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Floating in the Dead Sea November 13, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Travel.
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After Qumran, we had lunch. Then back to the Dead Sea for our last experience with our amazingly salty friend – floating in the sea. I think just about everyone who knows anything about the Dead Sea knows that it’s so dense (33.7% salt) that you can’t sink. But knowing that’s true and experiencing it were two different things.

Setting out in the morning, we knew that we had to choose whether or not we were going to swim / float in the Dead Sea. I have to admit that I strongly considered not doing so. I passed on the opportunity to get baptized in the Jordan a few days earlier, because (frankly) I just didn’t want the headache of toting extra clothes around all day, getting wet, showering, changing, getting almost dry, having sand in bad places, etc. Plus, I’d forgotten to pack my water shoes (which was about the only thing I forgot, so I wasn’t too hard on myself). I didn’t at all regret my decision to not get baptized (especially since it meant I got to play photographer for the Miller’s). But eventually I decided that I wasn’t going to get that close to the Dead Sea and not fully experience it. I’d already been baptized, but I certainly had never floated on an ultrasaline lake. :-)

Most of the people I’d grown close to on the tour were diving in with me. But my buddy Kevin wasn’t, so he got saddled with picture-taking responsibilities. I think he enjoyed it though, so I didn’t feel bad. I saw him running around on the beach switching between cameras, snapping pictures like a mad fiend, the entire time we were in the water. Jon and Mary gave him their mega camera for the exercise, and he took some awesome shots. Here are a couple…

Jeff in the Dead Sea

Jeff in the Dead Sea

Okay, let me share a little about my experience of the water itself…

Wading in, it didn’t feel much different. I was focused more on the squishy mud between my toes than some kind of difference in the water. But when I got out far enough, the buoyancy of the water became amazingly evident. Once in to about my chest, I was no longer able to stand. The water literally swept me off my feet. The tenancy of the ultrasaline water to push your body upward knocks your feet out from under you. It is much easier to just not fight it and float. My heavy butt sank down a bit, but it required absolutely no effort to stay pretty much in the top 12-18″ of water no matter where I was in the lake.

The next thing that got my attention was the mud. I started out noticing that it was sliming my feet as I waded in, but I quickly changed focus to how my friends were all sliming themselves with it! I looked up to realize that half the group had reached down to the bottom of the sea, dug up handfuls of mud, and had smeared it all over their bodies. Now, everyone’s heard about the exfoliating goodness and amazing powers (whatever! *rolls eyes*) of the mud from the Dead Sea, but I guess I didn’t expect to see people putting their “faith in the mud” into action so readily. I was absolutely reluctant to join in, but was eventually accosted by … somebody … I think Michael and Clara. One I had muddy hand prints all over my chest and back, there was no going back. So, I dove right in … to the mud, not the water.

Here’s a picture (which I absolutely love, btw)…

Jeff in the Dead Sea

Where I drew the line, though, was getting the mud anywhere near my face … head … eyes. Michael put it on his face too, got a little in his eye, and his head almost came off. Can you imagine how bad it would feel to dump a teaspoon of salt in your eye? Well, 30-something% salt water isn’t better. Not good. I felt bad for him, but I had to tease him about bringing it on himself … that is, until I got about 3 ML of water in my mouth, and nearly gagged my uvula out. GROSS! Took an hour to get the taste out of my mouth.

When it was all said and done, I showered, got dressed, and headed back to the bus for our next adventure … dinner. Have I mentioned that I loved the dinners on our trip? I’m sure you haven’t heard me talk about the humus, right? But I digress (again)…

Before retiring to the bus, I had to make a brief stop by the gift shop to purchase some seriously overpriced sea salts. I couldn’t bring myself to purchase bags of mud (both because they weighed a ton to add to suitcases for International travel and because … well … it’s paying for a bag of mud), but I did pick up the salts for Faith as a small souvenir. She loved them, of course, and I do have to admit that my skin has never been so silky soft and smooth as it was that day after dipping in the Dead Sea.

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls November 13, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Caves at Qumran

We had traveled south from Jerusalem along the Jordan River to the Dead Sea to get to Masada, which is on the west side of the southern part of the sea. Driving back north along the western shore of the Dead Sea, we stopped at Khirbet Qumran. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 by a young Bedouin shepherd boy who, while searching for a lost sheep, threw a stone into a cave in the limestone cliffs near Qumran. He heard something shatter, investigated, and found several of the clay jars that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls contains hundreds of pieces of Biblical text, as well as extrabiblical writings. Naturally, they get their name from the fact that they were found near the Dead Sea. Soon after the boy’s discovery, hundreds more scrolls were found in ten additional caves nearby. We saw from a distance to a number of these caves, and we toured through the archeological site where the scribes — likely the Essenes, a monk-like sect alongside the Sadducees and Pharisees — copied the scrolls, handing them down from generation to generation.

