Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

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The book leads the reader into the intricate history, geography, and politics of this unique site. It relates the roots of its holiness, describes the succession of temples built on it, and explains how in the twentieth century its sanctity became intertwined with the national aspirations of both Jews and Arabs. It explains why the Temple Mount is considered the holiest site for the Jews, and how it became holy also to the Muslims. The book also explores the role of evangelical Christians, who, alongside a segment of the Jewish population, see the Temple Mount as the center of messianic aspirations, fed by the myriad of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim legends and myths which evolved around it. The book is richly illustrated with photographs, sketches, maps, and plans.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Through unrestrained hyperbole, Gonen aims to illuminate "perhaps the oldest holy site in the world"-the Temple Mount, sacred to the three great monotheistic traditions. A retired curator of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, she provides a general history of the Mount, beginning with Canaan in roughly 1850 B.C.E. and moving through Jewish, Christian, and Muslim occupation up to the present era. Along the way, she covers mythology, legends, archaeology, anthropology, and, lastly, political considerations. The text, which is liberally peppered with illustrations, does better with the Jewish and Islamic material than with the Christian (she feels that Jesus' claims to rebuild the Temple were literal). In addition, her comprehensive view leads to somewhat expansive assertions that can be jarring; for example, she assumes that the authors of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (which declared Britain's sympathy for Zionism) were educated on the Bible, as were all English people, and that the Jewish return to the homeland was an act dictated by God rather than an eschatological prelude to the return of Jesus. Given the number of other works available on sacred Jerusalem (e.g., Karen Armstrong's Jerusalem or Herschel Shank's Jerusalem), this is a marginal purchase at best.-Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881257991
  • Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 191

Read an Excerpt



By Rivka Gonen

KTAV Publishing House, Inc.

Copyright © 2003

Rivka Gonen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-88125-799-0

Chapter One

Laying the Foundation Stone for the Third Temple

On the Jewish festival of Succot (Tabernacles)
in the fall of 1989, the Faithful of the Temple
Mount, a group of national-religious Jews
organized in 1982, added a new element to
their yearly procession to the holy Mount.
Every year at this time the group would come
to the foot of the Temple Mount next to the
Western Wall and try to go up the ramp that
leads to the Mughrabi Gate, the one entrance
through which non-Muslims could enter the
Mount. Their clearly proclaimed intention
was to conduct festive prayers on the Temple
Mount, an act prohibited by both the Israeli
and the Muslim authorities. In 1989 the participants
brought with them a large stone; they
hoped to carry it up to the Mount and there
lay it as the cornerstone of the Third Temple.
In preparation for the event, the group printed
huge posters describing their aims. Posted
on the walls in religious and national-religious
neighborhoods where likely sympathizers
of such an activity lived, the posters called
upon the public to join the procession.

Similar posters have appeared every year
since. The 2001 poster, for example, called the
public to witness two stones weighing 4.5 tons
each that would be taken up to the Temple
Mount. It further promised what could not be
promised in 1989, when preparations to build
the Temple were not yet far advanced: that the
Temple's architect would present the plans as
well as a large model of the Third Temple. The
gilded incense altar and other Temple utensils
would also be displayed during the procession.
A priest (kohen) dressed in an exact handwoven
copy of the garment worn by the
Temple priests, accompanied by members of
the Tribe of Levi with musical instruments,
would also be present. After placing the foundation
stone on the Temple Mount, the procession,
so the poster read, would proceed to
the Siloam Spring at the foot of the City of
David for the Pouring of the Water ceremony
that is part of the Succot festivities. The poster
ended with a message to "our enemies, our
weak leaders, and the whole world that we
will never give up our holy Temple Mount,
Jerusalem, and one grain of the land of our
fathers." Although the 1989 procession did
not achieve its aim and was not allowed on
the Temple Mount to lay the cornerstones, the
reaction of the Arab authorities and public
was severe. Arabs who at the time of the procession
were praying in the Muslim shrines on
the Temple Mount began throwing stones at
the Jews conducting their festive Succot
prayers at the Western Wall at the foot of the
Temple Mount. The police on that occasion
managed to quickly control the violence.

