The Temple Mount’s Jewish History: More Than a Matter of Faith

The Temple Mount is the site of the first and second Jewish Temples, destroyed in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively–a historic fact accepted even by Muslim authorities. Nevertheless, that fact has not stopped some journalists from reporting on the Temple Mount’s significance in Jewish history cautiously, as if its status is a matter of Jewish faith, or “belief,” and not archeologic evidence.

Thus, in the context of anticipated demonstrations by right-wing Israeli Jews, Reuters’ Jonathan Saul reported on April 7:

The ancient mosque compound is Islam’s third holiest site. It is Judaism’s most sacred site, the place where Jews say a biblical Jewish temple was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D. (“Non-Muslims Banned from Flashpoint Jerusalem Shrine”)

Likewise, the New York Times’ Steve Erlanger reported yesterday in the second paragraph of his article “Israeli Troops Kill 3 Teenagers In Buffer Zone at Gaza Border”:

The shootings sharply raised tensions ahead of a planned protest in Jerusalem on Sunday by Israeli militants who oppose a pullout from Gaza and want to demonstrate at one of Islam’s holiest places, Al Aksa Mosque.

Much further down, in the second to last paragraph, he notes:

In Jerusalem, thousands of police officers fanned out in and around the Old City to prevent the threatened march on Al Aksa mosque. Jews believe that the site, also known as the Temple Mount, housed the second temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

(This article also appeared in the International Herald Tribune.) But it is not Jews who “say” or “believe” that the site housed both Jewish temples. Indeed, Muslim conquerors selected that site for the Al Aqsa Mosque precisely because the Temples stood there. This fact is not under dispute even among Muslim authorities, (Yasir Arafat’s protestations to the contrary at Camp David in 2000 notwithstanding.) For instance, the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, a pro-Arab source edited by John Esposito, notes that the Muslim armies:

First built at [the Temple Mount’s] southern end their congregational mosque (al-Aqsa), and by 692, had completed at is center the splendid shrine called the “Dome of the Rock,” revered both as the terminus of [Mohammed’s] Night Journey and the biblical site of Abraham’s sacrifice and Solomon’s Temple.(page 368)

Another pro-Arab source, Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, edited by Reeva Simon, Philip Mattar, and Richard Bulliet, also confirms that the Temple Mount housed the Jewish temples:

Temple Mount in Jerusalem was expanded by Herod the Great (ruled 40-4 BCE); it is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and has dozens of structures on it from various periods. Most notable is the Dome of the Rock–a sanctuary located over the ancient Jewish Temple of Solomon (founded 970 B.C.E.; destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the Second Temple rebuilt under Herod the Great during the Roman Empire. . . .( Page 1753-4)

The most famous of the archaeological remains of the Temple Mount compound is the Kotel, the western retaining wall of the Temple’s plaza. The southern, eastern, and northern retaining walls are also still extant. Surviving features abutting the southern walls include a broad stairway leading up to the Temple Mount’s entrance and two gates, known as the Huldah Gates, which provided access to the Temple Mount (Hershel Shanks, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography, p. 143). Some of the interior part of the Herodian Double Gate (which is one of the Huldah Gates) is also still intact. There are also surviving underground remnants of the Temple complex, including the area known as Solomon’s Stables. In addition, an area called “Robinson’s Arch,” in the south-western corner of the Temple complex, still remains. In his book, Shanks provides details concerning numerous other remnants.

It should be noted that the New York Times deserves commendation for removing the mischaracterization of the Temple Mount in a subsequent story. The story by Steven Erlanger and Greg Myre today is a significant improvement. It begins:

About 3,000 Israeli police officers moved into positions throughout Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, foiling a rally called by Israeli rightists at one of Islam’s holiest sites.

The police, some of them in helmets and bulletproof vests, arrested at least 31 Israelis to prevent them from entering the Temple Mount, revered as the site of the two Jewish temples. The same spot is revered by Muslims as the Haram al Sharif, which contains Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. (“Huge Police Force Bars Israeli Rightist Rally at Jerusalem Holy Site”)

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