by Yossi Yeinan, Keshet
Ancient stairs uncovered in City of David
It’s been 50 years since Irving Stone wrote his popular biography of Michelangelo, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. If not for copyright restrictions, The Agony and the Ecstasy might be the title for a new history of Jerusalem.
Life here is like that – exciting and intense – and every so often there is a news story or a new discovery that captures that intensity perfectly and encapsulates what life in Jerusalem is all about.
I experienced a moment like that just recently when I toured not-yet opened areas of the City of David National Park. Over the last five years, archeologists have uncovered a monumental staircase nearly half a mile long that ran – in Second Temple times – from the Shiloach (or Siloam) Pool at the southern end of ancient Jerusalem up to the Temple.
A drainage channel lined with beautifully dressed stone runs directly underneath the staircase along its entire length and will be opened to the public later this year.
Flavius Josephus and the rabbis of the Talmud describe these stairs in Temple times at Succot – the harvest festival. Imagine the scene: the granaries and storehouses were overflowing with the bounty of the summer harvest and tens of thousands of pilgrims – men, women, and children – would come to Jerusalem and ascend these stairs festooned with bright torches and jugglers for the festive occasion. The Jewish people would give thanks and pray for the fall rains before returning home to plant the winter crops.
The unity of temple times gave way to infighting (will we ever learn?), the Romans destroyed the Temple, and some of the surviving Jews hid in the drainage tunnel underneath the stairs – only to be smoked out and murdered by the Roman conquerors.
We know the story because Josephus recorded it, and because in the last few years we’ve found the cooking vessels and household items left behind by the Jews who lived and died here more than 1,900 years ago.