A Holy War – Part II
Some believe the Jewish Temple still exists, but is invisible to the ordinary person. Part of the belief is that it ascended to heaven and will reemerge when the Messiah arrives. I must admit when first presented with this concept, I found it quite incredible. I now retract my own doubts, for I witnessed the impossible, making it easier for me to grasp the enormity of the pronunciation. All that is needed is to change our frame of reference.
Imagine you live in a house. You go down to the basement and drill a hole into the ground, a well of sorts. One such hole can be used to dump garbage or sewage, a disposal or storage tank. Another can be used to bring up water from the underground, like a well.
Now you are standing some distance underneath, inside the ground. You are in a large cistern, with arches overhead and a pool of water beneath. Above the ceiling is another world altogether, a house and adjacent to it a church. The house is unaware you exist, the occupants believing they are on solid ground. All that was needed was a change of the frame of reference.
Still in the house, that is not imaginary at all, you decided to dig further and find a chamber, at times a whole set of chambers, thus extending your house to much greater dimensions. We are Alice who wonders through the cabinet to another wonderful world.
Now, join me on a tour. We enter just to the northwest of the Western Wall (Kotel, in Hebrew), at the corner of the 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) plaza before the Kotel. It is a very hot and humid, sunny day outside, and we are delighted to escape to the coolness. Our first stop is underneath an arch. We are part of a group of some 50 people, and the arch is enormous, allowing us to stand in comfort as other groups arrive.
Our guide points to the several levels below us. We stand above an abyss watching the ongoing archeological excavations. The site is quite amazing, cool and comfortable, as we start on our journey into the earth, along the Western Wall.
“Wait,” I say. “The Western Wall is outside, extending 19 meters high (62′) and 57 meters long (187′). There are 28 stones that make up the height of the Kotel outside.” But apparently there are 17 additional stones underneath, unexposed, at a depth of additional 13 meters (43′). Taken altogether, from base to full height, the Kotel is only a portion of what once was the Western Wall. It once extended 60 meters (197′) into the air.
Our guide explains we are stopped under an arch of a bridge leading into the Temple Mount. Currently, it is completely underground, but once was a major engineering structure.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews would ascend to Jerusalem three times a year and roads were needed to accommodate them. A water supply was also necessary, both for drinking and for bathing (physical and spiritual purification) before entering the Temple Mount. The area bustled with commercial activity, from money exchange to various vendors, not much different from today.
We continue our descent into the tunnel. Think of a rectangle within a rectangle. The Kotel outside is like a window on the side of a building, the Western Wall. 2,000 years ago, it was several floors above ground and there were several floors further above it. The Wall itself extends a length of 488 meters (1,600′) to a height of 60 meters (192′). Thus, we still have some 320 meters of the Western Wall under the streets and houses of the Old City of Jerusalem.
If you told me there was an ancient city beneath the streets of Jerusalem, I would not have believed you. But as we walked alongside the full length of the Western Wall, as we reached the point closest to where the Holy of Holies once stood (and some say still stands) and as we continued to the point where the very rock of the mountain was the corner stone for the Jewish Temple, I could not contain my amazement.
Once there was a road that surrounded the Wall where people congregated, traded and rested. The road begins at the same corner point, then disappears into the ground, as it was along the base of the Wall. We were walking along another road, midway up the wall and way above us were today’s houses, stores and streets of the Old City.
Below us are huge, carefully crafted stones, with outer-edge frames, each stone hewn in Herodian style some 2,000 years ago. They constitute a pile that has become the ground on which the road where we now walk was constructed.
1,940 years ago this coming Tuesday, the 20th of July, on the Ninth of the month of Av, 70CE (AD), the Romans destroyed the Second Temple that was surrounded by four supporting walls, one on each side of the four winds. The Romans chiseled away the stones of these supporting walls, one at a time, throwing them to the surrounding plazas and streets underneath. We know that since the stones still lie there. Some of the stones were enormous, weighing upwards of five tons (ten thousand pounds).
The idea was the utter and complete destruction of Jewish presence via the obliteration of the very essence, or heart of the Jews. Tear the heart out, kill the Jews! Stone after stone they continued, from a height of 60 meters they managed to descend some 30 or 40 meters. This was an enormous achievement, but their hatred was both a catalyst and driving motivation. Nothing would stop them.
Not quite, for the demarcations of God’s Temple were magically protected. The Romans were forced to stop after immense effort, leaving a magnificent base of the Western Wall, unexposed above ground and yet accessible in a city-underneath-the-current-Old City.
As with most things in the Bible, there is a “logical” explanation that helps rational skeptics, comprehend the “magic.” One of the stones “mid-way” was 3.5 meters (11.5′) tall and 13.6 meters (44.6′) long. Some estimates put the weight of this “single stone” at 570 tons, or about 1.14 million pounds. As much as the Romans tried, they were unable to break or move it and it remained, protecting all the layers beneath. An amazing engineering feat or glorious plans by the Almighty?
As we began ascending at the end of the tour, we exited into the Via Dolorosa, emerging from the Jewish holiest site to that of the Christians’. The security guards surrounding the group now became very attentive as a group of innocent tourist is ripe prey for the predators surrounding us.
We were reminded that the third element of the three major monotheistic religions is not peaceful, its intentions threatening and methods unmistaken. We were thankful for the security guards, saddened by the very need, alarmed by the threat.
We completed the walk back to today’s Western Wall Plaza above ground.
From 1948 to 1967, under Muslim rule, Jews were forbidden to pray next to the Western Wall. Today the threat is even greater, for the mountaintop may serve as a catalyst, a ruse, a convenient opportunity for the break of the great clash of civilizations-modernity and 7th Century, 21st Century and barbarism-the spark that could ignite World War III.
For the past 43 years, excavations at the Western Wall “Jewish side” were conducted most carefully, under both religious and scientific supervision including historians, archeologists and engineers. Part of the Western Wall was exposed, along with the plazas, roads and bridges made of arches leading to the Temple Mount. But we do not know what was exposed on the other (“Muslim”) side and what purpose it may ultimately serve.
On the “Jewish side,” millions of tourists pass, of all faiths, of all nationalities. They come, they respect and are gifted with an experience they will cherish the rest of their lives. On the “Muslim side,” where the Jewish Holy of Holies once stood, and is now lifted into the atmosphere to avoid desecration by hatred and calls to murder the Jews, there must be the very same spaces. Another city-underneath-the-City. What evil secrets does it shelter within?
The two are separated by one wall that has stood now for close to two thousand years and was formed by massive, ancient stones, glued by a magical construction. Immovable, either by man or by the forces of nature, they mark and protect, they remind and separate. They are a monument to the story that cannot be rebuked by the removal of tons of earth mixed with historical, archeological and Biblical artifacts by the other side.
There, in the spaces of the “Muslim side,” preparations are undoubtedly underway for the day when the work of the Romans will be completed. Muslims will be called to ascend to the Temple Mount, and protect it from the Jews, Zionists and Israelis. Yet, what the Romans were unable to achieve 1,940 years ago, what Hitler was unable to complete 65 years ago, and what they are attempting to usher in the very near future, will not succeed.
They will fail once again for there is a greater design, a protective “magic” that surrounds the Holy City. Who knows, if we truly believe, possibly the Temple will once again descent from Heaven to Earth, and we will witness the miracle in our lifetimes.
You are invited to take the same journey via a virtual tour at thekotel.org, or come and visit Israel and Jerusalem, the Kotel and the Western Wall Tunnels to live this experience yourself.
This point-and often-counter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.