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Temple Mount

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Temple Mount

Chain Dome.jpg

Basic Information

Location 31°46′40.7″N 35°14′8.9″E
Country Israel
City Jerusalem

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Geographical Coordinates 31.77797,35.23581



Summary

The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew (and in Judaism) as Har haBáyith (Hebrew: הַר הַבַּיִת‎) and in Arabic (and in Islam) as the Haram Ash-Sharif (Arabic: الحرم القدسي الشريف‎, al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf, Noble Sanctuary), is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years. At least four religions are known to have used the Temple Mount: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Roman paganism.


History and time period

Israelite period The hill is believed to have been inhabited since the 4th millennium BCE. Assuming collocation with the biblical Mount Zion, its southern section would have been walled at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, in around 1850 BCE, by Canaanites who established a settlement there (or in the vicinity) named Jebus. According to the Hebrew Bible, Mount Moriah was originally a threshing-floor owned by Araunah, a Jebusite. The prophet Gad suggested the area to King David as a fitting place for the erection of an altar to YHWH, since it was there a destroying angel was standing when God stopped a great plague in Jerusalem. David then bought the property from Araunah, for fifty pieces of silver, and erected the altar. YHWH instructed David to build a sanctuary on the site, outside the city walls on the northern edge of the hill. The building was to replace the Tabernacle, and serve as the Temple of the Israelites in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is an important part of Biblical archaeology. A stone (2.43x1 m) with Hebrew inscription "To the Trumpeting Place" excavated by Benjamin Mazar at the southern foot of the Temple Mount is believed to be a part of the Second Temple Much of the Mount's early history is synonymous with events pertaining to the Temple itself. After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II, construction of the Second Temple began under Cyrus in around 538 BCE, and completed in 516 BCE. Evidence of a Hasmonean expansion of the Temple Mount has been recovered by archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer. Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great further expanded the Mount and rebuilt the temple. The ambitious project, which involved the employment of 10,000 workers, more than doubled the size of Temple Mount to approximately 36 acres (150,000 m2). Herod leveled the area by cutting away rock on the northwest side and raising the sloping ground to the south. He achieved this by constructing huge buttress walls and vaults, filling the necessary sections with earth and rubble. A basilica (the Royal Stoa) was constructed on the southern end of the expanded platform, which provided a focus for the city's commercial and legal transactions, and which was provided with separate access to the city below via the Robinson's Arch overpass. In addition to restoration of the Temple, its courtyards, and porticoes, Herod also built Antonia Fortress abutting the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount, and a rainwater reservoir, Birket Israel, in the northeast. As a result of the First Jewish-Roman War, the fortress was destroyed by Roman emperor Vespasian, in 70 CE, under the command of his son and imperial heir, Titus.

Middle Roman period The city of Aelia Capitolina was built in 130 CE by the Roman emperor Hadrian, and occupied by a Roman colony on the site of Jerusalem, which was still in ruins from the First Jewish Revolt in 70 CE. Aelia came from Hadrian's nomen gentile, Aelius, while Capitolina meant that the new city was dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus, to whom a temple was built on the site of the former second Jewish temple, the Temple Mount. Hadrian had intended the construction of the new city as a gift to the Jews, but since he had constructed a giant statue of himself in front of the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Jupiter had a huge statue of Jupiter inside of it, there were now two enormous graven images on the Temple Mount. It was also the normal practice of the adherents of the Hellenic religion to sacrifice pigs before their deities. In addition to this, Hadrian issued a decree prohibiting the practice of circumcision. These three factors, the graven images, the sacrifice of pigs before the altar, and the prohibition of circumcision, constituted for non-Hellenized radical Zealot Jews a new abomination of desolation, and thus Bar Kochba launched the Third Jewish Revolt. After the Third Jewish Revolt failed, all Jews were forbidden on pain of death from entering the city.