The Dead Sea Scrolls contained ancient copies of the Bible, in fact several copies of almost every book of the Old Testament. Many people think that the Bible has changed over time or that there isn’t much evidence to support the authenticity of scripture. Without reading the Bible or doing any research for themselves, they assume that it is unreliable as an historic non-fictional text. This is simply isn’t true. The Bible has passed more historic, literary, archeological, and other tests by far than any other book in the history of mankind – fiction or non-fiction – in terms of determining its authenticity. Tens of thousands of manuscripts exist, all nearly identical. Differences and discrepancies are all noted in the Biblical text even today. If you pick up a Bible and casually flip through it, you will notice that debated words and phrases are all footnoted and alternate possible words / phrases are included in the footnotes. I’m aware of no other book like that. In my mind, this underscores the reasonableness of belief in the authenticity of Scripture, but you have to be willing to believe it. Many don’t believe in God or Jesus or the Bible because they choose not to, not because there isn’t evidence or because reason to believe doesn’t exist.

More than 15,000 fragments of manuscripts where found in Qumran from 1947-1955 and are now called the Dead Sea Scrolls. These were assembled into 530 separate and distinct scrolls, a few of which were complete scrolls, but most were just larger overlapping fragments. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the oldest Biblical manuscripts dating back to the 7th or 8th century AD or so. For decades, historians routinely questioned these documents claiming that they were likely quite different from the original texts of Scripture, if not made up all together. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls proved that these manuscripts existed over 1,000 years earlier (back to ~ 150 BC) and were virtually identical to the Septuagint and other Masoretic texts that were found earlier but dated to times much later than the DSS. Again, no other ancient text enjoys this level of authentication. For comparison, there are 24,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts. Compare that with the following other ancient non-fictional texts…

Work When Written Earliest Copy Time Span Copies
Caesar’s
Gallic Wars

100-44 BC

900 AD

1,000 yrs

10
Plato’s
Tetralogies

427-347 BC

900 AD

1,200 yrs

7
Tacitus’
Annals

100 AD

1100 AD

1,000 yrs

20
Pliny’s
Histories

61-113 AD

850 AD

750 yrs

7
Herodotus’
History

480-425 BC

900 AD

1,300 yrs

8
New Testament
40-70 AD

180 AD

120 yrs

24,000

I’ve always heard that Homer’s “The Odyssey” was second place to the Bible in terms of number of manuscripts, but I was unable to find that information online when I searched for it. But compare any of the above texts to the Bible, and it’s clear that the Bible stands in a league of its own. At some point, it seems like the historicity of the Bible would be no longer questioned, but that’s not going to happen. The Bible itself predicts that there will always be false prophets (those who claim to speak for God but really don’t or who interpret His Word falsely, with or without malicious intent). See Matthew 24, 2 Peter 2, and 1 John 4, for example.

But I digress. Back to Qumran…

I took several pictures of placards at Qumran describing what archeologists had discovered there. They described how the discovery of benches, tables, and ink wells clearly indicated the rooms where monks had spent their lives copying Scripture. The Essene monks worked their entire lives to make only a few copies of the Bible in their lifetimes. In 68 BC, when Roman troops marched against Qumran during the First Jewish-Roman War, the scribes placed their scrolls – literally their lives’ work – in clay jars and hid them in secret caves in the hills of Qumran.

Scholars believe that a Roman soldier discovered at least some of the scrolls during the war, and purposefully tore them into smaller pieces, accounting for the many thousands of fragments. Of course, the ravages of time and animals likely contributed to this phenomenon as well. Even after the discovery of the scrolls, it took a while for scholars to effectively apply a process of chemically bathing the scrolls to restore them to a state that they could be unrolled and read. Imagine a 1,000 year old piece of parchment and how elaborate the process of simply unrolling such a scroll (without its crumbling to bits) would be! In fact, it took almost 50 years for scientists to fully process all 15,000 fragments found in Qumran. This unbelievably massive archeological task was completed in 2001.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the entire experience for me was thinking about the dedication and diligence of the monks. Can you imagine spending your whole life – day after day after day – copying the Bible? I thought about how I would feel such a weight of responsibility to work with precision – how careful I would want to be in my work – as worship to God. But isn’t that how all our work should be? God calls us to the careful study of His Word and the careful execution of our daily responsibilities in our jobs, whatever they are. Both can and should be worship to God. Unfortunately, I rarely take such care in my work, and I feel like I’m doing well when I even just read the Bible consistently for a few days in a row.

