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Even though when I asked my teacher Gili about going onto the Mount of Olives and her face dropped in abject horror, Scott, Laszlo, and I decided to go take a self-guided tour of the Mount of Olives today, and that was an excellent decision. As per the past several posts, all credit for taking this photography goes to Scott O’Hara.

First, we walked over to the top of Mount Scopus, and saw actual shepards tending to their flock of sheep, which was deliciously in character for Jerusalem: millennium-old traditions still enacted next to completely modernized locations. Walking up the narrow road to the Har haZeytim (Hebrew name for Mount of Olives), we first saw the Lutheran-run Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is the best quality medical care available for Palestinian people. And, on that note, allow me to take a moment to share the neatest thing which Zack told me. “Palestine” as a word is derived from the Roman-demanded “Palaestina.” This was the new name given after the Romans quashed the Jewish rebellions, and they derived it from the Biblical Philistines of the region. I had never considered the background to the name, but since my roommate is a huge ancient language buff, I now have a source for such awesome facts as this one 🙂

Walking through the Palestinian town on the top of the Mountain, we kept our eyes on the lovely tower of the Church of the Ascension, but we never actually managed to figure out how to get to it, either on the way into the town originally or on our way out. We plan on looking it up, and I will report on it in a future post.

Walking down the Mount, we came to the very important Jewish Cemetery with approximately 185,000 graves. The reason behind its importance is that Jewish tradition holds this side of the hill to be where the Messiah will descend from the heavens, so those people buried there will be the first to rise from the dead and greet him. Walking down what was at times a 50 degree downwards slope, we spent a long time admiring the grounds and Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane. This place is also going to make my list of Top 5 locations to visit in Israel: as you will see in the photographs, the trunks of the olive trees there are 1100 years old. Even more interesting, the root systems of these 10 ancient trees are more than 2000 years old, meaning that they were alive and around for when Jesus prayed in the same Garden, on the night of his betrayal. That made it quite the interesting place to visit alone, but the church made it even better. Although the pictures do a great job of showing it off, I will mention here that I plan on attending at least 3 services at this church. The acoustics in the sanctuary are excellent because of the domed roof, and the artwork/architecture is excellent, so I look forward to going back.

The Orthodox location of the tomb of Mary was the next location, and it was lovely as well. As we admired the centuries-old icons and hanging incense burners, two monks began singing harmonized hymns. This church is an underground one, with a large curved roof, and therefore their baritone voices filled the air with a woven set of melodies and reverberation that had a heady effect when combined with the heavy incense of the grotto. On the far side of the church was a small stone structure. Behind it was an elaborate shrine to Mary, done in gold and silver and so forth. This small structure is actually held to be the location of Mary’s tomb, and there is a stone tomb within it (see the photograph section).

Next on our trip, we wandered towards the Old City to spend some time (the other Christian sites on the Mount of Olives are closed from 12:30 until 2:30, because they are mostly managed by Franciscan monks who need time for lunch and afternoon prayers). Laszlo departed us to go to an appointment he had set up, so Scott and I walked up towards the Lion’s Gate/Golden Gate. This entrance to the Old City is so named because it is said to be the entranceway which the Messiah will use on his arrival/return (depending if you’re Jewish or Christian). To the left, we saw up close something we had seen from the Mount of Olives: a large cemetery adjacent to the Temple Mount’s outer wall. Intrigued, Scott and I wandered in and immediately noticed all the writing was in Arabic, so it was apparently a Palestinian cemetery. Beautiful nonetheless, I made to continue walking in, when Scott turned around and grew extremely pale. I inquired as to what was wrong; he quietly told me to turn around and witness the entrance of an absolutely MASSIVE Palestinian funeral procession, with the men at the front bearing the body of the deceased in a green box with Arabic on the side. I suddenly also became fairly concerned with the present situation – we had no idea of protocol, and didn’t really want to intrude on a private and important funeral uninvited. Like, I have to assume it was important because the procession simply kept on processing in. Like, the nearby Al Aqsa Mosque was emptying the Muslim people who finished their midday prayers and 70% of them joined the procession. Spotting a break in the crowd coming in through the narrow gate, we made good our escape and were pleased that we still have a perfect record of safety – we may get INTO potentially dangerous situations, but we also excel at getting out them unscathed.

