The holiest mountain in Jerusalem is undoubtedly the Temple Mount. It was the site a Canaanite tomb and threshing floor, two Jewish temples, a Christian Church, and Crusaders military center. Now days it is a sacred Muslim compound. Despite the limited research and access to the site, the Temple Mount is still one of the most fascinating tourist destinations in the Holy Land.
History of the Site
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 a temple at its top (I Kings 6-7).
This temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE yet 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 plaza (temenos) around the temple, by constructing retaining walls. The temple itself was replaced with a new larger and grander edifice.
Jesus and the Temple Mount
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 eventually destroyed.
In the year 66 CE the Jews made a fatal mistake of attempting to rebel against the Roman empire. The consequences were swift and dramatic. A Roman joint force suppressed the rebellion with much power and cruelty, burning the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the summer of year 70 CE. The Jewish Temple would never be built again.
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.
By Muslim tradition, an indentation in the corner of the rock bears the supposed footprint of Mohammad formed when he ascended to heaven to receive the prayers.
The Western Wall of the Temple Mount
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 the Western Wall is viewed as the second holiest Jewish site in the world, after the nearby Temple Mount. By Jewish faith the Temple Mount is well remembered as the place of a former temple, and the place where a temple will be built again, at the end of times.
Touring the Temple Mount
Now days a visit to the Temple Mount is quite limited. It is open for tourists only 5 days a week, and only for a few hours each time. Furthermore, entering the Temple mount involves a long line for security inspection, and following a very strict modest dress code. On the mountain one can see mostly Muslim architecture, and especially the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. But with proper guidance, at certain location it is still possible to track remains from the time of the Jewish Temple.
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