Can Different Religions Peacefully Share a Sacred Site? A Temple Mount Tragedy
One of the major points of contention between Israel and the Arab/Moslem world is over the most sacred piece of real estate on the planet. At 37 acres, the Temple Mount is the focal point of prayer and contention for the three western religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While Christianity has Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem vying for spiritual “seniority;” and Islam has Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem; Judaism has Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem.
However, traditionally, the role of the holy city and, in particular, the Temple Mount, has been widely, if not grudgingly, recognized in importance by each of these traditions to the other.
Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Andrew Shiva/CC BY SA 4.0)
Arguments Over Artifacts at the Temple Mount
It has only been in the last century, a result of a “Twice Promised Land” coming out of World War I, that we find disinformation and the re-writing of history taking place. But the greatest activity has taken place in the 21st century.
The Waqf, the Islamic religious authority that was granted control of the Temple Mount by Israel decades ago, decided to ‘remodel’ a series of stables beneath the Mount, create a mosque, and then an internal entry from just north of the Al Aqsa plaza. In doing so, tons of debris, filled with archaeological treasures pertaining to the history of the Temple Mount were unceremoniously dumped, with no regard for context, into the Kidron Valley – all in spite of Israeli law that forbids such activity unless overseen by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
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Northeast exposure of Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. (Andrew Shiva/CC BY SA 4.0)
To make matters worse, many stones, some dating to the tenth century BC, were re-used and modified for their building activity. Archaeologist Eilat Mazar said: “There is disappointment at the turning of a blind eye and the ongoing contempt for the tremendous archaeological importance of the Temple Mount. Heavy machinery and lack of documentation can damage ancient relics and erase evidence of the presence of the biblical structures. Any excavation, even if for technical reasons, must be documented, photographed and the dirt sifted for any remains of relics.”
Dr. Gabi Barkai slammed the way the excavations were being carried out, stating that, “They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer.”
A view of the Southwest corner of the temple mount. One of the four minarets and the back of the Al-Aqsa Mosque can be seen atop to the Mount. Robinson's arch can be seen on the Western face. The ruins in the foreground are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods. Jerusalem (Photo from 2007). (CC BY 2.0)
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, rejected the Israeli charges. “We don’t harm the antiquities; we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them.”
Yusuf Natsheh, of the Islamic Waqf, argued that “remains unearthed would be from the 16th or 17th century Ottoman period.”
He said the Al Aqsa compound is an important religious institution. “We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends, but their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram; it is a living religious site in an occupied land.”
The Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Haram Ash-Sharif. (Tony Kane/CC BY 2.0)
Sifting Through the Temple Mount’s History
In 2004, debris was transferred to camps set up at Tzurim Valley National Park, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, a sifting project was begun and, over the years, the Temple Mount debris dumped in the Kidron Valley was moved to the sifting site (a total of 322 truckloads to date).
View of the Kidron Valley from the Old City of Jerusalem. (Public Domain)
Objects testifying to the Jewish nature of the Temple Mount platform were dismissed by the Waqf. The Waqf was widely accused of attempting to hide evidence of the existence of the Jewish temples, which many Palestinian leaders say never existed. That debate continued to rage. “The Aqsa Mosque was an Islamic mosque since the world was created,” said Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, in November 2015. “It was never anything other than a mosque.”
However, this flew in the face of what Islamic leaders said themselves about the Temple Mount earlier in the 20th century. But prior to 1948, even their own 1925 Waqf guidebook stated that the Dome of the Rock is situated on the universally accepted site of King Solomon’s Temple: “The site is one of the oldest in the world… its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which David built an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”
The Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem. (Public Domain)
Abbas himself called Israeli history in Jerusalem “illusions and legends” and “delusional myths,” referring to the “alleged Temple.”
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UNESCO’s Take on the Temple Mount
The destructive partisan biases in UNESCO were clearly evidenced in the autumn of 2016, as it would vote to ratify a resolution denying Jewish ties to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. An affront to science and history, the resolution, which refers to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al-Haram Al-Sharif – ostensibly eliminating its connection to Judaism and Christianity – was expected to be approved by the committee comprised of 21 member states at its 40th session.
As UNESCO approved a resolution that ignored a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the Israel Antiquities Authority produced a rare papyrus fragment from the 7th century BC, written in ancient Hebrew, that mentions Jerusalem. Archaeologists interpreted two lines of text as a king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.
Respecting the Records
And even more importantly, Israeli archaeologists revealed the existence of an ancient Muslim inscription testifying to the fact that the original name of the Dome of the Rock, Qubbat al-Sakhrah, was “Beit al Maqdis”– “Beit Hamikdash” in Hebrew; AKA the Jewish Temple – during the early Muslim era, Makor Rishon reported. According to archaeologists Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven, the inscription is dated to the 10th century AD.
It’s time for the western world, Jews, Christians, and Moslems of good faith, to recognize the sanctity and legitimacy of the Temple Mount for all religious traditions, and accept the archaeological, historical, and spiritual record with dignity and respect.
Temple Mount, Jerusalem. (Public Domain)
Top Image: Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem. Source: idobi/CC BY SA 3.0
Dr. Steven Derfler has been researching and teaching about ancient civilizations for over forty years. A recently retired professor, he is the director of Educational Resources, Inc., a consulting firm. He has a B.A. in anthropology/ archaeology/Jewish studies (Indiana University) MA in archaeology/Near East Studies (Tel Aviv University/University of Minnesota) and a Ph.D. in classics and archaeology (University of Minnesota).
Since “retiring” from teaching, he has written three archaeological mystery novels based on his work- Israel’s Pharaoh, An Unexpected Caliph, and Columbus’ Last Journey- Santa Clara Kaddish.