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The Temple Mount November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Temple Mount

As I’ve already mentioned in another entry, Solomon built the first temple on the site where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 24 and where David built an altar to God in repentance for his sinful choice to number the fighting men of Israel in 2 Samuel 7. Therefore, thousands of years ago, this place became a place of paramount holiness to the Jews.

In the 7th century AD, after Islam had burst onto the seen and Mecca and Medina had been conquered, From TempleMount.org: Muhammad is fabled to have “mounted on the winged steed called Al Burak ‘the Lightning’ and, with the angel Gabriel for escort, was carried from Makkah (Mecca), first to Sinai, and then to Bethlehem, after which they came to Jerusalem. ‘And when we reached Bait al Makdis, the Holy City,’ so runs the tradition, ‘we came to the gate of the mosque (which is the Haram Area), and here Jibrail (Gabriel) caused me to dismount. And he tied up Al Burak to a ring, to which the prophets of old had also tied their steeds.’ (Ibn al Athir’s Chronicle, ii. 37.) Entering the Haram Area by the gateway, afterwards known as the Gate of the Prophet, Muhammad and Gabriel went up to the Sacred Rock, which of old times had stood in the centre of Solomon’s Temple; and in its neighborhood meeting the company of the prophets, Muhammad proceeded to perform his prayer-prostrations in the assembly of his predecessors in the prophetic office Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others of God’s ancient apostles. From the Sacred Rock Muhammad, accompanied by Gabriel, next ascended, by a ladder of light, up into heaven; and, in anticipation, was vouchsafed the sight of the delights of Paradise.”

So, basically, after 1,000 years of real history, Muhammad (and this isn’t even in the Koran) supposedly rides a magical horse to Jerusalem (for no apparent reason), prays there, and then is taken to heaven on a ladder of light. And with that, the Muslims have claimed for 800 years that this particular piece of mountain is sacred to them too, and therefore endless battle over it.

It was clear that our tour guide deeply resents this entire thing. The Jews discount the Muslim story as a blatant attempt to intrude upon their holy site with the goal of simply being a thorn in their collective side. In other words, the Jews believe that the Muslims created this story and the Dome on the Rock just to piss them off, not because the spot holds any actual historic and spiritual significant for them And I tend to believe the Jewish account more than the Muslim one. (I’m sure you picked that up.)

Anyway, Herod the Great, just before Jesus’ day and long before the Muslims got there, greatly expanded this area. He built a massive retaining wall, and smoothed out the top of Mount Moriah to create a 15 acre temple mount esplanade. Then he greatly enlarged the temple that Ezra and Nehemiah had built hundreds of years before.

That temple – called the Zerubbabel temple – was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans when they pretty much leveled Jerusalem in general. Interestingly, the Roman commander ordered the soldiers NOT to destroy the temple, because Romans greatly valued architectural beauty. However, because there were rumors that the Jews had hidden massive quantities of gold in the walls of the temple, the soldiers burned it anyway, and then pried the stones apart looking for gold. Hence Jesus prophecy in Mark 13 (and elsewhere) was fulfilled that “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

We had to go through long lines at a security checkpoint to gain access to the Temple Mount. Once through security, we ascended a temporary wooden scaffold that was pretty rickety and actually made me a bit nervous. It didn’t help that on the way up there were stacks of riot shields that looked pretty well used. That took us up onto the temple mount esplanade.

The south end of the esplanade, which was the royal colonnade in Jesus’ day (where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in Matthew 21), now hosts a large masque called Al-Aqsa. The Dome of the Rock itself stands in the middle of the temple mount esplanade. It was fairly unimpressive to me. Of course, I’m predisposed against its presence there, so I guess that makes sense. It was obvious that a LOT of work had gone into creating the mosaic that surrounds it, and a big gold dome is also pretty cool. But otherwise, it was very plain.

Dome of the Rock

We were not allowed inside, because we’re not Muslim, which makes sense. And I generally didn’t feel in danger or threatened in any way on the Temple Mount. I was impressed by its cleanness. There were trees planted on the mount, and I saw men sweeping up the needles that fell from the trees to keep the area as neat and clean as possible.

We also saw the eastern gate, which was sealed by the Muslims to be a thorn in the Jews’ side. More on that in my post about the Necropole, if you want to read it. I cover that ridiculousness pretty thoroughly there.

One other interesting thing was that there were natural markings in the marble from which the Dome of the Rock itself was built. One of the sections of marble looks like the following. I’m not into signs and portents, but this looks pretty creepy. What do you see when you look at this picture?

Demon Marble

Our tour guide sees a demon and pointed it out to us. I guess a bunch of others do to. You be the judge.

Mount Zion and the Upper Room November 11, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Travel.
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Mount Zion

After we left Caiaphas’s house, we boarded the bus, drove a block or so, parked the bus, and disembarked. We were still on Mount Zion, just down the street from Caiaphas’s place, at the tomb where it’s believed David is buried. We didn’t go inside the church itself, but it was pretty cool from the outside. We did go in a little room from the Crusader era (12th century architecture) that commemorates the belief that this is also the location of both the Last Supper and Pentecost.

There was actually some significant controversy within our group as to whether or not this really was the place of both the last supper, Pentecost, and potentially even one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. As our guide was explaining that this was all true, it didn’t sit right with me. So, when we got out to the courtyard, I read Acts 2 aloud slowly and we carefully analyzed the passage as a group. We were debating that it didn’t make sense for 3,000 people to be saved in a tiny upper room. The Bible clearly states that “they were We concluded that “they were all together in one place”, so this happened in one place. Then, “a sound like a mighty rushing wind … filled the entire house where they were sitting”. This clearly indicates that they were indoors. Then, they began to speak in different languages (or at least everyone around them heard them in their native tongue), and a crowd gathered. So much so that 3,000 people were saved, which implies that there were likely many more there who didn’t come to trust in Christ. So, we concluded that they must have started inside in fear and then moved outside in boldness once the Holy Spirit had descended upon them.

We also debated whether or not the Last Supper, Jesus’ second post-resurrection appearance, and Pentecost would all have happened in the same place. That just doesn’t seem likely to me. In both Matthew 26 (from v17) and Luke 22 (from v7), Jesus instructs the disciples to go meet a (seemingly random) man in Jerusalem to prepare an upper room – Luke even uses the term “guest room” – for them that they might observe the Passover together. We know that Jesus is arrested that night, and the disciples (except for Peter) disperse in fear of also being arrested. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that they would retreat back to a random guy’s guest quarters. Would they be able to trust this person not to give them up? Would the room even still be available the next day? Etc. It seems far more likely that they’d pull back to Mary’s house or the home of a trusted follower of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea even. And just because the disciples retreated to a particular place when Jesus was arrested and killed, doesn’t mean that they would necessarily be hiding in the same place when He appears to them in John 20 (from v19).after His resurrection.

So, anyway, we had some interesting discussion, but much of this was never resolved. Our tour guide didn’t really have answers for me, and I haven’t taken time to research the topic since my Internet connectivity has been spotty. For now, I’m content to assume that a lot of speculation has gone into saying that this particular church in Mount Zion is the location of all four of these historic places:

  • King David’s burial (1 Kings 2)
  • The Last Supper (Matthew 26 and Luke 22)
  • Jesus’ 2nd post-resurrection appearance (John 20)
  • Pentecost (Acts 2)

And I’m okay with that. What’s far more important to me is that these events happened, not exactly where they happened. But I am far less willing (having not seen any convincing evidence) to assume that they all happened in the same place out of (what I perceive to be) convenience on the part of those making the assumption.

The House of Caiaphas November 11, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Travel.
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House of Caiaphas

Matthew 26 records that, on Thursday night after the last supper with His disciples, Jesus retreated to the Mount of Olives to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He typically went alone, but this time asked Peter, James, and John (His closest friends) to go with Him. There He agonized under the weight of the mission before Him, knowing that it would be impossibly hard to go to the cross, and be separated from the unbroken circle of fellowship He’d experienced with God from eternity past as He paid an unimaginable price for the sins of the entire world … for my sin and yours. Eventually, though, Jesus resolved, “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given me?” as recorded in John 18:11.

After Jesus had submitted Himself to His Father and resolved to go through with His mission, He was ready to be handed over to the authorities, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Knowing this was coming, He woke the disciples (who couldn’t watch with Him even for an hour – sounds familiar), and waited for Judas to arrive with a bunch of thugs claiming to be doing God’s work.

Jesus permitted Himself to be captured, and the soldiers took Him away in chains (ostensibly) to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest. There, He was interrogated and mocked, and ultimately thrown into a cistern in Caiaphas’ basement.

After lunch at the Sheraton in Jerusalem, we headed for the house of Caiaphas. Jesus would have been marched down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and up the side of Mount Zion just south of Mount Moriah where the temple mount is located. These are fairly small mountains we’re talking about here, but it’s still a bit of hike. I’d say He would have had to march maybe 2 miles – nothing for someone who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from Nazareth three times a year. We took the bus.

