THE HOLY LAND: Jerusalem
The Salvation Center of the World
As we headed uphill, our guide told us that we would see names of donors inscribed on the Wall of Life, and the cost of having the name inscribed on the glossy concrete walls had gone up from one million to six million US dollars. However, it was not the modern walls that impressed me but an astonishing panorama from our vantage point.
We were at the Hebrew University Wall of Life in Mt. Scopus, overlooking the panoramic view of Jerusalem. I saw a common motif of religious faith: temples, mosque and church domes. Our guide said that Jerusalem has been given different labels - City of Peace, Jerusalem the Holy, Yerushalaim the crown of Israel, and the Nerve and Salvation Center of the World. I thought the latter put what I saw and the images captured by my camera in context. He told us a little bit about Jerusalem as a city with a long history of besiege, destruction, rebuilding, destruction and rebuilding, and more importantly, its history that was deeply rooted in the Bible.
We covered many holy grounds and visited a few holy sites before Jerusalem, but none of them made me feel the goose bumps or the mystery that the other pilgrims to the Holy Land experienced. Upon seeing the city’s panorama, I decided to pay closer attention to our guide’s story behind the place (the Bible connection) and look for the mystery more than the history and the visibly remarkable characteristic of the place.
The Old City Walls and Gates
The most visible remnant of history was the Old City Walls, which stick out from here and there, as we crisscrossed the city. As usual, our guide emphasis in describing the place was to connect it to the Bible. He then quoted the Bible connection and the verse number.
“Then said I unto them, Ye see the evil case that we are in, how Jerusalem lie waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach (Nehemiah 2:17)”.
And that was all the history I needed to make my visit meaningful and to feel like a pilgrim rather than a tourist.
Temples and Domes
Another site that dominated the panoramic view was the gilded dome - the Dome of the Rock, one of the earliest Muslim structures that covered the rock on which the prophet Muhammad stood. Not far from the Dome of the Rock, we saw the dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque, an ancient and important mosque. Both are within the compound of the Temple Mount, Islam’s third holiest site. For the Muslims, the Temple Mount is believed to be the site where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven.
For the Jews, the Temple Mount is the site of the first and second temple of important events like Abrahams's near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Jacob's famous dream of angels and ladders. Now, the last remnant of the walls, the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall , which has a complicated geopolitical history, is behind the Temple Mount. It's said to be the holiest place of prayers for the Jews. We entered the Wailing Wall through the Dung Gate to pray and join the normal practice of writing prayers or petition into a piece of paper and insert them onto the wall cracks.
Next, we drove up to the Mt. of Olives to visit the Church of the Ascension. We passed sprawling cemeteries on the way to Mt. of Olives, and saw a panoramic view of the Kidron valley as we got to the top.
The following day, our bus took us to the eastern slope of Mt. Zion to visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. We passed the walls of the old city on the right side. From the slope, we saw the Tower of David and Jaffa gate on the left. Before visiting the Church of St. Peter, we stopped to see a panoramic view of Abu-Tor, south of Mount Zion, across the green valley of Hinnom. Beyond the slopes of Mt. Zion, we saw the Dormition monastery and church structure, and its bell tower. Behind the bell tower was the site of tomb of King David. From the east side of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, we saw the view of the Kidron Valley again. I thought we were seeing a different place, only to find the same panorama we saw from the other place or mountain.
On our final day in Jerusalem, we walked from the top of Mt. of Olives to the steep and narrow Palm Sunday Rd (the road that Jesus took when he entered Jerusalem) to finish our station of the cross at the Holy Sepulcher Church. Along the way, we passed the Dominus Flevit Chapel. Outside the chapel, we saw a clearer view of smaller domes at the Temple Mount like the freestanding Dome of the Chain and a small-pillared Dome of the Spirits. Another shrine on the Temple Mount is the Dome of Ascension, which is associated with Mohammed’s night journey. We also saw many domes of Christian Churches: the dome of the Holy Sepulcher Church, the dome of the Church of the Ascension and the Church of Peter in Gallicantu, and more prominently, the seven gilded onion domes of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, a Russian Orthodox Church. It was a very picturesque site.
Halfway down, we stopped at the Jewish cemetery where we thought a funeral was going on when we saw a few people near the gravesite. But our guide said that they were just visiting. We did not see any flowers but saw small stones on top of the graves. Our guide explained the practice. While flowers are a good metaphor for the brevity of life, stones do not wither, so they are a better symbol for permanence of life and endurance of the soul. What astonished me though was the cost of the plot or gravesite. It would cost $25,000.00 to be buried in Jewish cemeteries in Jerusalem. Apparently, there is a special significance attached to this practice, which drives up the cost. Since they were the last meeting place not only of the people of Jerusalem but also of Jews from all over the world, many Jews in their old age came to Jerusalem in order to live out the rest of their lives there and to be buried (close to salvation) in its holy soil.
The Old City Market
Although the Old City Market Suk was not part of the panoramic view, I thought it's worth the inclusion here because it's part of the Old City. We learned that the old city of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. Each boasts its own sight and sound, but preserves the time-honored tradition of the market trade of the ‘Levant’ (cross intersection of western Asia, northeast Africa and eastern Mediterranean). Filled with the exotic flavors of spices from around the world, and the colorful sights of pink-dyed vegetables, fresh fruits and vegetables and bread on tiny carts, plastic toys and trinkets and scarves, the Suk (The Old City Market) was a fascinating place to visit.
|The Wall of Life|
|Old City of Jerusalem|
|The Tower of David and the Tower of David Museum|
NOTE: All Photos by the author