If Jerusalem’s Stones Could Talk

An ancient Jerusalem wall where King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah once tread reveals its secrets.

Shalom Pollack,

Old City's stones reveal ancient secrets
Old City's stones reveal ancient secrets
Israel news photo: (Shalom Pollack)

If Jerusalem’s ancient stones could talk, they would keep us spellbound for hours. Luckily for me they cannot – or I would be out of a job, as I am a tour guide! Let’s go on a virtual tour of the Old City’s rebuilt Jewish Quarter with a special stop next to the recently revealed 'Broad Wall’ at the very center of all the action.

Until the 1860s, the Old City constituted the boundaries of Jerusalem. The Jewish Quarter is one of four - the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. The somewhat haphazard division by the Turks in the 19th Century left Jews living in what became known as the Muslim Quarter and Muslims living in the Christian Quarter.

During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the Arabs surrounded Jerusalem on three sides. The Arab attacks made the situation critical for Jerusalem’s 100,000 Jews, who were subjected to starvation rations. The situation was even worse within the walls of the Old City. When the Jordanian army joined the local Arab militias a two-week, round-the-clock shelling of the Jewish Quarter began. The tiny Jewish force and tattered population eventually surrendered after a lion-hearted fight.

Jews were once again expelled from Jerusalem, this time through the bullet-riddled Zion Gate (“If forget thee, Oh Zion...”). Almost all Jewish holy sites were ransacked, desecrated and lay in ruins. Their fate would’ve been perpetual if not for the miraculous outcome of the Six Day War in June 1967. After 19 years of Jordanian rule, Jews returned to the Old City and were elated, as well as aghast at what they had found.

There were two silver linings in the cloud of destruction and mayhem. One was the ability to clear and build an even nicer and more comfortable Quarter. The other was the ability to dig under former homes for treasures more valuable than any mineral the earth can offer. Jerusalem of a century ago, and even three millennia, was discovered and restored. Oh, if the stones could speak!

One of the more dramatic finds is the “Broad Wall.” This great wall surrounded Jerusalem some 2700 years ago, when the First Temple stood. It stood 25 feet high and six feet thick. The lower remains of this wall were uncovered. If the wall had eye, imagine what it had seen! For starters, one of the most famous biblical pairs, King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah stood together atop the wall facing the challenge of their lives. Sancherev, king of Assyria and world conqueror had just one more trophy to win before going home. Jerusalem defied the greatest army in the world at the time. The tyrant sent Ravshaka, who the Sages considered an apostate, to demand surrender. He spoke perfect Hebrew and addressed the starving and frightened population suggesting they serve his master and live or rely on the G-d of Israel and die a terrible death The king and his court were distraught. They asked Isaiah what they should do. He said don't worry as G-d has promised that “not one arrow will strike Jerusalem and Sancherev will go back the way he came.”

The Assyrian king boasted that each one of his soldiers will take one stone out of the walls and the city will be taken the next day. But G-d had other plans. That night, a plague swept the vast army which left 185,000 dead by morning. The king fled back to Nineveh his capital. The king’s two sons overheard him promise his favorite idol “that which is most dear to him if he saves him from this predicament.” His sons didn’t want the deal to go forward so they killed their father. Jerusalem consequently stood for another 100 years until the Babylonians broke through those very walls.

As the Jews were exiled from their beloved Jerusalem to the waters of Babylon and all were distraught, it was the prophet Zachariah who comforted them with a vision revealed to him. He said, “There will yet be children playing in the streets of Jerusalem...” I don’t know if it was planned that way, but Jerusalem children run throughout the playground next to the broad wall. The same “Jerusalem stone” is being built all around them - and the same Jewish people are back again. Zachariah's prophecy has been realized today at the site where the quote is quite properly carved into the Jerusalem stone. The stones don't even need to talk. What a country!

Shalom Pollack is a veteran Israel tour guide. He guides and plans tours for families and groups. He also writes and lectures on Israel and will be on a lecture tour in the US from October to November. Pollack recently produced a DVD, "Israel - Ancient Roots, Modern Miracle.” Clips can be seen on his website, www.shalompollacktours.co.il