Because of the severe 1989 clashes instigated
by the activities of the Faithful of the
Temple Mount, the police prepared for Succot
1990 events. They announced in all Jewish and
Arab media that the Faithful would not be
allowed even to come close to the Temple
Mount. The Faithful on their side proclaimed
that they would not only attempt to bring a
foundation stone but would erect a succah
(temporary tabernacle commemorating the
dwellings of the Israelites in the desert during
the Exodus) next to the Mughrabi Gate. The
Muslim authorities reacted in full force and
called on their people to come up to the
Mount and stop with their bodies the laying of
the foundation stone. On October 7 masked
people passed from house to house in one of
the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem
demanding that their residents participate in
the organized rally.

The Palestinian media as well as the
Hamas movement gave the issue much publicity.
The next day, October 8, 1990, about
2,000 Arab demonstrators, including school-children
and their teachers, gathered on the
Temple Mount, while some 25,000 Jews congregated
at the Western Wall for the ceremony
of the Priest's Blessing held during the
Succot festival. Throughout the morning the
Arab demonstrators attacked the Jewish border
policemen stationed on the Mount.
Several policemen escaped through the gates,
which were immediately closed; others on the
Mount locked themselves in the police station,
which was set on fire. The demonstrators
threw stones down at the Jews praying by the
Western Wall. Police reinforcements forced
their way through the blocked Mughrabi Gate
and controlled the multitude with rubber bullets,
smoke grenades, and rifles. Seventeen
Arabs were killed in the clashes and fifty-three
wounded. Twenty-one policemen and
nine of the worshippers at the Western Wall
were also wounded. These were the most
severe clashes that ever took place over the
issue of the Temple Mount. For fear the violence
would spill over, the army put a curfew
on towns and refugee camps in the West
Bank. The entire Muslim world, many countries
around the world, and the UN Security
Council strongly denounced Israel for these

Even after these deadly events, the
Faithful of the Temple Mount did not stop
their attempts to enter the Temple Mount on
various festivals throughout the year and perform
such ceremonies as lighting Hanukkah
candles or sacrificing the Passover lamb. Their
applications to the police to enter the Mount
are always rejected, as are their repeated
appeals to the High Court of Justice to force
the police to allow them to do so.

Despite the huge posters in the streets of
Jerusalem, the number of people who participate
in this annual event is quite small and
diminishing each year. However, every year
the police must prevent the procession from
entering the Temple Mount, and every year
they push the demonstrators farther away
from the gateway. Every year the Muslim
authorities in charge of the Temple Mount use
this rather extraordinary event to arouse widespread
public anger against the manifest
attempts of the Jews to build the Third
Temple, an act that implies the destruction of
the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.
Many Jews, both secular and rabbinical as well
as religious members of the Israeli parliament
(Knesset), fervently denounce these activities
of the Faithful of the Temple Mount on
grounds that they only cause ongoing anger
and sometimes, as in 1989, lead to violence.
Some even remind the organizers of the processions
that according to a time-honored
Jewish belief the Third Temple will be not be
built by human hand but by God himself.

The 1989-1990 incidents have all the elements
of the contest over the Temple Mount.
The two major contestants-the Jews and the
Arabs-are well represented. To the Jews the
Temple Mount is the holiest place on earth,
the place where God manifested himself to
King David and where two Jewish Temples-Solomon's
Temple and the Second Temple-were
located. It is also the place where,
according to mystical beliefs, the world began
and where it will come to an end. The sanctity
of the Mount has been enhanced during millennia
of Jewish exile through daily prayers,
and special customs have evolved to keep the
memory of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
alive. The unexpected victory of the Israeli
army during the 1967 Six-Day War, culminating
in the capture of Jerusalem and the
Temple Mount, was viewed by some as a sign
from God that the Days of the messiah were
near. Now that Jerusalem and the Temple
Mount were in Jewish hands, they believed, it
was the duty of the people to begin making
preparations for the building of the Temple,
thereby accelerating the arrival of the messiah.

