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Davidson Archaeological Site/Southern Stairs

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Southern Stairs Photo Places of Interest

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Davidson Center ~ Southern Stairs




The Southern Stairs are located at the southern part of the Temple Mount at the Davidson Center.


Historical Background


1. The Southern Stairs were one of the main entrances from the south to the Temple Mount during Christ's time. Two main gate entrances led from these stairs up to the Temple Mount Platform. These gates are commonly known as the Hulda Gates.


The gate for entering the Temple Mount Platform was on the right (east side), and the gate for leaving the Temple Mount was on the left (western side).

In the Mishna, there is a simple and beautiful regulation regarding how to enter the Hulda gates. "All who enter the Temple Mount shall enter from the eastern side of the gate (right side) and then exit through the western side of the gate (left side), except those who lost a loved one and are in mourning or have a sick person at home or lost a valuable object." All those who entered from the western side gate and exited via the eastern side gate (which was in the opposite direction) would know that something bad happened to them and could offer words of comfort. This was a custom that demonstrated sensitivity and care to others. 


2. King Herod had them redone and made them staggered so no one could enter or depart the presence of God (signified by entering or departing the temple area) without being thoughtful in the process. 


3. The stairs were hundreds of feet wide, providing plenty of space for congregating and teaching.


4. They were the main access to the temple from the City of David and the western area of the city, where most of the population lived. 


5. Multitudes arrived at the stairs by using the Pilgrim's Road (Herodian St.), which connected the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. As they ascended this road, they sang the songs of ascent found in Psalms 120-134.


6. The Pool of Siloam was a massive mikveh at the lower part of the City of David that was used by the Jews for purification purposes before entering the Temple Mount. 


7. There were also many purification mikvehs at the base of the Southern Stairs as well (around 48 total).  


8. The Southern Stairs were also called “The Rabbis’ Stairs” or the “Teaching Stairs” as rabbis taught their disciples on them.


9. There is no doubt Jesus would have walked on these stairs and taught His disciples here. It’s also likely that the young Apostle Paul sat here under the teaching of Gamaliel as well (Acts 22:3).


10. The stairs were cut out of the mountain's bedrock, and part of them can still be seen today.


11. It’s very likely that part of Pentecost took place here or ended up here. The Royal Stoa was located just above us on the southern end of the Temple Mount. It was a huge covered portico that ran the whole length of the Temple Mount at the southern part. We don't have time to talk about all the reasons now, but the Hebrew word for house means the House, referring to the temple or a covered structure. It doesn't really refer to a home. So just think that you are in the area where Pentecost took place. And, of course, around here are all these Mikvehs where the 3,000 who received Christ on Pentecost would be baptized.

12. The other main entrance to the Temple Mount from the south was Robinson's Arch Stairway. The southern stairs and Robinson's Arch Stairway accommodated pilgrims accessing the Temple Mount from Pilgrim's Road. This road led from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount.

13. The City of David lies just to the south of this area. This is where much of the population of Jerusalem lived. Later, Hezekiah would enlarge Jerusalem to the south and west and build what we know today as Hezekiah's Broad Wall. As a result, this southern part of the Temple Mount was highly used.

Places of Interest


1. Herodian Stones

2. Herod's Temple Mount expansion section

3. Trumpeter's Cornerstone (House of the Trumpeter) The original is in the Israel Museum. This one is an exact replica.


The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes about this in his writings. Three blowings of the trumpet took place: (1) for the farmers to stop their work (2) for the shopkeepers to close down, and (3) for the Sabbath to officially begin (or other holy feasts).

4. Shops

5. Broken Pavement from the stones that fell during the Roman destruction in 70 AD

6. Burnt layers in the Western Wall from the Roman destruction

7. Isaiah Stone

Right under the arch, we can see the so-called "Isaiah Stone." It has a carved inscription in Hebrew with a partial quote or paraphrase of Isaiah 66:14. The carving says: "And them will see, and rejoice your heart, and your bones like grass shall flourish."


The verse they are quoting goes like this: When you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord shall be known to His servants, and His indignation to His enemies. 


The inscription has been dated to around 300 to 700 AD and tells us that the Jews at that time venerated the Temple Mount as the location of the temple. It's just another piece of evidence revealing the Temple Mount as the authentic place where the temple once stood.

8. Pilgrim's Road (Herodian St.) led from the Pool of Siloam to the Southern Stairs and Robinson's Arch Stairway area.


9. Southern Stairs - Hulda Gates

  • The right side (eastern side) was the entrance to the Temple Mount.

  • The left side (western side) was for departing the Temple Mount.