Being at Qumran and thinking about the Scribes who copied Scripture there makes me want to be more faithful in my study of God’s Word and in worshipping God through my work. May it be so for all of us.

For more information about the Dead Sea Scrolls, see: http://mi.byu.edu/dss/

Fortress at Masada November 13, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in News, Politics and Culture, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Masada

For the most part, I was fairly disinterested in parts of our tour that were not directly related to the life and teaching of Jesus or at least other Biblical events. Although general history interests me, my focus in Israel was on the life of Christ, not on wars or nation boundaries or earthly kingdoms. Our tour of Masada was probably my favorite thing on the trip that didn’t fall under the heading “Life and Times of Jesus Christ”, and certainly would have been one of my brother Mike’s favorite parts of the trip.

What is Masada?

Masada is a fairly large plateau – about 1,800 ft by 900 ft on top – in the valley between two mountain ranges overlooking the Dead Sea. The plateau is 1,400 ft tall on the east side overlooking the Dead Sea. The valley in which it sits was evidently formed when part of the tectonic plate supporting this whole region of the earth suddenly collapsed downward, creating a large valley with mountain ridges on either side. The Dead Sea is in this valley, 1385 ft below sea level. There are a number of results of these bizarre conditions, including a lot of details about the Dead Sea that I’ll share in my post about it later. But another interesting fact is that it pretty much never rains there. This is because the temperature and pressure don’t permit moisture in the air to condense into precipitation between the mountain ridges over this area; hence, desert and the saltiest body of water in the world (33.7% salinity). On all sides of the Masada plateau are natural defenses – other mountain ridges, the sea, great expanses of desert, etc – making it an obvious place to built a fortress … and build they did.

The Fortress at Masada was built by Herod the Great (as were many of the places and things Jesus would have been and seen when He walked these lands) about 35 years before Jesus was born. He basically converted the top of this large plateau into a state of the art Roman fortress, complete with luxurious palace, two bath houses, lots of food and water, and all the other amenities the super rich of the time could have hoped for. He built giant storehouses and created an ingenious water storage system. Masada was not only highly defensible, but the reserves of food and water that could be kept there made it the ideal place to hold out against a siege. It reminded me of Helm’s Deep, from the Lord of the Rings.

We visited Masada as our first stop on Friday, 11/13. There is a national park there now. We rode a gondola up to the top of the plateau to a modern station of sorts built on the western rock face. From the gondola, you could easily see the winding path leading up the side of the mountain to the top which the ancient Jews would have taken to go up and down the mountain. It would have taken an hour or two to make the climb, I’d think. Of course, an invading force would have to come up this path one or two at a time, being wailed on by arrows and anything else the defenders on top of the fortress could throw at them. Needless to say, that would have been a failing proposition. And I was certainly glad that we as tourists didn’t have to hike our way up that mountain.

Once on the top of the plateau, we toured the massive storehouses, the living quarters, the general assembly rooms, the Roman bath house, and the post office. I took a picture of the post office for my dad (who carried mail for decades). This is me standing in the post office. The incroppings in the wall behind me are where they kept the postal pigeons used to deliver messages to Herod’s other strongholds at Jerusalem, Caesarea, or wherever else.

The bath house, called a Thermae, was amazing. It consisted of three separate chambers – the Frigiderium, the Tepidarium, and the Caldarium. The Frigiderium was cold, containing cold baths. The Tepidarium was simply a moderately-temporate transitional room between cold and hot rooms. The Caldarium was the hot bath room. To get it heated to temperatures of even 120-150 degrees F, fires would be built outside the bath house and hot air pumped into the Caldarium. But not just into the room. The floor was raised, and the walls were hollow. Slaves would use billows to pump air into the walls and sub-floor while Roman citizens bathed. Large three-tier water boilers called miliarium were used to heat the water for the actual baths in the Caldarium.

