Monday, January 17, 2011

The Garden Tomb

Our first full day in Jerusalem, we took a left out of the hotel and discovered a wonderful Palestinian bookstore.  It's called  the Educational Bookshop and the address is 19 Salah Ad-Din St. in East Jerusalem.  After spending an hour or so in there browsing books and talking to the well-informed and very helpful staff, we continued to explore our neighborhood.  It turned out, around the next corner and down the block was the Garden Tomb, the tomb Jesus was supposedly buried in.  We were just walking by when we noticed the sign.  I was amazed by this kind of thing happening repeatedly in Jerusalem.  At almost every turn, there is some major historical site that you have heard about since childhood, a site that seemed almost mythic.... and yet, there it is.

The Garden Tomb tour we went on said the crucifixtion probably happened right near the tomb itself, so perhaps in this spot just outside the fencing of the Garden Tomb grounds demarcated by the fence, an area that is now a parking area.
The guide pointed out that passages in the Bible said the crucifixtion was near the old city but outside of the city walls, that it was in an open space where people walked by, that it was near a garden, that he was taken down from the cross and brought to a tomb in that garden.  This tomb matches this description.  The guide pointed out that there is a Biblical reference to a skull at the site of the crucifixtion and noted the skull like features of the stone in the rockface next to the parking area.
The tomb itself also seems to have many of the characteristics cited in the Bible:  it is a tomb carved into stone by hand and was an unfinished, with a layout consistent with descriptions in the Bible.  The guide said this is the only tomb in the area that is carved into the rock by hand.    

Here is the entrance to the tomb.  We're looking pretty grim, but, as Jeff said, it's not a place to smile, assuming it really is the actual tomb.
Here's a photo of the plan of the interior of the tomb, followed by a photo of the interior.  All the numbered items on the right are from descriptions found in the Bible or other historic writings.
When we toured the Garden Tomb, we were with a large group from the Philippines.  Here's a photo of them with the volunteer guide from the Netherlands who visiting for several months as part of his missionary work.
There was another large group that included younger people.

What is interesting about this tomb site, as well as other Biblical sites, is that no one knows for sure exactly where these monumental events happened.  The Garden Tomb staff is convinced this tomb is the correct tomb, but the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Old City of Jerusalem also claims to be the site of the crucifixion and the tomb.  (There are also two different sites in Bethlehem that claim to be where Jesus was actually born.)  Of course both sites cannot be the actual site.  If you judge by the public, the Holy Sepulchre Church would win as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb since it is absolutely mobbed and the people who go there act like it is the holiest site of Christianity.

Still, we enjoyed visiting the Garden Tomb.  It is a lovely site even aside from the tomb history.  There are 7 chapels scattered throughout the garden.  Here are photos of a couple of them.

There are quotes from the Bible scattered throughout the Garden.

Here is a famous sign at the start of the walk that is particularly meaningful in these times of conflict.
As we've been learning, the status of Jerusalem is a major sticking point in working toward a peaceful two-state resolution with Israel and Palestine.  The old city of Jerusalem just happens to have the holiest sites on the whole planet for three major religions:  for Christians, there is the Holy Sepulchre Church (claiming to be the site of the crucifixion and tomb burial); for Muslims, there is the Dome of the Rock where there is a mosque that contains a rock which, according to Sunni Islamic tradition, is where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven accompanied by Angel Gabriel; and for Jews, there is the Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, which is near the Foundation Stone said to be the holiest site on earth for Judaism.  

Little by little, we've tried to explain some of these very complex concepts of religion and war and peace to Cameron.  He listens and asks questions and little by little tries to understand as much as a 6 year old can.  I've talked to him about things I've been reading in a book written by a Palestinian woman who lived in Ramallah (in the West Bank) during the Israeli occupation.  I've tried to convey to Cameron the difference between actions of the Israeli government (during the occupation and now with continued expansion of Israeli settlements) and Israeli people who generally nice and treated us well.    

I discussed these things with him a couple weeks ago, then last night he said, "Mommy, I have a question for you."  I said ok.  He said, "How many people are in a government?"  I said it depends on what size the country it is.  If it is a small country, it would have fewer people in the government than if it were a big country like the United States.  He asked if Israel was a big country or a small country.  I said it was small.  He said then there should be more Palestinians than people in the government, implying that the conduct associated with Israel's occupation of Palestine shouldn't continue a long time because the government people would be outnumbered by Palestinians.  I pointed out to him that part of the issue though depended on how strong a country's military was and Israel had one of the strongest militaries in the whole region.  He said, "What's a military?"  I explained it was the people we saw on the streets with AK47 guns and other people working for the government who had tanks and other weapons.  

Ironically though, Cameron touched on one of the central issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:  Israel’s concern about demographics, sometimes called the "population bomb" which could mean that since Palestinians have more children than Jewish Israeli's, after a certain amount of time, Palestinians will outnumber Jews in Israel and democratic processes could mean the elimination of the Jewish state.  But this is a topic for another day.  

Here is Cameron enjoying the sight-seeing part of the Garden Tomb visit.

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