Israel Channel 2 News correspondent Ohad Chemo is not an overtly religious man. But watching his reactions as he descended into the “Jerusalem Below” demonstrated once again that there is a special burden on the heart of every Jew for this divinely-appointed city.
Chemo was visiting the caverns and tunnels under Jerusalem on the occasion of Passover. While most visitors were congregating at the Western Wall (Kotel), touring David’s Citadel, or visiting the city’s numerous other attractions, Chemo was truly getting closer to Jerusalem’s unique history.
Few are acquainted with the historical wonders that lie beneath this city. Springs, tunnels, quarries and more that attest not only to its incredible historical record, but also to the biblical narrative. Chemo sought to bring all that to average Israelis, to fan that flame for Jerusalem that rests within every Jewish man, woman and child.
“Anyone who spends enough time in Jerusalem is sure to discover the Divine Presence (shechinah) – He who dwells in the heavenly (upper) Jerusalem,” Chemo opened the segment.
Joining Chemo was researcher Ron Peled, a noted authority on Jerusalem’s history. Peled explained that their first stop was a cavern that, according to legend, “has no end. After 1967, people entering this cave first tied a string at the entrance so as not to lose their way.”
The cavern is today known as Zedekiah’s Cave, or Solomon’s Quarries, a five-acre underground limestone quarry that runs the length of five city blocks under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was carved out over the course of thousands of years, and served as Jerusalem’s largest quarry for most of its history. It is widely believed this is the very same quarry referred to in I Kings 5:15, 17:
Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills… At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of quality stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple.
“One must remember that ancient Jerusalem was one of the largest and most famous cities in the world at the time,” explained Peled. “The stones to build it had to come from somewhere. This is the largest and closest quarry to Jerusalem. And being underground, it was always accessible, regardless of the season or weather conditions.”
Spirits of Jerusalem past
Chemo wondered if local residents, most of them Arabs, knew about what lies under them. Abu al-Abed, a local elder, said he was indeed familiar with the “entire city beneath us,” but was more concerned with what lurks there than with the stones. Many of the residents of Jerusalem’s Old City believe the ghosts of the city’s former residents continue to haunt its subterranean layers. “When the spirits come out, they don’t bother anyone, unless you bother them,” assured al-Abed. “Beneath us there is an entire city and civilization of spirits.”
Returning underground to the Western Wall Tunnel and the Hasmonean Canal below, Chemo didn’t find any ghosts, but did recall feeling an undeniable connection to his past as an Israeli and a Jew.
Chemo’s final stop took him to Christ Church near the Jaffa Gate. The entrance to an ancient underground canal there was certainly less “modern,” requiring advanced repelling equipment and great care. But what Chemo found was worth the effort. “It’s like a time tunnel,” he told viewers. “I have to say, from a personal perspective, it is very moving to be here. A canal that was dug 2,000 years ago by Herod to bring water from the area of Bethlehem to the Temple Mount. This place feels frozen in time.”