Israel Study Tour with Cornerstone University

January 3-13, 2016

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The Temple Mount

Kristy Weberg writes:

Our first day in Jerusalem and we experienced a whirlwind of newness. At least I believe this to be true for most on this trip. New sights, sounds, and smells. New glimpses of culture and belief. Today so many things about our world and the people in it became so much more than just photos and information we have comprehended before. It all became real.

Stepping into Jerusalem today we stepped into the center of world religion and faith. This center has maintained its importance in both modern and ancient times. As we walked through the city today, we experienced both. We saw how modern Islam, Judaism, and Christianity intersect in this city. And as we walked above and below the surface, we saw how these faiths converged in the more distant past.

The Western Wall was really our frame of reference in so many ways today. We used it over and over again... to locate various parts of the temple, to understand the directionality of the temple layout, and to better see the building habits of Herod the Great, and his strong influence in the society of his day. We toured past the Western Wall both above and below ground. The above and below tells the history of so much of ancient Jerusalem, and the Western Wall is no exception.

Western Wall

The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.

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Above ground, the Western Wall is all that we are used to seeing in various images. It is the holiest site for Jews. Their temple is gone. The sympathies Herod the Great had towards the Jewish faith had long since vanished and in 70 A.D., the temple was destroyed as the superpower of Rome raged against uprisings of the people. But in his mind-blowing building efforts, Herod had built a huge platform, supported by large walls, on the top of Mount Moriah. The temple of Yahweh previously stood on this platform. After the destruction, the Western Wall was all that remained. This wall became the central place of worship for Jews. With no temple, but still believing the presence of God dwelt in the location, they came to the wall, and to seek nearness to Jehovah. As we visited the Western Wall today, we saw the Jews as they continue to come to the wall, read scripture, and lift their prayers to God.

The Western Wall is also quite a site from below ground. Of course, segments of the wall that are underground today were not this way at the time of Christ. After the destruction of the temple and other empirical changes, Muslims gained control of the Temple Mount in the 600s A.D. At this time they built the Dome of the Rock and other structures on the temple site. They also decided to build up the level of the city, to be closer to the level of the dome. Using structural arches all around the area, Muslim people raised the ground level of this part of Jerusalem. What was once ground level became underground. And here is just one example of all the various layers of history that so characterize Israel. The Western Wall below ground today is the base of the huge platform built by Herod. As we entered the Rabbinic Tunnels, we came closer to the wall again. Devout Jews worship both above and below ground. As we walked deeper into the tunnels, we came to a quiet area of prayer and reflection. This is the spot closest to the Holy of Holies in Herod's temple; the place where His glory rests.

Ben Lepper writes:

There are precious few moments in life in which one can stand in a place that intersects time, space, history and eternity, religion and politics, a place that the worlds three greatest monotheistic faiths declare holy. Standing on the Temple Mount is such a moment.

Seeing the sunlight glow off the golden Dome of the Rock testifies to the sheen of sabers and scimitars that have helped this hill change hands throughout the centuries. From the Canaanites to the Israelites; the Israelites to the Babylonians, the Babylonians to the Persians, the Persians to the Greeks, the Greeks to the Romans then part of Byzantium and then into Muslim hands which lost it and regained from the Crusaders, then to the Ottomans and then the British and now finally Israel is its own sovereign nation once again giving Muslims freedom to exercise their faith atop this historic mount.

The approach to the Temple Mount feels more akin to a high security military security station. Young Israeli soldiers wielding assault riffles guard the approach to the checkpoint ensuring that all the pilgrims to this holy site are secure to express their faith. Once upon the platform there is a palpable sense of reverence in the air. The hymnic drone of a moment in prayer uninterrupted for centuries can be heard from the western wall below, which is the closest that Jews will come to the Temple mount, which the Israeli government has reserved expressly for Muslim prayer.

The first structure to occupy this ground was the magnificent Temple built by Solomon, the son of King David. Tradition tells us that he deliberately positioned the innermost chamber of the temple, the holy of holies, over the stone on which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. And also there are traditions that speak of this stone as being the foundation stone of creation; the point at which God brought the cosmos into existence. These traditions believe that every prayer uttered first travels to this stone before reaching God. Tragically the Temple fell at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C only to be resurrected again under Persian rule in 538 B.C.

After a failed revolt by Jewish Zealots that ended at the famous mountain fort of Masada, This second temple, which had undergone massive enlargement under Herod the Great, was demolished by the Romans never to be built up again. Centuries later however when the city was under Muslim rule, the magnificent Dome of the Rock was erected and still stands over the site to this day.

Walking along side devout men and women atop the Temple Mount one is enveloped in their history of faith. Looking into their deep faces these pilgrims seem more like sages cut from the pages of history than ordinary people with lives back home. The Temple Mount, the Jewel of Jerusalem, being the nucleus of Israel, and what some believe to be the center of all things; to set foot into this place is to leave changed by it.

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