End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount

Overview

In this provocative work, seasoned journalist Gershom Gorenberg portrays a deadly mix of religious extremism, violence, and Mideast politics, as expressed in the struggle for the sacred center of Jerusalem. Known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, this thirty-five-acre enclosure at the southeast corner of Jerusalem's Old City is the most contested piece of real estate on earth. Here nationalism combines with fundamentalist faith in a volatile brew. Members of the ...

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The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount

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Overview

In this provocative work, seasoned journalist Gershom Gorenberg portrays a deadly mix of religious extremism, violence, and Mideast politics, as expressed in the struggle for the sacred center of Jerusalem. Known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, this thirty-five-acre enclosure at the southeast corner of Jerusalem's Old City is the most contested piece of real estate on earth. Here nationalism combines with fundamentalist faith in a volatile brew. Members of the world's three major monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—hold this spot to be the key to salvation as they await the end of the world, and struggle to fulfill conflicting religious prophecies with dangerous political consequences. Adroitly portraying American radio evangelists of the End, radical Palestinian sheikhs, and Israeli ex-terrorists, Gorenberg explains why believers hope for the End, and why prominent American fundamentalists provide hard-line support for Israel while looking forward to the apocalypse. He makes sense of the messianic fervor that has driven some Israeli settlers to oppose peace. And he describes the Islamic apocalyptic visions that cast Israel's actions in Jerusalem as diabolic plots. The End of Days shows how conflict over Jerusalem and the fiery belief in apocalypse continue to have a potent impact on world politics and why a lasting peace in the Middle East continues to prove elusive.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gorenberg...shows himself an insightful listener."—The New York Times Book Review

"Dismayingly good history....Gorenberg's book predicts not only the eruption but the location of each fault line."—Washington Post Book World

"A prescient and invaluable guide to understanding the collapse of the peace process and the dangerously escalating conflict that has replaced it....Gorenberg's vivid descriptions of the setting and his well-crafted development of the characters make this book read like a millennial thriller, leaving the reader with a bone-chilling sensation about the violent events currently unfolding in Jerusalem."—Boston Globe

"Gorenberg's prescience is manifest....This valuable study greatly enhances readers' grasp of [the] Middle East's religious and political complexities."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Few American journalists understand evangelical theology well enough to explain the Christian Right, few Israeli journalists take messianic Zionism seriously enough to explain the right-wing settlers, and few of either investigate Islam as more than a caricature. Gershom Gorenberg has the intellectual depth and journalistic curiosity to do all three, and as a result, his warnings chill the bone."—The New Republic

