The Dung Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City walls may have an unpleasant name, but it carries profound spiritual meaning and significance in both Jewish and Christian traditions. This ancient gate, like all of Jerusalem’s gates, provides invaluable glimpses into biblical history and the fulfillment of prophecy.
If you’re short on time, here’s the key point: The Dung Gate symbolizes humility, servanthood, and the importance of doing society’s lowliest yet essential tasks with devotion and integrity, representing spiritual ideals that Jesus himself embodied.
Physical Attributes and History of the Dung Gate
Location and Architectural Features
The Dung Gate is located on the south wall of Jerusalem’s Old City, in close proximity to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Architecturally, it is a modest gate compared to others in the Old City walls, with a simple rectangular entrance flanked by two square towers. Some key features include:
- The gate measures around 9 meters (29 feet) wide and 15 meters (49 feet) high
- There are remnants of an arched entryway made of large rectangular stones from the medieval period
- The square towers rise approximately 12 meters (39 feet) tall on both sides
Gate’s Name and Sanitation Functions
The Dung Gate earned its unsavory name from its use as an exit point for waste and refuse from Jerusalem during ancient and medieval times. Animal ashes and human excrement would be transported through the gate to the Kidron Valley below.
The gate served critical sanitation functions, helping maintain cleanliness and hygiene in the densely populated city.
Some scholars theorize the gate’s name actually derives from a mispronunciation of the Biblical name “Gate HaAshpot” which meant “Refuse Gate.” Over time, the name evolved into “Dung Gate.” Regardless of its origin, the name and purpose have remained consistent for millennia.
Destruction and Rebuilding Over the Centuries
As a vital defender of Jerusalem’s security, the Dung Gate has endured episodes of destruction yet been repeatedly rebuilt. According to Biblical accounts, it was likely part of fortifications built under King Hezekiah’s orders in the 8th century BCE and destroyed during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.
The gate was rebuilt in Second Temple times under Herod the Great.
The gate suffered damage during medieval battles including the Crusader-Ayyubid War and Siege of Jerusalem by Saladin’s forces. Most recently, it was blown up by Jordanian troops during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and left in ruins until Israel gained control of the Old City in 1967.
Israel restored the Dung Gate to its previous dimensions after the Six Day War, honoring its long legacy.
Biblical Significance and Spiritual Meanings
Gateway to the City of David
The Dung Gate was the main entrance to the City of David in ancient Jerusalem. As the primary passageway into the fortress that King David captured and made his capital, the Dung Gate held great strategic importance (Biblical Archaeology Society).
It served as the gateway between the royal stronghold and the rest of Jerusalem.
Fulfillment of Nehemiah’s Prophecy and Work
When Nehemiah led the effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls after the Babylonian destruction, his opponents mocked his efforts, questioning if he intended to “rebel against the king” (Nehemiah 2:19). But Nehemiah persevered, and the completion of the walls and gates fulfilled his bold prophecy that “the God of heaven will give us success” (Nehemiah 2:20).
The reconstructed Dung Gate stood as a testament to this fulfillment.
Symbol of Servanthood and Humility
As the gate through which offal and other waste was removed from the city, the Dung Gate represented the dirty but necessary work that kept Jerusalem functioning. It symbolized the humility and selflessness of serving others, taking on tasks no one else wanted to do.
Jesus demonstrated this kind of servanthood, taking the role of a lowly servant and humbly giving his life for others (Mark 10:45).
Connection to Jesus’ Servant Ministry
When Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Dung Gate on Palm Sunday, he purposefully chose a humble gate used by servants to set the tone for his self-sacrificial mission (Luke 19:28-44). This connected with Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah coming gently and humbly, “righteous and having salvation” for his people (Zechariah 9:9).
As Jesus headed towards the agonizing sacrifice of the cross after entering through this gate, the Dung Gate became linked with his ultimate act of humble servanthood in laying down his life.
The Dung Gate in Jewish Tradition and Imagery
Role in Temple Rituals and Priests’ Duties
The Dung Gate, located on the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City, played an important functional role in ancient Temple rituals. As its name indicates, it served as a gate through which priests carried out the ashes and offal from the altar fires and animal sacrifices at the Jewish Temple.
