Jerusalem Sub-district, Israel
31° 45' N 35° 0' E
Jul 28, 2010 18:41
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A visit to the Garden Tomb and other sites

 

During the depths of winter I had considered the possibility of a visit to the biblical sites around modern day Nablus.  However once I arrived in Jerusalem I discovered that things were not that simple and subject to the vagaries of Israeli security considerations.  I made enquiries about possible tours and found that it could cost £70 each for a few hours at my chosen destination.  Between the possibility of not getting to my chosen sites due to security considerations and the non-refundable nature of tours once commenced, my Aberdeen nature refused to book.  We would spend the day in East Jerusalem instead.  A real pity but I am not prepared to spend money on a tour which may not be able to deliver.   

Modern day Nablus lies in the shadow of two large biblical mountains, namely Ebal (3084 ft) & Gerizim (2849 ft).

The Law Inscribed on Stones   

1 Now Moses, with the elders of Israel, commanded the people, saying: “Keep all the commandments which I command you today. 2 And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. 3 You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ just as the LORD God of your fathers promised you. 4 Therefore it shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, and you shall whitewash them with lime. 5 And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them. 6 You shall build with whole stones the altar of the LORD your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God. 7 You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. 8 And you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law.”
9 Then Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel, saying, “Take heed and listen, O Israel: This day you have become the people of the LORD your God. 10 Therefore you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God, and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”   

Curses Pronounced from Mount Ebal 

   
11 And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, 12 “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin; 13 and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 

Deuteronomy 27: 1 - 13 (New King James Version) 

If you consult any detailed Bible Commentary you will find that Deuteronomy 27 doesn't quite fit.  It interrupts the flow between chapter 26 & 28, as if it has been inserted later.  Some scholars believe that chapter 27 is a combination of material, some of which pre-dates Deuteronomy.  It is quite strange that six tribes are sent to Gerizim to bless and six to Ebal to curse, yet only the curses are read.  Also the tribe of Levi are standing on Mount Gerizim (to bless) yet recite the curses (starting at verse 15). You are left to wonder what occurred during the editing of the text many centuries ago.  The most significant controversy in the text refers to the construction of the cairn/alter on Mount Ebal (verses 4 and 5).  I believe that some ancient texts suggest Mount Gerizim.  Could there have been some editing of the text after a fall out between the Samaritans and main stream Judaism?   This is why I wanted to see Mount Gerizim for myself. 

Who are the Samaritans? 

"According to Jewish tradition and the Bible, the modern day Samaritans are descendants of foreign peoples who were brought into ancient Israel after the Assyrians conquered and drove the Judeans out in 701 BC . The Samaritans, however, trace their ancestry to remnants of the Judean population who remained in Samaria following the conquest. Recent scholarship tends to support the Samaritan view.   

With the return of the Judean exiles from Babylonia in the fifth century BC ., a break developed between the Judeans and the Samaritans, resulting, in part, from the Samaritans' refusal to accept new religious texts and interpretations. At about this time, the Samaritans began calling themselves "Shomeronim" (Hebrew for "to conserve") in reference to their adherence to traditional religious beliefs and practices.   

Barred by the Jews from participating in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple, the Samaritans, in the fourth century BC, built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, overlooking Nablus. The temple was destroyed in 128 BC; a new one was built, and it too was destroyed, in AD 486. Since the building of the first temple, Mount Gerizim has been the destination for Samaritan pilgrimages, and continued access to the site is a major concern to contemporary Samaritans.   

The Samaritan religion resembles the Karaite Jewish tradition in that Samaritans and Karaites are both outside the mainstream of Israeli Judaism, which mostly follows the Rabbinite tradition. Samaritans believe in one God, that Moses is the only Prophet, that only the first books of the Bible (the Torah) are authoritative, that Mount Gerizim is sacred, and that there will be a future time of messianic revival."