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although Gorenberg, an Israeli journalist, does not specifically address the recent violence at Temple Mount/Al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, anyone who seeks to understand the root of the fighting will find his thorough history of those 35 disputed acres to be indispensable. Gorenberg makes a stellar contribution to comprehending the troubled relationships among Arabs, Jews and Christians in Israel, meticulously analyzing the actions and beliefs of fundamentalist groups in all three religions. Jewish messianists and Christian millennialists insist that building the Third Temple on the site where both Solomon's and Herod's temples stood is essential for the advent of the Messiah, while Muslim apocalyptic believers fear that efforts to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque to make way for the Third Temple will prevent fulfillment of the prophecy about Islam's Meccan shrine migrating to Jerusalem at the end of time. Gorenberg writes objectively about advocates of each stance, slipping just once when he rejects the title of "martyr" for Baruch Goldstein (1994 killer of 29 Arabs in the Tomb of Patriarchs), calling that label "obscene." Gorenberg's prescience is manifest by his calling Temple Mount "a sacred blasting cap" and by stating that "any incident at the site can spin out of control." This valuable study greatly enhances readers grasp of the Middle East's religious and political complexities. (Dec.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Gorenberg (coauthor, Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin) offers an analysis of the ongoing apocalyptic obsession with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There will always be Jews, Christians, and Muslims who find millennialism appealing, he writes, because of the Kingdom of God's inherent power to address the injustices of an imperfect world. The belief in the apocalypse can spawn attempts to make it happen, and the author describes many instances when fringe groups have tried to achieve it. He explains the irony of different groups using each other to "bring about the end." For instance, in the 1990s, Christian evangelicals cooperated with Zionists in attempts to breed a pure red heifer, the sacrifice of which is a prerequisite for the building of the third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Essentially, argues Gorenberg, this is the way Christian fundamentalists make sense of supporting the Jewish state. This book is a sobering lesson on the power millennialism wields to this day and the danger of nihilism when such prophecies fail and extremists take matters into their own hands. Recommended for public libraries.--Loren Rosson III, Nashua P.L., NH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
John Dorfman
.Gorenberg, a senior editor and columnist at The Jerusalem Report, has conducted numerous interviews for The End of Days, in which he shows himself an insightful listener.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A 35-acre plot in Jerusalem is the navel of the world, focus of theological geopolitics and gateway to Heaven in three great religious traditions. It may also be the most dangerous place on earth, as Israeli journalist Gorenberg demonstrates. Israel has sovereignty over (but not management of) what Jews call the Temple Mount, the spot where they believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, where the First and Second Temples stood. Muslims call that same spot Al Haram al Sharif and identify it as the place from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven. Many fundamentalist Christians believe the End of Days is nigh and a messianic millennium will follow the destruction of unbelieving Jews—after they erect a new Temple. Some Jewish fundamentalists, anxious for the messiah's first coming, prepare to nudge the Almighty by erecting a Third Temple in the place where Solomon built the first. The necessary ingredients, like a sacrificial pure red heifer (provided by American believers), are being gathered. Muslims understand that Al Aksa and the Dome of the Rock, at their third most holy venue, are threatened. They react violently to any perceived incursion as they also await the end of time and the militant victory of Islam. Despite urgent eschatological beliefs, different holy places cannot occupy the same place at the same time until some laws of physics are divinely abrogated. Attempts have been made to destroy the Dome. Self-righteous murders have been committed as theological necessity. If terrorism ignites catastrophe, it's all according to revelation, prophesied in the intoxicated view of true believers. This real specter must be acknowledged in any discussion of prospects for peaceintheMiddle East, Gorenberg argues in this valuable analysis of millennial politics. It's truly Apocalypse Anytime Now. An important and necessary book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195152050
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 559,965
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Gershom Gorenberg is an associate editor and columnist for The Jerusalem Report, a regular contributor to The New Republic and an associate of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. He lives in Jerusalem, where he has spent years covering the dangerous mix of religion and politics.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction: The Beginning Is Nigh

The bell tolled at midmorning, summoning the faithful to their church. They trooped down the hillside silently; they'd abjured unnecessary speech, along with sex and liquor. Some stopped to pour out food they wouldn't need, covering the path with flour.

The members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, a shoot sprung from the trunk of Catholicism, had expected the world to end in 1992, in 1995, and on the last day of 1999. Despite their prophecies' failures, they'd continued recruiting new members. Now, on March 17, 2000, they knew the Virgin Mary was about to come to take them to heaven. They'd celebrated, slaughtering three bulls, at their compound at Kanungu in the fertile hills of south Uganda; they'd burned clothes and money, vestiges of earthly life. Inside the building, waiting, they sang and chanted. Someone nailed shut the doors and windows.

The End came in a flash of gasoline-fed flames.

Afterward, local police guessed that 530 people died in the fire. The dead were hard to count, since ashes were all that was left of many bodies. Within days, police found some four hundred more corpses buried in pits at Kanungu and other sect compounds. The signs were that they'd been stabbed, strangled, or poisoned in the weeks before the fire, though neighbors had heard nothing, no cries of resistance.

Ugandan officials described the case as mass murder, rather than mass suicide. They posited that the sects' leaders had escaped, taking the wealth of the members; warrants were issued for their arrest. An AP report referred to Credonia Mwerinde, who founded the movement after seeing visions of the Virgin, as a "huckster" and "charlatan." It fit a common description of "cults" that predict the End — con-man leader, duped followers. Perhaps that was less frightening than another possibility: that hoping for history's end and the kingdom of God, sane people had killed or had willingly died, based on beliefs an inch or three away from those of established religions. But in the first days after the fire, it was impossible to prove either explanation of the catastrophe. The witnesses had left this life.

