Sunday, April 19, 2015


My initial view of Jerusalem in the daytime was one of Those Moments that I want to engrave in my memory. We arrived at night, when light from windows and streetlights was reflected by the white Jerusalem limestone that everything seems to be made of. The following morning it was raining, the hills covered in a lush green, the Jerusalem stone buildings now an almost translucent white, and the blue tile mosaics and gold vault of the Dome of the Rock drawing our eyes like a magnet draws steel. 

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives / Souvenir Chronicles
View of the old city taken later in the week from the Mount of Olives
In his book Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler writes, "Jerusalem is a geographic anomaly in the Middle East, a hilly, tree-shrouded city in the central elevations of Palestine that became holy three thousand years ago and remains holy for a third of the world. . . . Jerusalem today has some of the best traits of other cities--hills like Rome, stone like Athens; some of the worst traits of others--traffic like Bangkok, cramped housing like Tokyo; and light like no other place on earth. In the mornings and evenings Jerusalem is bathed in the most incandescent sunlight, an effusion of gold dust that flirts with the pink highlights of Jerusalem stone, winks off the polished roof of the Dome of the Rock, and seduces anyone within its gaze."

So true.

We were lucky to be there on a blustery day in March. The benefits were close parking to the Temple Mount and short lines. In fact, our guide, who has been there many times, told us it was the fastest he had ever gotten from the bus, through security, and onto the grounds of the Temple Mount. 

The very first thing we did in Jerusalem was visit its most recognizable building, the iconic Dome of the Rock. It's a good place for a Jerusalem Newbie to start.

We stood under an arched hallway across the way from the Dome and listened to the first compelling discourse of the trip delivered by the tour's lecturer, Michael Wilcox.  As we gazed at the Dome and watched the people strolling by, he spoke of the roots of Islam and recounted the story of the prophet Muhammad and the unifying of the Arab world. He detailed many of the wonderful things Islam has brought into the world, using an analogy that we should be like a compass, the kind used to draw circles.  We can choose a "set point" where we plant our stationary foot. For many of us this is our religious beliefs. With the other arm of the compass, we can reach out and draw a circle that captures or encloses good from other traditions. It was good advice at the beginning of a trip like this.
After the lecture we had some time to explore the Temple Mount on our own. 

In years past, tourists were allowed inside the Dome of the Rock, but a few years ago that was changed, and nowadays only Muslims are given entrance.  That's too bad, because  based on pictures from the internet, the interior looks as stunning as the exterior.
Picture of the eponymous rock from here
Picture from here
Picture from here

This city and the Temple Mount, radiant even when it's raining, are critical pieces in the history of three faiths--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. How is it possible that they have also been the site of much brutal conflict, conflict that continues to this day?

Here is what all the fuss is about:

That stone in the shrine, known as the Foundation Stone, is actually the top of Mount Moriah, not a rock broken off from the mountain and re-installed inside the shrine. According to the Talmud, near this stone God gathered dust to form the bodies of Adam and Eve, and on this stone Adam offered sacrifices to God. The more universally accepted event that is said to occur on the rock was the almost-sacrifice of Isaac (if you are Christian or Jewish) or Ishmael (if you are Muslim). Commanded by God, Abraham walked up this mountain with his son with the intent of making of him a burnt offering to God on this very rock. At the last minute an angel stayed Abraham's hand, and Isaac/Ishmael was spared. Tongue-in-cheek, Bruce Feiler calls the Dome a "notorious shrine to the tension between faith and family."

Years later, in 970 BC, Solomon built his great temple on this spot, and the rock, situated in the Holy of Holies, was the surface upon which the Ark of the Covenant was placed. Solomon's temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586. A smaller temple was built on the site between 525 and 515, and Herod enlarged it in the first century BC.  This was the temple where the boy Jesus taught. The story of the widow's mite took place here, and it's the spot where Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple. In Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied of the destruction of the temple, and in 70 AD it was indeed demolished by a Roman army.

Enter Muhammad. The Qur'an gives a brief account of a night in 621 AD when Muhammad traveled on a heavenly horse brought to him by the Angel Gabriel to a distant mosque. There he met with Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets before ascending to heaven and speaking with God, who gave him instructions about prayer that he was to teach to the faithful. Additional Islamic writings called the Hadith say that Muhammad's night journey destination was the top of Mount Moriah, and it was from the Temple Mount that he ascended to heaven. Because of this event, Temple Mount is the third holiest site in the world for both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. (Mecca and Medina are #1 and #2.) After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 637 AD, they built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock is one of the oldest surviving Muslim structures, second to the Kaabah in Mecca.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and took over the Temple Mount. They gave the Dome of the Rock to the Augustinians, who turned it into a church. The Al Aqsa Mosque first became a palace and later the headquarters for the Knights Templar.

