In 1969 a young archaeology student named James Fleming was exploring the walls and gates of ancient Jerusalem after a heavy rain the night before when, suddenly, outside of the Golden Gate on the eastern wall of the Old City, the ground fell out from under him. “I felt I was part of a rock slide,” Fleming wrote. “Down I went into a hole 8 feet deep.”
When he picked himself up and realized he was uninjured, he regained his composure and looked around. He was standing in the midst of a mass grave. Then he began to examine the adjacent wall— the wall beneath the Golden Gate.
The Golden Gate is surely one of the most beautiful of Jerusalem’s eight gates. It was blocked up hundreds of years ago, probably for security reasons, but perhaps for religious reasons as well, for the Golden Gate is associated with messianic expectations and the final judgment of humanity. According to the prophet Zechariah, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east … Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with him” (Zechariah 14:4–5). The prophet Joel tells of an awful and awesome “Day of the Lord,” when the sun will become dark, and the moon will turn to blood, and the Lord will judge the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 2–3), traditionally associated with the valley before the Golden Gate.