Roman period About 325 it is believed that Constantine's mother, St. Helena, built a small church on the Mount in the 4th century, calling it the Church of St. Cyrus and St. John, later on enlarged and called the Church of the Holy Wisdom. The church was later destroyed and on its ruins the Dome of the Rock was built. Since it is known that Helena ordered the Temple of Venus to the west of the Temple Mount to be torn down to construct the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, presumably she also ordered the Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount to be torn down to construct the Church of St. Cyrus and St. John. In 363, Emperor Julian, on his way to engage Persia, stopped at the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Julian granted the Jews permission to begin rebuilding the Temple. To Christians, the destroyed Temple was a symbol of Christianity's triumph over Judaism, and Julian, was an opponent of Christianity. Rebuilding work began, but was ended by the Galilee earthquake of 363. There are records of Jews continuing to offer sacrifices on the Foundation Stone after the destruction of the Temple and into the Byzantine period.

Byzantine period Archaeological evidence in the form of an elaborate mosaic floor similar to the one in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and multiple fragments of an elaborate marble Templon (chancel screen) prove that an elaborate Byzantine church or monastery or other public building stood on the Temple Mount in Byzantine times, presumably the aforementioned Holy Wisdom Church. In 610, the Sassanid Empire drove the Byzantine Empire out of the Middle East, giving the Jews control of Jerusalem for the first time in centuries. The Jews in Palestine were allowed to set up a vassal state under the Sassanid Empire called the Sassanid Jewish Commonewealth which lasted for five years. Jewish rabbis ordered the restart of animal sacrifice for the first time since the time of Second Temple and started to reconstruct the Jewish Temple. Shortly before the Byzantines took the area back five years later in 615, the Persians gave control to the Christian population, who tore down the partially built Jewish Temple edifice and turned it into a garbage dump, which is what it was when the Caliph Omar took the city in the 630's. Arabic period Upon the capture of Jerusalem by the victorious Caliph Omar, Omar immediately headed to the Temple Mount with his advisor, Ka'ab al-Ahbar, a formerly Jewish rabbi who had converted to Islam, in order to find the holy site of the "Furthest Mosque" or Al Masjid al Aqsa which was mentioned in the Quran and specified in the Hadiths of being in Jerusalem. Ka'ab al-Ahbar suggested to Caliph Omar to build the Dome of the Rock monument on the site that Ka'ab believed to be the Biblical Holy of the Holies, arguing that this site is where Mohammad ascended to heaven during the Isra and Mi'raj miracle. The actual construction of the Muslim monuments at the southeast corner, facing Mecca, near which the al-Aqsa Mosque were built 78 years later. The original building is now known to have been wooden and to have been constructed on the site of a Byzantine public building with an elaborate mosaic floor. (The Persian conquest that immediately preceded the Arab conquest makes it uncertain who destroyed the building. In 691 an octagonal Islamic building topped by a dome was built by the Caliph Abd al-Malik around the rock, for a myriad of political, dynastic and religious reasons, built on local and Koranic traditions articulating the site's holiness, a process in which textual and architectural narratives reinforced one another. The shrine became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra قبة الصخرة). The dome itself was covered in gold in 1920. In 715 the Umayyads led by the Caliph al-Walid I, rebuilt the Temple's nearby Chanuyot into a mosque which they named al-Masjid al-Aqsa المسجد الأقصى, the al-Aqsa Mosque or in translation "the furthest mosque", corresponding to the Islamic belief of Muhammad's miraculous nocturnal journey as recounted in the Qur'an and hadith. The term al-Haram al-Sharif الحرم الشريف (the Noble Sanctuary) refers to the whole area that surrounds that Rock as was called later by the Mamluks and Ottomans. For Muslims, the importance of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque makes Jerusalem the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust). The various inscriptions on the Dome walls and the artistic decorations imply on symbolic eschatological significance of the structure. From the Arabic Conquest to the Crusades there seems to have been good relations between the Arab rulers and the Jewish minority. A Jewish synagogue was built on the Temple Mount. Its location has not been established, but it was destroyed by the Crusaders when they took the city and massacred the Jews and Muslims in 1099.