One thing should be clear: A certain sigh of relief elsewhere in the world at the start of 2000 had been altogether premature. In the months before the turn of the millennium, media reports and security agency assessments warned that religious groups might commit violence to help the End begin. At the same time, newspapers carried

updates on concerns that the Y2K bug would stop computers at midnight, December 31, 1999. That whiff of techno-apocalypse helped merge the two concerns. So did the use of "millennium" to refer both to the Christian belief in God's kingdom on earth and to the biggest New Year's party ever. It was easy to get the impression that anyone predicting the End was expecting it that midnight, and that if anyone acted on the belief, that's when he'd do so. But the magic minute passed, the computers didn't even hiccup, and no "cultists" killed themselves. Ergo, the religious concerns were misplaced, just like the technological ones.

Just two and a half months later, fire swept through a Ugandan church. Reading the reports in Jerusalem, I was sickened, but not surprised.

As a journalist and an associate of the Center for Millennial Studies, I study people who believe we are living in history's final days. Popular depictions of such people are often simplistic, drawing too great a separation between "doomsday cults" and mainstream society. The fact is that millions of quite rational men and women, belonging to established religious movements around the globe, look forward to history's conclusion, to be followed by the establishment of a perfected era. They draw support from ideas deeply embedded in Western religion and culture. You don't need to go to central Africa to find them; they live in American suburbs; they work in insurance offices and high-tech startups. Some are influential leaders of America's Christian right.

Likewise, the fear that any outburst of violence would occur on January 1 was mistaken: It fed exaggerated concerns about that day, and overlooked more serious risks afterward. In fact, the Uganda tragedy fit a pattern familiar to researchers: The deaths came as a delayed reaction, after reality repeatedly defied prophecy. Worse, there was no reason to assume that the Ugandan case would be the last outburst of violence linked to expectations of the End. The turn of the millennium marked not the end of the danger, but the beginning of a dangerous time.

Living where I do, I take that danger seriously. If there's any place in the world where belief in the End is a powerful force in real-life events, it's the Holy Land. The territory today shared and contested by Jews and Palestinians is the stage of myth in Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam. When a great drama is played out here, the temptation to match events with the script of the Last Days can be irresistible. For a century just such a drama has been acted out, compelling the world's attention — and firing expectations in all three religions among those who hope for the End.

The impact of such belief on a complex national and religious struggle has received too little attention. It underlies the apocalyptic foreign policy promoted by many on the American religious right: support for Israel based on certainty that the Jewish state plays a crucial role in a fundamentalist Christian script for the End. In Israel, belief in final redemption has driven the most dedicated opponents of peace agreements. Among Muslims, expectation of the final Hour helps feed exaggerated fears about Israel's actions in Jerusalem. Belief in the approaching End has influenced crucial events in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Time and again, it has been the rationale behind apparently irrational bloodshed, and undermined efforts at peacemaking. In the worst case, desire for history's finale has the potential to spark all-out war in the Middle East.

And here's the paradox: The world's resolute refusal to end doesn't mute expectations; it turns them up. In the years to come, therefore, hope for the End will continue to exert political influence — and its potential to set off violence will only increase. That hope is more than a fantasy; it has the power to affect our world. The purpose of this book is to show why.

I came to Jerusalem from California in 1977. I was a year out of college. I came to study Judaism in the Holy City for a year, but I had a one-way ticket. I had nothing written down for the future. I fell in love with the place and, surprising myself, I stayed.

