Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Mount of Olives and The Garden of Gethsemane

Thursday 3 October 2013. We had sailed throughout the previous day from Rhodes and now wake in Isreal. We are docked in the port of Ashdod. Due to strict immigration procedures we are up at 5:00am in order that everyone onboard, passengers and crew, whether disembarking the ship or not can sit individually before an immigration official to have their face compared to their passport.

The port area is seemingly the place where cars are planted and grown. There were many thousands of cars of all makes. Apparently this is where East meets West and western cars are unloaded here for onward transport eastwards and Japanese and other eastern makes are unloaded here for onward transportation westwards. There are acres of them, all standing in ranks and lines like a vast metallic sea. Despite the security we saw several with lifted bonnets and boots, no doubt missing a few bits...

The above shot was taken once we were up on deck - must have been all of 6:00am... The coaches for all the excursions to the Holy Land were arriving and lining up on the quayside. When we had been for breakfast and had our immigration checks - a very smooth procedure by the way - there were around 25 coaches lined up waiting for us. We were allocated to coach No.12 and settled down for the trip to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is seen here from the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives stands between Jerusalem to the west and the Judean Desert to the east. It is mentioned many times in the Bible. It was the site of the Ascension, it was the site of the raising of Lazarus, the home of Simon the Leper and at the foot of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane, which we shall see later.

From the same spot but with a tweak of the zoom control we can now pick out some of the important buildings in Jerusalem before us. The golden dome of the Dome of the Rock is on the left. The mosque was built in 691-692 AD with the dome directly over the rock believed to be where Muhammad ascended to Heaven. Long before, this was the most holy of places.

This is believed to be the site of Abraham's intended sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Above the altar was raised the Temple of Soloman in the tenth century BC. The invading Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BC and following their own defeat by Persia almost 50 years later, the Jews were allowed to return and built the Second Temple on the site, dedicating it in 515 BC.

This would have still been standing during the time of Jesus. However it was a much extended and decorated temple by then as King Herod the Great refurbished and added to it to create a building of immense beauty and grandeur. It lasted only until the year 70 AD when the Romans burnt it along with much of the city to end a Jewish revolt. The Romans raised a temple to Jupiter over the site and banned Jews from the city. Once Christianity became the accepted Roman religion the Rock was left bare as Jesus had predicted it would be.

The Rock now has both the Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa mosque which is just out of shot in the photo. The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and converted all buildings on the Rock to Christianity, but were themselves defeated in 1187 and since then the buildings have been dedicated as Muslim holy places.

Our coach takes us down the Mount of Olives to the walls of Jerusalem. The photograph shows the blocked East Gate of Jerusalem. Jesus entered the city this way from the Mount of Olives and prophecy says that with the Second Coming, he shall descend with His angels to the Mount of Olives and walk through this gate again. In 1517 the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent conquered Jerusalem. The East Gate (or Golden Gate) is the oldest in Jerusalem's walls. It gave access to Temple Mount. Suleiman was told of the Second Coming through this gate and took this to mean a holy but military force was imminent. He blocked the gate and created a Muslim cemetery in front of it, convinced that no Christian holy man would walk through such an obstacle. In doing so, he fulfilled an age old prophecy.

The Garden of Gethsemane. According to the Gospels of both Luke and John, Jesus came here regularly with His Disciples. It was here He told them that they would betray or deny Him and it was to here that Judas led those who arrested Him. The garden today is protected by a fence, around which a path is laid for visitors and pilgrims.

Adjacent to the garden is the Church of All Nations, with a wonderful large mosaic on the facade. This was covered in scaffolding however when we visited. We were given some free time to go inside the church and around the perimeter of the garden.

Inside a service was going on so it was not possible to take lots of photos. In front of the altar is the Rock of Agony, the rock upon which Jesus prayed and despaired. The interior is quite dark, the windows and lighting meant to simulate night and starlight. Digital cameras deal with low light these days, though not without a touch of camera shake here. I'll try harder next time.

We came out to where the guides from several coaches were chatting. A bit of banter was going on and our guide slapped another playfully with the numbered paddle from the ship which promptly snapped off and fell down a set of railed steps. He had to climb over to retrieve the paddle to the enjoyment of the other guides. It wasn't the only paddle to be broken that day...

We have not even got into Jerusalem proper yet, so I'll end this entry to the blog here at Gethsemane. To come is the Western or Wailing Wall, the Stations of the Cross, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, over the site of both the Crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. After that we will be back onto the coach to pass through into the Palestine area to Bethlehem, visiting the site of the Nativity and then heading back to Ashdod with a brief but interesting stop at the site of David's fight with Goliath.

For now, here is another view of the ancient olive trees of Gethsemane. Olive trees do not die. The tree trunks age and hollow but the roots send forth new shoots which grow alongside and eventually surround the older growth. There are olive plantations where the trees are known to be four or five thousand years old. So these trees that you see in the Garden of Gethemane are the very same trees that Jesus and His Apostles sheltered under.

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