That said, we went further into the Old City for a thoroughly un-cultural meal – Scott insisted on getting pepperoni pizza, which he said was delicious, while I went with my beloved chicken shawarma. Nevertheless, we finished our meal and went over to the Wailing Wall to admire it, as well as check for possible entrances to the Temple Mount – having been clearly not welcome in its adjoining cemetery, we figured we’d try our luck on the Mount itself. Unfortunately, the nearby Israeli soldiers explained to us that the only time we would be able to get in is on Sunday mornings between 7:30 and 10:30 AM. Tomorrow will not work due to Ulpan classes, but next Sunday Ulpan is over, so we look forward to going then.

On our way out of the Old City’s walls, we stopped at the previously closed Monastery of the Flagellation. The first stop on the Via Dolorosa, this Franciscan compound houses the traditional location of Pilate’s judgment seat. In fact, it happens to have a portion of the original, more than 2000 year old stone pavement there (check the photographs). The chapel was very beautiful, but my heart was stolen by the stained glass of the church itself. Similar to my experience years ago, in a small church near the beaches of Normandy, I was taken aback by a widely-know fact being depicted in stained glass (in that case, an entire stained glass window depicted the landing of the Allied Forces). Here, in this church, one of the stained glass windows depicted Pilate ritually washing his hands of the blood of Jesus, and somehow that connected well with me. It is one of the photographs attached, and I think I liked this one panel better than any of those in Notre Dame.

Outside the Old City, we started up the ridiculously steep incline of the Mount of Olives. Along the way, we made a stop at the previously-closed Franciscan Dominus Flevit (roughly in Latin: “The Lord’s Tears”). As drawn from the Biblical verse where Jesus weeps openly in anticipation of the diaspora of the Jewish people, the chapel here is shaped like a tear. In fact, even more interesting is the other reason this church was constructed here in 1955. In 1953, excavations of graves here revealed this to be the ancient location of James (of the original 12 Apostles) had his church at this location, and that it likely predated Peter’s Church (which eventually became the Catholic Church). That’s an old, old church that used to be housed here, probably the oldest in the history of Christianity (and due to the personal influence of an Apostle, of huge significance). The view from the chapel (as shown in the photographs) is very probably my favorite of the Old City – you are at eye level with the Dome of the Rock, and can see it and all the most important Christian holy sites through the clear glass window of the chapel.

On our way back to Mount Scopus, we stopped into a different part of the Jewish Cemetery, and saw several interesting things. First, we saw a great view of the awful, huge wall separating the West Bank from Arabic East Jerusalem. Secondly, we saw a bunch of very ornate Jewish graves that are very new. Third, we saw the pictured gentleman’s camel taking a lunch break out of public landscaping. Finally, going back through the Palestinian town which Augusta Victoria is in, we stopped at the Muslim Chapel of the Ascension [of Jesus]. Going inside, we saw what is held to be the footprint of Jesus as he left the ground and went up into the heavens (as pictured below). And as I mentioned before, we couldn’t seem to find a way into the Church of the Ascension, so that’s for next time.

Our trip around the other side of Mount Scopus led us to see a few things worth mentioning as well. First, a very dark and ominous cloud that wasn’t moving, had no discernible source, and cast shadows darker than normal clouds of similar density. Not sure who managed to anger Elohim, but that was an odd sight. We also saw a massive IDF outpost looking down into East Jerusalem, without any good reason (it seemed to be a holdover from the retaking of that part of the city 50 years ago). In the part of the city this outpost watched over, there were several sites where Palestinian homes had clearly been demolished, although for some odd reason, the surrounding homes were safe/didn’t need to be destroyed. That bothers me a lot, because the vast majority of the people in those neighborhoods don’t really have the money to rebuild, nor were most of them doing anything wrong (morally, legally, or otherwise) to merit such treatment.

In any event, time to seriously start studying for the turbulent waves of Hebrew homework, the oral exam, and the written exam later this week. Wish me luck.

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  1. […] have also been to the Dominus Flevit, the chapel built on the spot where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. Perhaps this is one […]

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