Jerusalem and the Temple Mount
Today we made our way to Temple Mount and learned some history of the area on our way there. Jerusalem is sitting on top of Mt. Moriah, which is situated between two valleys: Hinnom Valley which is South and West and Kidron Valley to the North and East.
Hinnom Valley was under Cannonite and Jezubite control. They would sacrifice their firstborn sons (first fruits) to Molech. How repulsive, right? What god would demand infant sacrifices?
We hear a series of stories while on Temple Mount from our guide, Ronan.
In Genesis 22 we hear of a time when God tested Abraham as he was instructed to take his only son, Isaac, to the land of Moriah (which in Hebrew means Fear of the LORD), to make a sacrifice to God. They lived in Beersheba which was a minimum of a five day walk. On the third day he saw the place in the distance and told his two servants to stay behind. He took the wood for the offering and put it on Isaac’s back (think Jesus carrying his own cross) and they continued on together. Isaac asked where the lamb for the sacrifice was and Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Just as Abraham was about to slay his son, an angel of the LORD appeared and stopped him. Then he saw a ram caught in the thicket and they sacrificed it instead. So Abraham called that place “The LORD Will Provide.”
This was an interesting story, given that in the next valley, Hinnom Valley, parents were actually killing their infants for their god.
The next story was 3,000 years later, now with King David. Mount Moriah was under Jebusite control, and Araunah, the Jebusite, owned a threshing floor at the top of Mt Moriah (recall from our first day in this land that the grain was grown in the valley, but the threshing floors were in the mountains to use the natural breezes to sift the chaff from the wheat). In 2 Samuel 24:18-25 it describes the story of when David was instructed to buy the threshing floor from Arunah. This, in turn, ended up being the location where the Ark of the Covenant was brought and then Solomon built the temple on this very location.
Solomon had to import skilled laborers and building materials in order to build the temple. He had the plans for it as they were passed down to him by his father, King David. He had been given wisdom and wealth from God. Now he just needed to bring everything together and get the temple built. In 1 Kings 5 the story starts as to how Solomon gathered all of the materials and skilled and unskilled laborers to accomplish this unbelievable task in only seven years. This was done in 960 BC.
The next story is almost 400 years later. In 586 BC we now glimpse at Temple Mount which is rubble, just as is the rest of the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians have conquered the land and not just enslaved the Israelites, but also the Philistines, Moabites and all other people who were occupying the land. All of these people became accustomed to their new surroundings and customs and assimilated into the new land, except for a few Israelites who kept the Promised Land deep in their hearts. After 70 years away from Jerusalem, King Cyrus not only allowed the Jews under his control and land to return to their hometown, but he also financed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and temple repairs. Read Ezra 1-6:18.
Then came the time between the Old and New Testaments (“The Silent Time) dating from 516 BC to 37 AD. Although there was a temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites had strayed from their traditions and instructions of the LORD. In 37 BC Herod the Great conquered the land and changed the history of the mountain city. He was not satisfied with a small area where an elite group of people could assemble, so he commissioned workers to expand the walls of Jerusalem out dramatically, adding a dimension of 500 feet on every side of the mountain! The smallest rock he used was 2.5 tons, the largest is over 60 feet long! Trying to envision the amount of effort and manpower it took to quarry the rocks, transport them to the site, and then hoist them into place is mind boggling. What’s even more unusual is that even though Herod was not a Jew, and the temple held no religious meaning to him, he kept the structure intact and only added the plaza area around it! Whereas previously only a few hundred people could be in the area around the temple, once his retaining walls were completed they could gather 500,000 people there! He created the largest temple in the world.
Herod allowed the Jews to come to the temple. They would celebrate by completing Mikveh (ritual bathing), sacrifices and each person was required to pay 1/2 shekel as a tax to King Herod.
Now we move to 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. They changed the name to Palestine. No Jews were allowed to live here. They converted the city to a traditional Roman city like the one we experienced yesterday at Bet She’an/Skytopolis.
In 325 AD Constantine is now the ruler, but he is a Christian. He sends his mother, Helen, to Philistine/Jerusalem to identify the areas of historical importance to Christians. Helen doesn’t even attempt to locate or dig out the original temple as Jesus had said that it would be destroyed.
In 621 AD Mohammad is in a trance and he believed he was physically/spiritually transported to temple mount where information was shared with him by the angel Gabriel, including the fact that Abraham brought Ishmael (not Isaac) to Mt Moriah to sacrifice him and the story is identical to that in our Bible, just replacing the son of Hagar, the slave girl, with the son of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. This is described in the Quran, the Islamic scriptures.
The struggle for the Temple Mount has increased over the years as the political climate increases the hostility between the two cultures.
The Jewish temple was completely demolished in 70 AD and eventually the Muslim Dome of the Rock was built in its place, although it is a much smaller building than the original temple.
The Western Wall that we see in all of the pictures is actually not the temple wall, but rather a small section of the western retaining wall that Herod had built to expand the footprint of Jerusalem.
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.
Because the land is owned by Israel, and people only own the homes sitting on the land, the Office of Antiquities can, and is, allowing excavation beneath the homes and streets of Jerusalem. We walked through some of the excavated areas and actually descended into the area that has been identified as 1st Century BC. We know from the Bible how often Jesus and his disciples were in and near Jerusalem that this ground is land that he would have actually walked on! The thought of it is breathtaking. The way the Israelites honor the history of their land is so commendable.
We ended our time in Jerusalem today participating in two Bar Mitzvah’s.
Afterwards, we headed to Bethlehem to picture the shepherds watching over their flocks. In my mind, I had always pictured grassy fields, but instead they’re rocky crags. Mary and Joseph, having no money and finding no room in the inn would have landed in a cave where the animals would have been placed overnight for safety. We entered a couple of the caves and in the quiet of the day we each envisioned what they would have been going through on that fateful night.
Luke 2:1-15 was read. Then we sang Silent Night together. Going into a second cave we sang a couple more Christmas carols. Then we ended in a domed chapel and sang one more. The Holy Spirit was a strong companion in this area!
Lunch, shopping and then we headed back to the hotel to an afternoon of rest as tomorrow will prove to be another information-filled day!