Israel Trip Journal – Day 3 pt. 4: Prayer Center, Garden Tomb, Western Wall, Rabbinical Tunnel

Monday March 14, 2011 (cont.)

Jerusalem Prayer Center

Jerusalem Prayer Center

one of the prayer centers in the Prayer Room
“be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
Next, we got back on our bus, and headed to the House of Prayer. Its actual name is the Jerusalem Prayer Center  and was about a block from our hotel. The House is over one hundred years old, and has been owned by the Southern Baptist Convention for the past 40 years.  There was a prayer room upstairs, with many interactive prayer stations, we spent quite a bit of time in separate parts of this room praying individually. Before we entered the prayer room, the missionary had us wait on the landing and asked us to pray aloud for the orthodox Jewish neighborhood behind the House, the Muslim boys primary school on the north side of the house and the Christian Palestinian compound on the east side of the house, across the street. They are uniquely situated to minister to Jews, Muslims and Christians in this house, which had been here even before these diverse people groups ended up in such proximity. It was a wonderful time of prayer and intercession for all of us.

The Garden Tomb

Garden Tomb

We hopped back on the bus and went to the Garden Tomb, which is located near a busy Palestinian bus terminal along a bustling metropolitan area. There is quite a bit of dispute  over whether the Garden

Tomb–aka ‘Gordon’s Tomb’ after its discoverer, British officer Charles Gordon–is the actual site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The traditional site for centuries has been the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Unfortunately, we did not get to go see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, though I would have loved to. The evidence for each being ‘the tomb’ is too detailed to go into, so I’ve hyper-linked both here: Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Garden Tomb.
‘Skull’-like escarpment

I was surprised at how quiet and  peaceful the garden was, considering its location near such a busy part of town. We were taken to a little seating area where we could  view a rocky escarpment which some believe proves this is Calvary or Golgotha (“place of the skull” in Hebrew). It really does resemble a skull. You can see the dark hollows which resemble two eyes and an impression that could resemble a mouth, as described in the eyewitness accounts of Matthew (Matt. 27:33), Mark (Mark 15:22) and John (John 19:17). Although, it may have been more prominent before centuries of erosion. This location is preferred by Protestant Christians as the location of Jesus’ tomb, while the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is part of the Catholic tradition. However, I think the evidence for both locations is compelling. Thankfully, our salvation is not dependent upon finding the exact location– after all, the fact that matters most is that the tomb was empty because of the resurrection. It just so happens that the grandfather of one of the girls in our youth group works at the Garden Tomb– he and his wife live here six months out of the year as tour guides in the Garden. He gave us a tour of the location believed to be the Tomb of Jesus.

 We each took pictures at the tomb, then he took us to one of the many areas set aside for worship services. Doug, our youth minister shared a few words from scripture with us, then we were about to sing, when we heard another group just below us on a different level of the garden and to our left singing Because He Lives.

We could not tell the language they were singing in, some thought Italian or Portuguese. Either way, we were excited that we recognized the melody of this traditional Christian hymn. So, we decided to join in in English. It was a very special moment: shared spontaneous worship in the Holy Land with Christians from another country. When we all finished, we decide to sing Amazing Grace. Then, before we took the Lord’s Supper, Doug asked Rick to pray over the bread and for me to pray over the juice (Baptists don’t use wine). We then returned to the hotel for dinner.

‘Wailing Wall’ – Men’s side

The Western Wall

After dinner, we returned to the Old City of Jerusalem. We entered by the Dung Gate, just as we had earlier this morning, except we remained in the Jewish Quarter. We stood  in the Western Wall Plaza while Raouf gave us some background information on the Western Wall which makes up the eastern barrier to the Plaza.

This is one of Judaism’s most holy sites– records show Jews have made pilgrimages here as far back as the 4th century to worship at the Wall. However, during the 1948 Israeli-Arab War, they lost access to it. This area fell under Jordanian rule, and the Jews were barred from the area for 19 years. During the Six Day War in 1967, the Jews were able to recapture the Old City and regain access to the Wall. This is one of  many important reasons why President Obama’s suggestion to go back to pre-1967 boundaries is so upsetting to Jews and those who love Israel. This article written by a Palestinian Christian from Jericho explains how Muslims, Jews and Christians view the Six Day War and how it fulfilled prophecy (Psalm 83). It also goes into the prophecies concerning the Eastern Gate and the rebuilding of the Third Temple, which I discussed in Day 3 pt. 2 under Temple Mount.

Young Orthodox Jew in Western Wall Plaza

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD. All that remained of the Temple was one of the outer walls. It was assumed by the Romans that since this wall was not even a part of the Temple itself- only a retaining wall surrounding the Temple– that it was insignificant. So they didn’t bother to destroy it with the rest of the Temple.

