JERUSALEM ON THE DAY OF THE CRUCIFIXION.
Source: “From Manger to Throne” Publisher: Historical Pub. Co. PA 1889,
by REV. Dr. DeWITT Talmage. D. D.
A PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE WORLD’S GREATES TRAGEDY.
This is a subject of the greatest historic as well as religious and moral interest, an event which appeals more directly to the human heart than any which perhaps has taken place in the world’s history, and which evokes the fondest desire to have it drawn forth from the distant past and placed in the immediate and visible present.
A GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE PAINTING.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land.”
The spectator stands upon a rocky plateau surrounded by deep ravines. The time is the sixth hour on the day corresponding to the modern 7th day of April, in the year 29, A. D. We stand in the midst of the most sterile and uninviting portion of the country surrounding Jerusalem. At the time of Christ there were large tracts under a high state of cultivation, lying however, on the opposite side of the city from the point which our view is taken, on the slope of the Mount of Olives and the Valley of Jehosophat. At the present day even these evidences of fertility have disappeaerd and all is barrenness and desolation.
The whole landscape is bathed in a weird, unnatural light, giving the picture a mysterious solemnity and a grandeur impossible to describe. Taking the group of trees to the left of the city as a starting point, we will now proceed to describe the picture in detail. The half-naked tree to the right is the pistachia, a tree quite common in Syria, and which bears an almond-shaped fruit. In the background is a clump of olives bordering the lake of Gihon, called by Josephus “The Snake Pond”. The group of olive trees is still standing. Beyond the olive forest is a long extended hill, along the base of which winds the road to Joppa. On this road many merchant caravans, with heavily laden camels and donkeys, are hurrying forward, eagerly intent on reaching Jerusalem for the approaching feast of the Passover. The domes of numerous carvansaries are seen dotting the distant landscape. Further to the right is the road to Damascus, marked by numerous trees and also alive with pilgrims hastening to the common goal. To the right of the group of Jewish women is a characteristic house of the period. Upon its flattened roof is a shepherd and various packages of merchandise, jars, etc. The house represents one of the many sheltering houses or inns which existed outside of the walls for the accommodation of the numerous shepherds who tensed their flocks in the vicinity. Near by is a pool of water, a remnant of a vast number left by the rains-drouth having evaporated all but this one. Streching back from this pool one sees the rugged sides of a dry water-course, which marks the track of a winter torrent. Far away in the distance is seen the historic peak of Mizpah. Situated upon the very summit of this mountain is the ancient and beautiful city of Mizpah. A distant view of the Mediterranean can here be obtained. It was this historic spot that Samuel erected the monumental stone which he termed the “Eben-Ezer”, in commemoration of his victory over the Philistines, and on which he inscribed the words, “So far the Lord has helped us”. Here also Saul was chosen King of Israel, and here also the ark of the covenant was sent back to the Jews after having been taken by the Philistines. In the near past, the mosque, “Neby Samwil”, has been erected upon the spot supposed to mark the last resting place of Samuel. Still farther to the right, but directly in front of Mizpah, is a hill on which was situated the hamlet of Emmaus. It was on the way to this place that Jesus met two of his disciples after his resurrectuion. To the right of a cluster of houses, in the distance, is the cave of the prophet Jeremiah, a spacious hall hewn out of the solid rock. Here, secluded from the world, the prophet wrote the Lamentations. The Mohammedans of Jerusalem now use this as a burial place. It is near this place that the sepulchres of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are supposed to have been cut out of the solid rock. The tomb of the latter was the burial place of our Saviour.
At the base of the rocky slope of Golgotha we see an exited multitude, a wildly gesticulating and surging crowd, aroused to the highest pitch of frenzy. The cause of their anger is the inscription placed above the head of our dying Aviour, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. A member of the high council, from the rock above, seeks to pacify the ignorant and fanatical multitude below him, but his efforts are rewarded by curses and imprecations. Only a few days ago these very people strewed palm leaves in his way shouted, “Hosanna! Praised be He who cometh in the name of the Lord”. To-day they cried Pilate, “Crucify Him”. Their demand is that the inscription over the cross be changed, but the stolid and unpartisan Roman soldiers keep back the surging mob, that unless prevented would rush up the hill and tear down the offending tablet.