The Faithful of the Temple Mount have
spearheaded many activities in Jerusalem and
elsewhere since 1967 to prepare for the building
of the Third Temple. Not everyone in the
national-religious circles, however, agreed
with the haste in which several sections of the
movement began to operate. Indeed, there
were conflicting views even among the sages
of the past concerning the order of events relating
to the coming of the messiah. According to
a statement in the Jerusalem Talmud, the
Temple may be built prior to the establishment
of a Jewish kingdom that will be ruled by the
descendants of King David (Ta'anit 5:1). The
great rabbi and philosopher Moses
Maimonides, on the other hand, proclaimed
that the Kingdom of Israel and the Dynasty of
David should come first, as indeed was the
order of things in the past, and only then
would the Temple be built. There were also
conflicting views on how the Temple will be
built. As against those who preach "Temple
now" and actively prepare for its construction,
Jewish mystical thought placed the building of
the Temple in the hands of God, believing that
when the proper time comes the Temple will
descend from heaven complete with all its finery
and necessary utensils.

Similarly, there is no unified present-day
Israeli-Jewish point of view regarding the
future of the Temple Mount. National-religious
circles such as the Faithful of the Temple
Mount view our times as the beginning of the
days of the messiah and believe it is necessary
to take over the Temple Mount and build the
Third Temple so that the messianic events will
start rolling. They are working in various
ways to get all the necessary aspects of
Temple worship ready for that day. These circles
see the Israeli-Arab conflict as a broad
religious conflict between Judaism and Islam,
centered on the control of the site of the
Temple Mount, which they consider to be of
exclusive Jewish holiness. They therefore are
not prepared even to consider a compromise
over it, let alone give it away to the Muslims.

On the other side stand the majority of the
nonreligious and also many of the religious
Jews in Israel and around the world who take
a more sober view of the situation. They see
the Israeli-Arab conflict as centering on political
rather than religious issues. They realize
that although no one doubts the sacredness of
the Temple Mount to the Jews, the nation
managed to live successfully without control
over it for the 2,000 years since the Second
Temple was destroyed. These circles believe
that if Israel assumed total control over the
Mount in preparation for the building of the
Third Temple, the worldwide conflict that this
act would create might lead to a third world
war. These moderate circles are therefore
ready to compromise over many territorial
issues between Israel and a future Palestinian
State, and some extreme left-wingers even
consider giving up the Temple Mount to
absolute Muslim control. Moderate views to
the effect of putting aside, at least for the time
being, the mystical aspirations and trying to
contain any violence that may erupt have
been voiced time and again by the Israeli government
and Supreme Court, which have
often been called upon called to express their
view on the issue. This indeed was the reaction
of the Israeli authorities in the 1989-1990
incidents. While pursuing this policy, the government
of Israel and its parliament (Knesset)
have been considering various options for a
compromise over the Temple Mount and
Jerusalem as a whole. These proposed options
will be explored later in the book.

For the Muslims, who took over Jerusalem
from the Christian Byzantines in 638, the
Temple Mount in Jerusalem is regarded a holy
Muslim site, third only to the mosques of
Mecca and Medina in Arabia. It attained this
position by being the assumed destination of
the mythical Night Flight of the Prophet
Muhammad. Influenced by Jewish legends,
the Muslims also regard the Temple Mount
the site where humanity will face the Last
Judgment, an event that will mark the end of
the days. Muslims have exerted full control
over the Temple Mount for some 1,300 years,
except for a short period between 1099 and
1187 when the Christian Crusaders established
their kingdom in the Holy Land and
turned the Temple Mount into a church site.
When the British received a mandate over
Palestine in 1920, and then when Israel
assumed control over Jerusalem in 1967, the
local Arabs came under non-Muslim rule.
Rather than being overlords, they were now
reduced to the position of subjects and turned
to a policy of defending their holy sites
against possible foreign incursion. The Arab
reaction to Israeli control over the Temple
Mount since 1967 has become extremely
defensive, its authorities and population
fiercely resisting any actual or suspected violation
of the Temple Mount, the Haram a-Sharif.
Often backed by the rest of the Muslim
world, the Arab reaction represents an ongoing
apprehension that the Jewish national-religious
circles will eventually have their way
and the Jews indeed destroy their holy shrines
on the Temple Mount. To prevent ceding any
part of the vast 33.5-acre esplanade of the
Temple Mount, the Muslims began referring
to the entire area as the al-Aqsa Mosque, thus
extending the sacredness over all of it, including
the walls that surround it.

