Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Living Water

I remember.

The Old City of Jerusalem. City of Peace.

Walking around the Old City. The walls of the city encircling it. You could walk around the entire city on top of the walls, almost. There was one place where you had to climb down, cross a busy thoroughfare, and then climb back up again. I think that was the Damascus Gate.

From the east side of the city there is a huge gate. I climbed up there on Good Friday, 1976. On the very top of the gate is an iron rod stuck in the rock. It is convenient to sit on the top of the gate with your legs around the rod. Otherwise, it's a long, short drop down.

A procession of Christians commemorating Jesus death came down the Mount of Olives and followed the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. From the Mount of Olives, through the Lion's gate, or St. Steven's Gate, on an ass, to Pilate, the Pharisees, and his death at Golgotha, the Place of Skulls, now commemorated by the Church of the Holy Sepelchre. The Orthodox Christians have a grand ceremony there on the Orthodox Easter a week later. They extinguish all of the lights in the church and a priest waits in the monument over the tomb and receives the gift of fire on the anniversary of his resurrection. Most people figure he has a bic lighter.

Across the valley was the Mount of Olives. And beyond, the Negev and the road to Jericho. A bit of a walk. I've taken the bus or hitch hiked. There're the ruins of an inn half way down that road. An inn where once a hated Samaritan brought a man near death to be healed. The Samaritans were not the 'Good Sams Club' types they are today. They were despised. They were the 'N' word of their day to the good Judeans of Jesus time.

And another strange thing.

One day, a teacher of ours took a group of us students on a strange field trip. We got up before dawn. Put on warm but waterproof cloths and ventured out. Around the current gates of the city, below the al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and to a pool in the lower city. With a large, stone enclosure. The pool of Siloam. It's fed by the Gihon spring a few thousand meters away, awkwardly outside the defensible boundaries of the city. Previous residents of the city had built walls around this spring, as it was, and is, a strategic target. Target if you are the enemy. Vulnerability if you are the besieged.

In other words, their water source was insecure.

So the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem, whatever they called themselves, devised a clever plan.

Jerusalem is built on a thrust of rock from north to south with wadis east, west, and rounding about the south. The north is defensible. The rest is defended by distance down. And up. The only problem is the water source. It's on the south east side of the ridge inconveniently placed below the natural defenses of the mount. Various cultures before the tribe of Judah had noticed this weakness and had devised various ways to lessen it, mostly by including the spring within their walls. Of course, this made their walls more vulnerable, as displayed by the account of King David having conquered Jerusalem by breaching them and taking the city's water source.

In other words, the city's water source was insecure. That bears repeating.

So the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time, whatever they called themselves, devised a plan. A civic process, actually. They carved a tunnel through the soft limestone rock of the spur of land on which they lived, and channelled the water to a more defensible place on the south side.

We, us pilgrims of the early dawn, came to the pool, which looked like a huge swimming pool on the south side of the city. It was enclosed in an iron fence, which we climbed over easily, and descended the stone steps to the edge of the pool and the rectangular opening in the rock face of the city cut therein.

And we entered.

Into the rough tunnel.

Up to our knees in water.

This was a tunnel that had been built in Hezekiah's time by engineers and masons cutting through the soft rock. Two teams worked on the project. One from the spring and one from the pool. They were supposed to meet in the middle. They had apparent glitches, which most engineering projects do. First, the teams carved the tunnel in an 'S' shape. It's not a direct path from Spring A to Pool B. Some scholars suggest that this was intentional. They wanted to avoid a cemetery above them. Some scholars don't know engineering. It was undoubtedly a miscalculation. A 'Screw up' in layman's terms.

The other screw up, er, miscalculation, was the depths of the tunnels. The two tunnels should have a grade of a few degrees to allow the water to flow naturally and gently from the source spring to the collection pool.

It didn't.

From the spring it was OK. They had the spring right there as a natural leveler. It was from the pool side that was the problem. The entrance to the tunnel from the pool was not too tall. But as you waded through the water the ceiling got higher and higher. That was the original tunnel which had been cut up close to the ceiling. When the two tunnels got close enough together to hear each other's hammers through the rocks, they made a discovery. The pool tunnel was several meters above the spring tunnel.


They had to go back and dig the tunnel deeper, which is why you see the ceiling gradually getting higher and higher. They achieved their required pitch, when you reach the breakthrough of the two tunnels the ceiling suddenly drops to a couple of meters. We went from an airy cathedral like cavern to a narrow, short tunnel with water up to our chins and rock pressing down our heads. The lantern battery of our light source was half emerged in the spring water.

There was a plaque placed at this juncture of the two pools. It simply stated that the two teams met here. They could hear the tapping of the hammers and chipping of stone from their comrades meters away. And then they broke through. This was extraordinary for ancient engineering. When any monument was built, any city or water project constructed, all the credit went to the King. I, Chia the Pet, built this! No need to credit common engineers, architects, or masons. But here, albeit underground and almost under water, was a monument to the ones who actually built it.

The water flowed around us with passion. With a dozen or so students impeding its passage it backed up before us. The Gihon Spring is called a spring of living water. Jesus used this as a metaphor for the indwelling Holy Spirit. The spring is fed from many cracks, chambers, funnels and siphons. You can come to the spring and see that it is quite still. The water calm. Within the limestone spur of the Old City, water is building up. Filling chambers and draining into chutes and cracks. Gradually filling everything up with thousands of liters of water. Every couple of hours or so, depending on the drought conditions, the water will reach a level where a natural siphon occurs. All of this water gets sucked out at once. Suddenly, the spring gushes forth with a flood of water: Living water.

We made it through the narrows. On. And a little ways up. And to the head of the water, The Gihon Spring. The Virgin's Spring.

This must have appeared magical. Living water! Water that sits still for a couple of hours and then suddenly gushes from the rock.

Luckily, engineers don't believe in magic.

They carved this magnificant tunnel from the Virgin's Spring, the Spring of Living Water, to a pool more safely sheltered within the defensible city. Vulnerable water was now secure water.

And we were walking, or wading, through it.

We reached the spring end. It was suddenly rough. Cave like. Not the angular sculpted symmetry of the tunnel. These were earlier attempts to secure the spring. Some had dug down from further up hill and attempted to enclose the spring and make it accessible from above. They didn't work, obviously.

There is an iron gate there now to prevent tourists and stupid students from wandering into the spring and getting drowned in the sudden flow of living water in the narrow tunnel.

And then we turned back.

Toward the end, just before we got back to the secure pool in the lower city we saw a sight. A bucket on a rope dropped from the roof into the water. Our guide said, "Shhh!" and proceeded to get a rock from the tunnel floor and drop it into the bucket. Bucket and rock were soon pulled back up into the ceiling.

But we were caught already. The water in the bucket was brackish from the mud we stirred up with our feet.

A face appeared in the ceiling. A trap door from a basement room of a mosque. This was an Imam who was getting his morning supply of water.

He smiled. Our guide greeted him as a friend. This had happened before. OK. Now get out of my well!

Out we went, in to the pool, up the stairs, over the iron gates, to the curious dismay of tourists.

A very good morning.

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