Today, many of the most popular sites are contested by Muslims as focal points to Islam. The Western Wall (Wailing Wall; Hebrew – Kotel) is known to the Muslims as the Buraq Wall. They believe it to be where Muhammad tied his steed, al-Buraq, to the wall when he was traveling through Jerusalem on his way to ascending to “paradise.” For Christians and archaeologists, it is the expansion of the Second Temple that Herod the Great built that is known as, “The Temple Mount.” It is considered to be the holiest place for Jews to pray who cannot get past the restrictive point to enter the Temple Mount itself. The “Little Western Wall” is considered to be even closer to the Holy of Holies, which by definition to the Jew, is the closest to God one can be. It is important to note that the term “Wailing Wall” is not typically used by the Jews and is considered derogatory. It was originally applied in description of the Jews who went there and wept over the destruction of the temples that existed prior.
With the increase of the Zionist movement in the 20thc (which are inclined to a restoration of a Jewish kingdom reigning from Jerusalem), tensions increased between Jews and Muslims. In fear that the Jews were gaining a stronger foothold, a riot broke out at the Wall in 1929 where 133 Jews were killed and 339 were injured. The subsequent Arab-Israeli War of 1948 left the eastern side of Jerusalem in Jordanian control. The Jordanians banned all Jews from the Old City, which included the Wall, for 19 years. After the Six-Day War on June 10, 1967, Israel finally regained control over the area and Jews were allowed to reenter.
The Rabbinical Tunnels are a series of underground paths that have been built along the Western wall as the Temple has been constructed, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries. The tunnels provided underground access to a variety of locations, as well as having cisterns for water used in temple service, including ritual cleansing. Aside from the history of their use, they also give access to archaeological views of the different Temple periods, such as the Solomonic (971 BC), Second Temple / Zerubbabel (began 536 BC), and Herodian (began 19 BC). Through each of these periods, the Temple went through partial and complete phases of pillaging and destruction. Rebuilding would take part on top of the remaining structure and foundations. Therefore, as the tunnels descend, they pass by and through former walls and streets, just as layers in a cake. Due to the continuing tensions between Christian/Jews and Muslims over the holy site, any continuing excavation is frowned upon. However, the exposed tunnels offer a brilliant view of not just the pathways of rabbis from long ago and where they conducted their business in and about the Temple, but also hundreds of years of antiquity and magnificent architecture.
Upon exiting the tunnels, we will be able to view the traditional “stone which the builders rejected.” The history starts with one of Herod’s vast architectural projects called, “Antonia’s Fortress, ” which was located on the edge of Mount Moriah, adjacent to the Temple. From this mountain, Herod had stone quarried to build the Temple Mount (including its colonnade and platform) and Antonia’s Fortress. It was from this fortress that Pontius Pilate oversaw the Roman troops that were headquartered there. Located near the northern end of the Temple, the fortress had four main towers on each corner. The southwest corner tower is where Jesus was brought to stand before Pilate. This tower overlooks the Temple courtyard. Therefore, the people standing in the courtyard looked up at Pilate, Jesus and Barabbas and shouted, “Crucify Him!” A sidewalk exists along the base of the Western Wall that ends directly under the southwestern corner of the tower at the fortress. This is where a massive rock has been left for centuries, still bearing the scars of chisels. It was one of the quarried stones from Mount Moriah that was to be used in Herod’s building project. However, the builders rejected this huge stone and left it in the spot it still resides in.
Jesus and His disciples were leaving from Jericho and bound for Jerusalem (Luke 19:1ff). They came around through Bethany and Bethpage, approaching the Mount of Olives, when He sends them to retrieve a colt. As He enters the city riding the colt, the throngs of people shout praises to His name by quoting from the 118th Psalm; “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is what is commonly referred to as, “The Triumphal Entry.” Upon entering the city, Jesus casts out the merchants from the Temple while declaring the words of Jeremiah (which ended with Jeremiah being cast into a pit – [Luke 19:46]). In the days following, Jesus continues to teach the people in and around the Temple complex. He is eventually confronted by the chief priests and scribes, to which Christ responds with a parable about a vineyard owner. When He ends the parable, He quotes the very Psalm the people were singing when He made His triumphal entry into the city. However, the line He quotes is, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone.” Since Christ continually used visuals around Him to illustrate with, it is probable that He was standing within eyeshot of the same stone which remains at the foot of the southwest corner tower at Antonia’s Fortress, where He would later be standing with Pilate, above before the crowds in the courtyard of the Temple. Ironically, it was the Pharisees who commanded Jesus to rebuke His disciples in Luke 19:39 for praising Him as King. Jesus responded to the Pharisees with, “I tell you, even if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” Perhaps it is this stone that still stands, crying out its witness to all who see.
- Psalm 118:22, 26
- Luke 19:38; 20:17