In May, I made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and that trip has forever changed my life.
Our group visited the Herodian, the palace that Herod the Great built for himself outside of Bethlehem. From the pinnacle of the palace, Herod could see the distant hills of Jericho and almost all of Jerusalem. The palace initially stood six stories high atop a small mountain, but of course for Herod, that was not enough.
Recent archaeological expeditions show that in the final two years of his reign, Herod took rocks and dirt from surrounding hills and mountains to build a mountain surrounding the palace. He instructed the builders to cover all of the low-lying structures with rock and soil; it didn’t matter what it was. A brand new theater was covered. The earth ruined storage houses and a grand staircase because Herod wanted to be remembered forever.
This was the same Herod who is remembered Biblically for ordering the murder of all male children ages two and under when he heard the Messiah had been born.
We wandered around Temple Mount. Herod the Great built the Temple 2,000 years ago, and the bottom two layers of the original Temple still stands as the base today. Rubble dots the base of the Temple as millennia of destruction and natural wear has torn the Temple to its present state. Our tour guide, an archaeologist named Dr. Jim Fleming, walked us around the base of the Temple and explained what we were seeing. An archway would have covered the shops below, but they crumbled to the earth destroying everything under its weight.
Walking by the Temple that Jesus visited and the steps that Jesus taught on moved me deeply. I ran my fingers along the stones that were set in place 2,000 years ago, and for a brief moment, I connected to a time gone by.
We waded through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which was built to supply water to the Israelites within the city wall while under siege. When the builders built the tunnel 2,700 years ago, they started with picks at different ends and hoped to meet in the middle. It was nothing short of a miracle that they did! The tunnel wound around a few strange curves and showed signs of trying to pick in one direction but choosing another.
Complete darkness surrounded us in the tunnel without the use of flashlights. My senses were heightened. The icy water sloshed as my feet pushed my body forward. Dampness touched my shoulders as I brushed past the slimy, wet walls. Sounds of distance people rang in my ears. I yelled the occasional, “Marco!” and listened to a faint, “Polo!” Mildew stung my nose from ages of buildup. The water glistened like crystals as a flashlight or two shone the way to the other side.
The Palm Sunday route on the Mount of Olives that Jesus would have taken was an easy trek downhill into Old City Jerusalem. From atop the mountain, I could see the rolling hills of Jerusalem. The square buildings dotted the landscape and blended in with the earth as they too were made of pale stone. The distant churches, mosques, and synagogues claimed their space with crosses, crescents, and stars atop the steeple of each structure. Winding down twisty stone sided roads we contemplated what those moments must have been like for Jesus.
The trek ended in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Church of All Nations. Somewhere in that region, Jesus stopped to pray to God the night of his arrest. Olive Trees near 2,000 years old stood tall in the places they had been for two millennia. One or more of those trees could have been there the same time Jesus prayed and called out to God. What a wonder it was to stand in their shade.
The five days I spent in Jerusalem, Israel will forever live in my heart. It was a breathtaking city with astonishing viewpoints and incredible culture. I walked some of the same paths Jesus may have taken. I prayed at the Western Wall. I touched millennia old structures. It was incredible, and I cannot wait to go back.