circular chambers that were each approximately 10 feet wide. It was very chilly, and our voices reverberated off the walls. We stood around the circular walls and sang most of the moving words quoted above.
I’ll be honest again: I had to force myself not to concentrate too much on the words of the song, because if I had, I would not have been able to sing a note. But the further into the song we got, singing with these men who have become like brothers to me, hearing the convicting words – I could not keep my mind from seeing Jesus: mocked, scorned, mistreated, thrown into perhaps that very place, alone, and dreading the hours that would follow. So I’m glad that Jon persuaded us to go down those steps and into that dungeon. As much as it hurts, the reality of what He endured for me should be convicting. It is a good thing to feel sorrow. That conviction and sorrow lead us to make necessary changes in our lives that, in turn, make what He endured worthwhile.
I left my little Hazelnut Coffeemate on the hotel breakfast table this morning. I’ve babied it, rationed it, been stingy with it, and I had about 3 days left before it would run out completely. I know it’s completely shallow that I nearly wanted to cry when I realized it was gone. But the guys laughed at me, and said “The project must go on!” We’ll see how I feel in about 10 hours when it’s coffee time.
Slave driver John made us leave extra early (6:45, which really felt like 5:45 because of Daylight Savings Time…and it’s really messed up my math figuring out what time it is back home!) this morning in order to reach Mount Scopus, the lookout above the Mount of Olives, before the masses of tour buses would arrive. While on our way, we drove through an orthodox neighborhood. Tsvi gave us some details about Jewish life in Jerusalem. There is a high percentage of orthodox Jews here. The Hasidic Jews are recognizable in their tall black hats, side hair, and all black clothing. He said these Jews want all of Jerusalem to be more orthodox. The secular Jews, on the other hand, are not as strict, and as Tsvi told us, say “Give us a break!” There was an argument several years ago between orthodox and secular Jews about one particular main road that the orthodox believed should be blocked off during Shabbat. The secular Jews used the road on the Sabbath, and didn’t want it closed. So, some of the orthodox Jews began throwing stones at the secular Jews on the Sabbath as they drove on that road. We asked, isn’t picking up a rock considered work on the Sabbath? And Tsvi said – yes, but the Rabbi gave them special permission!
The orthodox Rabbi study the Torah all day, and do not work. They are “sponsored by taxpayer money” (according to Tsvi) and they don’t serve in the army. We asked about the religious differences, and he said, “Geeve me two Jews and you’ll have four different opinions!”
We reached Mt. Scopus and hurried to set up equipment for John to film segments on his lesson about “Jerusalem: An Unforgettable City!” Tour buses were beginning to pull up, so he felt the pressure and managed to nail his lines just as a throng of Russian tourists pulled up and descended upon us. We moved to a lower spot and Gary also managed to remember his lines under extreme tourist pressure! Mt. Scopus overlooks the city of Jerusalem (and in fact, John, Doug, and Mat are back there right now, 7:15 p.m, trying to capture sunset photos and video over the Jerusalem skyline.) It is right above the cemetery on the Mt. of Olives. I had always thought the white boxes were caskets and that the bodies were buried in those, but Tsvi said that in the Jewish cemetery, bodies were simply wrapped in the Tallit (prayer shawl) and buried underground, underneath what looked like caskets but were actually tombstones. And traditionally, people who visit those graves leave a stone on top rather than flowers, because flowers last only a day but a stone lasts forever.
The Muslim cemetery is below the temple mount, on the eastern side of the old city of Jerusalem. The tombstones looked very similar (although they were far away and I couldn’t see details) but they faced south, toward Mecca. (Note: I later found out that they do not all face south.)
As we stood there waiting for filming to finish, Philip said, “Tsvi, how do you feel about the dome over there?” (Meaning, the Muslim’s Dome of the Rock)
Tsvi smiled, and said what I think all Jews feel: “What do you think? I’d rather see something else up there.”
We left Mt. Scopus and headed for the southern steps of the temple, where Rick had several A-roll segments to shoot. This area was set to close at 11 a.m. because on Fridays, Muslims come to pray. I have come to learn that Friday is the Muslim’s day of worship, Saturday is holy to the Jews, and they treat these days (in many cases) much more reverently than many Christians treat Sunday, the Lord’s day.
The southern steps are a fairly recent discovery. The “western wall”, a retaining wall holding up the Herodian temple complex,was thought to be the only original part of the complex remaining, but these steps were found after excavations were conducted. About the first six steps are originally from the “second temple period” but those above it are practically new: only hundreds of years old. As Rick explained, there was an alternating pattern of deep and shallow steps, causing the worshipper to look down at his feet in order to keep from stumbling, and that caused him to approach the temple in an humble manner. Some say that the worshippers would sing a “song of ascent” when they stepped on each of the deeper steps.
When we arrived, it was quiet and deserted except for one group of tourists. But it didn’t stay quiet for long. They began chanting and singing and clapping and “speaking in tongues”, loudly. Doug, of course, got in the middle of it with his glidecam.
Rick finished four of his A-roll segments and then Doug began hunting for B-roll images. Philip was sitting on the steps, Jon was taking photos with Micah and Dewayne nearby, and John and I were sitting near the entrance to the step area, on a Roman column (cool, huh?) discussing our tight schedule with Tsvi. All of a sudden we saw two uniformed policemen (in black uniforms that resemble the police back home rather than the olive green Israeli army uniform) in a full-out sprint toward us, hands on their guns, with their eyes peeled toward the far corner of the temple mount.