The apprehension about a Jewish takeover
did not begin with Israel's 1967 victory. It had
been the main issue of the Jewish-Arab conflict
during the period of the British Mandate
over Palestine (1920-1948) and was an important
trigger in the development of an Arab
national movement, as will be elaborated in
chapter 5. Thus, as in the case of the Jews,
Arab religious and national interests are intertwined,
as is expressed by the demand that
the future Palestinian State have Jerusalem as
its capital, and the Haram a-Sharif be forever
under Arab control. It is for this reason that
photographs and posers of the Dome of the
Rock, the dazzling Muslim structure on the
Temple Mount, decorate every Arab house
and office and are a favored background for
official photos of the Arab leadership.

What is the role of Christianity in this
complicated picture? The stake of Christianity
in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is
twofold. Relations between Christianity and
Judaism have always revolved around the
notion that Christians replaced Jews as the
people of the promise. Once the Jewish kingdom
of Judah, with its capital Jerusalem and
its Temple, fell to the Romans in 70 CE, its
people were exiled and became a dispersed
and despised nation. These events occurred
shortly after the life and death of Jesus and the
formation of Christianity, a religion that was
developed by the disciples of Jesus. After 300
years of persecution, the new religion became
the state religion of the Roman Empire in the
fourth century CE. It then began viewing itself
as the victorious, true Israel, inheritor of all of
God's promises.

The establishment of the State of Israel in
1948 and the subsequent takeover of the Old
City with all its holy Christian sites reversed the
millennia-old order of things. The Vatican,
speaking for the Christian world, could not
agree to the new situation in which the Jews
ruled over Christian sacred places.

by Rivka Gonen
Copyright © 2003 by Rivka Gonen.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Laying the Foundation for the Third Temple 1
Ch. 2 The Temple Mount: Location, History, and Contemporary Features 9
Where Is the Temple Mount? 9
A Short Historical Background 13
The Temple Mount Today 17
The Lower Platform 26
The Underground Level 29
Ch. 3 Locating Holiness 36
How Does a Place Become Holy? 36
Choosing the Temple Location 37
What Was the Exact Site of the Temple? 41
Ch. 4 Contesting Shrines 47
The First Temple 47
The Second Temple 60
The Temple Mount Under Pagans and Christians 77
The Revival of the Temple Mount Under the Muslims 83
The Crusaders on the Temple Mount 98
The Return of the Muslims 104
Ch. 5 Legends, Beliefs, and Aspirations Regarding the Temple Mount 113
The Temple Mount as a Locus of Legend 113
Jewish Myths and Legends 115
Christian Myths and Legends 123
Muslim Myths and Legends 124
Ch. 6 A Century of National-Religious Conflict Between Jews and Arab 133
The Conflict in the Ottoman Period 133
Jews and Arabs under British Mandate, 1920-1948 135
The 1948 War and Its Consequences 144
Ch. 7 The Present Conflict 147
The Six-Day War and Its Aftermath 147
The Status Quo 149
Jordan's Position on the Temple Mount 151
The Issue of Jewish Prayer on the Temple Mount 152
Should a Synagogue Be Built on the Temple Mount? 155
Attempts to Destroy the Temple Mount 156
Preparations to Build the Third Temple 159
Archaeological Excavations Around the Temple Mount 161
Muslim Activities on the Temple Mount 167
Proposals for Settling the Conflict over the Holy Sites 171
Postscript 177
Bibliography 179
Index 190
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