The America of my childhood had been the arena of outrageous hope: We could change the world, completely, by tomorrow. When I was fifteen, spending a summer as a volunteer in a legal aid office on the poor side of Los Angeles, I sat with friends on the floor of the house we shared, and we talked about what America would look like after the revolution. We had, of course, little clue as to what "revolution" meant, besides a mood expressed half by having long hair and half by spending a summer in south Los Angeles, suburban kids righteously slumming. At the university where I later studied, on the coast south of San Francisco, the mood of the sixties lasted halfway into the seventies. Fellow students had programs for remaking humanity: Marxism, lesbian feminism, offbeat spirituality. By the time I left for Israel, the mood of extravagant hope had passed, leaving a dry hangover in many mouths. My last year in America I spent in Berkeley. The town's telephone poles were the public notice boards, covered in countless layers of announcements. Already, flyers advertising new kinds of psychological therapy and meditation had buried all the famous calls to protest. My older sister, who'd thrilled me by getting arrested at a campus demonstration when I was in eighth grade, now commuted to a job she hated.

Through college, my own commitment to Jewish tradition deepened. There were many reasons, but two messages of that tradition matter for this story. One was messianism: faith that a time would come when war would end, oppression evaporate. Irreligious or anti-religious as my left-wing friends often were, it seemed obvious that this hope was the mother of their hopes. If we believed that the world should be radically different than it was, religion was responsible. The second message had the opposite import: People were inherently capable of both good and evil; that's what made them human. No change in the regime, class structure, or relations between the sexes would change that. Therefore, anyone hawking a program for a perfected world was selling a hollow promise. The two messages didn't live peacefully with each other, but both struck me as true.

In Israel, political passion had not gone out of fashion. Strangers argued politics on the bus. In a society where very little was rude, it was rude to phone someone during the evening TV news: The news mattered. There were a dozen political parties in parliament; banks and HMOs had party labels, even the soccer teams belonged to parties. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977, offering peace in return for the Sinai Peninsula. Everyone I knew, it seemed, went to demonstrations for or against. Simply deciding to live in the country rather than returning to an easier life in California would be a political statement. Eventually, I succumbed, trading my tourist visa for an immigrant's papers. After several years of study, in yeshivah (Talmudic seminary) and graduate school, I began a career as a journalist.

I wrote regularly on religion and politics. In particular, the ultranationalist Orthodox settlers of the West Bank gripped my attention. They were changing the map of the occupied territories, but they were also imposing a new map of Judaism. The settlers' ideology was messianism: The creation of Israel fulfilled prophecy, and the conquest of the West Bank was another step toward final redemption. They claimed to know God's program for history, and their place in it. For the most extreme, that hubris freed them of all moral constraints: In the mid-eighties, a group of settlers was arrested and convicted of terrorist acts against Palestinians and of plotting to destroy the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine at the center of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A central member of the group, Yehudah Etzion, told me after his release that "we saw ourselves as God's messengers, asking what He would want us to do."

This isn't where faith has to end up. But I wanted to lay bare at least part of the reasons that it sometimes does. In the process, I widened my focus to include all three of the religions that call Jerusalem sacred. I've listened to Muslim sheikhs explain how verses in the Koran foretell Israel's destruction, and to American evangelical ministers who insist on their deep love for Israel and nevertheless eagerly await apocalyptic battles on Israel's soil so terrible that the dry river beds will, they predict, fill with rivers of blood. I also came to realize that the center of my story had to be the Temple Mount. What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest.

Which is also an old story: A Jewish text records the debate of sages 1,800 years ago on why Cain murdered Abel. By naming what drove Cain to kill, each sage meant to identify the source of human violence. According to one, a twin sister was born with Abel; the brothers fought over who'd possess the only available woman. Another sage argued that the brothers agreed to divide everything in the world between them. One promptly claimed the clothes on his brother's back and ordered him to strip; the other claimed the ground under his brother's feet and shouted, "Fly." Blows followed, then blood.

The third sage, a Rabbi Levi, also said the brothers agreed to split the world. But then, he said, one claimed the land where the Temple would be built, the other insisted it was his, and "Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him."

The history of fratricide began, said Rabbi Levi, in an argument over who would own religion. It began with a fight over the Temple Mount.