Herod’s palace was built on the side of the mountain. Only ruins remain today, of course, and we were unable to go down there. But they was evidently quite the posh digs in his day, even containing a secondary private bath house. Herod definitely lived the rough life.

Herod's palace at Masada

One of the most fascinating aspects of the fortress at Masada for me was how Herod stored so much drinking water. They were in the middle of the desert, yet he had enough supplies to last for months in a siege, not to mention the luxury of roman baths and a fully-stocked palace. The key was in the annual big rains over the mountains to the east. There are several Wadi over the mountain range which are dry all year long, but once a year during the rainy season, a tsunami-like flood of water pours over the mountains (the tops of which are just about at sea level, remember), filling these Wadi river beds to overflowing. When he built the Fortress at Masada, Herod built a set of large cavernous cisterns into the mountain, and an intricate system of waterways connecting the Wadi with the cisterns. So, when the waters would roar up over the mountains once a year, the manmade waterways would catch as much of the water as possible, and channel it into the mountain, filling Herod’s many cisterns. This massive supply of water was enough to provide “clean” (by their standards) drinking water for the entire year until the next rainy season. Quite ingenious. Here’s a picture that shows the water paths and the openings to the cisterns in the mountain. Click on the picture to expand it. On the expanded picture, I’ve circled a few of the openings for the cisterns, and added arrows pointing to the aqueducts Herod built to connect the cisterns to the Wadi in the eastern mountains.

Masada Water Storage

What happened at Masada?

The Jews were constant trouble for the Romans before, during and after the time of Christ. In 70 AD, the Romans finally got fed up and razed Jerusalem (and the 2nd temple) to the ground. This time it was pretty much all out war – the First Jewish-Roman War – and resulted in the destruction of much of Israel at the hands of the Romans, including many of the wonders that Herod the Great had built. A number of Jewish zealots, led by the Sicarius, subsequently fled Jerusalem and took refuge at Masada.

In 72 AD, the Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Roman legion and laid siege to the fortress. They set up camps (the ruins of which are still visible at the foot of the plateau), and settled in for a siege which would last for months. After several failed attempts to breach the wall with catapults and troops from the floor of the valley, the Romans finally built a circumvallation wall and then a rampart against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth to build a ramp hundreds of feet up the side of the plateau. It’s widely thought that Sliva used Jewish slaves to build the rampart to attack their own people, which adds a level of irony to the story.

Once the ramp was in place, Silva eventually was able to breach the fortress. However, having ensured victory, he waited one more night for the final invasion. That night, the leader of the rebels, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, gave a rousing speech about freedom and nobility, which I was privileged to read to the other folks on the green bus with me while visiting Masada. Having been inspired by his speech, the rebels in Masada piled all their provisions in the middle of the courtyard, executed their families, and killed themselves as a final defiant demonstration to the Romans that they would rather die free than live as slaves. Two women hid with their five children in one of the cisterns, and were therefore the only survivors of the mass suicide. They relaid ben Ya’ir’s speech to the Romans after Silva invaded and are primarily the reason – along with Josephus Flavius, a well-red historian of the day – we know so much about what happened at Masada.

What did I learn at Masada?

MasadaWell, the first thing I learned is that a couple hundred rebels hauled up in a fortress (no matter how nifty) are pretty much no match for the Roman army.

I also learned that Jesus’ day wasn’t all that terribly different from the times in which we live. As the Romans did, we enjoy great prosperity and peace. We have traditionally felt fairly invincible. I know I have. Even when the economy is “slow” or we feel the uncertainty and anxiety of unemployment and deflated stock portfolios, we are still rich. These things are just hiccups for the majority of us. Even the poorest among us are kings by the standards of history and juxtaposed against the backdrop of the vast majority of the rest of the world.

We probably aren’t that different from the Romans of Jesus’ day. When Jesus comes among us, will we hear Him?

Another thing I couldn’t help but think about while standing on top of Masada is what I would do if my world was threatened. If the Hunns were invading from the north, would I haul up in a fortress in the dessert, shake my fist over the wall, and ultimately kill myself rather than become a slave? Would I charge out into battle like Aragorn and Theoden, shouting “Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the redeye dawn”? Would I be brave or filled with fear? Or both? Would I do anything? Would I act? Or, would I just sit in judgment over the “enemy” until the invading soldiers arrived at my door long after it was too late?