Read more: http://www.everyculture.com/Africa-Middle-East/Samaritans.html#ixzz0jn3Kwk3j

In essence, it is quite obvious that the Samaritans are a branch of Judaism, with roots that reach far into the past.  Perhaps it is like comparing Free Presbyterians with Roman Catholics, whilst loosely terming them all Christians.  Samaritans today are few in number, less than 1,000 by all accounts, yet they continue to cling to their holy mountain, despite all worldly influences and political forces which have not been overly kind over the years.  As Christians we recall the 'Good Samaritan' (Luke 10: 25 - 37) and Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar.  

A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah  

1 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 4 But He needed to go through Samaria.
5 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” 

John 4: 1 - 26 (New King James Version) 

A Jewish teacher associating with a Samaritan woman - totally unthinkable.  Yet Jesus breaks all taboos, gives a fine account of true worship, and many Samaritans became believers during the two days he spent in Sychar.  This is why I had wanted to see the well for myself. 

What of Sychar today?  

My knowledge of geography and demographics in this area is rather limited.  However I believe that Sychar (Askar) is within the municipal boundary of Nablus.  Askar is home to a UNRWA (United Nations Relief & Works Agency) camp, which houses Palestinian refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of Arab/Israeli conflict in 1948.  The camp houses nearly 16,000 refugees.  There is another camp nearby at Balata, which houses nearly 24,000 refugees.  In total, UNRWA looks after 4.7M Palestinian refugees across the Near East.  I recall that the Israelites wondered about in the wilderness for 40 years before arriving in the promised land.  These 4.7M Palestinians have lived in camps for over 60 years, with no end in sight.  This is a rather complicated area indeed.  

"The traditional Jacob’s Well is located at Shechem in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The modern town of Nablus now fills this valley.

André Parrot says,

“Of all the ‘holy places’ of Palestine, none has more reason to be considered authentic than Jacob’s well. Indeed, there is no reason why its authenticity should be questioned” (Land of Christ 65).

Parrot describes the water as “cool and pleasant-tasting…drawn from a depth of 128 feet.” I have drunk the water several times, but in the few decades my guides have advised against it due to pollution in the area.

A church was erected over the well about A.D. 380. The Crusaders built another church on the site in the 12th century. The property came under the control of the Greek Orthodox church in 1860. By the end of the 19th century the Greeks began a new church, but construction was halted during World War I. The last time I was at Jacob’s well (2000) construction had resumed and the building was completed in 2007."

http://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/a-visit-to-nablus-and-samaria/ 

Sadly a visit was not to be on this trip.  I will reflect that Jesus concluded that whoever drinks of the well water would thirst again whilst whoever drinks from him would never thirst again.  This is one of the most compelling passages of scripture.  

Instead we decided to walk to East Jerusalem and visit the site of the Garden Tomb and St George’s Cathedral.  

“As early as 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius proposed the idea that the outcropping of rock known today as "Skull Hill" could possibly be significant in the identification of the site of the crucifixion. That idea lay seemingly dormant for quite some time until General Charles Gordon on sabbatical in the area (1882-1883) began to publish similar ideas. Because of his importance in British society at that time the idea took hold and people began to look seriously at the claims that this could possibly be the site listed in the New Testament as Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin) - the place of the skull...  

The Bible describes that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem near a gate of the city along a major thoroughfare, that at the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a tomb. The tomb is described as being a tomb cut out of rock, belonging to a wealthy man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea. It had a weeping chamber, a burial chamber, it was sealed with a rolling stone, it had a traditionally low doorway through which the disciples were forced to stoop in order to look into (and enter) the tomb that morning. The words of the Gospel writers began to step out of the New Testament in living colour.

All the pieces began to fit together and this tomb located on the north side of Jerusalem, just outside the Damascus Gate looked remarkably like that described in the Gospels...
  

