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The Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (the Cockcrowing)  stands on the steep slope of the Kidron Valley south of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. To go deep into its foundations is to touch a grim world where official and often brutal questioning of prisoners was carried out. This is where Jesus was taken from his arrest in Gethsemene. 

At the deepest level of the foundations of the site there is a deep pit carved out of the rock. To this dreadful place some prisoners were lowered through a hole and left in the darkness.

One of the Psalms of David may well be the work of a prisoner who endured this terrible punishment and survived. It is late in the collection, Psalm 137. The text of the psalm is a chilling evocation of this terrible ordeal, crouching alone in the darkness and silence without any idea that it might have an ending in being drawn up, perhaps only to receive continued torture. No words could more searingly convey  the horror of this experience. 

Out of the deep have I called unto Thee O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. 

At first the desperation is mingled with hope.

O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.

Now we hear the determination to cling to the belief that someone listens.  

I look for the Lord, my soul doth wait for Him: in his word is my trust. 

Time has gone by in the darkness, but hope survives. Hours go by, perhaps even turning into days. We hear the growing desperation and the weakening of hope and trust in the repeated plea “more than watchmen watch for the morning, yea more than watchmen for the morning."

While we know that Jesus was taken to the House of Ciaiphas the High Priest for preliminary questioning, there is no biblical evidence that he was subjected  to the torture of this pit. However, thinking during this Holy Week about the suffering of our Lord, my thoughts turned to this psalm. It naturally brought the extent of his mental and physical suffering to my mind . 

In an effort to placate a mob hungry for a victim, and to prevent political consequences from the Roman administration in Damascus, Pilate, to avoid public unrest, declares himself prepared to condemn Jesus to the lesser punishment of a Roman flogging, even though a Roman lashing - with Jesus afterwards received -  brought the victim to the edge of death only to be revived for further agony. 

Eventually Jesus does endure crucifixion, but for hours before, as he sinks into pain racked delirium, he will endure hate filled  contempt and insult. I suspect that the language being shouted by the upturned faces outside the armed detachment guarding the place of execution was very far from the flowing Elizabethan English in which many will hear it in today’s authorized version of the scriptures. 

When I survey the wondrous Cross

On which the Prince o9f Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride. 


Ruins of Caiaphas' Palace in Jerusalem  ID:1177136885

Photo: Kathryn Farley