My first thought was – something bad is happening in the Muslim cemetery! And my next thought, I haven’t heard any gunfire, but maybe there is some terrorist activity going on! And next, maybe someone has fallen from the top of the temple! And then, where is Rick? Rick, we’ve come to discover, is quite an explorer. Tsvi jumped up, running and shouting behind the policemen “What is wrong? What is wrong?” And John started calling for Rick, and Philip jumped up, looking for his dad, and then we saw Mat, Rick, and Gary somewhat sheepishly climbing back over a chain that had a big, red “NO PASSAGE” sign on it. The two policemen were engaged in a heated conversation with Tsvi, who was trying to do damage control. Doug, of course, was in the middle of it all with his camera (photos courtesy of him.) I saw one of the policemen pick up the NO PASSAGE sign and shake it at them, shouting “WHAT YOU DOING HERE? YOU NOT SEE SIGN?” And frankly, I was surprised it wasn’t Doug who was in trouble, since he has routinely crossed fences, wires, roads, and lines in order to get the photo he wanted.
Mat specifically wanted me to note that he was “led astray by Rick”, who was looking for the perfect shot. No one was arrested, all of the filming was finished, and we’d had our adrenaline rush for the day! Rick’s comment was: “The only thing that would’ve been better is if they’d hauled me off in cuffs……..sort of.”
We moved away from the scene of the crime into an area below the southwest corner of the temple mount, below Robinson’s Arch (there’s an interesting read here about this architectural marvel), where huge piles of stone still lay as they had fallen 2000 years ago when Rome destroyed the temple. Dewayne had a segment to film here and, as he said, the stones give a “silent but grim testimony to the thoroughness of Roman destruction to the temple and to the city.” Rick and John also had segments to film in this area.
There were many tourists and locals gathered here. One small group of teenage girls were gathered around the cornerstone rock and stopped John to ask him to take their picture. The teacher asked him where he was from, and when he told her, she said “Ohhhh, Texas?? Cowboy??”
There was a very small, private Bat Mitzvah taking place in one corner. Tsvi said they normally take place on Mondays and Thursdays, so he was surprised to see it on Friday. A father and mother and two girls, all dressed in white, in front of a table with a Rabbi nearby, appeared to be reciting prayers and singing. Tsvi said that boys have their Bar Mitzvah at 13, while girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvah at 12.
Another group of young Jewish men gathered a little further up and formed a circle with their arms around one another, singing what Tsvi said was a “promo for Passover.” Little boys were climbing on rocks and playing around them, also singing along. I tried to take some video, but don’t think the audio was working.
Next, we headed north past the Western wall and back up into the old city through the Lion’s gate (I think! Still learning! I’m probably wrong!) and into the Jewish quarter. We found a little food court, where four or five restaurants were set into the city walls. One served shawarma in a pita, another had pizza, and another had burgers. The shawarma restaurant had a little popcorn cart out front, except instead of popcorn, they had a hand crank type of juicer, with apples, oranges, and other fruits just waiting to be squeezed. Across from the restaurants I found a little market. Out front were huge bins filled with Challah bread, unwrapped and on display. I was tempted to try one, because they looked delicious, but just couldn’t get past the fact that it was sitting out in the open air (and imagining sneezers, blowers, nose-pickers, and bread-squeezers passing by!)
Jon found him a hamburger, but wanted a cheeseburger, so he found a market that sold cheese and bought two slices. Voila! A cheeseburger in a kosher food court. John had shawarma, I had pizza, and I’m not sure what everyone else chose.
Leaving the food court, we continued through the Jewish quarter and went out the Zion gate. It’s narrow, maybe 10-12 feet wide, and has a pretty sharp curve in it as you go out, but amazingly, cars travel these narrow roads and exit out of this narrow gate. I don’t know what the traffic rules are inside the old city – they must not let everyone drive in there, but we saw quite a few cars!
Yossi picked us up and we headed over to Gallicantu, described above. It was a beautiful, quiet, serene place with amazing views of the old city to the north and Mount of Olives to the east. But one platform overlooked some homes that were not quite kept to the same standards as Gallicantu. One edge of the platform looked directly down into the back courtyard of one home, where a donkey was tied to one corner, and three dogs tied in the other separate corners. Some little boys were playing with the dogs. In the next yard over, a car drove in and a little boy came running out of the house, and climbed in the car and gave the driver a hug. “Daddy’s home!” is universal.
Our final stop was at what is said to be Herod’s family tomb. Rick had another segment to shoot here. The tomb is set at the bottom of a small rock courtyard near the King David Hotel, and it has a round stone that was formerly rolled in front of the tomb’s door. Its features are consistent with those found on other first century tombs, so it is thought that it may indeed belong to Herod’s family. We were all tired, so some of us (cough*Micah*cough) were napping, some were stretching (another picture for you, Erin!) and some of us were acting a little silly here.
It’s been another fabulous, frenetic day! All of us wonder what a typical tour of Israel might be like. Certainly not this fast and furious, six or seven sites in a day kind of tour! But we are having fun and learning and growing along the way.
INCIDENTALS AND FUNNIES
As I mentioned, Doug, Mat, and John are out in the old city looking for night time city shots. Some of the guys went and found a restaurant for supper – everything close to us is closed down tight for Shabbat. We stopped in at a market across the street and bought some bread, peanut butter, yogurt, and snack bars because food will be harder to find tomorrow, the Sabbath. And we aren’t sure if bread will be available, since Passover is soon.
Rick wins the quote of the day, regarding Mat’s cool slider for his camera: “Totally wicked! In a non-eternal-damnation way, of course.”
I can tell that the guys are missing their families badly, but they are carrying on and doing a wonderful thing while they’re here.
Tomorrow: an early, private appointment at the Garden Tomb. Bethesda Pool. Via Dolorosa.
I’m finishing early tonight and if I’m lucky, I’ll get seven hours of sleep! As they say here in Jerusalem, “Shabbat Shalom!”