The second part of my morning on the 5th (for the first part see the previous post) included a small resident of the village of Silwan pretending to shoot me, and a walk through the Kidron Valley followed by a herd of goats.
I left the Pool of Siloam on the east side. The school parties were all getting coached back up the hill, and the tourists were paying 5 shekels to get a minibus ride back up to the Old City. I turned left and started to walk through the village of Silwan.
I have to admit to being slightly anxious about this venture, because this is not always a particularly calm part of East Jerusalem. Google “Silwan” and click on “News” (or just click here) and you’ll see what I mean. Besides, no one else was going this way. But they should. I bought some supplies from the little village shop, not because I needed them, but because I felt they ought to have some tourist dollars. There’s much more to write on all this, but now isn’t the sensible time.
Up ahead as I walked along the street was a multi story house with a group of six children – all about five years old – on a square balcony. They were calling to me and waving, even from quite a distance. I guess I wasn’t really blending in with my DMs and my straw hat.
I stopped at the foot of the house and called up to them “!مساء الخير” which entertained them greatly.
They shouted some things back at me which I did not understand. I can only say five things in Arabic with any confidence, despite the course I went on at the University of Birmingham – although I can read the road signs, which is nice.
One of the boys had a green toy gun which he shot at me. I pretended to be wounded. They loved it. As I walked on I wondered whether maybe I shouldn’t have done that.
After passing a few more homes, a school, some kind of centre – all perfectly peacefully – I began the walk along the path up the Kidron Valley in the direction of Gethsemane.
I wanted to do this because I feel quite sure that this must have been the route taken by Jesus and his disciples after they had eaten the Last Supper together.
The traditional site of the Last Supper is pointed out on Mount Zion1 where the Coenaculum stands today. Although this site is undoubtedly one with important historical significance dating back to the early Christian era (more about this another time, maybe) and its association with the events of Pentecost is reasonably solid, its connection to the Last Supper is tenuous.
Here’s a relatively uncontroversial map of Herodian Jerusalem, drawn by Leen Ritmeyer.
He’s marked out the Pool of Siloam in the south, which is helpful, and I’ve very clumsily marked it up to include the site of the Coenaculum on Mount Zion (I’m sorry, I didn’t bring any decent digital tools with me, I only have Microsoft Paint).
So, Mark’s gospel tells the story of how the guest room for the celebration of the Last Supper was secured. It’s a bit cloak-and-dagger. Two unnamed disciples are sent by Jesus to the city on the lookout for a man carrying a jar of water (Mark 14:13). I am assuming that they make the journey from Bethany, which is where the first part of the chapter is set. This means that they enter the city from the east – and given the paucity of water sources on the east side of the city, ones eye is drawn to the Pool of Siloam in the south-east, a known public water supply.
The account is clearly short on detail. How were the disciples to know which man carrying the jar of water was the man? Perhaps he was also carrying a copy of the Financial Times under his left arm, and was all set and ready to respond to a question about the weather in Paris – I don’t know. But, the point is, we have to try to make sense of the clues we do have.
Why would you carry a jar of water from the Pool of Siloam all the way up to a house in the Upper City? You wouldn’t. It makes no sense. Archaeological excavations on Mount Zion have demonstrated that houses in this area had cisterns. If you’re on Mount Zion and you need some water, then get it from your own supply. Or your neighbour’s.
The most likely explanation, cloak-and-dagger stuff aside, is that the room Jesus was going to rent for the Last Supper was not too far from the Pool of Siloam.
What this means is that the walk to Gethsemane after the supper had been eaten was essentially a journey north up the Kidron Valley.
One possible point of confusion here is John 18:1, which, if your bible translation of choice is the NIV, you will know says that “When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.” At first sight, this would appear to rule out the route I am describing.
I’m saying that Jesus walked up the wadi, following its path; the NIV says that Jesus “crossed” the valley to get to Gethsemane. So, a bit like when we talk about “crossing the road” this conjures up the image of Jesus’ party taking the shortest route they could from one side to the other.
This is unfortunate, and surely unintentional on the part of the NIV translators. The verse could more closely be rendered “Saying these things, Jesus went out with his disciples – to the other side of the Kidron valley where there was a garden”. It is not the purpose of the description to set out the route in detail; the purpose is to make clear the destination.2
So I’m convinced that, having eaten the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus made his way from the vicinity of the Pool of Siloam up the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane with his disciples. This is the route I walked, leaving the village of Silwan and the excitable kindergarten behind.
I’m glad I did. Even though I was, quite bizarrely, followed up the valley by a herd of goats whose shepherd got in to trouble with the police as they approached the Church of All Nations.
I ran up the bank a bit to take this photo. Spot the goats.
For a long time I have read the account of Gethsemane, and have felt that it describes Jesus at his most vulnerable and weakest moment. The falling to the ground, the pouring sweat (not sweating actual blood, just sweating in the manner of blood pouring from the head, read Luke 22:44 carefully), the garbled prayer (“Take this cup”, yet, “Your will be done” – which we read far too calmly in church as if it all makes logical sense) all points towards something like a mental breakdown.
Walk the route. You’ll see it, I’m sure. To your right, and up above you, your route is lined with graves. It is now. It was then. Some of these graves are extremely imposing, like the Tomb of Pharaoh’s daughter and the tomb of Absalom. This is the valley of the shadow of death.
And if you’ve already come to realize that your own death is imminent, what would this sight, by the light of the Passover moon, do to your soul?
1 Just to confuse us all, there are three Mount Zions. The first is the Fortress of Zion, the place the bible says was conquered by King David, on the lower south eastern hill of Jerusalem (where the Siloam tunnel is, which I wrote about yesterday). The second is the site of the Temple Mount to the north, which gets called “Zion” by extension. The third is the south western hill, to which the name “Zion” became attached even by the first century AD when Josephus wrote his history of the Jewish war against the Romans. It’s this third Mount Zion I’m talking about here.
2 Similar language is used in the same gospel in Chapter 6, which describes Jesus going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He clearly didn’t take the direct route across the lake, because a great crowd followed him. The author of the gospel doesn’t expect us to imagine a flotilla tearing across the lake in pursuit of Jesus, sailing alone. Again, the destination is the point – not the route.