Then Jerusalem was retaken by Muslims in 1187, which was the most recent time that the Temple Mount has changed hands. Many renovations have occurred in the 828 years since then, including covering the exterior with exquisite mosaics in the 16th century and re-gilding the Dome in 1992-1994 with an $8.2 million donation from King Hussein of Jordan.
Mosaics 1, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem  Mosaics 2, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Mosaics 3, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

It's no wonder that there has been such a volatile tug-of-war over this place.

Aerial southern view of the Temple Mount. Picture from here.
Solomon's Temple would have covered most of the natural hill. The current large, flat terrace on top of Mount Moriah that extends far beyond the Dome of the Rock to create a park-like setting was created in the first century AD under direction of Herod the Great as part of his rebuilding of the Jewish Temple:

The Dome of the Rock, while a very imposing structure and a prayer site for Muslims, is not a mosque. Note that there is no minaret, but the Dome is topped with the Islamic crescent moon seen on many mosques:

Domes on Dome of the Rock / Souvenir Chronicles
Eight stairways and arched gateways surround the octagonal shrine and connect it to the terrace below:
View of Dome of the Rock through arched gates / Souvenir Chronicles

At various times in years past, Jews have not been allowed on the Temple Mount. These days, Jews are allowed as long as they don't preach or pray, and they are not allowed to bring any religious materials with them, including scriptures.
Our guide Ilan, in the forefront, tells us about the Dome of the Rock.

There are quite a few other structures surrounding the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Chain is neither mosque nor shrine but a prayer house built in 691. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they identified this spot as the place where St. James was martyred and turned it into a chapel to honor him. When the Muslims retook Jerusalem, it was converted back to its original use. The name refers to the Islamic tradition that the final judgment will take place here, and at that time a chain will stop the sinful but let the righteous pass through:

Dome of the Chain, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles

The Dome of Ascension, which commemorates Muhammad's ascension into heaven, was built in about 1200 AD:
Dome of Ascension, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles

The Fountain of Qayt Bay was built by Egyptians in the 15th century over a natural underground reservoir:
Fountain of Qayt Bay, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles

The Dome of the Prophet is a structure built in the 16th century to honor Muhammad. Some believe it is the spot where he led prophets and angels in prayer before ascending to heaven:
Dome of the Prophet, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles

The Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic for "the furthest mosque," a reference to Muhammad's night journey), was finished in 705 AD, destroyed by an earthquake just 41 years later, then rebuilt in 754-780.  Another earthquake destroyed it in 1033, but it was rebuilt immediately and has stood until the present day. As noted earlier, the Crusaders used it as a palace and church, but it was restored to its function as a mosque after changing hands for the last time in 1187.
Al Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles
The Minaret of Israel, the last and most notable of the four minarets built to serve the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was built in 1367:
Minaret of Israel, Temple Mount, Jerusalem / Souvenir Chronicles

Again, like Dome of the Rock, at one time tourists were allowed to enter the mosque, but no more.  I had to visit via the internet:
Photo from here
Photo of dome from here
View from the Temple Mount:

John Esposito is an American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and the director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown. He was raised Catholic and spent a decade in a monastery before pursuing a master's degree in theology and a PhD focusing on Islam. I think a book about him would be interesting! 

In 2011 Esposito published this very helpful, very approachable book for a lay person who wants to understand more about Islam. What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam is divided up into seven sections: General Information; Faith; Islam and Other Religions; Customs and Culture; Violence and Terrorism; Society, Politics, and Economy; and Muslims in the West.  Esposito presents and answers common questions under each heading.  For example: What role does Muhammad play in Muslim life? How do Muslims view the Day of Judgment? What is the difference between Sunni and Shii Muslims? Who are these Islamic fundamentalists? What about Muslim religious intolerance? What do Muslims say about women's rights? What is jihad? Why haven't Muslims denounced terrorism? What is Islamic law? What is the role of fatwa? Why aren't Muslim countries more democratic? What are the major obstacles to Islamic reform? 

Well indexed, this book is an excellent and honest reference that acknowledges both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Islamic faith and culture.


  1. Nice to get all of that detail information about the other structures on Mount Moriah. What an amazing place. I'm glad we finally got there.

  2. Great collection of information!
    The actual location of the 2nd temple is by no means settled. I know of at least three theories, each with reasonable arguments.

    1. Very interesting, Angie! I'm assuming one of the three is this site. Where are the others?

  3. I love your descriptions. This was a great place to start our amazing experiences.

  4. Good to see what everyone is talking about--beautiful mosaics!

  5. Hi Judy, amazing blog. I have visited Jerusalem 2 times with my whole family, but not seen the Temple mount. But after going through your post I found something interesting in that place and very much excited to visit that place. Thanks for providing the unknown facts of Temple Mount which insists me to visit that place once again.