Journey to Jerusalem

by Jeffrey Swinton

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    I wish you could have been with us as Lee Grisham and I spent last Christmas in the Holy Land. Lee and I had been companions together in the mission field and had received permission to visit the Holy Land en route home. I was a typical Latter-day Saint who had read all my life about the Holy Land, and Lee was a Jewish convert of a few years. So together we shared a desire to visit the land of his forefathers.

    We flew into Tel Aviv, where the climate was warm. Once there, we quickly learned how Israelis try to make the best of everything—on the bus ride into town we listened to excerpts from a Haydn symphony to help us forget the rough ride.

    The next day we went by bus to Jerusalem, where instead of seeing our mental image of a 20,000-year-old town, we were shocked to find a very large and somewhat modern city, although it is divided into what are called the old and new sections. But the old city really doesn’t have too much to do with Jesus’ life, as much of it was built by the Crusaders and others. Rome destroyed the Jerusalem Jesus knew, leaving not “one stone upon another.” (Mark 13:2.)

    After we had seen these sights and many more in Jerusalem, we spent several days in other parts of the Holy Land. One special thrill was conducting our own little sacrament meeting, having been previously authorized, on the shores of Lake Galilee, where our bread was broken from the Jewish bagel and the water came from the sea. A few days later, after having walked the hills, put our bare feet into the rough soil, tasted the water, felt the cold night air, and heard the bleat of the sheep, we found that the scriptures had become a living reality to us. But that wasn’t all. We had tried to follow in the actual footsteps of Jesus. Now our hearts tell us to follow the Savior in all the other paths of living that he has set for us. With the help of the Spirit, I know we can all do it.

    Jerusalem—This is part of the old city of Jerusalem, seen from the top of the Mount of Olives where Jesus often taught his disciples. Cemetery stones dot the mountain in the foreground. The Brook Kidron used to run through the little valley between the mountain and the city. A Crusader wall surrounds part of the old city in which many of the streets are narrow and dark, lined with small shops with open fronts, and mostly populated by Arabs.

    A Wedding—One of our nicest experiences was attending a wedding. As we walked along, we heard singing and music and found about thirty women dancing in a courtyard. As we stopped to watch, a young Arab invited us into the house. We found in one room younger men dancing to the music of an unfretted lute, a tamborine, and a drum. In an adjoining room, the older men sat in a huge circle on mats on the floor. They were sipping a hot beverage and talking quietly. We were fed well on lamb that was covered with a goat-cheese sauce.

    Wailing Wall—Once in Jerusalem, one of the first things Lee wanted to see was the Wailing Wall. It stands about fifty feet high, and may be the last remaining portion of Herod’s Temple. To the Orthodox Jew, the wall holds great significance. He literally wails while he prays facing it. As we drew near, we put on a little black skull cap called a yarmulke, and we blended in with the crowd, many of whom were facing the wall, reading from the Hebrew Torah, and constantly bowing. The Orthodox group, young and old, who remain there all day are spoken of as “keepers of the wall.”

    Dome of the Rock—Atop Mount Moriah, the small elevated southwestern portion of the old city, is the traditional site of Herod’s Temple. Today the area is maintained by Moslems who have built on the mount a mosque called the Dome of the Rock. Nearby is claimed to be the place where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed. The Dome, shaped like a decagon, is covered with beautiful Turkish tile and crowned with a golden dome The interior is exquisite, with carpets and morocco and stained-glass windows.

    Garden of Gethsemane—This is part of an old olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane, which means “olive oil press,” is several long city blocks distant outside the old city walls. Even though the area isn’t filled with trees as it was in the time of the Savior, it is easy to try to imagine what happened that great night when Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world. You get a lump in your throat as you think about what our Savior did for us here.

    Garden Tomb—To the southwest of what is believed to be Golgotha is a site known as General Gordon’s Garden Tomb. According to Gordon’s research, it is the plot of land once owned by Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb for the burial of Jesus. Many people believe that this is the actual tomb in which Jesus was placed and from which he resurrected. It is preserved in its natural state. I wish everyone could go there and feel the same emotion we felt as we gazed at the site. There are two small rooms within. In front of the door is a trough that runs across the entrance—wide enough to have been the track for a huge wheel-shaped stone used to block the entrance. As one meditates here, the Spirit is really felt.

    Typical Village—Outside of Jerusalem we found many villages that are probably typical in style and design to the kind that Jesus knew in his day. Here is one of them.