Ottoman period

Following the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in 1516, the Ottoman authorities continued the policy of prohibiting non-Muslims from setting foot on the Temple Mount until the early 19th-century, when non-Muslims were again permitted to visit the site. In 1867, a team from the Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant Charles Warren and financed by the Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.), discovered a series of underground tunnels near the Temple Mount. Warren secretly excavated some tunnels near the Temple Mount walls and was the first one to document their lower courses. Warren also conducted some small scale excavations inside the Temple Mount, by removing rubble that blocked passages leading from the Double Gate chamber. British Mandate period Between 1922 and 1924, the Dome of the Rock was restored by the Islamic Higher Council.

Jordanian period

Jordan undertook two renovations of the Dome of the Rock, replacing the leaking, wooden dome with an aluminum dome in 1952, and, when the new dome leaked, carrying out a second restoration between 1959 and 1964. Neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories during this period.

Israeli period

During the 1967 Six-Day War Israel captured the Temple Mount together with all of East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, who had controlled it since 1948. The Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, Shlomo Goren, led the soldiers in religious celebrations on the Temple Mount and at the Western Wall. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate also declared a religious holiday on the anniversary, called "Yom Yerushalayim" (Jerusalem Day), which also became a national holiday that commemorates the reunification of the city. Many Jews saw the capture of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as a miraculous liberation of biblical-messianic proportion. A few days after the war was over 200,000 Jews flocked to the Western Wall in the first mass Jewish pilgrimage near the mount since the destruction of Temple in 69 CE. However, the Israeli government subsequently left the Islamic waqf in control of the site. The site has become a flash-point between Israel and the Muslim world. On October 8, 1990, Israeli forces patrolling the site blocked worshipers from accessing it. A tear gas canister was accidentally detonated among the female worshipers, which caused events to escalate. Rocks were eventually thrown, while security forces fired rounds that ended up killing 20 people and injured around 140 more. An Israeli enquiry found Israeli forces at fault, but it also concluded that charges could not be brought against any particular individuals. Between 1992 and 1994, the Jordanian government undertook the unprecedented step of gilding the dome of the Dome of the Rock, covering it with 5000 gold plates, and restoring and reinforcing the structure. The Salah Eddin minbar was also restored. The project was paid for by King Hussein personally, at a cost of $8 million. The Second Palestinian Intifada is often cited as being sparked by a visit made to the Temple Mount by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon. He toured the site, together with a Likud party delegation and a large number of Israeli riot police, on September 28, 2000. The visit was seen as a provocative gesture by many Palestinians, who gathered around the site. Demonstrations soon turned violent, with both rubber bullets and tear gas being used. This event is often cited as one of the catalysts of the Second Intifada. Also in this period, Palestinian authorities have begun excavations at the Temple Mount, damaging the structural integrity of the site; see below





Notes

The Temple Mount forms the northern portion of a very narrow spur of hill that slopes sharply from north to south. Rising above the Kidron Valley to the east and Tyropoeon Valley to the west, its peak reaches a height of 740 m (2,428 ft) above sea level. In around 19 BCE, Herod the Great extended the Mount's natural plateau by enclosing the area with four massive retaining walls and filling the voids. This artificial expansion resulted in a large flat expanse which today forms the eastern section of the Old City of Jerusalem. The trapezium shaped platform measures 488 m along the west, 470 m along the east, 315 m along the north and 280 m along the south, giving a total area of approximately 150,000 m2 (37 acres). The northern wall of the Mount, together with the northern section of the western wall, is hidden behind residential buildings. The southern section of the western flank is revealed and contains what is known as the Western Wall. The retaining walls on these two sides descend many meters below ground level. A northern portion of the western wall may be seen from within the Western Wall Tunnel, which was excavated through buildings adjacent to the platform. On the southern and eastern sides the walls are visible almost to their full height. The platform itself is separated from the rest of the Old City by the Tyropoeon Valley, though this once deep valley is now largely hidden beneath later deposits, and is imperceptible in places. The platform can be reached via Bridge Street – a street in the Muslim Quarter at the level of the platform, actually sitting on a monumental bridge; the bridge is no longer externally visible due to the change in ground level, but it may be seen from beneath via the Western Wall Tunnel.


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