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From whatever side the pilgrim might approach the city, the first impression must have been solemn and deep. But a special surprise awaited those who came, whether from Jericho or from Galilee, by the well-known road that led over the Mount of Olives. From the south, beyond royal Bethlehem--from the west, descending over the heights of Beth-horon--or from the north, journeying along the mountains of Ephraim, they would have seen the city first vaguely looming in the grey distance, till, gradually approaching, they had become familiar with its outlines. It was far otherwise from the east. A turn in the road, and the city, hitherto entirely hid from view, would burst upon them suddenly, closely, and to most marked advantage. It was by this road Jesus made His triumphal entry from Bethany on the week of His Passion. Up from 'the house of dates' the broad, rough road would round the shoulder of Olivet. Thither the wondering crowd from Bethany followed Him, and there the praising multitude from the city met Him. They had come up that same Olivet, so familiar to them all. For did it not seem almost to form part of the city itself, shutting it off like a screen from the desert land that descended beyond to Jordan and the Dead Sea?
Mount of Olives
From the Temple Mount to the western base of Olivet, it was not more than 100 or 200 yards straight across, though, of course, the distance to the summit was much greater, say about half a mile. By the nearest pathway it was only 918 yards from the city gate to the principal summit. *
* 'By the longer footpath it is 1,310 yards, and by the main camel road perhaps a little farther.' Josephus calculates the distance from the city evidently to the top of Mount Olivet at 1,010 yards, or 5 furlongs. See City of the Great King, p. 59.
Olivet was always fresh and green, even in earliest spring or during parched summer--the coolest, the pleasantest, the most sheltered walk about Jerusalem. For across this road the Temple and its mountain flung their broad shadows, and luxuriant foliage spread a leafy canopy overhead. They were not gardens, in the ordinary Western sense, through which one passed, far less orchards; but something peculiar to those climes, where Nature everywhere strews with lavish hand her flowers, and makes her gardens--where the garden bursts into the orchard, and the orchard stretches into the field, till, high up, olive and fig mingle with the darker cypress and pine. The stony road up Olivet wound along terraces covered with olives, whose silver and dark green leaves rustled in the breeze. Here gigantic gnarled fig-trees twisted themselves out of rocky soil; there clusters of palms raised their knotty stems high up into waving plumed tufts, or spread, bush- like, from the ground, the rich-colored fruit bursting in clusters from the pod. Then there were groves of myrtle, pines, tall, stately cypresses, and on the summit itself two gigantic cedars. To these shady retreats the inhabitants would often come from Jerusalem to take pleasure or to meditate, and there one of their most celebrated Rabbis was at one time wont in preference to teach. * Thither, also, Christ with His disciples often resorted.
Coming from Bethany the city would be for some time completely hidden from view by the intervening ridge of Olivet. But a sudden turn of the road, where 'the descent of the Mount of Olives' begins, all at once a first glimpse of Jerusalem is caught, and that quite close at hand. True, the configuration of Olivet on the right would still hide the Temple and most part of the city; but across Ophel, the busy suburb of the priests, the eye might range to Mount Zion, and rapidly climb its height to where Herod's palace covered the site once occupied by that of David. A few intervening steps of descent, where the view of the city has again been lost, and the pilgrim would hurry on to that ledge of rock. What a panorama over which to roam with hungry eagerness! At one glance he would see before him the whole city--its valleys and hills, its walls and towers, its palaces and streets, and its magnificent Temple--almost like a vision from another world. There could be no difficulty in making out the general features of the scene. Altogether the city was only thirty-three stadia, or about four English miles, in circumference. Within this compass dwelt a population of 600,000 (according to Tacitus), but, according to the Jewish historian, amounting at the time of the Passover to between two and three millions, or about equal to that of London. *
* Mr. Fergusson, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, i. p. 1025, controverts these numbers, on the ground of the population of modern cities within a given area. But two millions represent not the ordinary population, only the festive throngs at the Passover. Taking into consideration Eastern habits--the sleeping on the roof, and possibly the camping out--the computation is not extravagant. Besides, however untruthful Josephus was, he may, as a general rule, be trusted where official numbers, capable of verification, are concerned. In fact, taking into account this extraordinary influx, the Rabbis distinctly state, that during the feasts--except on the first night--the people might camp outside Jerusalem, but within the limits of a sabbath-day's journey. This, as Otho well remarks (Lex. Rabb. p. 195), also explains how, on such occasions, our Lord so often retired to the Mount of Olives.
