This afternoon, Sunday, June 30, 2019, US Ambassador Friedman, White House Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt together with an array of Israeli ministers and members of Knesset will make history in Jerusalem, when they unveil the Pilgrimage Road, a fundamental piece of the city’s past, with historical, cultural and religious significance to billions.
Jerusalem is a place that doesn’t need introduction, but few realize the ancient city was almost lost forever. Until a British explorer sent by Queen Victoria accidently stumbled upon a series of underground water channels that would change the course of history forever.
Deep beneath a potato field, outside the 500-year-old city walls, Captain Charles Warren had discovered a hidden passage to Jerusalem’s biblical water source, the Gihon Spring. He would also find archaeological remains that predated those found inside the walls by thousands of years, leading him to opine that the original City of Jerusalem, known in the Bible as the City of David, was just south of what is known until today as the Old City.
Tens of international archaeological expeditions have proven him right, 152 years later, with some of the most significant finds of the ancient world, including what is thought to be King David’s Palace and seals bearing the Hebrew names of many biblical figures from the House of David.
In 2004, a burst water pipe would open a new chapter. A municipal maintenance crew was sent, accompanied by an archaeologist. As they began breaking ground, the archaeologist noticed something significant. He carefully brushed away the dirt to uncover first century stone stairs, the likes of which had only ever been seen on the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. He had found the biblical Pool of Siloam.
A significant distance from other major discoveries, archaeologists began to theorize as to why the pool was so isolated. Until they discovered an entrance tov the ancient Pilgrimage Road which connects the most significant sites of that period, including the Pool of Siloam, City of David, Western Wall and Temple Mount.
The Pilgrimage Road was built by King Herod 2,000 years ago, as the main thoroughfare for pilgrims to ascend from the Pool of Siloam, where they would ritually purify themselves on route to the Temple, on Mount Moriah. It is likely that anyone from that period would have walked to the Temple on these very flagstones. In fact, a tiny 2,000-year-old golden bell was recently discovered in a drainage channel beneath the road, which is thought to have accidently broken loose from the tunic of the high priest on his way up to the Temple.
The discovery of the Pilgrimage Road was an unprecedented scientific feat of biblical proportions. Unlike most archaeological digs which begin from the ground down, this excavation was done in the subterraneous, beneath the hustle and bustle of modern Jerusalem. Tens of fibrotic cable cameras were used to decipher where to excavate, while maps and diagrams made by archaeologists over the last century and a half paved the way forward. As archaeologists used the delicate tools of their trade to slowly discover the past, Israel’s leading engineers were on hand to fortify not only the excavation, but everything above it.
Captain Charles Warren would have been in awe of the long list of treasures found along the way of the road and down in the drainage channel below. They include a stepped structure, likely used by prominent political and religious leaders of the time to preach to the masses. And one of the oldest depictions of a menorah, thought to have been carved by a child after seeing it at the Temple.
But perhaps the most poignant of artefacts discovered were those bearing a message to mankind. Hundreds of coins with very little monetary value were unearthed bearing the Hebrew words “For the Freedom of Zion,” minted by the last surviving Jews of Jerusalem as the city burnt around them, perhaps as a message to future generations that although Jerusalem had been lost, it would not be lost forever.
Two millennia after the last Jews of Jerusalem left their message to mankind another is being written into our memories. The people of Israel have returned to Jerusalem, and the City of David has also returned as an anchor of Western civilization.
Upon these ancient stones, the biblical prophets delivered revolutionary messages of peace, freedom, liberty and justice for all. These values are the shared roots on which the United States of America and Western civilization were founded and they continue to enhance the lives of billions.
The Times of Israel’s readers can watch the inauguration here: https://www.facebook.com/events/624771794703549/