The eye turns from this frenzied crowd to the summit of Calvary. Surrounded by unpitying executioners, mocking unbelievers and a small but devout and fearless band of followers, Jesus is redeeming the world and suffering his last moment of earthly torture. A Roman soldier, with perhaps more pity than his fellows, has moistened his lips by means of a sponge saturated with posca (vinegar and water). The sponge, attached to a hyssop stalk, may be seen at the foot of the cross, jesus is now unmindful of bodily pain. He feels the end approaching and murmurs, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”. To the right of the Saviour hangs Dismas, resigned and repentant. To him the Saviour has said, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise”. To his left is the cross of Gesmas, the murderer, doomed to a more lingering punishment, being tied to the cross. The faces of all the crucified are turned away from Jerusalem, to prevent them from cursing the city.
To the right are a number of Roman soldiers who, unmindful of the solemnity of their surroundings, are casting lots for the raiment of the Saviour. They have divided the garments of the thieves. Besides thoses who have performed the work of death, we see other Romans armed with sword and spear, whose duty it is to prevent possible disorder. One of these is “Longinus”, who pierced the side of Jesus with a spear. Standing with his face toward the cross of our Saviour and arm extended is “Ctesiphon”, the Roman centurion, who, accustomed to scenes of death and cruelty, shudders at the awe-inspiring scene before him, and startled by the darkness, exclaims: “Surely this is the Son of God!”
To the left of the cross stands a group of relatives and adherents of Christ, and who have therefore special permission from the officer of the Roman guard to come nearer the place of crucifixion.
To the extreme left of the plateau are seen two richly dressed Jews-Nicodemus, formerly a secret, but now an avowed disciple, and Joseph, of Aritmathea, who, after the death of the Saviour, presented before Pilate and begged the body of jesus for burial.
To the right, and in front of them, stands Simon, of Cyrene. ‘Tis he who bore our Saviours’s cross. Upon his arm leans Susanna. In front, and to his left, we see Veronica, a Jewess from Caesarea, whomvthe Saviour had healed of a severe illness. Near to, and to the right of Simon, with her arm upon the shoulder of Mary Salome, is Mary Magdalene.
Immediately in front of the cross of Jesus we find Mary, the mother of the crucified Saviour. With resignation she accepts the sacrifire of her Son, but her face cannot show the grief she feels, as a mother’s heart goes out in anguish for the suffering of her beloved one. Just behind her is Mary Cleophas, her sister, and Johanna, the wife of Chuza. Standing to the right of the main group is Lazarus, of Bethany, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, supporting the faltering form of his sister Martha. We see a group of Jews standing on a rock to the right of Golgatha, among them is the faithful disciple John.
Leaving Golgotha, we now approach the solid walls of the City of Jerusalem, at that time a city vying in magnificence with any other in the known world. Herod had rebuilt the temple and erected many splendid buildings, and had introduced the architecture of the Greeks and Romans, supplanting, to a great extent, the semi-barbarous, Assyrian and Egyptian styles of earlier times. The temple, as reconstructed by Herod, far exceeded in magnificence the temple of Solomon.
The city is situated near the sumnit of the broad mountain ridge which divides the Mediterranean Sea from the deep valley of the Jordan, at a distance of thirty-two miles from the former, and eighteen from the latter. The elevation of its highest part, Zion, is 2550 feet above the level of the sea.
Its position and configuration were determined chiefly by the valleys which surround it except on the north, and whose depth and precipitous sides constitute natural defences against assault. On the east is the valley of the Kidron, called also, in its southern part, the valley of Jehoshaphat. On the west and south is the valley of Hinnom, which unites with the former about half a mile below the city, and thence passes in a southeast direction to the Dead Sea. Between these two is a third valley, the Tyropoeon, or valley of the Cheesemakers, dividing the city into somewhat unequal portions, of which the western is the larger, and opening into the valley of Hinnom, just above its junction with Jehoshaphat. All these valleys commence in gentle depressions in the level land north of the city, but, descending rapidly, they soon become deep and narrow ravines until, at their confluence their bed is no less than 570 feet lower than Zion, while the Dead Sea is about 3270 feet below the waters of the Mediterranean, and the lowest point on the surface of the globe.
