Houses of Worship

According to legend, it was King David who chose Mount Moriah as the site for a future temple in ancient times. It was here that Abraham was supposed to have been to sacrifice his beloved son.

The first Temple was built during the reign of King David’s son, Solomon, and completed in 957 BCE. Three hundred years later, Josiah established it as the only place of sacrifice in the Kingdom of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia twice ransacked the Temple, before totally destroying it and deporting the Jews in 586 BCE.

In 538 BCE, Cyrus II of Persia and conqueror of Babylonia, issued an order allowing exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The new temple was completed in 515 BCE.

During Persian and Hellenistic periods, the Temple was generally respected. However, Antiochus IV Epiphanes then plundered it in 169 BCE.

When Pompey entered Jerusalem in 63 BCE, during the Roman conquest, he left the Temple intact, but Crassus plundered its treasury a decade later.

Herod of Judea set out to rebuild the temple in 20 BCE, with efforts to raise and enlarge it taking 46 years. During the Roman period, the Herodian Temple was the highest court of Jewish law.

However, the rebellion against Rome that began in 66 CE soon focused on the Temple and ended with its destruction in 70 CE under the command of Titus.

In 130 CE, Hadrian built the city of Aelia on the ruins of Jerusalem, and built a temple dedicated to Jupiter partially on the site of Herod’s Temple, featuring an idol of Jupiter within and a statue of Herod outside. This and other actions to proscribe Jewish religious practices led to a failed revolt, which resulted in the Jews being banished from the city.

In 325 CE, Herod’s Temple to Jupiter was destroyed by Constantine I. In 363 CE, his nephew Julian granted the Jews permission to rebuild their temple.

In 610 CE, the Sassanid Empire gave the Jews control of Jerusalem. Shortly before the Byzantine Empire seized back control in 615 CE, the Persians gave it back to its Christian population, who demolished the partly-rebuilt Jewish temple. In 637 CE, Muslims captured the city and took control of it.

Some accounts claim that the Muslim caliph, Umar, was led to the mount — then a rubbish dump — by the Christian patriarch Sophronius, and was advised by the Jewish Muslim, Ka’b al-Ahbar, to build a mosque there, with Jews participating in its construction.

In 691 CE, the octagonal building now known as the Dome of the Rock was built on the site by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. In 715 CE, caliph al-Walid I built Al-Aqsa Mosque on the site.

In 1099 CE, the armies of the First Crusades captured Jerusalem. In 1120 CE, the Knights Templars were given Al-Asqa Mosque by the patriarch of Jerusalem and went on to consider it the Temple of Solomon. However, the Jews, who may have had a stronger claim to Solomon, were prohibited from living in Jerusalem.

It was the Muslim ruler, Salahudeen, who gave the Jews permission to visit and live in Jerusalem after his conquest of the city in 1187 CE, whereupon Al Asqa was turned back into a mosque. After their conquest of Jerusalem in 1516 CE, the Ottoman Empire denied access to the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims until 1838, when they were finally permitted to enter on condition of a permit issued by the governor.

In 1948, the Temple Mount fell into the hands of the Jordanians, barring access to Muslims in Israel. In 1967, the Old City in which the Temple Mount is located was seized by Israel, but Israel subsequently handed administration of the site back to Hashemite custodianship.

In 1988, Jordon renounced claim to the territory, while in 1994 Israel signed a peace treaty in which it committed to respect the role of Jordan in maintaining the site. In 2000, Ariel Sharon visited Al-Asqa mosque with a large entourage of supporters and armed guards, sparking the five-year-long Al-Asqa Intifada.

Such are the visisitudes of time, as the decades, centuries and millennia witness parcels of land passed from one people to another, mostly at the hands of violent empires imposing their will on the ordinary residents, emotionally-bound to a house, a field or an olive tree.

We might hope that in modern times we have advanced beyond the greed of empires, inspired by the experience of living in pluralistic societies. Some of us living in multicultural societies wonder why grownups cannot learn to share. Here in the west, Muslims, Christians and Jews often share their facilities with each other in times of need. Beneficent rulers could say: this week is a holy week for Muslims, so let them pray unhindered — no need for unnecessary provocations — and likewise for the Jew or Christian.

I do not know why nationalists insist of provoking others to cement their own sense of self-worth, whether the Orangemen of Northern Ireland pouring salt in old wounds or flag-waving ultra-nationalists in Jerusalem. Will the latter not reflect on recent research which posits that modern-day Jews and Arabs retain the genetic heritage of Bronze Age Canaanites who lived in that same land for more than 2,000 years?

Ah, but I understand Israel’s parliament is in disarray, following four indecisive elections in under two years, so no doubt all this conflict will appeal to nationalists of every kind and lend a decisive victory in place of unstable coalitions. It has not gone unnoticed that just days ago parties from across the spectrum of Israeli politics were on the cusp of a deal to create a new coalition government without the prime minister’s Likud. That deal has been thoroughly blasted to pieces now.

Nor have the political rivalries between Hamas and Fatah gone unnoticed across the fence. In its campaigning for Palestinian elections agreed last autumn, Hamas consistently presented itself as the true protectors of Jerusalem. But those elections were postponed at the end of April, so Hamas has now taken its campaigning to another level with a mammoth display of force, certainly calculated to present Fatah as a weak and compromised party. In a moment of heightened emotions, nobody dares ask how an organisation can manufacture thousands of rockets, but cannot provide toilets, sanitation facilities or drinkable water.

Well, three thousand years of history teaches us all that the emperors will do to remain relevant in their time. For some, it will be a great statue of themselves, erected on the sacred precinct of a former people. For others, slaughter and subjugation. Corrupt people abusing their positions of power to hold onto power, whatever the cost. Perhaps nothing changes, for perpetually we forget that a land is not holy, only good deeds are.

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west…” (from Quran 2:177).

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