Apologetics, Archaeology, Bible, Main, z112
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Where was the Upper Room?


The modern Upper Room in Jerusalem Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales/© Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk/Flickr/Creative Commons

The modern Upper Room in Jerusalem Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales/© Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk/Flickr/Creative Commons

The Upper Room is probably most famous as the spot where the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples recorded in Acts 2. From there, they spread out into the streets of Jerusalem and lit the place on fire.

But it served as more than that. Some believe that the disciples may have actually used the Upper Room as living quarters while they were in Jerusalem:

13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. (Acts 1:13 NASV)

The Greek word “katameno” means to abide, live and remain which is how the Apostle Paul used the word when he told the Corinthians that he is thinking of living in Corinth for the winter (1 Corinthians 16:6).

When the Holy Spirit fell, it is said that the sound of rushing wind filled the “whole house” (Acts 2:1-2). The Greek word house is “oikos” and refers to a house or living space.

The term upper room also suggests it was part of a larger structure. The room itself must have been fairly big, because you were talking of a minimum of 12+ disciples living there and when the Holy Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost there were 120 people in the room (Acts 1:15).

So not only was it a place of residence for the disciples, this was the same room where they held the Lord’s supper (Luke 22:13) and nominated Mathias to be the next apostle. It was also the room where Jesus appeared to the disciples (Mark 16:14-16) and washed their feet (John 13:1-7). It is also where the disciples gathered for prayer and worship after Christ ascended to heaven (Acts 1:13-14).

Since the upper room could hold at least 120 people, it was the upper story of a larger structure. What was it?  When Luke used “house” to describe the room he was clearly describing a residence, however, it is possible he was only referring to the large living quarters in the upper part of the building.

If the historical records from the fourth century are correct, this building was actually a synagogue. The journal of a Christian pilgrim visiting the city in 333 AD described the Upper Room as being part of a synagogue. Another apocryphal document from the same period also describes it as a Christian synagogue or more accurately a Messianic synagogue.

Whether this was an actual messianic synagogue is uncertain, but at the very least the leaders of this synagogue were favorable to Christ and the disciples, much in the same way that a man gave a donkey to Christ for the Lord’s last trip into Jerusalem.

According to Epiphanius, who served as the Bishop of Salamis in the fourth century, the synagogue survived the ransacking of Rome and the Temple ‘s destruction in 70 AD.

After Roman Emperor Titus ransacked Jerusalem, the Jews were not allowed back into Jerusalem until 135 AD. However, gentiles and Christians started returning to the city around 73 AD.

If it was still standing, the Christians would naturally have gathered at this “Upper Room” building and transformed it into a Messianic synagogue and later a church. Having accepted Christ as the Jewish Messiah, the early Christians considered themselves part of Judaism. Initially they even referred to their buildings as synagogues. They would not be called churches until a few centuries later.

In Jerusalem today there is a building in the old part of the city that is considered to be the spot of the Upper Room. It is located in a compound called David’s tomb that is now operated by a Jewish seminary.

Though, we know the Jews buried King David in Jerusalem (1 Kings 2:10), it is no longer considered the spot.  There is an elaborate church building on the site, that the Roman Catholics consider to be the first church in Jerusalem and refer to it as the “Church of the Apostles.”

However, 2,000 years later any hints of the original synagogue are all but gone. The building has gone through major construction, renovation and restoration when it was turned into a church and even that was destroyed by the Muslims in 1009 AD and then later rebuilt.

However, in 1951, when an archaeologist was repairing damage done by a bomb at the site three years earlier, they uncovered what it believed to be the original floor of the building.

According to archaeologist Jacob Pinkerfield, the floor’s orientation was towards the Temple which was typical of synagogues of that time.  This would suggest the Upper Room was an apartment above a synagogue. This building was later converted into a Christian church after the Romans attacked Jerusalem.

However, others are not convinced. They suggest the floor is more online with the Church of the Sepulchre considered the traditional spot where Jesus was crucified and buried. This would indicate Christian builders not Jewish ones.

They also discovered pieces of plaster from the original building with graffiti on it. Though the graffiti was only the first letters of words, Professors Emmanuele Testa and Bellarmino Bagatti said one possible interpretation of the letters would be:

“One graffito has the initials of the Greek words which may be translated as ‘Conquer, Savior, mercy.’ Another graffito has letters which can be translated as ‘O Jesus, that I may live, 0 Lord of the autocrat.’ “

If they are correct, this would imply that the earlier building, which may not have been a synagogue, was destroyed in 70 AD, and rebuilt by Christians who converted it into a synagogue when they returned to the city.

Sources:

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