I’m writing this week’s Good News Weekend post from Florence, Italy! I’m so happy to be on holiday in this beautiful city, far from the pressures of life back home in Israel, but don’t worry, Israel is never far from my mind and my heart.
This week’s instalment is all about Jerusalem and/or Jewish history.
Recently the Ancient Pilgrimage Road to Jerusalem was uncovered. Here is Yaakov Katz’s moving account:
Discovery of the Shiloah Pool led to another monumental find – the central water drainage channel that had served ancient Jerusalem. This channel is the tunnel that visitors to the City of David – known as Ir David – get to walk through today, starting at the bottom of the Shiloah and emerging about 45 minutes later next to the Western Wall.
As is often the case with archeology, though, the first discovery or two are just the beginning. That is how a few weeks ago I found myself on an exclusive tour of an ancient road dug out beneath the village of Silwan and above the now well-known water channel (also the place where Jewish rebels made a final stand against the Roman invaders).
The ancient street is referred to as “Pilgrimage Road,” since archaeologists are convinced that this is the path millions of Jews took three times a year when performing the commandment of aliyah l’regel – going up to the holy city of Jerusalem to bring sacrifices to God during Judaism’s three key holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
The Pilgrimage Road goes all the way from the Shiloah Pool to the area adjacent to the Western Wall known as Robinson’s Arch, where today you can still see remnants of the ancient stairway that led into the Jewish Temple.
Titus Flavius Josephus, the first-century Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 2.7 million people used to visit Jerusalem during the various Jewish holidays, bringing with them some 256,000 sacrifices.
Almost all of the Jewish pilgrims, according to Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David Foundation (Elad), would have entered the city on this road. It is a road that Jesus almost certainly used during the Second Temple period, alongside many of the famous Jewish scholars and leaders of that period.
Walking the road – as of now Ir David has excavated about 250 meters of it – you can imagine the throngs of people parading on it 2,000 years ago. Young boys walking next to their parents. Girls on their father’s shoulders. So far, only some of the stores that once lined the road have been partially uncovered, but with imagination you can hear the bartering that took place here – people trading leather for fur, seeds for honey, coins for wine.
For example, archaeologists found a set of stairs in the middle of the road alongside one of the ancient shops. But the staircase doesn’t go anywhere. It ends in a platform. When Ir David checked, though, it found just one other similar set of stairs – in Rome, where it was used as something like a Hyde Park-style Speaker’s Corner. Basically, this was a place where people could make announcements and deliver speeches to the pilgrims as they climbed the road to the Temple.
Then archaeologists found beside the stairs the burned remains of a male palm tree, one that doesn’t give fruit. Why would there be a non-fruit producing tree right there on the road? To provide shade for the speakers.
“To understand Jerusalem, you need to stand here,” Spielman said. “We were exiled in 70 [CE] and prayed three times a day and established a state. The last breath of Jews was here, beneath us.”
Spielman pointed at some black ash discovered along the road and mentioned the thousands of coins the archeologists uncovered engraved with the words “Free Zion.”
“This was the battle cry during the fight against the Romans,” he explained. “They made coins and not arrowheads, because they knew they could not beat Rome, but they made the coins so there would be something left for the people who would one day come back.”
IR DAVID has changed our understanding of history. It is one thing to read the Mishna and imagine or visualize what life for Jews was once like. It is quite another to walk on the exact same road as they did.
The project has so far cost several hundred million dollars, and while the government has provided a portion of the budget, most has come from private donors, such as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Oracle founder Larry Ellison and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum.
Ir David hopes that when the road officially opens in a few months, it will draw approximately one million visitors a year.
Considering the anti-Israel resolutions coming out of United Nations organizations such as UNESCO that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Pilgrimage Road has far greater significance for Israel than just the opening of a new impressive tourist site, said Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for Ir David.
It proves the long and historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem, Orenstein stressed, not just the parts where Jews live today but across the city, even if it takes you under homes and streets in Arab neighborhoods like Silwan.
US Ambassador David Friedman agrees. “The City of David brings truth and science to a debate that has been marred for too long by myths and deceptions,” he told the Magazine. “Its findings, in most cases by secular archaeologists, bring an end to the baseless efforts to deny the historical fact of Jerusalem’s ancient connection to the Jewish people.”
I asked Friedman why the discovery of Pilgrimage Road was important for the US government.
“There has been enormous support for the City of David by the American public,” he said. “This is yet another example – and a great one – of the recognition of the Judaeo-Christian values upon which both nations were founded.”
Pilgrimage Road, Friedman said, is “stunning and tangible evidence” of Jewish prayer during the time of the Second Temple. “It brings to life the historical truth of that momentous period in Jewish history,” he added. “Peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be based upon a foundation of truth. The City of David advances our collective goal of pursuing a truth-based resolution. It is important for all sides of the conflict.”
For Spielman, Ir David is the “heart of the Jewish people” and “you can’t amputate the heart.”
I asked Friedman what would happen if a peace deal were to be concluded one day between Israel and the Palestinians. Is it possible that the Jewish state would be asked to give up Ir David or Silwan?
“I do not believe that Israel would ever consider such a thought,” he said. “The City of David is an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel. It would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty.”
Indeed the very fact that the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, took part in the dedication of the Pilgrimage Road, is a testament to the US’s assent to Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, something that is being persistently denied by the Palestinians as well as their enablers in the UN.
Watch this moving video about the ancient Pilgrimage Road:
It gives me goosebumps when we realise that we are uncovering our own glorious history, that very history that our enemies try to deny and falsify – and in the case of the Muslim Waqf, it is our history that they are trying to destroy physically.
