Adventist Review news editor Mark A. Kellner is part of a select group of Christian reporters, editors and broadcasters invited to visit Israel as guests of that nation's Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. During the course of the visit, the group will see many of the major historical sites related to Christian and Jewish history in the land. In this blog, Mark shares his impressions of an ancient land and its ultramodern environment of today.
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ERUSALEM, Israel – There’s no easy way to describe the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s ancient – several levels below your feet are ruins from the time of Jesus, of Solomon and even King David – but it’s more than that. This is a bustling place, one where people mix and mingle constantly.
This morning, our group walked through the Jaffa Gate and into the Old City to see the “holy places” to which many Christian pilgrims go. I put “holy places” in quotations not out of disrespect, but rather because few of these locations can be confirmed as the actual site of this or that event, even if many people believe it to be so. (The chief exception, of course, is the Western Wall of the old Temple Mount.)
A comment about the sites and some visitor’s devotion to them: Protestant Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, are far more concerned with what happened because of the events in Jesus’ life here than we are with their precise geographic location. I certainly respect those who devote themselves to visiting these sites, but again, I’m more concerned with what Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished than its precise location.
But we do know this, for a certainty: the events took place, and they took place in Jerusalem!
That said, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, whose administration is divided among several Catholic and Orthodox churches, is a fascinating place. Claimed by Helena, the mother of Constantine, as the site of both the crucifixion and the resurrection – the site of the tomb is a few steps from the Golgotha Helena found – it draws pilgrims from sunup to sundown. Many of these devout visitors line up for hours to enter what they believe is the sepulcher; our group did not.
We went through the streets of the Old City along the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Sorrows.” Many points are identified there as “Stations of the Cross,” and pilgrims often stop and pray at these.
Then we entered the Jewish Quarter and paused at the “Cardo,” an ancient street under which ruins of an old market were found. The modern-day mural tries to recreate that scene, but with a couple of 20th-century touches the observant viewer might catch (see photo in gallery).
Finally, we arrived at Ha-Kotel, the Western Wall. Except for the annual anniversary of the destruction of the Second Temple, there’s not much “wailing” done here. People come to the Wall to pray, to get married overlooking it, and to celebrate major family events. Friday evening’s Sabbath celebrations are joyous here.
Often, those who come to the Wall and pray – all are welcome so long as they show respect – will leave a note in a crack of the structure on which prayer requests are written. Thousands of these can be seen up close.
One thing to note: Orthodox Jewish practice segregates worshippers here by gender. Men and women don’t pray together, but are adjacent, separated by a small fence.
Another hike and we arrived at the Garden Tomb. Located just outside the walls of the Old City, the area overlooks a hill whose features resemble an old skull. Gerry Booth, a retired British Navy officer who was our guide, doesn’t assert that this place is the actual site, but he said there are ten items in scripture whose description lines up with this location, as opposed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I appreciate the Garden Tomb because it is more evocative of what things looked like in Jesus’ time. There’s a channel in front of the tomb for a stone to be rolled in or out of place, and a small stone is on display as well.
Sitting in the stillness of the garden, one contemplates what happened at the actual location some 2000 years ago, and what will happen in our world, and soon!
This ended our formal tour of Israel. The afternoon was spent in free time (i.e., shopping!) and one more group dinner before most of us left for home. (I have an appointment in Slovenia, so I’m going on to there.)
One last thing: Food in Israel is something else, and it merits a separate blog posting! One hint – vegetarians will find plenty to like here.