Trembling Before God; Jerusalem’s First Virtual Reality Tour Zooms in on Second Temple

Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and has charged me with building Him a House in Yerushalayim, which is in Yehuda. Any one of you of all His people, Hashem his God be with him and let him go up. II Chronicles 36:23 (The Israel Bible™)

Jerusalem’s ancient stories, places and people have come alive with new virtual reality (VR) technology as Israel’s first VR mobile walking tour was launched at the Tower of David on September 3rd.

The tour features reconstructed views of Jerusalem during Second Temple times by Lithodomos VR, partnered with the Tower of David Innovation Lab, launched in October 2017 and funded by a Jerusalem Development Authority investment that aims to grow the city’s tech scene, pilots innovative solutions that enhance the museum experience for visitors.

Starting at the Tower of David museum and ending in the Jewish Quarter, one experiences modern Jerusalem and steps inside breathtaking reconstructions of ancient Jerusalem with a virtual reality headset to better understand what each area looked like over time. The narrated voice accompanying the visuals includes commentary and history about ancient religious life, social classes and commercial activities.

The penultimate stop includes an overall view of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period, which then zooms into the Temple as one imagines him or herself standing on the Temple Mount in front of the Temple walls with a 360 degree view.  

Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum talks about the virtual reality tour. (Credit: Eliana Rudee/Breaking Israel News)

Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum expressed her excitement that with VR technology, visitors can explore the city of today and step into history.

“Visitors are no longer limited by time and space, and every visitor can be immersed in this unique experience,” she said, adding that VR will “fill in the missing pieces” of a traditional museum visit and provide the visitor with a full picture and a deeper understanding of Herod’s Jerusalem.

Tower of David’s goals, she told Breaking Israel News, include engaging the young generation in archaeology and the Bible and understanding one’s past and identity using technology, the language of the 21st century.

“You are a better person if you are laying on your rich history because when Jews, Christians and Muslims see that we share the same source, we will be more likely to accept the other,” she said.

Likewise, Dr. Simon Young, founder, executive archaeologist and content curator of Lithodomos VR told Breaking Israel News, “seeing something in virtual reality creates an immediate sense of empathy.”

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He maintained that it can also strengthen one’s connection to religion as “seeing something scientifically proven from biblical stories makes the stories more real by placing them in context.”

“We read about Herod in the bible but don’t picture what he was like. But when we see his home and are there, feeling inside that palace, it becomes more real,” he continued.

Similarly, Lieber asserted, “We know biblical stories are colorful and as historians and curators, our mission is to engage with the Biblical stories just like historical stories – rich with remains”

Thus, the tour sources information from the Bible, archaeologists and modern research to give the visitors the best visual experience together with the original remains.

Tech, Lieber said, is the most engaging tool used to story tell.

“We know the difference between reading a book and watching a movie – people can enjoy both but it’s a different experience,” she explained. But not only is this story entertaining, it’s a “story we can learn from and find our identity as we see history coming back,” said Lieber.

The experience of stepping foot into Temple times is particularly relevant nearing the high holidays, as Jews around the world celebrate Sukkot, a festival in which pilgrims came from all over the world two thousand years ago to lay sacrifices at King Herod’s Temple.  

As such, this Sukkot, the tour will run for the general public so people can experience Jerusalem as did the pilgrims millennia ago.  

“We hope people coming to Jerusalem and participating in Sukkot will be able to grasp the magnificence of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago,” said Caroline Shapiro, director of international public relations and strategic communications for the Tower of David Museum.

“This is a watershed moment,” she declared, looking forward to exporting this technology to museums worldwide.