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The Way of the Cross

Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Garden Tomb

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Today we went to the traditional places for the trial, death, and burial/resurrection of Jesus. I say the traditional places because none of these are known for certain and some are now known to be incorrect.

We started with the Pool of Bethesda and the Church of Saint Anne which was built to commemorate the site. Our guide told us that the account of Jesus healing the blind man at the Pool of Bethesda was reflective of Jewish syncretistic practices throughout history in that they would incorporate pagan beliefs of other peoples into their belief system and rename the practice. In this case, it was a god of healing from the Greek worship of Asclepius (same god from which we get the medical symbol in our culture, the 2 entwined snakes on a pole). They believed that their god of healing would “stir up the waters” and the first one into the water when they were disturbed would be healed. According to our Jewish guide, the Jews of Jesus day had absorbed this practice into their belief system, renaming the motive force “an angel of the Lord” instead of a pagan god. There is a great deal of volcanic activity in Israel and it is possible that some sort of subterranean gases were periodically introduced into the pool that gave it some sort of healing qualities, but this is conjecture.

The Church of St. Anne, itself, was built by the Crusaders in 1030 AD. It has the most wonderful acoustics. After we looked at the ruins of the pool, and had a teaching about the paralytic, all 215 of us went into the sanctuary and sat. One of the Moody staffers led us in 2 acapella hymns: It Is Well With My Soul, and Amazing Grace. It was awe-some, in the original meaning of the word. Those who knew the harmonies sang them and the rest sang the melody. It was like being part of a massive human organ whose song filled and resonated throughout the church.

Next we went to the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, which contains what the Catholics call the Stations of the Cross. The Catholic Church says that there are 14 locations at which significant events took place between Jesus sentencing and His crucifixion, but only 8 are specifically mentioned in the Bible. We began at the door of the Antonio Fortress and ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcre.
Our guide stated that this particular path was used after Emperor Constantine, that prior to then, the path started at Herod’s palace. Why did they begin there? He said that according to Josephus, Pontius Pilate had been staying with Herod that week. If Josephus was correct, it makes sense for Jesus to have started from there.

The following is deduced from conversations I’ve had, but I haven’t researched it; Ramadan ended on Monday and was followed up by a 3 day feast where everyone (Muslim) stays home and businesses are closed. The Via Dolorosa is in the Palestinian quarter of Jerusalem.
So when we were following the Via Dolorosa, instead of having 40 of us struggle through the crowds of shoppers at all the little business stalls along the way, almost every business was closed, so the shoppers were not there. Our guide was happily surprised at how easy it was to follow our path and how quickly we were able to finish. Of course, we had the added benefit of no shop keepers trying to drag (physically drag, upon occasion) passers-by into their shops, and we didn’t lose members of our tour group to intriguing merchandise, either. There were some groups of pilgrims from other groups that were actually taking turns carrying a cross on the route.

You may ask, how did the Catholic Church know where to erect shrines and churches here in the Holy Land? In the 326 AD, when Emperor Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be Christian, his mother, Helena, came to Israel and started asking people here, “Where did such-and-such happen?” They told her the Feeding of the 5000 was here, so they erected a church. Peter’s house was here, so they erected a church. The Restoration of Peter (Feed my lambs….) was here, so they erected a church. The empty tomb of Christ was here, so they erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcre.

Our next itinerary stop was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a Crusader era building, lots of stone and arches. Inside was a red marble tomb/shrine erected over the place where the Jesus’ borrowed tomb had been. This is one of the 2 most likely locations of Jesus’ burial. The building and the responsibility for its upkeep is divided between 6 highly incompatible sects, the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek Orthodox, Syriac, Roman Catholic and Armenian. Our guide referred to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the “church of the holy fistfights” because the different sects have regularly gotten into brawls over perceived offenses as minor as sweeping a step that is not their responsibility that week. Nevertheless, the interior of the church was beautiful and was filled with visitors from all over the world with no signs of disharmony.

After another lunch break at Aroma,
we went to the Garden Tomb. Here we learned that “garden” most likely referred to a garden for raising food, not for flowers and relaxation. There is a large rock (bigger than a house), that is shaped like a skull, though the “bridge of the nose” broke off about 5 years ago. The Garden Tomb is owned and maintained by volunteers and does not claim to be “the garden” but a possible location that is geographically consistent, being a short way outside the first century walls of Jerusalem. The first of the following pictures is of the garden tomb, the second picture is of the skull-shaped rock, and the 3rd is of a 1880 photo of the skull-shaped rock.

After we visited the Garden Tomb, 3 bus-groups of us sat and took communion together in the garden. It was a wonderful way to end our tour of the Holy Land.

We had a farewell supper tonight, and all the guides, bus drivers, Moody staff, and Morningstar Tours staff were there, too. We said goodbye to the friends we’d made and exchanged contact information, then went to our room for an early bedtime. We need to get up at 3:45 am (Jerusalem time) for our 4:45 ride to Ben Gurion Airport for our trip home.

Posted by dasafish 05:21 Archived in Israel

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