Many began to think that this could possibly be the authentic site. The idea caught on and many people began to come and visit. To this day it continues to be a site that, whether it be the actual site or not - we do not know, at least beautifully pictures what is described and detailed in the Gospel accounts. It has become a garden where people come to reflect, not only on the death of our Saviour, but on His resurrection and the hope of eternal life, the life that comes from knowing the resurrected Christ.” 

http://www.gardentomb.org/history.php  

I have a book at home on the life of General Gordon of Khartoum, although I have never quite finished it.  Of course everyone recalls the film version when he was portrayed by Charlton Heston.  The heroic end of General Gordon is one of those British myths rather like the last stand at Isandlwana.  The British have a talent at putting a spin on defeat.  I suppose Dunkirk is the best example where we sailed away on little ships only to confuse the Germans by landing in Normandy a short time later (four years)!  Anyway I shall not go into the details of how Gordon should have been relieved at an earlier stage – today such events would require a public enquiry!  

The Garden Tomb is simply perfect in all regards.  It is unlikely it is the true site of the tomb of Christ but they don’t really market it as such.  Instead it is a private garden, run by a British Charity, set aside for quiet prayer, reflection and Christian worship.  Yes it has a 1st century AD tomb and sits below a hill which has a passing resemblance to a skull in its rock face, but it is the tranquillity of the place I shall remember.  Staff are also very polite, courteous and helpful.  There is no entrance fee although boxes are to be found in the garden for donations.  The garden also has clean toilets for which there is no charge.  In my opinion, the Garden Tomb is the perfect antidote to the crush of the Holy Sepulchre.  

After the Garden Tomb we walked further up Nablus Road, past the US Consulate to St George’s Anglican Cathedral.  

The history of Anglicanism in Jerusalem goes back to 1841. However, a proposal for the establishment of a permanent post in Jerusalem by the Church Missionary Society was under consideration as early as 1821. 

It was not until after the capture of the city by Mohammad Ali of Egypt in 1831 that much progress was made, and the first permanent station was established in Jerusalem in 1833. 

The first Bishop, The Right Rev'd Michael Solomon Alexander, arrived in 1841. In 1845, the first Anglican Church (Christ Church, Jaffa Gate) of the city was dedicated. The Bishopric started as an Anglo-Prussian union in Jerusalem for Anglicans and Lutherans. 

The second Bishop, The Right Rev'd Samuel Gobat, ministered mainly among local Christians: he opened 42 schools and ordained the first two Palestinian priests. 

In 1881, the Anglo-Prussian union lapsed and the Bishopric became a solely Anglican Bishopric in 1887, centered on the Cathedral Church of St. George in Jerusalem, which was built and dedicated during the episcopacy of the fourth Bishop, The Right Rev'd George Blyth, in 1898.” 

http://www.j-diocese.org/about_history?th=2 

We have previously stayed at the guest house attached to St George’s Cathedral, back in 1997.  The history of the Cathedral is rather bound up with the British Mandate.  I recall all the plaques and memorials from this era contained within.  I also believe that the surrender of Jerusalem was agreed in the Cathedral compound in 1917.  After 1948 it has suffered reverses in fortune, rather like the Church of Scotland (St Andrews).  However the British withdrawl from Palestine at the time (1948) was the only sensible option.  Britain could no longer afford to police the world and Palestine was not worth the loss of a single British soldier.  It’s just a pity that over 60 years have passed and the Israelis and Palestinians still have not sorted out their differences. 

Today the Cathedral was empty during our visit, except for a member of staff who was doing some tidying.  It was interesting to inspect the font donated by Queen Victoria and the British Coat of Arms from Government House which was given to the Cathedral at the end of the Mandate Period.  We went into the Guest House Garden/Courtyard but there was no one to be seen.  Instead we headed back to the Damascus Gate and entered the busy passages of the Old City. 

We ended up back in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which of course was thronged with tourists and pilgrims alike.  The queue at the tomb looked to be at least an hour long if not more.  We gave up and headed back to our apartment. 

In the late afternoon I decided to walk alone to the Monastery of the Holy Cross, which is located in a valley below the Israeli Museum.  The current walled monastery is around a thousand years old although the original monastery may date back to the time St Helena.  A notice at the monastery acknowledges the St Helena connection but indicates that it may actually have been founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD.  The monastery is dedicated to the Holy Cross because it is built over the site on which the tree used to make the cross of Jesus grew.  This in itself is rather tenuous but the legend of the tree gets even better.   