The gate offered the most direct access route between the Temple Mount and the Kidron Valley below, where the refuse could be properly disposed.
The priests took their duties of removing the dung and keeping the Temple grounds clean very seriously, as purity and holiness were central principles in ancient Judaism. Biblical passages emphasize the need to transport the waste “outside the camp” (Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:21).
So the Dung Gate provided the ideal passageway to fulfill this obligation.
Importance for Modern Jewish Identity and Statehood
Though no longer used for removing literal dung today, the Dung Gate remains spiritually significant for Jews in modern times. It stands as a symbol of ancient priestly duties and the longing to restore ritual Temple practices.
After the gate was reopened when Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, some religious Zionists installed a yeshiva nearby as a gesture of restoring Jewish roots in the sacred city.
The area inside the Dung Gate also leads towards the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site. So Jews regularly pass through this gate on their way to the Wall, reinforcing its role in connecting present rituals with ancient traditions.
From political and military perspectives, Israeli authorities view the Dung Gate as a sensitive location needing tight security control to protect these sites so central to Jewish identity.
Representations in Folklore, Poetry and Art
Given its colorful name and vital part in Temple rituals, the Dung Gate often appears in Jewish literature and creative works. An old rabbinic saying hints at the smelly loads carried out by quipping: “Whoever did not see Jerusalem in her glory, did not see a beautiful great city.
Whoever did see her in her ruins – did not see a lowly city.”
Poems and songs also adopted the Dung Gate name as a metaphor for Jewish exile. For instance, Arthur Szyk created famous illumination artworks in the 1930s depicting sad priests grieving at a desolate Dung Gate to portray the sorrow of Jews yearning to return to a restored Jerusalem.
So while initially a mundane functional landmark, the site evolved into a resonant creative symbol.
Christian Perspectives: Carrying Our Cross
Jerusalem’s Dung Gate holds deep spiritual meaning for Christians regarding carrying one’s cross. This ancient gate leads out to the Valley of Hinnom, believed to be the place where Jesus carried his cross on the Via Dolorosa towards his crucifixion (John 19:17).
Just as Jesus bore his great burden, Christians believe they too must carry their own crosses in life.
The Cross of Suffering
Christians point to Jesus’ example of enduring unjust persecution and death on the cross. Though innocent, he willingly took upon himself the sins and sufferings of humanity. Similarly, Christians believe God can redeem the hardships they face for spiritual growth and bring good out of evil (Romans 8:28).
Sufferings born out of love and truth carry spiritual meaning.
Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Lord, either show me another way, or give me the strength to carry this cross. “ Many saints found deep meaning in their sufferings, keeping their eyes fixed on Christ. They used their crosses as opportunities to grow in virtues like patience, forgiveness, compassion, and sacrifice for others.
The Cross of Service
Christians also point to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet as an example of humble service (John 13:1-17). Though their Lord and Teacher, he demonstrated that greatness comes from serving others, not being served.
Christians believe that through serving those in need, they serve Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46).
Carrying one’s cross means using one’s gifts and talents to help alleviate the burdens of those struggling under heavy loads. This can occur through personal acts of service or working for social justice on a societal level.
As Dag Hammarskjöld said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own. “
Meaning Found Through the Cross
The Dung Gate represents the crosses Christians carry, but also the meaning found in and through them. The dung and waste expelled through this gate were used by villagers to fertilize their crops. What looked like refuse contained elements bringing life.
So too Christians believe their crosses, though difficult burdens, can nourish souls and communities.
Crosses unite Christians with the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of humanity. They break open hearts to compassion and hands to service. Though heavy yokes, they harness potential energy that can lift fallen souls, feed hungry bodies, and cultivate the growth of God’s kingdom on earth.
The Dung Gate leads to death but also to resurrected life.
Despite its modest name, the Dung Gate bears witness to the spiritual ideals of servanthood, sacrifice and redemption through history. As Nehemiah prophesied, this portal contains many clues about God’s purposes for Jerusalem.
And for believers today, it remains a call to humble service after Christ’s own example.