On Thursday, we did our second field study of the year, as we toured the western, southwestern, and southeastern approaches to the city of Jerusalem. We started the day on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and read from several passages that occurred there or near there. In II Samuel 15:23, 30, it is recorded that David evacuated Jerusalem heading east toward the wilderness, weeping and walking barefoot over the Mount of Olives. Bethany, which is about two miles east of Jerusalem, is on the other side—the eastern side—of the Mount of Olives, and was the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha during the time of Jesus in the gospels. Bethany is where Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry as recorded in Matt. 21 and Lk. 19, and brought him over Bethphage over the Mount of Olives. Jesus wept when he saw the city, because he was broken-hearted for Jerusalem. In Matt. 26, Lk. 22, Jn. 18, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. He was betrayed there by Judas and began the day of his crucifixion and death. Following his resurrection and several post-resurrection appearances, Christ ascended to heaven and the angels prophesied a return similar to his ascension.
After our visit to the Mount of Olives, we drove into Palestinian territory on our way to Bethlehem, the site of the birthplace of Christ. This site can first be seen in the Old Testament story of Ruth, as it serves for the setting for the book. It is also the childhood home of David and the location of his anointing by Samuel. It is also possible that the Old Testament figures of Joab, Abishai, and Ashalel were also from Bethlehem (II Samuel 2:32). Micah, from the Sephelah, prophesied that the Messiah, the ruler of Israel, would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-2). Jesus is born in Bethlehem Luke 2:1-2, and the angels announce his nativity to shepherds in nearby fields. Visiting Bethlehem was quite interesting. It was ironic that in the city of David, the place where Jesus the Messiah was born, there was a religion that rejects every divine attribute of that Messiah and has reduced his ministry as nothing more than a preview of the much greater prophet Muhammad. The early church father Jerome put together the Vulgate in Bethlehem, lived there much of his later life and died there. I got to look through his study in the basement of the Catholic Church of the Nativity a little bit, and it was pretty cool.
The fortress of Herodium was next, and it was one of the neatest places we have visited so far. Herod built a giant fortress into a mountain, and treated it as a kind of resort for him and visitors. We could see a giant swimming pool outside, along with a plain where a stadium may have once entertained guests. Herod had to build a system of cisterns beneath the fortress to support the people who lived there, and we walked through those for a while. We even sang songs to praise the true King of Kings deep in the fortress of a power-hungry king. This may have been one of the coolest places we’ve been to.
We studied the most common western routes into Jerusalem on our Benjamin field study, the two routes from the Aijalon Valley—the Beth Horon Ridge Route and the Kiriat Jaarim Ridge Route. However, the Valley of Rephaim is also a common route into the city as well, and it was our final stop of the day. The valley is recorded several times in the biblical narrative. First, the Husan Ridge Route south of the Rephaim would have been the fastest and most convenient route for David to take Bethlehem to the Israelite camp in the Elah Valley, which is where he fought Goliath as recorded in I Sam. 17. David’s attack on Jerusalem from Hebron found in II Samuel 5:6-10 would have come from the south, and so they likely would have used the Husan Ridge Route also. There is also the story of Jehsaphat here, on the En-Gedi/Tekoa route route and the ascent of Ziz. Tekoa is also the hometown of the prophet Amos (Amos 1:1).
Pictures coming soon. I promise to blog more often.