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30. The Temple Mount

Reputed to be the Holiest city in land of Israel, and perhaps in the whole world, Jerusalem is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. The holiest mountain in Jerusalem is undoubtedly the Temple Mount.

By Jewish tradition the Temple Mount is where “the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7). It is also where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19). The Book of Samuel records how later David bought this mountain from Aravnah the Jebusite, and later David’s son Solomon built the temple to the Lord (I Kings 6-7).

This temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and rebuilt some fifty years later by Jews returning from Babylonian exile. The re-built temple was defiled by Antiochus IV, igniting the Maccabean revolt. After three years of struggle the Maccabeans managed to reach the temple and purify it. The festival of Hanukkah commemorates the event to this day. In the first century BCE Herod the Great, with his passion for building, more than doubled the size of the temple mountain by constructing retaining walls around the temple. The temple itself was replaced with a new larger and grander edifice.

It was in front of this temple that Jesus was presented to the Lord as a baby (Luke 2:22), and when he was twelve, he remained there for three days and talked to teachers (Luke 2:42-50). As an adult, in the vicinity of this temple Jesus argued with the Pharisees (John 10), and at the Passover here he overturned the tables of the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12). Furthermore, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51), and as he had prophesied, the temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

constructed image of the Temple Mount in the time of the Temple after the renovations of king Herod "the Great" © Eilat Mazar

621 years later the Muslims, at the very same spot where the temple stood, completed the “Dome of the Rock”, a monumental octagonal edifice. By Muslim tradition the Dome of the Rock marks the very spot from where Mohammad ascended to heaven to receive the five daily prayers of Islam. The Dome of the Rock was renovated several times, notably in the reign of Suleiman the magnificent, who replaced the exterior mosaics with tiles. The last major renovation was done in 1998, when King Hussein of Jordan sponsored the installation of 5000 new golden tiles on the outer face of the Dome, at the cost of 8.2 million USD. In the center of the building is the rock where, according to Islamic tradition, Ishmael (not Isaac) was to be sacrificed, and an indentation in the corner of the rock the supposed footprint of Mohammad is presented.

An image of the Dome of the Rock, a seventh century CE Muslim edifice which, by Muslim tradition, marks the spot where Ishmael was to be sacrificed, and the place from where Mohammad ascended to Heaven to receive the five daily prayers of Islam. Photo © D Herman

Since the 16th century Jews began to venerate the Western Wall, one of the remaining retaining wall of the Temple Mount, arguing that it is the closest to where the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple used to be.

Today it is considered the second holiest Jewish site in the world, after the nearby Temple Mount, which once held the Temple, and by Jewish belief will hold the Temple again, at the end of times.

My son, Tome, and I, in front of the Western Wall at his Bar-Mitzvah ceremony, 9.2007 Photo © Danny Herman

My son, Tome, and I, in front of the Western Wall at his Bar-Mitzvah ceremony, 9.2007 Photo © Danny Herman