Copyright © 2000 by Gershom Gorenberg

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Beginning Is Nigh
ONECattlemen of the Apocalypse
TWOThe History of the Future
THREE The Gate of Heaven
FOUR For God and Country
FIVE A Taste of Paradise
SIXConstruction Workers of the Lord
SEVEN The Divine Repertory Theater Company
EIGHT Awaiting the Hour
NINE The Day After the Last
TENAvoiding the Cain Option

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

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Introduction

The bell tolled at midmorning, summoning the faithful to their church. They trooped down the hillside silently; they'd abjured unnecessary speech, along with sex and liquor. Some stopped to pour out food they wouldn't need, covering the path with flour.

The members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, a shoot sprung from the trunk of Catholicism, had expected the world to end in 1992, in 1995, and on the last day of 1999. Despite their prophecies' failures, they'd continued recruiting new members. Now, on March 17, 2000, they knew the Virgin Mary was about to come to take them to heaven. They'd celebrated, slaughtering three bulls, at their compound at Kanungu in the fertile hills of south Uganda; they'd burned clothes and money, vestiges of earthly life. Inside the building, waiting, they sang and chanted. Someone nailed shut the doors and windows.

The End came in a flash of gasoline-fed flames.

Afterward, local police guessed that 530 people died in the fire. The dead were hard to count, since ashes were all that was left of many bodies. Within days, police found some four hundred more corpses buried in pits at Kanungu and other sect compounds. The signs were that they'd been stabbed, strangled, or poisoned in the weeks before the fire, though neighbors had heard nothing, no cries of resistance.

Ugandan officials described the case as mass murder, rather than mass suicide. They posited that the sects' leaders had escaped, taking the wealth of the members; warrants were issued for their arrest. An AP report referred to Credonia Mwerinde, who founded the movement after seeing visions of the Virgin, as a "huckster" and "charlatan." It fit a common description of "cults" that predict the End -- con-man leader, duped followers. Perhaps that was less frightening than another possibility: that hoping for history's end and the kingdom of God, sane people had killed or had willingly died, based on beliefs an inch or three away from those of established religions. But in the first days after the fire, it was impossible to prove either explanation of the catastrophe. The witnesses had left this life.

One thing should be clear: A certain sigh of relief elsewhere in the world at the start of 2000 had been altogether premature. In the months before the turn of the millennium, media reports and security agency assessments warned that religious groups might commit violence to help the End begin. At the same time, newspapers carried

updates on concerns that the Y2K bug would stop computers at midnight, December 31, 1999. That whiff of techno-apocalypse helped merge the two concerns. So did the use of "millennium" to refer both to the Christian belief in God's kingdom on earth and to the biggest New Year's party ever. It was easy to get the impression that anyone predicting the End was expecting it that midnight, and that if anyone acted on the belief, that's when he'd do so. But the magic minute passed, the computers didn't even hiccup, and no "cultists" killed themselves. Ergo, the religious concerns were misplaced, just like the technological ones.

Just two and a half months later, fire swept through a Ugandan church. Reading the reports in Jerusalem, I was sickened, but not surprised.

As a journalist and an associate of the Center for Millennial Studies, I study people who believe we are living in history's final days. Popular depictions of such people are often simplistic, drawing too great a separation between "doomsday cults" and mainstream society. The fact is that millions of quite rational men and women, belonging to established religious movements around the globe, look forward to history's conclusion, to be followed by the establishment of a perfected era. They draw support from ideas deeply embedded in Western religion and culture. You don't need to go to central Africa to find them; they live in American suburbs; they work in insurance offices and high-tech startups. Some are influential leaders of America's Christian right.

Likewise, the fear that any outburst of violence would occur on January 1 was mistaken: It fed exaggerated concerns about that day, and overlooked more serious risks afterward. In fact, the Uganda tragedy fit a pattern familiar to researchers: The deaths came as a delayed reaction, after reality repeatedly defied prophecy. Worse, there was no reason to assume that the Ugandan case would be the last outburst of violence linked to expectations of the End. The turn of the millennium marked not the end of the danger, but the beginning of a dangerous time.

Living where I do, I take that danger seriously. If there's any place in the world where belief in the End is a powerful force in real-life events, it's the Holy Land. The territory today shared and contested by Jews and Palestinians is the stage of myth in Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam. When a great drama is played out here, the temptation to match events with the script of the Last Days can be irresistible. For a century just such a drama has been acted out, compelling the world's attention -- and firing expectations in all three religions among those who hope for the End.

