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There really is something called Jerusalem Syndrome. Wikipedia describes it as a:
…mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds.
I can totally understand why some people can go nuts here. This is ground zero for monotheism. If Jerusalem had an NBA team, I’d call them the Monotheists, and I’d have three season ticket packages: the cross package, the Star of David package, and the crescent package.
I am not sure where to begin talking about the Old City of Jerusalem, so I’ve collected some random thoughts:
- Jerusalem is small. You can walk from wall to wall in maybe 20 minutes if you don’t get stuck in a tourist group or hassled by a shop vendor. As a result, all of the stuff mentioned in the Bible takes place within a really small area. The Tomb of King David is very close to the room of the Last Supper and across a walking path from the Church of the Dormition. I was walking around looking in shops when I accidentally found myself on the Via Dolorosa. The entire lenght of the Via Dolorsa can be walked faster than most churches take to do the stations of the cross.
- Jerusalem has been conquered over 40 times. Pretty much nothing from the time of Christ exists in the city today. I think there only a few steps and the Western Wall which exists. As a result, there has been tons of building over things, reorienting religious buildings for other faiths, and very unique inter-faith arrangements that could only exist here. The keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site in Christendom, is held by two Muslim families. They open and close the door each day as a compromise to the various Christian sects doing it. The Tomb of King David shrine was built by the Crusaders, expanded and decorated by Persian Muslims, and is now a synagogue. The room of the Last Supper has stained glass windows with Arabic writing from the Koran. The Temple Mount itself was the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, was then the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter after the Second Temple’s destruction, then a mosque was built by the Arabs, then it was converted to a church by the Crusaders, was converted back to a mosque and now orthodox Jews are licking their chops at the idea of building a third temple. These type of things can be found all over Jerusalem.
- There isn’t a whole lot of Wailing at the Wailing Wall. In fact, I found it pretty festive. Lots of families take their sons there to get their Bar Mitzvah. Every few minutes you can see a small group of men and a boy walking with a copy of the Torah to a table to read. If you climbed the wall (yeah), you’d literally be in the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock. There is a ramp which will take you from the Western Wall area to the Dome. There is a sign warning jews that according to Torah Law, they cannot go onto the Temple Mount. As they don’t know for 100% certainty where the temple was located, the whole area is considered off limits.
- Prior to 1967, going from the Western Wall to the Dome was crossing the border from Israel to Jordan. There are still signs that say “Border Police”. Crossing that line from the Western Wall to the Dome area is the single most abrupt and striking cultural change which I think exists in the world. Certainly the most abrupt which I’ve ever seen. The area around the Dome is really the only open space is all of the Old City. It is the closest thing to a park you can find. The Dome is the oldest mosque in the world and many think it covers the location of the Holiest of Hollies from the first and second temple. I wasn’t able to go inside and I have no idea if it is possible for non-Muslims to enter.
- Being the most significant spot in Christendom, you’d think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have a big plaza and be really flashy. In reality there is a tiny courtyard and to get there you have to pass through a small gate lined with merchants selling cheap souvenirs. There is a ladder up against a window which has been there for 150 years. Disagreements between the various sects which control the church have rendered it unmovable. Much of the church hasn’t been cleaned or repaired in over 200 years because of disagreements on how to do it. If you go there, read up on what is inside the church before you go, because nothing is marked and there are no signs.
I’m looking forward to see how Passover and Good Friday are run. Watching the people is really most of the fun.