Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Story about Jews, Muslims, and Christian Pilgrims

The other day Israel's Antiquities Authority showed some journalists an ancient sewage duct which runs under the southern wall of the Old City, from the area under the Western Wall more or less, down into the City of David. Apparently some of the defenders of the city during the war against the Romans used this tunnel, but up till then it had been for sewage and since then it was blocked by the detritus of millennia, so in a way you can say it's a "new" tunnel.

As expected, various Palestinian notables immediately castigated the Israelis for intending to undermine the nearby mosques. No-one expected them not to. Of course, anyone with a modicum of understanding of the matter realizes that digging to the west of the Herodian wall which supports the Temple Mount can't lead under the mountain. The reason Herod's wall still stands so intact more than 2,000 years after it was built, having survived dozens of major earthquakes and destructive conquests of the area is that it's very very solid. No-one knows how thick it is, since no-one has ever blasted through it, but the assumption is somewhere between four and seven meters (that would be about 20 feet of solid rock).

The story I'd like to tell, however, isn't about the malicious Palestinian notables,but about the more regular folks.

About a week ago I went to listen to Prof. Dan Bahat, one of Jerusalem's top archeologists, talk about the current state of archeological knowledge about the city. He spoke for about four hours, in front of an audience of about a hundred people, many of them tourist guides. I'd say about 10-15 of them were Palestinian, some Israelis and some from East Jerusalem. For the first three hours, or more, Bahat talked about all the incendiary aspects of the city you'd expect from an important archeologist: have we identified this building from the Bible, that building from the revolt against the Romans, the market from the days of the Arab conquest, and so on. Throughout it all, the audience sat politely, with an occasional request for this clarification or that. If there was any animosity or even mere tension, I didn't notice.

Then, near the end of his lecture, Bahat said something about the Via Dolorosa, and how accurate or not its various stations might be. At which point the room erupted. A very loud group of the guides - Jews and Arabs together - demanded that he explain, or retract, or apologize, or jump in the lake, or all of the above. The explanation for this became clear: The Jewish and Arab stuff was all academic. The Via Dolorosa, however, is a crucial source of income if you're a tour-guide who works entirely with Christian pilgrims. Everyone knows the Jews and Arabs disagree about lots of stuff, so there's no need to make an issue of it. Cast doubt on a central part of the Christian narrative, however, and you'll soon be out of a job.


Silke said...


Orwell tells that one of his teachers made the class answer his question as to what was the most important thing in the world BREAD

and your story is another illustration of that teacher's wisdom

Fabián said...

The big secret about the Via Dolorosa is that the street you see today (and where they show you the mark on the wall when Jesus supposedly rested, etc, etc) couldn't have been walked by Jesus ever.

The simple reason is that the street where Jesus could have walked is 5 to 10 meters buried under the modern Via Dolorosa. That is what time does to arquitecture: it buries it in strata...

Silke said...

assuming that it is possible for Muslims at least from Western countries to visit Israel with as little paperwork as I'd have to go through, doesn't then the fixation of the guides on the Via Dolorosa issue signal that Muslim visitors to Jerusalem are not big business compared to Christian ones?

nanaloshen said...

What is a Jesus Loves You ad doing on your website?

Anonymous said...

As usual, Yaacov's leads are worth tracking down...

I'd never heard this description of why there were money lenders in the temple.
Bahat's lecture, about 25-30 minutes into it.

Barry Meislin said...

I wouldn't take it too personally.

Jesus loves everybody.

(At least that's what his pR people say.)

Silke said...

yes and they are untiring and unrelenting - no matter how often you tell them you don't wanna be loved by him they'll always come back and tell you that at the latest on your death bed you will feel the urge.

They are pitiless in that, at least around where i live they are

btw the deathbed talk is done by protestants around here also even when I was still in my prime and even in my teens. That talk always endeared them to me immensely.