Kol hakavod to all the generous donors and philanthropists who made the discovery of this pilgrimage road possible, and whose support enables the continuing rediscovery of ancient Jewish Jerusalem.
In further archaeological news, Archeologists say they have found the town where King David took refuge from King Saul as recorded in the Tanach:
In a finding sure to inflame the debate about the historicity of the biblical King David, an international team of archaeologists claims to have identified the lost city of Ziklag.
Based on artefacts and carbon 14 dating results of excavations since 2015, scholars proposed Monday that the archaeological site of Khirbet a-Ra‘i in the Judaean foothills is the site of the elusive Philistine town.
As attested in the books of Samuel, Ziklag, located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, provided refuge to the future king David when he was on the run from King Saul. After his sojourn in Ziklag, David ascended the throne in Hebron.
According to a joint press release from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists discovered remains of a Philistine settlement from the 12-11th centuries BCE, which was followed by a rural settlement dating to the early 10th century BCE, which is in keeping with the biblical account. Carbon 14 dating supports the archaeologists’ timeline and identification, according to the press release.
Later in the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Nehemiah, the town is mentioned again as a base for Jews who returned from Babylon.
For decades, archaeologists have sought the location of the elusive Ziklag, for which roughly a dozen sites have been suggested, without scholarly consensus. Those previous sites were largely dismissed due to lack of signs of settlement transitioning from Philistine cultural evidence to Israelite remains from the time of David, or due to lack of evidence of the widespread ruin wrought by the Amalekites, as described in the Hebrew Bible.
According to leading archaeologists Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; the IAA’s Saar Ganor; and Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, the proposed site of Khirbet a-Ra‘i has all the required qualifications.
Once again a hearty kol hakavod to the archaeologists and historians who keep on making these very important and fascinating discoveries. And again, as in the item above, these all help prove the continuous Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.
Speaking of Jewish Jerusalem, the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman is such a wonderful breath of fresh air, not afraid to say things as they are rather than how people wish they would be. He is not only not afraid, he is proud to talk about the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, but more than that, the US Ambassador reveals the connection between Jerusalem and the founding of the US:
At the historic first-ever US Embassy Fourth of July celebration in Jerusalem, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman revealed a little recognized connection between the founding of the USA and Jerusalem. It all has to do with the “inalienable rights”, written by the founding fathers, in the Declaration of Independence.
“It’s the first time in the history of the State of Israel that our embassy has held its Independence Day event in the city of Jerusalem,” Ambassador Friedman said in his address. “Welcome to history.”
“In two days we celebrate the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That brilliant document fundamentally changed the way in which we think about the relationship between a government and its citizens.”
“The Declaration of Independence provided that every human being was created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“The notion that essential human rights came from God and not man was a revolutionary concept. It made those rights permanent, undeniable and immune from the vagaries of politics, not only in the United States but around the world.”
“How did our founding fathers know which rights God considered unalienable? Remember, the Declaration of Independence doesn’t just say these rights are important – it says these rights are divine.”
“Well, I’m sure many of our founding fathers read John Locke and Thomas Hobbs and other great thinkers. But I’m even more certain that they read the Bible. Especially because all of the unalienable rights identified in the Declaration of Independence find their home in the Bible itself.”
“Many believe – and certainly our founding fathers believed – that the word of our creator is expressed in the Bible, and, as recognized by the prophet Isaiah, that word emerged from the city of Jerusalem. As Isaiah said, “out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
“To understand this connection between the birth of our nation and the City of Jerusalem is to understand all that has transpired since between Israel and the United States.”
“It is to understand why the Pilgrims risked their lives in the 17th century to reach a new world and establish what many of them referred to as a “new Jerusalem.”
“It is to understand why the United States opened a consulate in Jerusalem in 1844, 104 years before the State of Israel came into existence, at which time the new consul general planted an American flag at the Jaffa Gate and declared that the United States of America thereby “extended its protection to the Jews of Jerusalem.”
“It is to understand why Mark Twain and Ulysses Grant visited Jerusalem and President Lincoln told his wife Mary, upon the conclusion of the Civil War, that he’d like to take some time off and travel to Jerusalem.”
“It is to understand why the United States, under the leadership of President Harry Truman, was the first to recognize the reborn State of Israel in 1948.”
“It is to understand why in 1995 the United States Senate, and the United States House of Representatives, by overwhelming majorities, passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and mandating the transfer of our embassy to that city.”
“It is to understand why just two years ago, in 2017, the United States Senate, by a vote of 90-0, reaffirmed its commitment to the Jerusalem Embassy Act.”
“And it is to understand why, today, the United States Embassy proudly stands in the City of Jerusalem.”
Kol hakavod to Ambassador David Friedman and to President Donald Trump who did not shy away from acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but instead, like his ambassador, called it as he sees it. We see a parallel to these events in this week’s parshat shavua, Balak, in which the non-Jewish prophet Balaam was called upon by the King of Moav, Balak, to curse Israel. His talking donkey wouldn’t allow him to pass through and in the end Balaam blessed Israel, no matter how hard he tried to curse them.
We have seen how hostile nations, presidents, and officials have tried to curse us, but here comes Trump and Friedman and bless us, despite the urgings of the UN and the Palestinians. May all those who hate us end up like Balaam, and may they all get a talking to (and more!) from their own donkeys!
With these happy thoughts I wish you all Arrivederci and Shabbat Shalom!
First published at Anne’s Opinions as ‘Good News Friday’