The Jerusalem Archaeological Park and its Davidson Center, located at the southeast end of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, allows visitors a glimpse of Temple life 2,000 years ago. One of its paths takes pilgrims to huge blocks of stone lying in the same pile where the Roman general Titus dropped them when he destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Starting this week, visitors can also walk a new path dubbed "the Mikvah Trail." It is the same route taken more than two millennia ago as worshippers prepared both body and soul to visit the place where God's eternal throne intersected with this world's dimension.
According to Israel's Antiquities Authority (IAA), the new trail wends its way "between two thousand year old ritual baths that were used by pilgrims visiting the Temple Mount." The path is set for inauguration this coming Thursday, 9 February.
Called "the Mikvah Trail," it allows visitors to experience what it was like to ascend the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago. The elevated pathway for tourists has been constructed in recent years by the Israel Antiquities Authority. A significant portion of funding for the project was provided by philanthropist, Kevin Bermeister.
According to the IAA, "the path has been highlighted [in such a way] that way it can be better understood within the historical and archaeological complexity" of its history that stretches back to at least 1000 BCE.
The area on the southwest side of the Temple Mount is called Ophel in the Bible. The name is derived from the root of a Hebrew word that means ascend.
In pre-Temple use, the word referred to the fortified and elevated part of a city where, according the IAA, "a king resided or an administrative center was situated, ...probably both high and concealed."
The concept became a metaphor for God's "administrative center, high and concealed."
After the Temple was built by King Solomon about 832 BCE, the singular God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob declared it the place where he made his throne, ruling as sovereign of both Israel and all nations.
Orthodox Judaism commonly regards the site as a unique intersection between the unseen throne of God in an other-dimensional Zion and this dimension's Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
In the Second Temple period, the same time when Jesus lived, the IAA explains that "pilgrims ascended – both physically and spiritually – from the Siloam Pool by way of the City of the David to the Ophel and its ritual baths and from there to the Temple Mount." It was also a place of celebration when pilgrims left.
In other words, going in and coming out, it was a path of transition. Going in, it took worshippers into a uniquely sacred place; and going out, it facilitated their re-entry into everyday life.
It was a transition Israel experienced in a corporate sense, as a nation, on the holy days of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
The IAA says that today "visitors to the new Mikvah Path will walk over bridges and stairs that 'float' in between the ruins of buildings and installations." Along the way, there are signs with "archaeological, historical and halakhic explanations."
For their part, Mikvah's are ritual baths that are "unique to the Jewish people. Their spiritual-religious purpose is to cleanse the bather of impurities.
"The arrival of tens of thousands of pilgrims that were lodged in the city's houses during the three pilgrimage festivals necessitated an infrastructure capable of supplying water that was used both for religious ritual and to maintain the purification rituals.
"For hundreds of years after the destruction of the Second Temple Jews were forbidden from residing in Jerusalem, and the city’s non-Jewish inhabitants utilized the abandoned baths for their own purposes as water cisterns, storage spaces, quarries etc.
The "ascent" portion of the Mikvah Trail goes up to the Hulda Gate a triple-arched entryway on the southern side of the Temple Mount. Sealed today, the Hulda Gate is where worshippers, pilgrimage complete, made their final ascent to place where heaven met earth, to place of God's eternal throne.