10. Mikvehs by the Southern Stairs

11. Royal Stoa - Large public meeting building on the south side of the Temple Mount just above the Southern Stairs.


12. Southern Stairs entrance doors to the Temple Mount


13. Crusader tower


14. Original stairs


15. Temple Mount


16. City of David

Discipleship in the Time Of Jesus 


1. Discipleship in the Time of Jesus
In order to understand biblical discipleship in its fullness, we must see how it functioned in the time of Christ. Ray Vander Laan provides a rich understanding of this area. He notes, “Discipleship was a very common practice in Christ’s day and especially in the Galilee area. The people of Galilee were the most religious Jews in the world in the time of Jesus. This is quite contrary to the common view that the Galileans were simple, uneducated peasants from an isolated area. This perspective is probably due to the comments made in the Bible, which appear to belittle people from this area.”  Vander Laan continues, “The Galilean people were actually more educated in the Bible, and its application than most Jews were. More famous Jewish teachers come from Galilee than anywhere else in the world. They were known for their great reverence for Scripture and their passionate desire to be faithful to it.” 


2. Discipleship Training Began Early in Life
Training for discipleship, as we would know it today, actually started very young in the life of a Jewish child. They would enter grade school (called Beth Sefer) at around 4–5 years of age, which was generally held at the local synagogue. The teacher at the synagogue was called a rabbi. At this level, they would mainly be instructed in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), learning to read, write, and memorize it. The rest of the Old Testament was referred to as well. Much of the Torah was committed to memory, and it’s likely that by the time this level of education was finished (age 13), they had much of it memorized.


After grade school, the best students would then continue on to middle school (called Beth Midrash). They would continue to learn and memorize the Torah, but would branch out and learn the rest of the Old Testament as well, committing much of it to memory. 
After the Beth Midrash level, those who wanted to continue in discipleship would then seek out a rabbi who would accept them as disciples. They would often leave home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmids) in Hebrew, which is translated as disciple. 


3. Memorization Was a Key Factor in Discipleship
Memorization was important during Jesus’ day because most people didn’t have their own copy of the Scriptures, so they either had to know it by heart or go to the synagogue to consult the local village scroll. As mentioned, by the time a child finished the Beth Midrash level of education, they had memorized most of the Torah and much of the Old Testament. The common memorization technique involved rote, constant repetition, a practice still used to this day. 


4. A Disciple Imitated His Rabbi
Discipleship in Christ’s day involved a heavy dose of imitation. A talmid (disciple) emulated his rabbi in all facets of life. His goal was to be like his rabbi. Vander Laan adds, “There is much more to a talmid than simply calling one a student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree, or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is, to become what the teacher is.”  That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. 


Vander Laan continues, “The rabbi-talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture to his students, they listened, watched, and imitated him to become like him. Eventually, they would become teachers themselves, passing on a lifestyle to their own talmidim.” 


5. Discipleship Entailed Learning Much Scripture
The very few talmids that reached the status of a rabbi were extremely respected and sought after. Those who became rabbis were incredibly knowledgeable in Scripture, and many had memorized much, if not all, of the Old Testament. As mentioned, during Christ’s day, they didn’t have their own personal Bibles like we do today, so they had to commit it to memory to be able to reference and discuss it. As a result of memorizing so much Scripture, the rabbis were extremely knowledgeable in God’s Word. 


Those who wanted to learn from a rabbi also committed much, if not all, of the Old Testament to memory as well. This was a requirement to be a disciple as their discussions about Scripture didn’t mainly deal with what the Scriptures said, but what they meant. Rabbis in the time of Christ would be equivalent to theologians today who hold at least one Ph.D. in theology.


To reach the status of a rabbi was a great accomplishment. They were the ones who decided biblical doctrines, practices, and customs of the country. Their words were exceptionally authoritative and valued. Doug Greenwold says, “In the world of Pharisaism, rabbis were the teachers who had been given the authoritative role to interpret God’s Word for the living of a righteous life—defining what behavior would or would not please God.” 


Rabbis were affiliated as well with many different groups, such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and others. For example, John the Baptist was a rabbi who had his own disciples (Luke 5:33), and the Apostle Paul was a disciple of Gamaliel before eventually becoming a disciple of Christ at his conversion to Christianity. Some rabbis reached notable status and had a strong influence on religious and government affairs.


6. Strict Devotion Was Expected
The rabbis expected strict, complete devotion and adherence to their teachings. They expected loyalty and obedience even beyond that given to their families. Greenwold states, “If a rabbi ultimately agreed to a would-be disciple’s request and allowed him to become a disciple, the disciple-to-be agreed to submit totally to the rabbi’s authority in all areas of interpreting the Scriptures for his life. This was a cultural given for all observant Jewish young men—something each truly wanted to do. As a result, each disciple came to a rabbinic relationship with a desire and a willingness to do just that—surrender to the authority of God’s Word as interpreted by his rabbi’s view of Scripture.”  