The impact of such belief on a complex national and religious struggle has received too little attention. It underlies the apocalyptic foreign policy promoted by many on the American religious right: support for Israel based on certainty that the Jewish state plays a crucial role in a fundamentalist Christian script for the End. In Israel, belief in final redemption has driven the most dedicated opponents of peace agreements. Among Muslims, expectation of the final Hour helps feed exaggerated fears about Israel's actions in Jerusalem. Belief in the approaching End has influenced crucial events in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Time and again, it has been the rationale behind apparently irrational bloodshed, and undermined efforts at peacemaking. In the worst case, desire for history's finale has the potential to spark all-out war in the Middle East.

And here's the paradox: The world's resolute refusal to end doesn't mute expectations; it turns them up. In the years to come, therefore, hope for the End will continue to exert political influence -- and its potential to set off violence will only increase. That hope is more than a fantasy; it has the power to affect our world. The purpose of this book is to show why.


I came to Jerusalem from California in 1977. I was a year out of college. I came to study Judaism in the Holy City for a year, but I had a one-way ticket. I had nothing written down for the future. I fell in love with the place and, surprising myself, I stayed.

The America of my childhood had been the arena of outrageous hope: We could change the world, completely, by tomorrow. When I was fifteen, spending a summer as a volunteer in a legal aid office on the poor side of Los Angeles, I sat with friends on the floor of the house we shared, and we talked about what America would look like after the revolution. We had, of course, little clue as to what "revolution" meant, besides a mood expressed half by having long hair and half by spending a summer in south Los Angeles, suburban kids righteously slumming. At the university where I later studied, on the coast south of San Francisco, the mood of the sixties lasted halfway into the seventies. Fellow students had programs for remaking humanity: Marxism, lesbian feminism, offbeat spirituality. By the time I left for Israel, the mood of extravagant hope had passed, leaving a dry hangover in many mouths. My last year in America I spent in Berkeley. The town's telephone poles were the public notice boards, covered in countless layers of announcements. Already, flyers advertising new kinds of psychological therapy and meditation had buried all the famous calls to protest. My older sister, who'd thrilled me by getting arrested at a campus demonstration when I was in eighth grade, now commuted to a job she hated.

Through college, my own commitment to Jewish tradition deepened. There were many reasons, but two messages of that tradition matter for this story. One was messianism: faith that a time would come when war would end, oppression evaporate. Irreligious or anti-religious as my left-wing friends often were, it seemed obvious that this hope was the mother of their hopes. If we believed that the world should be radically different than it was, religion was responsible. The second message had the opposite import: People were inherently capable of both good and evil; that's what made them human. No change in the regime, class structure, or relations between the sexes would change that. Therefore, anyone hawking a program for a perfected world was selling a hollow promise. The two messages didn't live peacefully with each other, but both struck me as true.

In Israel, political passion had not gone out of fashion. Strangers argued politics on the bus. In a society where very little was rude, it was rude to phone someone during the evening TV news: The news mattered. There were a dozen political parties in parliament; banks and HMOs had party labels, even the soccer teams belonged to parties. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977, offering peace in return for the Sinai Peninsula. Everyone I knew, it seemed, went to demonstrations for or against. Simply deciding to live in the country rather than returning to an easier life in California would be a political statement. Eventually, I succumbed, trading my tourist visa for an immigrant's papers. After several years of study, in yeshivah (Talmudic seminary) and graduate school, I began a career as a journalist.

I wrote regularly on religion and politics. In particular, the ultranationalist Orthodox settlers of the West Bank gripped my attention. They were changing the map of the occupied territories, but they were also imposing a new map of Judaism. The settlers' ideology was messianism: The creation of Israel fulfilled prophecy, and the conquest of the West Bank was another step toward final redemption. They claimed to know God's program for history, and their place in it. For the most extreme, that hubris freed them of all moral constraints: In the mid-eighties, a group of settlers was arrested and convicted of terrorist acts against Palestinians and of plotting to destroy the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine at the center of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A central member of the group, Yehudah Etzion, told me after his release that "we saw ourselves as God's messengers, asking what He would want us to do."