In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 19 records an incestuous event between Lot and his daughters. 

The Descendants of Lot

    
30 Then Lot went up out of Zoar and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters were with him; for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar. And he and his two daughters dwelt in a cave. 31 Now the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man on the earth to come in to us as is the custom of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
34 It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, “Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father.” 35 Then they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
36 Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 And the younger, she also bore a son and called his name Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the people of Ammon to this day. 

Genesis 19: 30 – 38 (New King James Version) 

Lot prayed to God for forgiveness and consulted Abraham regarding what he should do.  Abraham gave him three staffs left by angels and told him to plant them on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  He watered the staffs with water from the River Jordan and was informed that if they sprouted then God had forgiven his sins.  Legend states that the staffs grew into one tree of pine, cypress and cedar.  This tree was then used to construct the cross of Jesus.  This is a whopper of a tale indeed. 

The monastery complex was very peaceful indeed during my visit.  I paid 15NIS at the gift shop and had the church to myself for almost half an hour.  The main church and its side chapels are covered in ancient frescos some of which may have been repainted in the 17th century.  There are missing portions in the frescos which reminds me of the Hagia Sophia.   

Although the church has been under the control of the Greek Orthodox Church since 1685, the 11th century reconstruction of the church was carried out under the patronage of the King of Georgia.  One of the frescos is said to represent Shota Rustaveli, the famed Georgian poet who lived in the monastery during the 12th century. 

The original church is said to have been destroyed by the Persians in 614AD.  However part of the original mosaic floor can still be seen near the front of the church.  I noted a piece of mosaic floor in the side chapel, front right.  Overall I thought this church to be perfect in terms of peace and tranquillity.  No tour buses to disturb my reflections.  Had this monastery been in the centre of any other modern city it would be mobbed by visitors.  But being on the outskirts of the new city of Jerusalem it is overlooked.  It is a real gem, rather like the Armenian Cathedral. 

After the church I had a look at some of the other monastic buildings.  The old kitchen and refectory were open to public view and looked as if they had not been used in years.  This made me wonder just how many monks actually remained within the monastery complex.  I only saw one during my brief visit. 

I returned to our apartment at Ramban Street in time for dinner – boiled potatoes, fried eggs, cheese, salami, turkey slices and some salad.  A good wholesome thrown together tea.  Eating out is all well and good but sometimes I miss some of the basic foods from back home.  A good feed of potatoes is hard to beat. 

After dinner I took Ailsa to the local park across the street.  As I have said before, family is at the heart of Jewish culture.  The playground was fairly busy with young children being supervised by mothers, grandmothers and the occasional father (such as myself).  The local park, on the edge of a gridlocked road, also has a couple of kiosks selling snacks and drinks until late into the evening.  Public parks are not neglected in Jerusalem.

 

Photos / videos of "A visit to the Garden Tomb and other sites":

The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, Jerusalem. Tram lines under construction near the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Ailsa Burnett outside the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. The entrance to the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The entrance to the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Erin & Ailsa Burnett resting in the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Ruth Burnett resting in the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The possible site of Golgotha? - Just outside the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Inside the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Duncan Burnett at the door of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Duncan Burnett at the door of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Duncan Burnett at the door of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. A wine press in the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. A walk within the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. A plaque within the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. A plaque within the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Ruth & Ailsa Burnett resting in the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. A gift box within the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett resting in the grounds of the Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. The Garden Tomb, East Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem.  The baptismal font behind them was donated by Queen Victoria. A modern baptismal pool - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. A memorial inside St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. Baptismal area - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. A memorial inside St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. British Coat of Arms - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem.  British Mandate Era. British Coat of Arms - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem.  British Mandate Era. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett resting in the cloisters area - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. The guest house garden - St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. Erin & Ailsa Burnett in the main courtyard of St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem. Duncan Burnett in the main courtyard of St George's Anglican Cathedral, East Jerusalem.