Different rabbis varied in their views of Scripture, so students would choose their rabbis according to their recognition in the country and their theological positions. It would be similar today to which seminary a student might choose for their graduate level of theological training. These rabbis, on occasion, would take their students on training trips that could last from several days to several weeks. These were intense times of training where all distractions from the busyness of life were set aside, and the students would focus entirely on the teachings of their rabbi.


The rabbis also had favorite teaching places, one of which was on the Southern Steps that led up to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Tradition holds that even Christ taught His disciples on these steps. I’ve been blessed to visit this site, and while there, imagined how it must have been. 


7. Theological Discussions Were a Part of Discipleship
It was common for the rabbi and his disciples (a group called Yeshivas) to wrestle significantly with the Word of God. These yeshivas would intensely dialogue and debate over an aspect of life and what Scripture said about it.  “It was a standard part of rabbinic teaching methodology.”  Greenwold adds, “Studying their rabbi’s view of Scripture and wrestling with the text to comprehend God’s way for the conduct of their life was the main priority of a disciple and the yeshiva experience. Since all disciples had memorized most, if not all, of their Hebrew Scriptures in preparation for their Bar Mitzvahs at age 13, the issue was not what God’s Word said, rather what it meant and how it was to be lived out.”  During their times of intense dialogue and debate, these yeshivas would arrive at their theological convictions and doctrinal positions.


8. Transparency and Accountability Were the Norms
There was amazing transparency in these groups of yeshivas as they spent much time together in their teaching sessions and discipleship training trips. Doug Greenwold says it well: “Unlike many of our contemporary discipleship programs, there was no curriculum or agenda for this multi-year discipling experience. Rather it was a continual daily relational living experience where either the rabbi would ask questions of the disciple as he closely observed the disciple’s life, or the disciple would initiate a discussion by raising an issue or asking a question based on some aspect of his daily life.”  In this discipleship format, not only was theology passed on, but character, attitudes, and behavior.


9. The Meaning of “Believe” 
As a disciple learned from their rabbi, they were placing their entire trust and belief in him. This process was called, “believing.” Unlike today, the term “believe” had a very different meaning in the Hebrew culture. Once again, Greenwold states it well: “The Semitic understanding of ‘believe’ was not based on an intellectual assent to a creed, doctrinal statement, or series of faith propositions. Rather, to a first-century disciple ‘believe’ is a verb in which you willingly submitted to your rabbi’s interpretive authority regarding God’s Word in every area of your life. Thus, to say you were a disciple in the name of Gamaliel, meant that you totally surrendered your life to Gamaliel’s way of interpreting Scripture. As a result, you conformed all of your life’s behavior to his interpretations.”


The word “believe” in the Hebrew culture meant taking some action, applying knowledge to daily life, and changing some attitude or perspective on life, not just mentally knowing something and remaining unchanged. Today, the word “believe” is used more as a noun and slants toward mere intellectual agreement or mental assent, which is a very different meaning than the usage in Christ’s day.

Faith Lesson

1. Discipleship Meant Commitment
Taking into account the historical meaning of discipleship, we can now better understand the discipleship process Christ employed with His disciples. He called them to follow Him, be with Him, learn from Him, practice what they learned, surrender completely to Him, and love Him more than their families, friends, and culture. It meant even being willing to die for Him if needed. 


Therefore, a disciple can be summed up as a disciplined learner or student who chooses to follow Christ, their rabbi, to such a degree that they submit their entire life, will, time, plans, desires, dreams, character, and efforts fully to Him and His teachings. They are willing to deny themself, take up their cross, and obey all His commands with total abandonment. A biblical disciple is a person who gives complete devotion and loyalty to Christ above any human relationship or influence. It’s a person who is willing to die for the cause of Christ on a daily basis, and once and for all if needed.


2. We see in the discipleship process during the time of Christ that there was a strong emphasis on knowing God’s Word, relational mentoring, character, discipline, commitment, and devotion.


3. Discipleship in Christ’s Day Versus Discipleship Today
How are Christians and the church doing today in regard to biblical discipleship? The contrast between discipleship in Christ’s time and discipleship today is quite staggering.


Unlike Christ’s disciples, who knew Scripture exceedingly well and had much of it memorized, 81% of Christians today don’t read their Bibles regularly and are largely biblically illiterate. Unlike Christ’s disciples, who were fishers of men and took the gospel to the ends of the earth, 61% of Christians today haven’t even shared their faith in the last six months. Unlike Christ’s disciples, who prayed extensively, the average Christian today prays somewhere between 1–7 minutes a day. And unlike Christ and the Apostles, who made discipleship a core part of their ministries, 81% of pastors have no regular discipleship program for mentoring their people. 


It’s clear to see that the value Christ and the Apostles gave to discipleship versus the value the average Evangelical church and Christian give it today is vastly different. 


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