The soft overcomes the hard

We visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism. It was constructed by King Herod the Great in 19 BCE, one of four retaining walls around the Temple Mount and the Jewish Temple. The image above shows the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock (and associated mosque) to the left.

The first Jewish temple was built by Soloman in 957 BCE. It was destroyed in 835 BCE.

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The second temple was completed in 515 BCE, rededicated in 164 BCE, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE (see artist’s portrayal above). The Muslim Dome of the Rock was completed on the site in 691 CE — but scholars do not agree regarding the exact location of the temple ruins underneath.

I look at the Western Wall (men’s section).

Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately bulldozed structures in the Moroccan Quarter to create the Western Wall plaza. The Western Wall is sometimes called the Wailing Wall due to Jews expressing grief over destruction of the temple but some regard this label as politically incorrect or inappropriate. Jews at the Western Wall pray standing, walking, or sitting.

I approach the wall and see people praying and also the prayer notes that people have placed in crevices. The wall, thought to be the closest point to the original temple, is considered particularly favorable for prayer — the Divine Presence rests upon the Western Wall.

Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have prayed before this wall.

I pray that you find your inner way and the peace inside you.

The women’s section is more populated.

We pass through the Damascus Gate. We are going to the Garden Tomb, an alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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The Garden Tomb is thought by some to be Jesus’ tomb and place of His resurrection. During the Renaissance, some Christian pilgrims were troubled to find that the Church of the Sepulchre was inside the Jerusalem Old City walls, a location that does not coincide with the New Testament text.

Protestants, in particular, were bothered that they had no role in governing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. During the 1800’s, researchers began suggesting that Jesus’ tomb could not be where tradition suggested it was. The wall would not have been relocated in the manner suggested — it made no military sense.

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Some archeologists became interested in a rocky area thought to portray an image of a skull, a place mentioned in the Bible. The area was traditionally connected to the stoning of St. Stephen, and other public executions. The researchers sought to fit archeological findings with Biblical passages describing Jesus’ crucifixion near a garden and tomb (John 19: 41-42). In the late 19th century, archeologists discovered various tombs in the area of interest. They also found an ancient cistern and wine press (shown above). One tomb seemed a probable site — it had a groove in front that might function for a round stone door, as mentioned in the bible. The famous British General Charles Gordon (Chinese Gordon) became interested in the Gardem Tomb theory during his stay in Jerusalum. After he was tragically killed in Khartoum in 1885, people contributed to a fund that allowed purchase of the Garden Tomb site as a kind of memorial to him.

I look inside the Garden Tomb.

Late 20th century archeologists suggest that the Garden Tomb cistern originated during the Crusader era and that the tomb has a design from the 8-7 century BC which was out of use during later eras. This evidence does not support the “Garden Tomb” theory. They also argue that the Church of the Sepulchre is in a place that was originally outside the Jurusalum city walls — so that it is not illogical to think that the traditional site is valid.

The original motivation of the Protestant archeologists seems to be that the Church of the Holy Sepulche was an “unnatural” setting for them — not suitable for Protestant contemplation and prayer. The Garden Tomb setting — with a Crusader marking on the tomb wall and garden environment — seemed more appropriate to many prople. Many today find the site highly suitable for meditation and prayer.

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We visited an Armenian Church in the Old City and saw a station of the cross (number 4). This shrine marks the place that Jesus met his mother while carrying the cross. The footprints painted on the floor mark the place that Jesus stood. Many Armanian Christians have came to Jerusalem over the years, fleeing persecution in their home countries.

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We visit the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalum, a round building, designed to reflect the style of churches in that country.

We see icons portraying Ethiopian saints.

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Abune Tekle Haimanot, Ethiopian Saint of the 12th century, founded a monastery and is considered the Father of Ethiopian Monastricism. He is portrayed standing in a deep cave where he lived. The nails in the rocks beside him function to keep him vigilant both day and night. He was given wings to help him complete his pilgrimage to Jerusalum. A diseased man comes to partake the water from a healing spring at his monastery.

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Abba Samuel of Waldera is portrayed traveled through the desert on the back of a lion in the 14-15 th centuries. He is associated with stories of trees infested with pagan spirits. Typically, people in a place fear a demon-infested tree but Abba Samuel cuts it down — in the stories, the falling tree almost kills someone but Abba Samuel then uses the wood to build a church. His monastery is considered the most difficult of all — monks eat only a kind of bitter root. They lead a short but beautiful life — filled with prayers sacrifices, and renunciation, their lives shortened due to hunger and yellow fever.

I walk around the outer hallway of the Ethiopian Church, looking at the icons.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 78):

“Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water
yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
Nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
The gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone know this is true,
but few can put it in practice.
Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his head
because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.
True words seem paradoxical.”

We catch the bus to Tel Aviv and walk through a market.

We will fly back to Istanbul to continue our pilgrimage around the world.

Our observations reflect differences among Jews, Muslims, and the various types of Christians. Although these groups cannot agree, there are people within each group who follow the inner path and this road leads to the One who cannot be named.

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