Or course, there’s a church built on top of Caiaphas’ place, which wasn’t really worth going through so I won’t bore you with details. But under the church in the basement was the actual chamber where Jesus is thought to have been kept. Now that’s interesting! We stood in the old cistern where they believe He was and read a psalm together. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which it was. It was amazing to be where Jesus might have personally been. They also think that He was dropped down into the water in the room from a hole in the ceiling, which had to be 15 feet above the floor. Whether there was a lot of water and he had to tread water all night or there was a little water and he was basically getting dropped on the floor from that height… Either way, doesn’t sound like He would have had a pleasant night.

I have to say that my amazement never wears off in terms of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It doesn’t get anymore profound than God’s humbling Himself to the level that Jesus did, even to the point of physical death and spiritual separation from God the Father. Praise be to the Living God for the grace and love He shows us in Christ!

In the way of additional information about Jerusalem, here are a few of the places our guide pointed out to us from the roof of the church that commemorates the house of Caiaphas:

  • We saw “David’s City” on Mount Zion between the Kidron and Tyropaeion valleys. This was the (MUCH smaller) area covered by Jerusalem in David’s time before Solomon built the temple.
  • We saw the location of the Pool of Siloam at southern end of the Tyropaeion valley
  • We saw the Valley of Gehenna west of Mount Zion. In ancient times, residents of Jerusalem threw their garbage out of the Dung gate into the valley, because the stench would then drift southeast away from the city into the wilderness, blown by the breeze coming off the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus referred to Gehenna as a metaphor for hell, because the fires in the valley (consuming the garbage) never went out.
  • The three valleys – Kidron, Tyropaeion, and Gehenna – form the Hebrew letter “W” or “Shin”, which is the first letter in “Shaddai”, the Hebrew name for God. Our tour guide mentioned this more than once with great pride. It was clear that he believed this to mean that God regards the Israelites as special.
  • We saw a wall being erected (seemed nearly done) by Israel where they believe the border of a Palestinian state will one day reside. We ask our guide if Israelis are angry about having to give up territory to the Palestinians. He said yes, but that they had to do so, because the Palestinian population is growing much faster than the Jewish population. Therefore, he said that if they don’t allow a state to be formed and give up some land, in 50-100 years, Palestinians will control the government of Israel anyway and take everything. So, better to give them their own state so that they leave Israel alone (in theory). Interesting take; sounds like a familiar problem.

Mount of Olives November 11, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Mount of Olives

After breakfast, the first place we gathered on our first whole day in Jerusalem, was the Mount of Olives. The temple mount (where Solomon’s temple used to sit and the Dome of the Rock sits now) sits atop Mount Moriah in the south of Israel, above the Negev dessert immediately west of the northernmost tip of the Dead Sea. The Mount of Olives is west of the temple mount, across the Kidron Valley.

The Mount of Olives was one of Jesus’ favorite places. He retreated there often to pray, taught their occasionally, and ascended to heaven from there. It’s believed that just as His feet last touched the earth there, it will be the first place they touch the earth again when He returns. Also, the Garden of Gethsemane – where Jesus was marked by Judas and captured by the Jewish leadership, to ultimately be crucified – is located on the Mount of Olives.

We started our day in one of several mini stone amphitheaters created as teaching / viewing spots on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. With the exception of some terribly fleeting glimpses of it the evening before entering into the city, this was our first real view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. Gary Frazier, the Director of Discovery Ministries, our tour company, spoke to us about the history of Israel past, present, and future. I won’t go into huge details on Jerusalem from his talk. Maybe I’ll devote an entry to a brief Jerusalem lesson, but there are so many other places far more qualified to give that kind of supporting / contextual / historic information than my blog.

There are a couple highlights from our time together on the Mount of Olives – before we descended down to the Garden of Gethsemane – that I’d like to share though.

First, just behind us (over the Mount of Olives to the west) is the town of Lazeria. In Biblical times, this was Bethany. This is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and it was from roughly where we were sitting during Gary’s talk that Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Matthew 23, Luke 19) because the people had rejected God provoking God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the Israelites. Jesus knew that someday the city would lie in ruins, and of course He was right.

Secondly, Lindsay McCaul led worship, which I always love. I was particularly interested in a new song I haven’t heard before called “Beautiful”. Will have to get that one from iTunes when I get home.

Lastly, a word on the Temple Mount. It is built where it is on Mount Moriah because that’s where David built an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite in 2 Samuel 24. David displayed a sinful independence and a lack of faith in God by conducting a census of his fighting men. As a result, God punished him and Israel with a plaque, But David built an altar to pray to God and beg forgiveness. As a result, God averted the plaque. It was in this process that David – in response to Araunah’s offer to give him the threshing floor for the altar – made his famous statement in verse 24, “I will buy [the threshing floor] from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

This all took place on Mount Moriah. So later, when Solomon set out to build a temple for God after David’s death, he chose this sacred place to do so. This is where the Dome of the Rock sits today.

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