This isn't where faith has to end up. But I wanted to lay bare at least part of the reasons that it sometimes does. In the process, I widened my focus to include all three of the religions that call Jerusalem sacred. I've listened to Muslim sheikhs explain how verses in the Koran foretell Israel's destruction, and to American evangelical ministers who insist on their deep love for Israel and nevertheless eagerly await apocalyptic battles on Israel's soil so terrible that the dry river beds will, they predict, fill with rivers of blood. I also came to realize that the center of my story had to be the Temple Mount. What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the danger of provoking catastrophe is greatest.

Which is also an old story: A Jewish text records the debate of sages 1,800 years ago on why Cain murdered Abel. By naming what drove Cain to kill, each sage meant to identify the source of human violence. According to one, a twin sister was born with Abel; the brothers fought over who'd possess the only available woman. Another sage argued that the brothers agreed to divide everything in the world between them. One promptly claimed the clothes on his brother's back and ordered him to strip; the other claimed the ground under his brother's feet and shouted, "Fly." Blows followed, then blood.

The third sage, a Rabbi Levi, also said the brothers agreed to split the world. But then, he said, one claimed the land where the Temple would be built, the other insisted it was his, and "Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him."

The history of fratricide began, said Rabbi Levi, in an argument over who would own religion. It began with a fight over the Temple Mount.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2002

    One slander undermines the work's credibility

    In trying to create a false balance between Jewish and Muslim extremism Gorenberg repeats a slander about the former Chief Rabbi of Israel.He claims that Rabbi Shlomo Goren,of blessed memory, upon the taking of the Temple Mount suggested that the Mosque of Omar be destroyed.Gorenberg in citing this slander did not bother to check the whole background of Rabbi Goren's work in preparing months before the outbreak of the Six - Day War for proper care of the Holy Places.He did not check this story against the whole tenor of Rabbi Goren's thought and writing (Rabbi Goren believed destruction of the Mosque was forbidden in part because it would cause a Pan - Islamic war against Israel.) This may seem a minor point but it is central not only because it tarnishes the name of Rabbi Goren, and too the name of the Jewish people but because it helps present a distorted picture of what is actually going on, and has gone on in relation to the Temple Mount. It goes hand in hand with another major distortion of the work, Gorenberg's underplaying the destructive part of the Muslim Wafq in supervising the site . True his work centers on Christian groups ( whose millenial fervor he too seems to have somewhat exaggerated ) but it is his political bias which prevents him from really going into the tremendous assymetry between the Islamic tendency to wish to make a mosque of the whole plateau , and the Rabbinical restriction which continues to inhibit Jewish activity on the most sacred area to Judaism .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2003

    Disappointing. Needs more in depth study.

    Having read all the reviews, most of which heap praise on this book, I picked it up with a sense of eager anticipation. Jerusalem being a city that I know so very well and love more than any other. Only too aware of the immense religious and political significance of the Jerusalem's Temple Mount to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I expected to read a serious, in-depth, respectful study of the relevance of the Temple Mount to all the parties concerned, particularly in relation to how all faiths view it's place in the end times. Whilst these subjects are touched upon and there is much of merit in this book, I do not feel that the book does justice to this colossal subject. I feel that time and again, the writer's personal opinions are allowed to taint this study. Whilst such should be respected, I fail to find any justification for deviating from essential & pivotal issues to personally attack and insult Christian evangelists for example, over their own personal appearances & histories, or to ridicule the differing personal opinions of others professing some knowledge of the Temple Mount. Accusations of certain beliefs/opinions as being 'myths' without any appropriate elaboration or explanation for such accusations leaves a lot to be desired. Others might accuse me of 'nit-picking', but I feel that this is a subject that needs to be approached with the utmost respect. I consider that there is much destructive criticism within this book, smeared at times with arrogance, whilst constructive criticism and respect is unfortunately sometimes lacking, as is any real in-depth study to the issues concerned. Other reviews quite correctly state the immense signifcance and importance of the matters discussed here, but I am left feeling that this subject needs to be addressed with far more depth and far more respect. There are better books out there on these matters. Might I respectfully suggest that interested persons read 'Secrets Of Jerusalem's Temple Mount' by Leen & Kathleen Ritmeyer, 'The Coming Last Days Temple' and 'Jerusalem In Prophecy' both by Randall Price. Thanks for listening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2002

