“Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” cried a disciple of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 13:1). King Herod and his dynasty had spent decades fabulously rebuilding Israel’s center of worship. Massive white limestone buildings, accented with gold, glistened in the sunlight. The whole complex stood on top of a seven-acre raised platform (“Temple Mount”), which Herod had expanded to make into a wonder of the Roman world.
“Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus answered. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Those hard words came true a generation later, when Jews rebelled against Roman rule. The most powerful empire on earth, determined to teach a lesson, exacted terrible revenge: Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, crucified tens of thousands of defenders, and demolished the temple the Herod family had taken 46 years to build.
What remains today of Herod’s architecture is the retaining wall made of colossal “Jerusalem limestone” blocks around the perimeter of the Temple Mount. Part of this structure became today’s “Western Wall” where Jews still come to pray or to grieve destruction of God’s house. The largest dressed stone in the wall measures 11 x 16 x 44 feet and weighs a jaw-dropping 500 tons. Imagine the thousands of man-hours it took to cut and move such a block, with no power tools or diesel cranes. “What large stones,” indeed!
Building stones for the temple probably came from a quarry underneath Jerusalem. Near Damascus Gate on the north side of the Old City, a small entrance in the bedrock leads down into an astonishing network of caverns. Called “Solomon’s Quarries” or “Zedekiah’s Cave,” the limestone tunnels extend more than 600 feet under what today is the Muslim Quarter of Old Jerusalem. Chisel marks from stone removal cover walls and ceilings of the underground labyrinth.
One ballroom-size cavern is more than 300 feet wide. Folklore calls water dripping from the ceilings “Zedekiah’s tears,” since he was the last king of Judah before Babylon destroyed Solomon’s temple in 586 BC. Babylonians “slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7).
Babylon (in 586 BC) and Rome (in AD 70) both destroyed the temple that seemed so secure, a reminder of the fleeting nature of religious and political structures. Today venerable religious, social, and political institutions of the Western world wobble and even collapse. God’s people have experienced worse, and God was faithful. Jewish faith survived destruction of the temple to become a Torah-based religion of the book. Christianity survived to become a global mission movement.
Peter the fisherman once said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Faith in Jesus as Lord is a foundation more sure than any temple or religious institution, no matter how large their stones.
© 2018 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019:
In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus Fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth.
We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.
A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/
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Happy New Year, Nelson, another good year to be a peace pilgrim, at home and abroad!