(July 1, 2019 / JNS) Senior American and Israeli officials attended the festive unveiling on Sunday of a section of the ancient road that served as the main thoroughfare between the Shiloah Pool, where pilgrims would ritually purify themselves, and the Second Temple. The event comes after six years of painstaking archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The extensive excavation and restoration project is funded by the City of David Foundation, which plans to open the now-subterranean road to the public. The road, which will allow visitors to walk from the Shiloah Pool all the way to the Western Wall, extends a total of 600 meters and is eight meters across, though only a 350-meter section has been uncovered. The road is paved with large, Roman-style slabs.
The pioneering research that lead to the discovery strengthens the understanding that King Herod the Great was not solely responsible for the huge construction projects in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period. Recent studies indicate that the street was built after the reign of Herod, probably during the time of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to crucifixion.
Speaking at the event, IAA Jerusalem-region archaeologist Yuval Baruch said, “Today, for the first time, one can walk along one of the main streets of ancient Jerusalem, get an impression of its sights and receive answers to fascinating historical questions that have been asked for more than 100 years about the history of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman echoed that sentiment, saying that “the City of David brings biblical Jerusalem back to life. It enables every one of us to stroll the corridors where the ancient prophets of Israel gave voice to revolutionary ideals of freedom, liberty and human dignity, establishing values which became the intellectual and constitutional basis of our republic.”
He add that “it is our unique privilege as Americans to walk together with our Israeli counterparts on the just unveiled Pilgrimage Road, where our shared ancestors ascended the flagstone steps in prayer and blessing.”
Friedman did more than speak at the event—a video circulated on social media on Sunday showing Friedman and U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt symbolically hammering through the final bit of wall covering the road.
Before breaking down the wall, Friedman said: “Whether there was any doubt about the accuracy, the wisdom, the propriety of [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I certainly think this lays all doubts to rest.”
The video caused some controversy, as the Pilgrim Road runs underneath Palestinian homes in eastern Jerusalem.
The PLO expressed outrage at Friedman’s participation, saying in a statement: “We consider the participation of Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman to be criminal collusion in the commission of a war crime that must be condemned as well as universally and unequivocally confronted. The U.S. administration has partnered with the fundamentalist settler organizations to provoke religious tensions and fan the flames of conflict. Together, they present a threat to international peace and security.”
Friedman responded to the accusations on Twitter: “Fake News: ‘Friedman uses sledgehammer to destroy wall under Palestinian homes.’ Real News: ‘Friedman uses sledgehammer to break ceremonial cardboard wall to open once-in-a-century archeological discovery.’ ”
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry called the opening of the road part of Israel’s “imperialistic Judaization plans” and slammed the United States for “fully supporting the imperialistic settlement enterprise led by the far right in the occupation state.”
Greenblatt replied on Twitter that “we can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archaeology show. We can acknowledge it; you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.”
Ze’ev Orenstein, director of International Affairs at the City of David, thanked the American delegation for its participation, saying, “The participation of senior Israeli and U.S. administration officials in the breakthrough of the 2,000-year-old Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, historic site of biblical Jerusalem, highlights that our shared connection to Jerusalem, and her heritage lies at the bedrock of the special U.S.-Israel relationship.”