Digging Up Israel
Editor’s Note: For centuries, professional and amateur archaeologists have been obsessed with digging up Israel, and with good reason. No place on earth has more alluring ancient treasures waiting to be discovered than does little Israel. For believers, virtually every turn of the spade provides further documentation of the inerrancy of Scripture. In this issue of Israel My Glory, we share the excitement with readers through a new feature, Digging Up Israel, by Peter Colón.
The ground in front of the beautiful Golden Gate was still soft from the recent heavy rains. An archaeology student confidently stepped back from the gate to capture its entire view in his camera, unaware that his feet were slowing sinking into the mud of the Muslim cemetery. Suddenly the ground violently opened up. The result was an exciting discovery. However, it never crossed his mind on that beautiful spring day in 1969 in Jerusalem that he would find himself knee-deep in human bones!
The gate that fascinated the student is commonly referred to by its Christian designation—the Golden Gate. It is located on the eastern wall of the old city of Jerusalem opposite the Mount of Olives. It is an impressive structure, some of its massive masonry dating back to the time of Nehemiah in the sixth century BC and to the New Testament period of King Herod. However, for most Christians, the gate’s Messianic association holds the greatest fascination.
According to Jewish tradition, the gate was called the Shushan Gate. Somewhere on its lintels was an embossed sculpture of the ancient Persian summer palace of Shushan. Its name, as taught by the rabbis, was to make the people “ever mindful whence they came” and to commemorate the edict of Cyrus that ended the Jews’ 70-year captivity, allowing the people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1–3). Interestingly, God referred to Cyrus as His shepherd and anointed, suggesting that Cyrus was a type of Israel’s true shepherd and Messiah, who would one day come to this gate and set Israel free to worship in Spirit and in truth (Isa. 45:1).
Coupled with this tradition was the ancient belief that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem from the east (Zech. 14:4–5). It was also taught that the Messiah would ride into the city on a donkey (Zech. 9:9).
During the first century AD, Jesus rode a donkey from the Mount of Olives toward the Temple (Mt. 21:1–5). In the midst of jubilant shouts of “Hosanna,” Jesus presented Himself to Israel as their promised shepherd and Messiah. In all probability, He entered the Temple Mount through the Shushan Gate on that first Palm Sunday.
The Shusan Gate was leveled during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. During the Byzantine Period (AD 324–640) it was largely neglected. In 629, a ceremonial gate was constructed to receive a Byzantine emperor, who was allegedly returning the True Cross stolen by the Persians in 614. Then the Muslims came and sealed up the gate for security reasons during the Muslim/Crusader conflicts of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Yet some in the Jewish community felt that it was sealed as part of a Muslim plot to prevent the Prophet Elijah from entering the gate and announcing the advent of the Messiah.
When the Crusaders controlled the city, the gate was opened only twice a year, on Palm Sunday and for the Exaltation of the Cross. Crusader policy mandated that no Jews were permitted to enter Jerusalem, especially through this gate. Finally, in 1538, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman had the gate walled up, as it is today. His action is viewed by some Christians as a fulfillment of Ezekiel 44:1–3. It is generally believed that since Jesus, the incarnate God of Israel, had entered Jerusalem through the gate on that first Palm Sunday, it will remain shut until Jesus the King returns in judgment.
The accidental discovery in 1969 deepened the mystery of the gate’s messianic attraction. The student, although slightly disoriented from his eight-foot fall, was uninjured. As his eyes adjusted to the semidarkness around him, he realized he was in a tomb surrounded by many skulls and bones, some still grotesquely connected by cartilage. He estimated there were about 30 to 40 skeletons. He saw an arch of smooth, wedge-shaped stones directly below the Golden Gate, part of an ancient structure. Was it the Shushan Gate? He took his pictures and scurried out of the hole.
The next day he returned to find that the tomb had been resealed. Only the dim photos of the arch remained—along with many questions. Could it have been the gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday? Archaeologically, that may never be known. Nevertheless, it is historically certain that the Prince of Peace once entered Jerusalem through a magnificent gate, and one day He will reenter as Lord of lords, the King of glory (Ps. 24).