Historic Sites...
Golden Gate

Transition from a Hebrew to a Jew began during the Second Temple period by the Babylonian exiles. Far removed from the temple life they turned to their writings as the tools of worship. The adherence to the idea of a single God has become a paramount feature of the faith which in the absence of temple life was based on the written word. It was in exile where the idea of the communal warship and reading of the scriptures most likely led to the creation of the institution known as a synagogue. These prayer gatherings coupled with a tradition of observing the Sabbath and other holidays enabled the Jews to survive the long dispersion that followed the eventual destruction of the Second Temple by Romans.



Mount Zion

From Zion shall come forth the Torah and word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Micah (4:2)

Mount Zion or Har Tzion in Hebrew, is the tallest of the several hills that surround the walls of ancient Jerusalem. It stands 2,550 feet high and is bordering with the Hinnom Valley to the south. To the north, through the Zion Gate, it leads into Armenian and Jewish Quarters inside the Old City fortifications.

Mount Zion

                                                              Mount Zion, Jerusalem

 There has been a lot of confusion up until the recent past about the geographical location of present day Mount of Zion vs. Biblical Mount Zion. In addition the word Zion itself means different things to different people. For some it's a physical location of the Biblical hill and for others it has symbolic or even metaphysical meaning. It means one thing for Christians, but the word takes a different form for the Jews and yet another for Muslims.

Zion is mentioned over hundred times in the Old Testament and cannot be separated from the history of the Jewish people, their religion and even their politics. Zion is mentioned only once in the New Testament, but the word is pretty important for Christians as it refers to God's spiritual kingdom and home for the redeemed in the new Jerusalem.

One of the first references to Zion can be found in Samuel 5:6-9, "The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites who lived there. .... David captured the fortress of Zion .... And David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David."

It appears that the name Zion in the above Bible verse is attached to the Jebusite fortress conquered by David. But as one travels through the Jerusalem timeline we find the name applied to the other locations in the area as well.

Another important reference to Zion is found in 2 Chronicles 5:2, which describes the event that is still hugely relevant to this day because it has to do with the arrival of the Arc of the Covenant to the Temple Mount. In this verse Zion has a new location, City of David itself, located just south of Mount Moriah.

 "And Solomon summoned to Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the Ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. And all the Israelites came together to the king at the time of the festival in the seventh month... and the Temple began to play its role as the House of God."

David's Tomb Compound by Onceinawhile

David's Tomb Compound, Mount Zion by Onceinawhile. Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

King Solomon built the permanent temple on the top of Mount Moriah to house the Arc of the Covenant thus fulfilling the God's wishes as expressed in Psalm 132:13, "For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation; This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell; for I have desired it."

On the mount the Arc has rested in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple where only the High Priest could enter once a year, on Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. The worship of God and all the associated ceremonies were centered on the Temple Mount and it was now this location referred to as Mount Zion.

The destruction of the Holy Temple by Babylonians and then Romans only strengthened the spiritual concept of Zion. Far removed from their historical homeland and treated harshly by their host countries, longing the exiled Jews developed for the Holy Land only grew through the centuries.

The Zion was now not only the Temple Mount or even the city of Jerusalem, but the entire Holy Land with it's hills and rivers and the freedom of worshipping God and raising their children according to the laws of Moses.

In addition the concept of Zion encompassed the hope that the exiles can go back to the land of their forefathers. That hope played a huge role in the ability of the Jewish people to carry their faith through the thousands of years while many other religions faded into the history.

The site that is known today as Mount of Zion used to be known in antiquity as part of the Western Hill. During the reign of King David the Western Hill was an uninhabited wilderness far outside the city walls.

In the 1st century BCE, Jerusalem experienced a monumental building activity headed by King Herod. His plan also involved Mount Zion, which now was included within the city walls. It has become quite an affluent area inhabited by the families of the high priests and local aristocracy.

In 1225CE Jerusalem went through another rebuilding process this time under the leadership of the Abbasid caliph Zahir. He fortified Jerusalem with the new walls, but on the more modest scale as Mount Zion once again was left on the outside.

The most important religious site found on the Mount Zion today is a three story building where all Abrahamic religions have a partial ownership. The first floor belongs to the Jews and it houses the Tomb of King David and the adjacent synagogue. On the second floor is cenacal or the Room of Last Supper and on the third floor is an Ottoman era mosque with a minaret.

For Christians, it is the place where Jesus had a last supper with his disciples. For Jews, it is the tomb of King David. For Muslims, it is the site of a 16th century mosque that honors Nabi Daud (the prophet David).

