Our tour of Jerusalem continues with more walking of course! After our visit to the Western Wall, our guide hailed a taxi to take us out through the Dung Gate and up the Mt. of Olives. When I say up I mean a seriously steep climb up a one-lane windy path. Meeting another car along the way had me worried we would not have the horse power to keep going forward if we had to stop. But, after a number of well-timed horn blasts we were at the top, staring out over the ancient Jewish cemetery where the tombs sit up off the ground and covered with a number of rocks from visitors.
We took in the view of the Old City and the Temple Mount and could see the stretch of the Eastern wall of the city beyond the Kidron Valley where the Golden Gate (also referred to as the Gate of Mercy) is located. It was sealed by an Ottoman Sultan in the 1500s. Some say that was done because that is the gate Jesus passed through on Palm Sunday and where he will return again, and the Sultan wanted to prevent that from happening. Um, Mr. Sultan, I think if God wants to come through that gate, it won’t matter if you seal it.
Once again I thought of the hikes that Jesus took up and around some rough country in pretty hot weather. We could imagine Jesus praying and teaching as they looked across the ancient and holy countryside and sat among olive trees.
It was a cool 108 degrees outside and our slow walk down the slope took us by many security cameras (Israel is known for its security measures) and then in to the Dominus Flevit, a church built to commemorate the Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem. It features a beautiful view of the city and the Dome of the Rock through its chapel window. We saw a number of ossuaries (carved boxes that held the bones of people—collected after a year or so of burial). In the garden of the church area were a few olive trees left from days when they grew over the mountainside.
Garden of Gethsemane
Our final stop at the bottom was the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent his last night on earth praying with his disciples. This is where he was arrested and taken to trial. It was interesting and a bit strange to hear our Jewish guide tell us the story with a new twist—it was the Romans who arrested him and according to her “there may have been some involvement with the Jewish leaders” but she was doubtful.
My mom and I had some interesting discussions about that later. We have nothing against Jewish people and would never judge the ancient Jews for their part in Jesus’ arrest and conviction. As Christians we believe Jesus took all of our sins upon himself—both people who were there and people who live now—so it may well have been us there mocking him and putting him on trial. Having said that, as a Christian hearing these new testament stories from someone who is reading from a book that does not necessarily follow our beliefs did take something away from the experience. I would recommend to other Christians to visit Israel with a church group or be guided by Christian guides if they feel that would be important to their Holy Land experience. We think it would have enhanced our spiritual experience if we had been led by a believer who shared our faith.
From the Garden we continued our trek up a long steep path (this time walking and drinking about three bottles of water) through the Lion’s Gate which leads to the famous Via Dolorosa, the street that took Jesus from his torture to his death on the cross. I’ll cover our travels there and the rest of the holy sites in the next post.