The first feature to attract attention would be the city walls, at the time of Christ only two in number. *
The first, or old wall, began at the north-western angle of Zion, at the tower of Hippicus, and ran along the northern brow of Zion, where it crossed the cleft, and joined the western colonnade of the Temple at the 'Council-house.' It also enclosed Zion along the west and the south, and was continued eastward around Ophel, till it merged in the south-eastern angle of the Temple. Thus the first wall would defend Zion, Ophel, and, along with the Temple walls,, Moriah also. The second wall, which commenced at a gate in the first wall, called 'Gennath,' ran first north, and then east, so as to enclose Acra, and terminated at the Tower of Antonia. Thus the whole of the old city and the Temple was sufficiently protected.
Tower of Antonia
The Tower of Antonia was placed at the north-western angle of the Temple, midway between the castle of the same name and the Temple. With the former it communicated by a double set of cloisters, with the latter by a subterranean passage into the Temple itself, and also by cloisters and stairs descending into the northern and the western porches of the Court of the Gentiles. Some of the most glorious traditions in Jewish history were connected with this castle, for there had been the ancient 'armory of David,' the palace of Hezekiah and of Nehemiah, and the fortress of the Maccabees. But in the days of Christ Antonia was occupied by a hated Roman garrison, which kept watch over Israel, even in its sanctuary. In fact, the Tower of Antonia overlooked and commanded the Temple, so that a detachment of soldiers could at any time rush down to quell a riot, as on the occasion when the Jews had almost killed Paul (Acts 21:31). The city walls were further defended by towers--sixty in the first, and forty in the second wall. Most prominent among them were Hippicus, Phasaelus, and Mariamne, close by each other, to the north-west of Zion--all compactly built of immense marble blocks, square, strongly fortified, and surmounted by buildings defended by battlements and turrets. * They were built by Herod, and named after the friend and the brother he had lost in battle, and the wife whom his jealousy had killed.
* For particulars of these forts, see Josephus' Wars, v. 4, 3.
The Four Hills
If the pilgrim scanned the city more closely, he would observe that it was built on four hills. Of these, the western, or ancient Zion, was the highest, rising about 200 feet above Moriah, though still 100 feet lower than the Mount of Olives. To the north and the east, opposite Zion, and divided from it by the deep Tyropoeon Valley, were the crescent-shaped Acra and Moriah, the latter with Ophel as its southern outrunner. Up and down the slopes of Acra the Lower City crept. Finally, the fourth hill, Bezetha (from bezaion, marshy ground), the New Town, rose north of the Temple Mount and of Acra, and was separated from them by an artificial valley. The streets, which, as in all Eastern cities, were narrow, were paved with white marble. A somewhat elevated footway ran along for the use of those who had newly been purified in the Temple, while the rest walked in the roadway below. The streets derived their names mostly from the gates to which they led, or from the various bazaars. Thus there were 'Water-street,' 'Fish-street,' 'East-street,' etc. The 'Timber Bazaar' and that of the 'Tailors' were in the New City; the Grand Upper Market on Mount Zion. Then there were the 'Wool' and the 'Braziers' Bazaar'; 'Baker-street,' 'Butcher-street,' 'Strangers'- street,' and many others similarly named. Nor would it have been difficult to identify the most prominent buildings in the city. At the north-western angle of Mount Zion, the ancient Salem and Jebus, on the site of the castle of David, was the grand palace of Herod, generally occupied by the Roman procurators during their temporary sojourn in Jerusalem. It stood high up, just within shelter of the great towers which Herod had reared--a marvel of splendor, of whose extent, strength, height, rooms, towers, roofs, porticoes, courts, and adjacent gardens Josephus speaks in such terms of admiration.