David's TombFor centuries David's tomb served as a place of prayer for the Jews whenever the Muslim authorities would allow them the access. You have to walk through the synagogue to the room where the tomb is located. Underneath the velvet cloth is a huge rock covering the entrance to the cave where many people believe the Hebrew king was buried.

There is no universal agreement on whether or not King David is buried at this tomb. Historians and archeologists refer to the passage the Bible (1 Kings 2:10) indicating that the burial took place in the City of David, "and David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David." The problem is that the tomb is located outside the city walls on the Mount Zion quite a distance from the place indicated in the Bible.

The defenders of the Tomb of David theory argue that burials were not permitted inside the city walls due to Jewish laws regarding the ritual purity. They also argue that a burial site on the Mount of Zion was considered as part of the City of David that was used specifically as a resting place for the deceased and therefore there is no contradiction.

Cenacle or the Upper Room occupies the second floor of the building. During the 14th century the Franciscan monks had a custody of the site and during that period they added the upper storey. It was built in order to commemorate the Last Supper, they believed, was held by Jesus and his disciples in the vicinity of the structure. In 1523, the Franciscans were evicted from the building and the room was converted into a mosque.

In 1267 Nahmanides, also known as Ramban, arrived to the Holy Land after being exiled from Spain. He found Jerusalem in the state of total devastation and it's Jewish community in shatters as a result of constant invasions one more brutal than the other. But being a man of action, even at the advanced age of 72, he made a decision to restore a Jewish community in Jerusalem and started out by building a synagogue.

He found a ruined house on the Mount of Zion with marble pillars and an arch still intact and built a synagogue over it. After Ramban passed away, his sucsessors moved the synagogue into the Old City, where over the centuries it was destroyed and rebuild several times.

In 1537CE, Ottoman ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent embarked on the major project of rebuilding the city. Under his plan Mount of Zion was to be incorporated into the Old City's borders. Unfortunately two leading architects of the project decided to save some money for themselves and left the mount outside the city walls. The incensed sultan had both of them beheaded and their bodies burred outside the Jaffa Gate.

Several important historical figures are buried on Mount Zion, such as Jerusalem architect and scholar Conrad Schick and Righteous Gentile Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of 1200 Jews from Nazi concentration camps.

The road that leads up to Mount Zion is called a Pope's way after a historic visit to Jerusalem by Pope Paul Vl in January of 1964. He was the first Pope to ever visit the Holy City and the winding road to Mount Zion was paved specifically so he could visit the Upper Room. At the time Vatican did not recognize the Jewish state and Pope never uttered the name of Israel in public during his tenure.

In 1948, during the War of Liberation Mount of Zion was the only part of the Old city that was under Israeli control. The Jewish fighters at the top of the mount were isolated from the rest of Israeli forces with limited supply of food and ammunition.

The problem was resolved by Uriel Hefetz, an officer in Engineering corps, who came up with an idea of using a cable car across the Hinnom Valley. Israelis would raise the cable at night to transport supplies and evacuate the wounded fighters. The cable was lowered during the day to conceal it from Jordanian forces.

Mount of Zion was also used by a company from the Jerusalem Brigade as the platform from where they made their way into the Armenian Quarter through the small opening in the Zion Gate. From there fifty Israeli fighters were able to reach the Jewish Quarter, which was lost 19 years prior to Arab forces. During that period the Jewish Quoter was ethnically cleansed and many synagogues were methodically destroyed. This time all Israelis encountered were the white surrender flags.

The Dormation Abbey dominates the Mount Zion panorama. It was built by Keyser Wilhelm II in the beginning of the 20th century in memory of Mary, mother of Jesus. The land was given to him as a gift by an Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1898. The site of the church is believed to be situated on the spot where Mary died or "fell asleep" even though there is a place in Ephesus, Turkey that claims to be a place where the real Mary's Tomb resides.

There are many important historical sites on the Mount of Zion that are venerated by all three religions. While the relationships between the religious groups may not be perfect for the most part they are able to coexist peacefully. The tourists come in thousands and are free to visit any site without any restrictions, providing they show a minimal respect to the holy places.

It will remain this way as long as the these sites remain under the Israeli control. It was not always the case. The ability to access the Holy sites in Jerusalem by Jews and Christians under the Muslim rule does not have a very good track record.

History of Ottoman and Arab control over these sites is one of the limited access at best and wholesale destruction at worst. The present is not that much better. All you need to do is look up the examples of what Hamas did in Gaza, Taliban in Afganistan and what ISIS is currently doing in Iraq and Syria.

We need to make sure that future generations are able to learn about their heritage, not only through books or the internet, but by being able to travel to Jerusalem freely and experience a kind of spiritual awakening that only the Holy city can provide.