Navigating the biblical road to the Temple

'The Jerusalem Post' went on an exclusive tour of the recently discovered Pilgrimage Road in the City of David.

City of David (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
City of David
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
During biblical times, Jews from all over the country and beyond would make the arduous journey to the Temple, bringing sacrifices to celebrate the three holy festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
This road was definitely not the one less traveled. In fact, it’s believed to have been central to the Jews of both Jerusalem and wider Israel on their journey to the Temple.
The discovery of this road, dubbed the Pilgrimage Road, was announced last year by the City of David and it’s believed to be about 2,000 years old.
On Monday, The Jerusalem Post was given the opportunity to trace the steps that thousands of Jews took as part of an exclusive tour with the City of David.
The story that led to its discovery is over a decade old. According to Raphael, a guide who led the tour, in 2003 there was a snow storm and Jerusalem was not equipped to deal with it.
Navigating the biblical road to the Temple
“A [sewage] pipe burst under the weight of the snow and a terrible smell was emanating from underground, so the Jerusalem Municipality called in workers and obviously in the city, and elsewhere in Israel, any time you do deep repair work, you have to bring an archaeologist,” he explained. “A massive crane was removing a bunch of dirt and suddenly the archaeologist Eli Shukron heard this terrible sounding scrape of metal against stone.”
Raphael said that because of Shukron’s experience with the Israel Antiquity Authority, he recognized what it meant and realized it was an archaeological site.
They started excavations, “but it took them a little bit of time until they actually discovered that what they had found was the Shiloah pool.”
The Shiloah pool was first built under the reign of King Hezekiah, during the First Temple times, in order to provide fresh water within the walls of Jerusalem, supplied by the Gichon spring. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, but was later rebuilt during the Hasmonean period.
Today, it is also a site holy to the Christians because it’s believed that it is where Jesus performed one of his miracles – where he healed a blind man.
“For 1,500 years, this place was completely covered because the Byzantines had built a Church, among other structures, to memorialize this site because it was the place where Jesus performed one of his two miracles in Jerusalem,” Raphael said. “We know that under Herod, who changed Jerusalem’s landscape, that this pool was expanded and made larger than any Roman pool you will ever see.”
Herod expanded the pool from Hezekiah’s smaller one and transformed it from a reservoir of drinking water into the largest ritual bath ever built.
In between the pool and the reservoir is where Hezekiah built the road. According to Raphael, the discovery of the pool helped archeologists orient themselves and start looking for the road to the Temple.
Josephus Flavius wrote about it [the Pilgrimage Road], mentioning that during the three festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, Jerusalem would be full of worshipers, Raphael explained. Based on the historical records, he added, archeologists have been looking for this road.
FROM THE discovery of the pool, archaeologists found the central water drainage channel that had served ancient Jerusalem, and later the Pilgrimage Road.
Raphael explained that the Pilgrimage Road runs all the way from the Shiloah Pool close to the area next to the Western Wall where today there are still remnants of the stairs that once led up to Temple.
As the Post’s team trekked down the road, the monumental realization of how important this discovery has been began to hit home. Stairs that were still standing and old store fronts, and remnants of what were once homes that marked the route to the Temple, were all clearly visible.
A plaza with a podium, which Raphael said archeologists thought was originally stairs leading to a home, is still intact and in pristine condition; it was hard to miss during the trek up the road.
“This was the ideal spot, if you wanted an audience, this was where you would find your captive audience. If you wanted to get people’s attention, it’s clear that this was the place to do it,” Raphael said, pointing at the podium. “This was like the Fifth Avenue of Jerusalem – the people who lived along this road were extremely wealthy, and how do we know this?”
Answering his own question, he pointed to an area where there was once a private mikveh (ritual bath) in someone’s home. “This mikveh had an arm rest… We’ve found perfume bottles, which were very fragile, as well as coin presses and weapons of war.”
The Post was also shown an area where excavations were ongoing. Men and women were digging, carrying buckets of dirt, stone and rock, which all has to be checked and analyzed very carefully in case there could be a significant archaeological find among them. Something like a seal hiding among the dirt could be the size of a fingernail or a thumb.
As the crews worked, different sound tracks ranging from Italian opera to contemporary pop music like Coldplay could be heard through the tunnels.
Raphael added they have found some 50 seals so far, 12 of which were corroborated with figures from the Bible.
As the Pilgrimage Road tour came to an end, the Post was shown buckets upon buckets of pottery dating back to different time periods.
He also pointed out they have found pottery from the storm drains underneath the road where some 2,000 Jews hid as the Romans pillaged the city. The pottery had remnants of food inside it. Other items were also found inside the drains.
The Romans eventually found the Jews, smoked them out and murdered them.
Raphael concluded that this find could change the geography of Jerusalem “and open up a new gate to the Old City, and the Western Wall.”
“Theoretically,” he concluded, “we would be opening up the original gate.”