The Jews call the Wall Kotel ha-Ma’aravi or the Kotel for short. Throughout the centuries Jews would make the hard pilgrimage from all over the world to come to Palestine to pray at the Kotel. Gentiles began calling it the Wailing Wall as they observed  how Jews prayed here with such fervor. Jews do not like the term Wailing Wall, so it is not called that in Israel. As an aside, one should never make the mistake of referring to Israel as Palestine while at the airport (even the parts that are technically under Palestinian rule, such as Bethlehem and Jericho). A man in line ahead of us did that and was subjected to additional prolonged scrutiny. It is a very sensitive subject there.

Women’s side of the Western Wall


After Raouf’s talk, the ladies and girls went to the women’s side of the wall, while the men and boys went over to the men’s side. On the ladies’ side, we witnessed the same doleful sight as those who dubbed it the Wailing Wall in centuries past. Jewish women on the women’s side of the wall crying out to God as if they weren’t really sure He could or would answer them. I think it made us all very sad. Even though it was after 9 pm, there was a large crowd of women near the Wall. Some of the many school girls (in school uniforms) would only exit the area walking backwards so as not to expose their backs to the Wall when walking away.  Despite the deep anguish displayed by so many here, I read an inspiring story by a Jewish man who was an atheist but came to know Jesus after his pilgrimage to the Wall.

Rabbinical Tunnel  (Western Wall Tunnel)

The Wall stretches 1600 ft in length, but most of its length is hidden by residential structures. Only 187 feet of its length makes up the area in the Western Wall Plaza. The part of the wall you can see is 32 feet high, but its total height is105 feet! Just like all ancient tels in the Holy Land, there are many levels or courses of this Wall, built over the centuries. There are 45 stone courses total– 28 above ground and 17 underground. The first seven visible courses are from the Herodian period.

Rabbinical Tunnel

Excavations in the mid 19th century by Charles Warren uncovered the great depth of the Wall  or Western Wall Tunnel (I mentioned his other famous discovery on Day 3 part 2  under the City of David section). It is impossible to go into details here about the volatility of the politics involved with the digs in and around the Temple Mount, especially concerning the Western Wall, but it is a delicate balance between the two sides. For those interested, there is a great deal more information about the Tunnel excavations and history here and here.

We entered the Tunnel at the north side of the Plaza. Interestingly enough, when you travel through the Tunnel, you are below homes in the Old City, but you are still right next to the Western Wall– 25 feet below ground. It is believed the practice of putting prayers in the Wall was begun in the 1700’s. My sister and I put our prayer petitions for ourselves, our family and our friends in the Wall down here– for there are niches in the Wall even underground. Also, the crowds were so thick above ground, I didn’t want to push my way to the Wall up there. Down below, we saw the Western Stone, which is the largest contiguous stone in the Western Wall, larger than any used to build the pyramids; considered one of the largest stones in the world. The incredible sizes of stones in the Wall made me realize why the Second Temple (aka Herod’s Temple) was legendary. These massive stones have survived two millennia, and were fitted together by only precision and pressure– and yet still withstand the great weight of the Temple Mount!

Raouf  took us to an area where there were some benches and we could see a scale model of Herod’s Temple. It was very impressive (the model and the temple it represented)– the model has mechanical parts that allowed him to show us the stages of construction of the Temple. It also explained visually how the Mount would have been made into a level base for the Temple. 

Second Temple model (with moving parts!)

Herod built the Temple on Mt. Moriah, which was a plateau on the northern end with a steep drop off at the southern end. He made it a level foundation by building four retaining walls around it and building up the lower part of it to meet the plateau. This meant the southeast corner of the Temple was very high relative to the ground since this is the lowest point geographically on a leveled projection of the Mount. This corner of the Temple would have overlooked the Kidron Valley. It is believed this was where Satan would have taken Jesus when he tried to tempt Him to jump from the ‘highest point of the Temple’ (Matt. 4:5-6 and Luke 4:9-10).

As I mentioned on Day 3 pt. 2, there was a narrow passageway near the Pool of Siloam where archaeologists unearthed the ancient stepped stone street. This Herodian structure, also called the Siloam Road was a street that ran from the southern tip of  the Old City along the western side of it, all the way north to the northwest tip of the Temple Mount. All of it is underground; therefore, as a tourist you can only see a section of it in the Rabbinical Tunnel in the Old City and part of it in the tunnel near the Pool of Siloam.

By the time we saw the last presentation (a short film at the end of the Tunnel), we could hardly keep our eyes open. So we made the long hike back down the Tunnel to head back to the hotel. It had been a very long day, filled with so much history!

Next post: Day 4- Jericho, Nazareth, Jordan River Valley, Tiberias