Jerusalem: Walking Where Jesus Walked?

DSCN6377Many pilgrims come to Jerusalem with the desire to tread in the footsteps of the prophets or the principal characters appearing in the New Testament. While the location on the map may be the same as that where Jesus trod, this is certainly not true for the existing topography. The photograph above shows just how far below the present surface the Jerusalem of Jesus lies. An on-going archaeological excavation sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority has uncovered a series of city walls that demonstrates the chronological stratigraphy of the land on southern Mount Zion. At the bottom of the photo, where the students are sitting, is an ancient quarry where blocks of stone were cut for the construction of the walls, the first of which dates to pre-Herodian or Herodian times (days of King Herod the Great). This wall, the one Jesus would have seen, is shown at the level above the quarry just behind the tarpaulin cover. This is actually the corner of a wall tower. The walls built at this time were mostly destroyed by the Roman legions in A.D. 70. Over the centuries this wall became covered over by debris. In the Byzantine period, about five centuries later, Queen Eudocia, a resident of Jerusalem, rebuilt the walls surrounding Mount Zion on the then-current ground level. Part of this wall is shown above the Herodian level (do not confuse this with the modern retaining wall alongside the dig zone). This wall, too, was eventually destroyed and became buried . It has only recently been excavated. All of this excavation shows that the ground level of Jerusalem today is much higher than it was 1,500 years ago. Strictly speaking, therefore, one cannot simply walk in the footsteps of Jesus, at least not in Jerusalem. (A caveat to this, and there always is one, is to be found in the Western Wall tunnel that lies below the Haram al-Sharif – the former Jewish Temple Mount – and is open to tourists. The ground level difference is amply demonstrated there as well.)

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