Today was a day I have been looking forward to since we got to Jerusalem. We finally got to go up on the Temple Mount. For those unfamiliar, the Temple Mount is the big walled off section of the Old City where the present day Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are located. Of course, as the name implies, it is more significantly the location of the former Jewish temples. This piece of land was the holiest sight in all of the Old Testament. In the New Testament we read frequently about Jesus teaching and healing in the temple. It was also here that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus at his presentation 8 days after his birth. It is indeed a special place.
For those unfamiliar with the history, the temple (2nd temple) was completely destroyed along with all of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. So, there is nothing to see of the old temple remaining. Instead, you have today the Dome of the Rock over the location of the temple. This is the famous gold dome that you see all the time. The building is itself a mosque, although the Muslims consider the entire Temple Mount a mosque. Inside the Dome of the Rock, as you might expect, is a rock. This is supposedly the rock upon which Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac (the Muslims claim it was Ishmael). It is also the place where Mohammed supposedly had a vision of heaven (his “ascension” to heaven). Our Muslim guide actually told us this was all myth and there really wasn’t anything historically special about the Dome of the Rock. I think he’s an atypical Muslim personally. In addition to the Dome of the Rock there is also the building called Al Aqsa Mosque which means “The Farthest” mosque (from Mecca).
Here’s some interesting info regarding the Jewish vs. Muslim interests in the Temple Mount. First, from the Jewish perspective, there is a big warning sign as you are entering the temple mount that it is prohibited for Jews to enter the Temple Mount. Now, you might think the Muslims did this, but the opposite is true. When the temple stood there, it was of course forbidden for anyone but the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies (and then only once a year). Since no one knows precisely where the Holy of Holies would have been on the Temple Mount, the Jews have just decided that they should not get anywhere near the potential area. So, they stay away from the Temple Mount (in theory…the less orthodox ones still go). From the Muslim side, I noticed that our guide was particularly apt to point out how Muslims do not take over the holy places of other religions. With regard to the Temple Mount, he said something that really surprised me. The Muslims want to claim that there never was a temple on the Temple Mount. It was just an open space when they got there in the 7th century (which is partially true). He told us that there is absolutely no archeological evidence that has been found to indicate that there was a Jewish temple here. Now, this is quite possibly the most hypocritical statement I’ve heard so far and the first time that I really felt one of our guides was not being honest with us. In fact, archeological remains of the temple have not been found because the Muslims have prohibited the Jews from excavating on the Temple Mount (because the remains of the Jewish temple are of course there as well as a Roman temple and a Byzantine church). This of course creates great tension with the Jews and makes the Temple Mount one of the most hotly contested pieces of land anywhere.
From a Christian standpoint, we have no particular claim on the Temple Mount. The function of the temple was no longer necessary after Jesus established the New Covenant. All the Old Testament sacrifices offered in the temple were merely preparing the way for the new and eternal sacrifice which Jesus would offer on Calvary and which New Testament priests would then offer in all parts of the world until Jesus comes again. The temple was obsolete after the establishment of the Church and thus it was destroyed just as Jesus (and many other prophets) had foretold. However, the Temple Mount is still a special place for us as Christians in a similar way to all the other holy places. As I walked around on this holy ground I thought of all the Old Testament priests who fulfilled their ministry here and marveled at how I will soon carry on this tradition as it has been fulfilled by Jesus. I thought of Jesus teaching in Solomon’s Portico on the eastern side. I thought of St. Peter giving those fiery sermons after Pentecost. Some of the most moving scenes in the New Testament took place right there on the Temple Mount. We didn’t get to go into any of the buildings because they are restricted to Muslims only. I did however look in one of the windows of the Dome of the Rock and saw…a rock. We also didn’t get to stay very long because it’s only open for a short window of time. So, I hope to go back later on my own and take more time to pray there. It’s actually a pretty large area and it’s nice to walk around in the place where Jesus walked. Maybe I’ll be inspired with some good homilies like Peter.