    An urgent plea for relativism and humility

    Deciphering the signs pointing to all-out war in the Middle East is the passionate purpose of this book, which analyzes the motivations of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who support Israel in its struggles against the Palestinians in general and in its often violent disputes over the Temple Mount in particular because their literal interpretations of Scriptural passages lead them to believe that these current events represent enactments of the ¿Endtime¿ in which the Messiah will reappear and perform the Final Judgment. A decidedly unbenign corollary of such beliefs, of course, is the expectation that the majority of Jews will be killed during the ensuing Armageddon, and that only the few who convert in time will join the ranks of true believers who enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In tracing these volatile beliefs, summarized under the rubric of ¿dispensational premillennialism,¿ along with the parallel convictions of Jewish messianists and the unswerving commitments of Muslims to the defense of the sacred precincts on the Mount, Gershom Gorenberg contrasts the literalism with which a ¿political arrangement over thirty-five acres,¿ the area of the Temple Mount, ¿is described as a cosmological defeat of light by darkness¿ - i.e., an accommodation preventing the destroyed Temple¿s rebuilding, an essential precondition to fulfillment of the Doomsday scripts of both Christian and Jewish fundamentalists - with the moderate evangelicals¿ rejection of the Crusades as a betrayal of Jesus, who ¿saw the image of God in every person he met.¿ The author alternates passages of philosophical reflection with folksy descriptions of meetings with rabbis, ministers, scientists, politicians, and philosophers, and even with an analogy of the current crisis in the Middle East to the 1993 conflagration in Waco, Texas, which he interprets as a salient and pertinent example not only of the importance of understanding symbols in any dialogue or confrontation between adherents of different religions or cultures but also of the inevitable consequences of failing to heed or to speak one¿s interlocutor¿s symbolic language.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2002

    A timely plea for relativism and humility

    Deciphering the signs pointing to all-out war in the Middle East is the passionate purpose of this book, which analyzes the motivations of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who support Israel in its struggles against the Palestinians in general and in its often violent disputes over the Temple Mount in particular because their literal interpretations of Scriptural passages lead them to believe that these current events represent enactments of the ¿Endtime¿ in which the Messiah will reappear and perform the Final Judgment. A decidedly unbenign corollary of such beliefs, of course, is the expectation that the majority of Jews will be killed during the ensuing Armageddon, and that only the few who convert in time will join the ranks of true believers who enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In tracing these volatile beliefs, summarized under the rubric of ¿dispensational premillenialism,¿ along with the parallel convictions of Jewish messianists and the unswerving commitments of Muslims to the defense of the sacred precincts on the Mount, Gershom Gorenberg contrasts the literalism with which a ¿political arrangement over thirty-five acres,¿ the area of the Temple Mount, ¿is described as a cosmological defeat of light by darkness¿ - i.e., an accommodation preventing the destroyed Temple¿s rebuilding, an essential precondition to fulfillment of the Doomsday scripts of both Christian and Jewish fundamentalists - with the moderate evangelicals¿ rejection of the Crusades as a betrayal of Jesus, who ¿saw the image of God in every person he met.¿ The author alternates passages of philosophical reflection with folksy descriptions of meetings with rabbis, ministers, scientists, politicians, and philosophers, and even with an analogy of the current crisis in the Middle East to the 1993 conflagration in Waco, Texas, which he interprets as a salient and pertinent example not only of the importance of understanding symbols in any dialogue or confrontation between adherents of different religions or cultures but also of the inevitable consequences of failing to heed or to speak one¿s interlocutor¿s symbolic language.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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