Jerusalem is one of those cities that clings to you long after you leave it. The mix of faiths, the musky scents of the markets, the muezzin’s call … once you’ve been there you can’t forget it.
It’s prominent in the imaginations of many who haven’t even been there, so it’s no surprise it was one of the first travel destinations filmed in the first years of motion pictures. In 1896, a crew from the studio of Auguste and Louis Lumière headed to Jerusalem, then part of the Ottoman Empire, to film its sights and people in what might be the very first foreign travel film.
Like all films in those days it was silent – the narration in this video was added decades later – but much of the spirit of Jerusalem shines through.
The Lumière brothers of France were pioneers in motion pictures. Their American rival was Thomas Edison, who was soon making his own travel pictures. He convinced transportation companies to give his film crews free rides to far-flung places such as the American West, China and Japan. Edison was not only an engineering genius; he was a master of marketing and saw films as a good way to get some press trips.
It is one of the holiest spots in one of the holiest cities in the world. The Western Wall attracts Jews and Christians alike, and is on the limits of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim holy site.
It’s always been believed to have been built by King Herod, the king of Judea and a vassal of the Roman Empire who reigned from 37-4 BC. Herod expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Western Wall is the western boundary of that expansion.
This isn’t news to scholars. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the project was finished by Herod’s great-grandson. Archaeologists also found a mikve (Jewish ritual bath), three clay lamps in a style popular in the first century AD, and other artifacts. Seventeen coins were found, including two minted by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus in 17 or 18 AD.
I visited Jerusalem several times when I was working as an archaeologist in the Middle East back in the early Nineties. On numerous occasions I saw where local tradition came up against the findings of archaeology and history. For example, the route of the Via Dolorosa, the trail Jesus supposedly took on his way to Calvary, was only established in the 19th century. In the centuries before that there were several different routes.
In the current debate between the faithful and the atheists, these facts change nothing. The deflating of a local tradition will not make anyone stop believing in God, and the atheists are equally convinced about their views.