I guess for me it’s a question of what world is threatened. The older I get, the less concerned I am with America. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s true. This is just another country. It’s the best country in the world, and has been for hundreds of years. But those who hate it (whether they admit or realize it or not isn’t the issue) are destroying it, and we’ve long past the point of no return. The best days of America are behind it. The “equality” and “justice” and all that crap everybody talks about these days aren’t really equality or justice at all, they’re weakness, laziness, and dependence for some, and codewords for “takeover” for others. I could spend every cent I have and every hour of every day fighting for something that’s already gone. So, in that sense, I have not taken up arms against the invading Hunns. I guess, from the perspective of nationalism, I’ll just be sitting in judgment of the enemy until they ride right into town and take what I have.

OR … we could be talking about the Kingdom of God. The home God has built for me in heaven is increasingly where my heart is. My residence is not here, but there. As a stranger, an alien in this land, I am loath to take up arms to defend it. But as a citizen of heaven, I should be heeding a different call. There really is another world, and as Christians we really are part of it. God has called us to this other place to think and act and live differently. Here, a battle also rages, for the hearts and souls of men. My neighbors, coworkers, and friends are under assault by the enemy, and if I really cared for them and for God, I would rush to their defense long before I worried about running for political office or fighting to change the public school system.

I have for so many years had my priorities all screwed up. I worried about bank accounts and elections when I should have been worried about church and the gospel. Masada brought that back to me. First, God reminded me to pick my battles. Second, God called me to actually fight. No more sitting around being glad I’m on the right team. A battle is raging, and there is no neutrality for those who have eyes to see.

Original Walls and Steps November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Wandering through the city, after our shopping spree along the Byzantine Cardo Maximus and observing some children playing on a local neighborhood playground, we explored some of the original ruins of the city from the second temple period. First, we saw part of the city wall that Nehemiah rebuilt in the 5th century BC, as recorded in the book of … let me think … Nehemiah. ;-) Ezra and Nehemiah (one book in the Hebrew Bible) completed the 2nd temple in about 500 BC. Fifty years later, they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. We didn’t get to walk on it or touch it, but it was pretty amazing to see a piece of Biblical history come alive in such an up close and obvious way. To think that 2500 years ago, this man of God heeded a call in his heart to build something for God. It makes me think about what I’m building for God. What call am I heeding in my spirit?

So a quick tangent on that…

I used to think that God expected these great dreams from me … from us. You wouldn’t believe the things I imagined I would someday do “for God” when I was (not that much) younger. I even judged others for not having dreams as grand as mine.

But with every passing year, I feel like I understand more deeply that God isn’t after our worldly success in His Name. God is after us. Our hearts. There are men (and women) who will build whole cities “for God”, to whom He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) And there are other men, whose names nobody will ever know and no history book will ever record, to whom God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Our culture, our consumerism, and our human hearts have so screwed up our perceptions of “success” that most of us (myself included) have totally failed to have God’s heart and His “dreams” for our lives.

Don’t worry about creating a megachurch. Get up early, study Scripture, and pray every day.

Don’t worry about making billions to resource the Kingdom. Walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day.

Don’t worry about building an international coalition to feed the hungry. Buy a homeless guy a sandwich, even though he’s most likely scamming you.

Don’t worry about starting orphanages in a third world country. Take a kid with no dad to McDonald’s.

Don’t worry about making great sacrifices for God. Just obey Him in your every day – not perfectly (impossible), but increasingly.

Don’t worry about ministering to thousands. Read the Bible to and pray with your kids.

If God wants to turn your life’s fruits into a megachurch or an international coalition of whatever or a huge foundation or a giant corporation, that’s His business … and His problem. Don’t pursue it. Let go of the television-marketing-consumerism-driven view of success that goes with being American. Walk with God. Learn about what success means in the Kingdom of Heaven. We aren’t going to be Americans for long, but we’ll be in heaven forever. And if God gives you success the world understands ON TOP OF success He values, then accept it from Him cautiously and with great humility, even fear. Because God has chosen to do something through you that you have absolutely no power to do on your own. And keep in mind that He doesn’t need you to build a church or an orphanage. He’s on it. You and your house, serve the Lord! Today. In little things. The rest is His responsibility.

And in case you’re wondering… More than to anyone else, I’m preaching to myself. If overhearing God’s words in my heart and mind serves you, then rock on!

