As I’ve already mentioned in another entry, Solomon built the first temple on the site where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 24 and where David built an altar to God in repentance for his sinful choice to number the fighting men of Israel in 2 Samuel 7. Therefore, thousands of years ago, this place became a place of paramount holiness to the Jews.
In the 7th century AD, after Islam had burst onto the seen and Mecca and Medina had been conquered, From TempleMount.org: Muhammad is fabled to have “mounted on the winged steed called Al Burak ‘the Lightning’ and, with the angel Gabriel for escort, was carried from Makkah (Mecca), first to Sinai, and then to Bethlehem, after which they came to Jerusalem. ‘And when we reached Bait al Makdis, the Holy City,’ so runs the tradition, ‘we came to the gate of the mosque (which is the Haram Area), and here Jibrail (Gabriel) caused me to dismount. And he tied up Al Burak to a ring, to which the prophets of old had also tied their steeds.’ (Ibn al Athir’s Chronicle, ii. 37.) Entering the Haram Area by the gateway, afterwards known as the Gate of the Prophet, Muhammad and Gabriel went up to the Sacred Rock, which of old times had stood in the centre of Solomon’s Temple; and in its neighborhood meeting the company of the prophets, Muhammad proceeded to perform his prayer-prostrations in the assembly of his predecessors in the prophetic office Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others of God’s ancient apostles. From the Sacred Rock Muhammad, accompanied by Gabriel, next ascended, by a ladder of light, up into heaven; and, in anticipation, was vouchsafed the sight of the delights of Paradise.”
So, basically, after 1,000 years of real history, Muhammad (and this isn’t even in the Koran) supposedly rides a magical horse to Jerusalem (for no apparent reason), prays there, and then is taken to heaven on a ladder of light. And with that, the Muslims have claimed for 800 years that this particular piece of mountain is sacred to them too, and therefore endless battle over it.
It was clear that our tour guide deeply resents this entire thing. The Jews discount the Muslim story as a blatant attempt to intrude upon their holy site with the goal of simply being a thorn in their collective side. In other words, the Jews believe that the Muslims created this story and the Dome on the Rock just to piss them off, not because the spot holds any actual historic and spiritual significant for them And I tend to believe the Jewish account more than the Muslim one. (I’m sure you picked that up.)
Anyway, Herod the Great, just before Jesus’ day and long before the Muslims got there, greatly expanded this area. He built a massive retaining wall, and smoothed out the top of Mount Moriah to create a 15 acre temple mount esplanade. Then he greatly enlarged the temple that Ezra and Nehemiah had built hundreds of years before.
That temple – called the Zerubbabel temple – was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans when they pretty much leveled Jerusalem in general. Interestingly, the Roman commander ordered the soldiers NOT to destroy the temple, because Romans greatly valued architectural beauty. However, because there were rumors that the Jews had hidden massive quantities of gold in the walls of the temple, the soldiers burned it anyway, and then pried the stones apart looking for gold. Hence Jesus prophecy in Mark 13 (and elsewhere) was fulfilled that “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
We had to go through long lines at a security checkpoint to gain access to the Temple Mount. Once through security, we ascended a temporary wooden scaffold that was pretty rickety and actually made me a bit nervous. It didn’t help that on the way up there were stacks of riot shields that looked pretty well used. That took us up onto the temple mount esplanade.
The south end of the esplanade, which was the royal colonnade in Jesus’ day (where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in Matthew 21), now hosts a large masque called Al-Aqsa. The Dome of the Rock itself stands in the middle of the temple mount esplanade. It was fairly unimpressive to me. Of course, I’m predisposed against its presence there, so I guess that makes sense. It was obvious that a LOT of work had gone into creating the mosaic that surrounds it, and a big gold dome is also pretty cool. But otherwise, it was very plain.
We were not allowed inside, because we’re not Muslim, which makes sense. And I generally didn’t feel in danger or threatened in any way on the Temple Mount. I was impressed by its cleanness. There were trees planted on the mount, and I saw men sweeping up the needles that fell from the trees to keep the area as neat and clean as possible.
We also saw the eastern gate, which was sealed by the Muslims to be a thorn in the Jews’ side. More on that in my post about the Necropole, if you want to read it. I cover that ridiculousness pretty thoroughly there.
One other interesting thing was that there were natural markings in the marble from which the Dome of the Rock itself was built. One of the sections of marble looks like the following. I’m not into signs and portents, but this looks pretty creepy. What do you see when you look at this picture?
Our tour guide sees a demon and pointed it out to us. I guess a bunch of others do to. You be the judge.