Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila




Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's tiptoe through Gehenna, the valley to hell

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne of Judah in the
8th century BC.  He was the 13th king after David.  At that time, Judah was in a very precarious situation, for the Assyrians (from today's northern Iraq) had just finished their conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Hezekiah very cautiously tiptoed in measured steps, so as not to offend the Assyrians.  First he concentrated on religious reform and restored the Temple of Jerusalem as the national center of worship.  He even sent messengers around the subdued Israelite villages and towns, inviting them to take part in the Passover feast in Jerusalem.

Then he strengthened the resources of his capital.  You, yourself, may have splashed through the tunnel built by Hezekiah's engineers to bring water down to the western part of the city, so they would be able to withstand a siege.  You may have peered at, or even photographed, the outer wall he built to protect the city, found in today's Old City Jewish Quarter.

Hezekiah's Broad Wall seen in the Jewish Quarter

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Hezekiah's Broad Wall, found in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City

But have you walked through the valley of Gehenna where as a boy Hezekiah must have witnessed his brothers being passed through the fire in honor of Moloch?  How scary that must have been.  Perhaps it was those psychological scars of his youth which led him to carry out sweeping religious reforms where he banished the worship of idols.  He even smashed the bronze serpent which had been crafted by none other than Moses.

Valley of Ben Hinnom and Mount Zion

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Valley of Ben Hinnom looking northwest

It was Hezekiah's father Ahaz who had introduced the many pagan and idolatrous practices which gave the valley of Gai Ben Hinnom, shortened to Gehenna its reputation of evil.  And Hezekiah's son and successor Manassah compounded the evil by forcing his son to pass through fire in the valley of Gehenna.
A century and a half later, fires were still burning in Gehenna, almost within site of the holy temple and adjacent to the Mount of Olives where the Judean kings were anointed.  No wonder Jeremiah protested at this abominable practice. Jeremiah says in chapter 32, "They built the high places of Baal in the valley of Ben [the son of] Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Moloch, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination, causing Judah
to sin."

Topography of the Ben Hinnom Valley

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

From Gehenna one could see the temple on Mt Moriah and the Mt of Olives

The hottest part of Gehenna was called Tophet, possibly from the Hebrew tuppim which means drums.  It's said that when the child was being sacrificed to the idol Moloch, drums were beat so loudly that the cries of the infant could not be heard.

Jeremiah further prophesized that the sounds of laughter and the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride would cease to be heard in the streets of Jerusalem.  The valley of Gehenna would be renamed the Valley of Slaughter.
This memory of evil persisted up to the time of the second temple when idol worship had been completely eliminated from the Israelite repertoire.  Did Jesus know of the abominations practiced in the Ben Hinnom valley some 600 to 800 years earlier? Certainly.  Gehenna is, in fact, found twelve times in the Greek New Testament, invoking the image of a fiery hell.  In eleven of these instances, Jesus himself is speaking.
For example in Mark 9, at Capernaum, Jesus told his disciples, "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  (In the Greek version, Gehenna is the word for hell.)
In Matthew 23, Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees sitting in the seat of Moses for being hypocrites and not practicing what they preached.  He called them serpents and vipers and rhetorically asked how they were going to escape the condemnation of Gehenna.

Ancient rock-cut tombs in the Valley of Gehenna

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ancient rock-cut tombs in the Valley of Gehenna

Today Gehenna, the valley Gai Hinnom, is the polar opposite of our vision of hell. There are no fiery furnaces, certainly no child sacrifice and nearly no noise.  It's a quiet respite a stone's throw from the bustling Old City with paths framed by shady young olive trees.

Mount Zion from the Ben Hinnom valley

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of Mount Zion from the Ben Hinnom Valley

It's a wonderful place to grasp the geography of ancient Jerusalem with Mount Zion high across from us bordered by the southern wall of Jerusalem of Jesus' day (called the First Wall).  Towards our east we see the Hill of Anointment, the southern slopes of the Mount of Olives.  We see where the Ben Hinnom valley meets the Kidron Valley and can even walk (if we have young legs!) to the Pool of Siloam, discovered in 2005.

With Bible in hand, a walk thru Gehenna can bring to life the struggle of the prophets against idolatry, practiced literally footsteps from the holy temple.  It's a quiet place to visualize the tumultuous times of both Hezekiah and his advisor Isaiah.

Pastoral scene from the Valley of Gehenna

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Pastoral scene in the valley of Gehenna

Based upon Isaiah 31 where it says the Lord has a fire in Zion and a furnace in Jerusalem, the sages of Israel suggested that smoke rising from between two date palms marks the entrance to Gehenna.  So as we tip-toe through the valley we will be sure not to walk between two palm trees!

Rappelling down into the Valley of Ben Hinnom

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Israeli youth rappelling down into the valley of Gehenna

BOOK GILA for a customized private tour

Gila Yudkin, a Connecticut Yankee guiding in King David’s court, has been guiding for over three decades.  On tour, Gila mixes fun, fantasy and facts with a passion for archeology and Bible.  If she could choose anyone from past or present to guide, it would be Mark Twain.
When Mark Twain visited Jerusalem in 1867, he says its population numbered 14,000 souls.  (Today it's about 715,000!)  When he walked along Gehenna en route to the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley, he smelled no smoke, nor did he witness child sacrifice.  He did, however, make a number of remarkable observations about Jerusalem's Old City, such as its knobbiness, its alley cats and the whereabouts of Veronica's handkerchief.

Across from the Valley of Gehenna lies Mount Zion where the headless body of Sir Flinders Petrie is buried in the Protestant Cemetery.  Read why he is important and why he is headless!

Mount Zion where archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie was buried in 1942

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Across from the Valley of Gehenna is the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion
shaded by the trees below the tower of the Dormition Abbey

If you are planning to visit the Holy Land, you will be confronted everywhere – in churches and synagogues, signposts and doorways, outdoor bazaars and souvenir shops -- with perhaps some unfamiliar icons.  Do you know the story behind the menorah, the Jerusalem cross, the Jesus boat, the hamseh and the mezuzah?  If not, you'll want to check out Gila's Top Ten Holy Land Icons.

Copyright 2012, 2021 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.


More Jerusalem:


Ask Gila about excavations on the Temple Mount

The Holy Land's most popular spice:  hyssop!

Let's meet where Mary met Elizabeth

Temple Mount excavations?

Holy land spice

Mary meets Elizabeth


Let's read Luke 2 by Robinson's Arch

Teddy Kollek and the Biblical Zoo

Let's splash through Hezekiah's Tunnel

Great place to read Luke 2 

  Fun at the biblical zoo   

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Another way of experiencing Jerusalem is to walk its ramparts like Nehemiah did. You’re invited to check out, “Let’s walk the Old City Ramparts.”

If you are an adventurer at heart and would like to explore Jerusalem on your own, order Gila’s up-to-date unorthodox guide, “Explore Jerusalem’s Soul” with suggestions of the top ten roof-top views, the top ten inspiring places to study Scripture, the ten least-known churches worth visiting and the ten top restaurants serving Middle Eastern “soul-food.”





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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin