Allahu Akbar….

Posted: December 6, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

The call to prayer woke me up too early and after a while of tossing and turning, I decided to go out onto the terrace and watch the sunrise. First light was just peeking over the Jordanian mountains. Brenda the Canadian lady was already out on the roof top, so we shared a pot of tea and chatted for an hour or so. She said this was her third trip to Jerusalem and that she was recently divorced after 20 years of marriage. She is here to begin writing a book or something. Our conversation was interrupted by a church group singing a hymn at the station of the cross on the street below us. Their song was the only sound that broke the silence of the dawn.

After a breakfast of eggs, cheese, and pita with jam, we headed out the Lions Gate and down through the Kidron Valley to the next hill over, the Mt. of Olives. It’s a steep climb, but it makes sense that Jesus would have come here to both get some solitude and also teach. It’s separated from the city by a valley with rather steep slopes. Close to the city, yet far enough to be away from the chaos. The hillside is covered with olive trees and when you get to the peak there is an observation point that shows you the whole city.

On my map I noticed a point close by that said “Tomb of the Prophets” so we went looking for it. We found it located somewhat off the beaten path and it was being overseen by a French Christian Monk named Pierre. He was a young guy and his duty was to upkeep the tomb and interact with its visitors. He showed us the map, and explained its history then sent us off with a flashlight. We descended into what was really a series of subterranean catacombs dating from 100 AD or so. Rafa and I were the only ones there so we had the whole place to ourselves. We crawled through tombs, climbed into other chambers and took lots of pics. It was all very Indiana Jones. After about an hour we went back up into the land of the living and talked with Pierre for awhile about France, fishing, the Virgin Mary, and our trip so far. We had a nice time and he was truly a nice, gentle soul.

While up on the Mt. we also swung by the Chapel of the Ascension, which is just an empty old chapel with a section of bare rock framed and coated in the floor where it is said Jesus ascended from. Funny thing is at one point it was also converted to a Mosque and had all the tell tale markings still.

After that we went to the Pater Noster church which was a byzantine or Crusader church that was never finished. Upon entering the courtyard you see the stairs going up to the Altar, but no roof, and instead of support columns along the aisles, you have Pine trees. this is called Pater Noster because it is said this is where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.On all the walls of the building are tile work mosaics containing the Our Father in different languages. I found one in Nahuatl, one of the native tongues of Mexico. That made me smile.

Next we went down the hill to the Church of Mary Magdalene. It’s a big Russian Orthodox church with these big golden onion like domes that make you think of something from Disneyland, or a golden Kremlin. It was closed but i took a chance and opened the gate anyways, only to have some old Russian nun start yelling “Nyet! Nyet!” at me. Sorry Sister Helga!

It was about noon and the other sites were closing for lunch so we thought we’d head back to town and eat. We decided to walk though the Kidron Valley where Absalom’s Pillar, Johosaphats Tomb and Zechariahs Tomb are, then go up through the City of David. The tombs were huge and impressive. Sandstone pillars about 30 ft high carved into the hillside. The were imposing but sadly, in disorder. There was alot of litter around them. Very unkept. I forgot to mention that this hillside is also the place that houses the old Arab and Jewish cemetaries. Imagine hundreds of broken tombstones filling the side of a hill and that’s what this is. We followed the path at the bottom of the valley and found a horse tied to a barrel. We also found a dead horse close by as well. And soccer ball. And more garbage.

We were walking hoping to find the City of David and ended up in one of the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods. Poor and dirty. Kinda like poor parts of Mexico. I asked a passing lady where City of David was and she only spoke Arabic. I pointed to the name on the map and she pointed us to some stairs in the hill. I thanked her in Arabic and we went up the stairs and found the City of David excavation site. It’s the ruins of the Royal City and is still being excavated. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is also in this area, as well as the Pool of Siloam. We wound our way over the where the Pool was being excavated. I recognized it from a Discovery Channel show I saw this year. The pool was discovered about 2 years ago by accident. What’s cool is that they are still excavating it and have these prospector type guys washing rock and dirt on an excavators table to see if there is anything to find. The pool was huge and they had only unearthed one side and it was about 60 ft. long at least.

