Friday, 12 December 2008

jerusalem (9) - healing

The Street of the Cheesemakers: where Jesus walked?

Thursday 11th December. Back into full swing this morning but things didn’t go according to plan. We headed off early to visit Al-Haram Ash-Sharif (Temple Mount) only to find that the Moslem religious leaders had extended the celebrations which were due to have ended on Wednesday to Sunday. This meant the site was closed to non-Moslems so we couldn’t go in. Stage two of the plan had been to visit the temple southern wall excavations so we went straight there and had an absorbing time looking at all that has been uncovered and what it reveals particularly about the Second Temple. Two particular areas drew my attention. The first a C1st A.D. street beside the temple under what is now known as the Robinson Arch. The street is called the Street of the Cheesemakers (let the reader understand again) and was lined with traders’ shops where goods including food and temple sacrifices were sold. The area is also surrounded by Mikvah’ot for purification before worship. The other area is the southern steps leading up to the temple, which I mentioned in a previous post. We sat on these steps and listened to John 2:13-22, the cleansing of the temple, and then reflected on its significance for Jesus' life and mission.

Southern steps to Second Temple.
On to the Western/Wailing wall which I posted about previously. As before there was a lot of activity with Bar Mitzvah ceremonies and musicians playing drums and blowing shawms (rams horns).

Wailing at the Wailing Wall
Our change of plan was to leave by the Dung gate and head for St Peter en Gallicantu, the church where the Denial of Peter is commemorated and is also believed to be the residence of the temple High Priest Caiaphas. The church affords stunning views of the old city and across to the Mount of Olives and down the valley towards the Dead Sea. A very welcome cup of coffee was followed by one of the most evocative times of prayer and reflection. The church was restored in the 1990’s and the décor inside is a series of beautiful mosaics, the designs are breathtaking and expertly executed. We sat in the body of the church singing Taize chants and then another group of pilgrims entered. They read Peter’s Denial Matthew 26:69-75 in Spanish and then one of our party read it in English. After a time of silence we moved to the area underneath the church which includes the dungeon where Jesus is believed to have been held overnight before his crucifixion. It’s basically a deep pit into which prisoners were lowered by rope. We stood in the cell listening to Psalm 88, imagining the darkness and the fear.

Mosaics in St Peter en Gallicantu.
Outside the church are extensive excavations which have led to the conclusion that this was the high priest’s house and next to it are a set of steep steps which it is thought Jesus would have descended to go to Gethsemane and then ascended as he was brought before the Chief Priest.

Pool of Bethesda.
Back into the old city and lunch at a Lutheran Hospice. As usual the food was excellent and was rounded off with a slice of panettone and coffee. Then across the old city to The Pool of Bethesda which is a remarkable archaeological site. We sat in the church for another powerful meditation by Brother Robert on healing following the reading of John 5:2-16. Do we really want to be healed? The church has interesting acoustics, effectively a reverb chamber, and it is not easy to hear someone speak but the singing sounds out of this world. The excavations go right down to the pools at the time of Jesus, with remains of a Byzantine basilica and then Crusader church on top. One comment to make about Biblical archaeology at this point. Back at the Second Temple site Kathleen Kenyon, who I mentioned in relation to Jericho, identified a wall as being second temple when in fact it was later. At Bethesda scholars were very sceptical that there was a pool and so were astounded when one was actually found. It just goes to show that the archaeologists and their assumptions are not necessarily right. At the same time we should thank God for their gifts and skills which have helped to reveal so much about sites in the Holy Land.

Separation Barrier on outskirts of Jerusalem.
It has been a long day and in the evening we had a lecture on Christians in the Holy Land. It was an introduction to the history, plethora of denominations and the issues faced by indigenous Christians today. Christians now number about one percent of the population and many of them live in areas that are cut off by the wall, or separation barrier as many Israeli’s would call it. Basically, many Christians are prevented from attending their churches, amongst many other things, because of the limitations on travel imposed as part of the security measures. It is easy to forget, when thinking about the situation in this part of the world, that a majority of the Christians are Palestinian Arabs living in areas including the West Bank.


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