Okay, back to Jerusalem…

After seeing the remnants of Nehemiah’s wall, we went outside the modern day city walls to a museum-ish area where they are excavating a bunch of other stuff from the second temple period. Here, we saw the ritual baths where pilgrims heading to the temple to worship would become ceremonially clean prior to approaching God’s house. Once “clean”, they would ascend the steps on the southern end of the temple mount, rising up though the royal colonnade onto the esplanade. Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, into those baths, and up those steps at least three times a year. We paused to imagine how it must have felt the first time — mounting the steps, and laying eyes on the temple of God. It was magnificent by ancient human standards, not to mention that God Himself dwelt there (at least until the cross). We’d probably consider it pretty sweet today too, actually.

But even more significant than all that was the reality that Jesus Himself would probably have walked on these steps. It is likely that He was sitting on these very steps chatting with the Pharisees and Sadducees when He was left behind by His family at age 12, as recorded in Luke 2. Here’s a picture of me on these very steps…

Temple Steps

After that, we rounded a corner and saw another Cardo Maximus (remember that we had walked on the main drag in Jerusalem in the Byzantine era earlier that day), this time from the second temple era over 1,000 years earlier. There were three things about this experience that fascinated me.

First, I was amazed at how well the street was preserved. Of course, it had been unburied (since Israel had become a state in 1948). But even given that, it was just cool. The Romans really knew what they were doing. I wish they built roads like that in Chicago!

Second was the remnants of Robinson’s arch. Named after for the American scholar Edward Robinson who contributed heavily to our understanding of the second temple period through his journeys to the Holy Land in the 1930′s, Robinson’s arch was a magnificent (again by ancient standards) stone arch and staircase that descended from the southwest corner of the temple mount esplanade to the Cardo Maximus (running north-south along the western retaining wall of the temple mount – now the Wailing Wall) below. I thought that was absolutely sweet. Here is an artist’s depiction of the arch, and a picture I took…

Robinson's Arch Robinson's Arch

Lastly, and most importantly, was that we witnessed first hand Jesus prophecy (Mark 13, Matthew 24) that “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” When Roman soldiers razed Jerusalem in 70 AD to quell yet another Jewish rebellion, they were given strict orders NOT to destroy the temple. The Roman leadership had a penchant for unique architecture, and they didn’t want to lose this building. But the soldiers had heard one too many rumors that the Jews had hidden gold inside the walls of the temple. So, they burned it. The gold lining the walls inside melted into the stones, so the soldiers used (essentially) crowbars to pry the stones of the temple apart to get at the gold. They threw them everywhere, including right off the temple mount. Look at the stones in the back of this picture … not one stone is left on another. Amazing.

Cardo Maximus

Third Temple Golden Menorah November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in News, Politics and Culture, Travel.
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Golden Menora

Among the many fascinating things we saw in Jerusalem was a replica of a the 3 cubit (4.5 feet) tall solid gold menorah that was originally present in Solomon’s temple. The Temple Institute is an organization who is preparing to build a third temple in Jerusalem. Part of that preparation is assembling the gold necessary to recreate this huge menorah. I read in one place that they are working on collecting 60kg (130 lbs) of 24k gold, which would result in a somewhat hollow 5 ft menorah rather than a solid gold one, but I think they’d be okay with that. At any rate, it was fascinating both to see this replica and get an idea of the scale of Solomon’s wealth, as well as to think about how serious some are about personally participating in ushering in the end times.

Jerusalem’s Cardo Maximus November 12, 2009

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Next, our tour guide took us to the Jewish quarter to see ruins of the Cardo Maximus (or main north-south street) through Jerusalem in Byzantine times – the times of the crusades. This was a pretty cool thing to see, especially a mosaic map (called the “Madaba” map) that had been found in a nearby church that depicted what the city would have looked like many hundreds of years ago. Here’s a picture…

Madaba

This main north-south thoroughfare directly connected the Damascus gate to the north and Zion gate to the south. The crusaders had turned most of this are into roofed markets. Like the other Cardo maximus streets we saw on our trip, there were stone columns down the center with shops lining either side. The cool thing about this particular incarnation of that architecture was that today the northern half of the strip was still there – a thriving marketplace where we shopped for 30 minutes or so between stops in the city. A picture of the modern shopping area…

Shopping on the Carto Maximus

One other thing I found particularly of note was the way the street was constructed. We were walking on the same stones that were there during the crusades 800-900 years ago. In the middle of the street was a little trough. This is where the sewage ran down the street before the concept of sewer systems. I can’t imagine how badly it must have reeked there. Seeing stuff like that made the black death a bit more understandable / imaginable. Here’s a picture…

Byzantine "Sewer"

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