An unseasonably hot day in Jerusalem greeted participants in the 2015 Campbell Divinity School Bible Lands Study Tour as they closed out their experience of pilgrimage, education, and friendship in Israel and the West Bank.
We drove first to the Davidson Center at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. There we heard an explanation from guest guide Dov Friedman and posed for a picture while sitting on stone-carved steps from the first century – part of a mile long stepped-stone street leading from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount. Uncovered during the past 40 years, these are the same steps that Jesus and the disciples, along with other worshipers, might have taken to the Huldah Gates, where they could enter an underground tunnel and yet more steps leading to the temple complex.
A quick trip through security brought us to the Western Wall, where we had an opportunity to mingle with Hassidic Jews and get close to the wall for prayer or to insert written prayers into cracks between the stones. We noticed that Jewish women walk backwards from the wall in a sign of respect to the prayers offered there, but the men don’t.
A short time for shopping, a visit to one end of the first century Cardo, and a passing Bar Mitzvah parade closed out our time in the Old City before we headed to the Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, for lunch and heart-tugging reminders of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
There we said goodbye to our faithful, friendly, and constantly helpful bus driver Mike Isa, who has to be the best driver in Israel. He had to switch off so he could begin a new tour, and by the time we reached Joppa for our farewell dinner, he had already picked up new travelers at the airport and taken them to Tiberius. Mike is Arabic and Muslim by tradition, but his last name is the Arabic way of spelling Jesus.
Appropriately, our last activity in Jerusalem was a visit to the Garden Tomb, site of Gordon’s Calvary, generally preferred by Protestants as the preferred site for celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Those of us who had been there before noticed a striking change – in the skull-shaped formation of rock that led British military leader Charles Gordon to believe it was the “place of the skull,” the rocks forming the bridge of the nose were missing.
A guide from the Garden Tomb told us it had fallen after a strong thunderstorm eight weeks earlier. He claimed it had been struck by lightning, but didn’t say that anyone had actually witnessed the strike. You can see the difference in the two photos at right.
Participants had an opportunity to look inside a garden tomb that many people believe to be the place of Jesus’ burial. Whether it is or not, it dates to at least the first century, was located in a garden, and looks like the place we visualize. Visiting the tomb can be a moving experience.
Tiffany Brown brought our devotion there, and she and Lacey Davis led us in a time of communion.
From the Garden Tomb we drove about 90 minutes to the port city known in ancient times as Joppa, known to Bible readers as the place Jonah attempted to flee from God by taking a ship to Tarshish, and as the place where the Apostle Peter had a vision while in the home of Simon the Tanner, learning that God accepts all people.
Joppa today is known as Jaffa or Yafo, and has been incorporated into the city limits of Tel Aviv-Yafo. There we enjoyed a bountiful seaside farewell dinner at the “Old Man and the Sea” restaurant while watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea.
Our check in at the airport went more smoothly than normal (hallelujah for that). There we bid adieu to our guide Doron Heiliger, who taught us to say the traditional Passover saying “Next Year in Jerusalem” in Hebrew, and encouraged us all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Indeed we do.