Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jerusalem Underground

As we wandered around the old city, we came across the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia's mission in Jerusalem, St. Alexander's (see photo above). It is located very close to the Holy Sepulchre and the present-day church sits atop the spot regarded as the "Last Judgment Gate," i.e. the way by which Christ left the city on his way to Golgotha.

This is also located underneath St. Alexander's. Scholars believe it is part of a triumphal arch that was constructed by the Emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt Jerusalem in 135 AD. The area underneath St. Alexander's is actually quite large, and scholars now believe that this area was part of or connected with the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the 4th century.

Having walked and seen quite a bit, we were quite hungry at this point, and we found a hole-in-the wall restaurant that had exactly one thing on the menu -- kebabs. In this photo, you can see their entire operation. To the left, one man is kneading, with bare hands, an enormous mound of ground meat, mixing in spices. He then makes a sausage-shaped patty and puts it on a skewer, which he hands to his partner in the right of the photo. This man is in charge of the grill. They serve the kebabs with some pita, a little grilled tomato and onion, and you can get some yogurt if you want. Quite simple, but very good.

After lunch we headed to the Burnt House, which I was quite interested to see. What remains (see above) is what was once the basement of a Jewish house that was destroyed, along with the Temple, in 70 AD by the Romans. It includes a mikvah (ritual bath) and stoneware (which, according to rabbinic oral tradition, do not contract ritual impurity) , both of which indicate it was occupied by a priestly family who needed to be ritually pure in order to serve in the Temple. This basement area seems to have been some sort of workshop, possibly for goods related to the Temple. The site is interesting for how much was preserved after the Romans set fire to the house. The upper floors seem to have come crashing down into the basement, and the ash covered and preserved everything until it was discovered in 1967.

Next we went over to the adjacent Wohl Archaeological Museum, which is quite similar to the Burnt House. Here are the remains of several large houses undoubtedly belonging to wealthy Jewish families from the time of Christ. There are a plethora of ritual baths, which again lend credence to the idea that this area, which at that time actually stood on a hill overlooking the Temple Mount, was a wealthy area inhabited by priests (well-off priests -- how do you like that idea?!)

On the right in this photo you can see steps leading down into a ritual bath. On the left seems to be a foot bath. The procedure seems to have been that one took a bath in a separate area, then walked to the ritual bath. One washed their feet in a basin like this one before walking down into the ritual bath.

After finishing here, it was about 5:00, when most things in the Old City closed, so we decided to head back to the hotel to rest until the service that night at the Holy Sepulchre. Stay tuned for the next post! I'll be trying to do one a day until the story is finished.

Here is a photo of my dad about to enjoy a can of Coke Zero in Arabic.

For more photos from day three, click here.

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