We decided to forgo lunch and instead go through Hezekiah’s tunnel. We had to buy sandals and flashlights for this excursion. This tunel was built when the city was under siege by the Babylonians and was built to divert water to the inside of the city. It was dug with two teams digging on opposite sides of the mountain and by miracle, their two winding paths met in the middle. Its about 2500 feet of dark and wet. To get to it we had to descend deep into the mountain and when we hit the bottom, the water was flowing like an underground river. We were the only ones down there and we began trudging through the water that at times was almost waist deep. The water was cold, but clean. The only sound was that of the water and our voices bouncing off the stone walls. The tunnel was snakelike and at times so low you had to duck down and so narrow you had to move sideways. It was both creepy and exhilarating. We made our way through it for about an hour. And by then your’e ready to get out. Still this has been a highlight of our trip, experiencing a piece of history so up close is unforgettable.

After the tunnel we head back down the valley through the Palestinian neighborhood. We were walking down the street when a group of Palestinian kids cae running up screaming “Allahu Akbar!” and throwing up teh victory sign nd also making some obscene gestures. one or two picked up rocks but didnt throw them while we were looking. I guess their training was already under way.

When we got to the valley we saw a little old Arabic guy coming our way. As we passed I greeted hm in Arabic and he responded accordingly then turned around and said “American?” I said what I always say now. “No…Mexican”and he comes up to us speaking in Arabic. we dot know what he is trying to say until he stops and “God” and “One” and points up an all around and then at us. Then he teaches us to say what i think is “there is only one God” using phonetics. In turn I try to teach him to say “Dios te bendigo” (God bless you) in Spanish but he didn’t get it. After a warm smile and handshake we parted ways. I forgot to mention that it looked like 3 of this front teeth had grown in as one tooth.

From there we went up to the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s on the grounds of the Church of All Nations, run by the Franciscans. The garden was quite humble, nothing fancy (for once!). Just a few flowers and olive trees. One interesting fact though was that the current trees are growing in the shell of much older trees that have been dated back to the time of Christ and before. While we were there we got to talk to a Franciscan monk from D.C. but who has been living in the Holy Land for 20+ years. He was explaining to us that the rainy season is 2 months late this year and that they need the rain. We asked him about his clothing and why the knots in his rope belt. They stand for poverty chastity and obedience. One thing he said was interesting, that the more time he spends living with God and without material stuff, the less he wants or needs that material stuff. He says he tries to love simply but can still do more. Then he laughed and said he imagines that those who live for and love material stuff probably wouldn’t like heaven much and may not want or need God in their lives. Then we shook his hand and left.

Our last stop for teh day was the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. This was one of myfavorite places so far. It’s right at the bottom of the valley between the Lions Gate and Gethsemane. On the outside it looks like a litle old chapel, but when you go in you find yourelf descending a set of worn stone steps down into the earth into a cross shaped chamber.

At the bottom on the right underneath much adornment is an old stone crypt with a tomb in it. Above the tomb were paintings and a place to put candles. I felt compelled to light a candle for my Pops. First time I’ve lit a candle this whole trip. I think it’s because my Pops has a special place in his heart for La Virgen and I grew up with that as a part of me too. It was a beautiful, ancient place with an air of solemnity. It was close to closing and so we left and went back to the convent. We ended up having dinner with Brenda and then calling it an early night.

Nights here are hard sometimes becasue I miss my wife the most then. It’s in the quiet times that it really gets me. I wish she could be here too. I think she’d like it.

View today’s photos

Pre-Dawn Hymn from The Rooftop Terrace

  1. Joe Aceves says:

    Fascinating history Mark, truly an uplifting expierence. I would love to spend time at the Garden of Gethsemane. The hill overlooking the city you descibed is most likely where Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke19:41)

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