A Walk Through Time in Jerusalem

by Joseph Hunting

How can one adequately describe one's emotions after walking through four thousand years of Jerusalem's turbulent history? Come and join me and I'll do my best to trace those moments in Jerusalem's history that have been etched in the pages of the Bible.

One of the recent innovations in the Old City is a continuous walkway along the top of the massive ramparts that were built by Suleiman the Magnificent about 1530 A.D. Some of the most spectacular views of the Old City and the surrounding hills may be had from this walkway. From the Lion's Gate the view extends northward to Nebi Samwil, the burial-place of the prophet Samuel. Nearer at hand is a magnificent view of Jerusalem's new suburbs on French Hill. This is in marked contrast to the minefields and slit trenches that were there when I visited the area soon after the June War of 1967. You will need about two hours to continue the walk along the top of the ramparts to the Damascus Gate, then on to the Jaffa Gate. This section of the wall of the Old City has been landscaped with attractive walkways through flower beds ablaze with colour in the spring.

From the Jaffa Gate to the Zion Gate there is a view of the Hinnom Valley now transformed into a magnificent park. It is almost impossible to realize that this valley was once the scene of the most hideous idol worship where babies were burnt alive to the god Molech and which later became known as Gehenna, a place synonymous with Hell because of the perpetual fires that burned there.

From above the Zion Gate there is a spectacular view of what was once David's City, and before that it was the Jebusite stronghold known as Jebus. Then from the south east corner your eyes take in the uninterrupted panorama of the Kidron Valley and the rolling hills of the Judaean wilderness stretching away to the Dead Sea. From this vantage point you can take in the Mount of Olives, and a sweep of 180 degrees takes you to Mount Moriah directly to the north.

It seems fitting to spend a few moments here reflecting on events which once happened in this sacred area. Four thousand years ago the Patriarch Abraham passed this way twice. On the first occasion he had an appointment in the Kidron Valley near where we are standing, with Jerusalem's king, Melchizedek, and about twenty years later he was to pass this way again to build an altar on Mount Moriah upon which to sacrifice his son Isaac.

If we leave the ramparts at the Dung Gate there is a pathway along the Ophel Ridge south of the Old City that takes us to a sloping wall about fifteen metres high. This is holy ground indeed, for it is part of the Mount Zion of David's City. This was the very location immortalized by David in his Psalm: "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the City of our God, in the mountain of His holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King" (Psalm 48:1-2).

Seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, Cyrus, king of Persia, thought by some to be the son of Queen Esther, issued his famous decree permitting the Hebrew captives to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The accounts given by Ezra and Nehemiah of their triumphs and tribulations make fascinating reading. Indeed, Nehemiah chapter two provides the clue for the commencement of Daniel's famous prophecy in chapter nine which foretells the time of Messiah's first advent and his subsequent death.

There are exciting discoveries constantly being made by archaeologists both in and round Jerusalem. Among the priceless artifacts that once adorned Solomon's temple was the Ark of the Covenant. Its whereabouts has remained a mystery for two thousand five hundred years. However, its exact location when it rested in the Holy of Holies is now thought to be ninety metres north of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. (See The Vineyard, October 1984). An archaeological dig for the Ark is currently being carried out at Qumran where the priceless Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947.

Five centuries after Jerusalem was rebuilt, an Idumean married a Jewess and was proclaimed king of Judaea by the Roman conquerors of the Jewish province they named Palestine. This cruel overlord named Herod was also a genius. He levelled the summit of Mount Moriah and in so doing built a huge retaining wall on its western side about four hundred metres long. Although only a short section of the wall is visible today there is almost as much below the surface as there is above ground.

A tunnel commenced after the Six Day War of 1967 reveals that the wall extends far beyond Wilson's Arch to almost opposite the spot where it is believed the Ark once rested. Some of the stone blocks used in the wall's construction are huge. One near the entrance to the tunnel is forty-six feet long and weighs about four hundred and fifteen tons. Others are estimated to weigh some three hundred tons!

Herod completely rebuilt Zerubbabel's second Temple which, when completed, was one of the wonders of the world at that time. Not far from the Jaffa Gate are the bases of three massive towers erected by Herod which were named Mariamne as a memorial to his wife whom he murdered, Phasael after his brother and Hippicus after his friend. One of his palaces perched like an eagle's aerie above a sheer drop of a thousand feet on Massada is an engineering and architectural masterpiece, as is also the hill-top fortress-palace at Herodion near Bethlehem.

But to return to Jerusalem: one of the problems facing archaeologists has been the building programme in the Jewish section of the Old City. This part of Jerusalem was made a shambles during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. Beautiful ancient synagogues were destroyed wantonly or used as latrines or rubbish dumps. Underneath the additional rubble and accumulation of debris of nineteen centuries were the remains of houses that had been undisturbed since the day they were destroyed by the Romans in August 70 A.D.

Structural engineers working in conjunction with archaeologists solved what appeared to be an impossible problem -- how to excavate and yet build at the same place and at the same time. The urgent need was for housing, so whilst the building programme pressed ahead, engineers reinforced foundations and this enabled the excavations to be made below. The result? Whilst life now goes on undisturbed above ground, one can wander amongst the restored ruins underground of magnificent dwellings that graced Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Whilst we have our clocks retarded two thousand years a visit to the archaeological Ophel Garden just south of the Temple Mount is a must.

Here is located the broad stairway that leads to the Hulda Gates. This stairway has an interesting feature. After every two steps there is broader step about a metre wide and it is thought that the Songs of Degrees in the Psalms were sung as the Temple worshippers approached entry to the Temple area through the Hulda Gates.

Another interesting discovery in the Ophel Archaeological Gardens is the number of mikveh baths in what is believed to have been a hostel for pilgrims who came in their thousands to Jerusalem for the festivals. Perhaps this explains how three thousand were able to be baptized on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two.

But Jerusalem has suddenly leaped into the latter end of the twentieth century. And as the Psalmist said it is a city "that is compact together ", or as the Israelis today say, "Jerusalem shall never again be a divided city".

Modern Jerusalem has exploded in size during the past twenty years. Has the Psalmist given this generation the most pregnant promise of all time when he prophesied Messiah's second advent? "When the Lord shall build up Zion He shall appear in His glory" (Psalm 102:16).