The site thus strongly defined consists mainley of two eminences, separated by the Tyropoeon, of which the eastern is Mount Moriah, and the western, which is about 125 feet higher than the other, is Mount Zion. North of these the ground is more nearly level, rising toward the north-west and north-east in gentle slopes, where are the quarters called respectively Akra and Bezetha.
On the east side of the city, separated from it by the Kidron and vale of Jehoshaphat, is the Mount of Olives, which rises in two or three rounded summits, about 220 feet higher than Zion, the southernmost of which is called the Mount of Offence, from the idolatries practised there by Solomon under the influence of his heathen wives. The northern extremity of the mountain bends around toward the west, constituting the eminence named Scopus, distant about a mile from the city. On the south is the Hill of Evil Counsel, so-called from the tradition that here was the country residence of the high-priest Caiaphas, where Judas made his vile bargain for the betrayal of his Master. On the west and north the surface is comparatively level, rising gently toward the hills which bound the horizon at a distance of from two to five miles.
From the view of the city as here given, Mount of Olives appears on the further side with the southernmost elevation or Scopus extending to the rear of Golgotha. On the further side of the city nearest to the Mount of olives are seen three large structures. The first one to the left is the Xystus or gymnasium erected by Jason, a dissolute high-priest of the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, for athletic exercises and sports after the manner of the Greeks. Next to the Xystus is the citadel of Antonia, built by Herod on a rock adjacent to the temple, and named after his patron, Mark Antony. At the time of Christ it was believed that Antonia was the residence of Pilate, the Roman Governor, the word “praetorium” translated “judgment hall”, originally designated the general’s tent in the field, and from this came be applied to his residence wherever it might be. Some suppose that his headquarters were in Herod’s palace on Zion, but the weight of opinions is in favor of Antonia. Here jesus was condemned to crucifixion by the Governor, and from thence led away to Calvary. It was on the stairs leading down from the castle that Paul addressed the people when recued by the chief captain. The building to the right is the temple of Herod-Solomon’s temple having been destroyed during the reign of the Jewish king Zedekiah, by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was rebuilt on the site of the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, but only to one-half its former height-this was called Zerubbabel’s temple in honor of a Jewish prince of the name. King Herod the Great again rebuilt the temple in the year 23 B. C. The walls of this great structure were built of white marble with a roof of gold. To the right of the temple is seen the Pastophoria, a lofty watch-tower from which a priest with a trumpet announced the exact moment when the Sabbath began and ended.
Dotted through other portions of the Akra, or lower city, may be seen many handsome marble structures, of varied styles of architecture. These indicate the residences of the Jewish princes, the priests, wealthy Roman residents and others.
In the walls of this portion of the city were two important gates, the one to the left the Fish Gate, so called from its being adjacent to the fish pool, “piscina”. From this gate as from the others the people are pouring forth intent on viewing the execution. The other is the Valley Gate, on the site of the present Joppa Gate, leading out to the Valley of Gihon on the west side of the city. Now we come to the upper part of the city of Mout Zion, covered by magnificent public and private buildings. Here most of the wealthy residents lived, as being near the magnificent palace of Herod. The word Zion signifies “a sunny place”, and was designated to discribe the elevated and open situation of the highest of the hills constituting the site of Jerusalem. The sides of this hill are more precipitous than that of any other portion, fitting it naturally for a fortress, which it has been from the earliest times. The most prominent structures on Zion are the palace of Herod and the towers of Hippicus, Phasaelus and Mariamne-erected by Herod to the memory of his friend Hippicus, his brother Phasaelus, and his wife Mariamne. Josephus gives a most interesting and detailed account of the palace, describing it as exceptionally magnificent in all its appointments, and surrounded by most luxurious gardens. Herod probably died in the year of Christ’s birth; it washis son Herod Antipas, tetrarch of galilee, to whom our Saviour was sent by Pilate just before the Crucifixion; by him Jesus was mocked and set at naught, and afterwards sent back to Pilate. The tower at the extreme right of the city is Phasaelus. Hippicus is square and is visible over the other buildings on the further side of the city. Mariamne, the most beautiful of the three, adjoins the palace. The garden gate also connected with the palace and tower of Mariamne, which is described minutely by Josephus as being of exceeding beauty.
Adjoining the garden gate and immediately without the city walls is the pool of Hezekiah; it was supplied water from the upper pool of Gihon.