On October 13, the UN’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted on a resolution which denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism where it is believed that the First and Second Temples once stood.
The site is also holy to Christianity and Islam. It is the third holiest site in Islam and Mohammed is said to have visited the city once in a dream.
Of those who voted, 24 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 26 abstained and 6 voted against.
The resolution condemned Israeli policies, but more controversially, only referred to the Temple Mount by its Islamic name (Haram al-Sharif).
It also referred to the Western wall, the last remaining part of the Herodian Second Temple as the Buraq wall, saying that it’s only holy because Mohammed allegedly tied his horse there during his alleged visit to the city.
Despite affirming that the old city of Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic faiths (but not mentioning Judaism by name), the resolution makes it very clear whose religious claims the UN organization regard as superior and which inferior.
According to the text of the resolution, UNESCO “firmly deplores the continuous storming of the Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif by Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces.”
The “storming” mentioned refers to the deployment of Israeli security forces to prevent terrorist plots and quell rioting on the Temple Mount. The “right-wing extremists” mentioned are simply Jews who wish to assert their rights to pray in the holiest site in the world according to their faith.
Ironically, this right to pray is denied due to the Israeli law based on the government’s ongoing cowardice in the face of threats by Islamist supremacists, either within Israel and the Palestinian territories, or internationally, to cause violence.
Since the vote there has been a political storm. Mexico has performedan about face, seeking unsuccessfully to change its vote from supporting the resolution to opposing it. The lower house of the Czech parliament overwhelmingly voted through a resolution condemning the vote as increasing anti-Semitism.
For its part, the terrorist organization Hamas welcomed the UNESCO move as a “victory for the Palestinian people,” since it described Al-Aqsa as “purely of Islamic heritage.”
A Palestinian representative to UNESCO attempted to explain away this tremendous insult to Judaism’s holiest site (something he never would have tolerated should a resolution that referred to Medina’s Jewish heritage without mentioning its importance to Islam) by saying it was about “occupation” rather than about religion.
Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, said that Jordan had wanted to use the Jewish terms in addition to the Muslim terms, but that the Palestinians had prevented this.
This is obviously absurd, because the term ‘Temple Mount’ is not a term that is solely used by the Israeli state, rather it is used by Jews around the world to refer to the site. Regardless of the existence or not of the state of Israel, the Temple Mount has and will remain the holiest site in the world to Jews, with archeological evidencesupporting this claim.
By demanding that UNESCO use only Muslim terminology for the holiest site in the world, erasing the pre-Muslim history of the site, the Palestinian leadership have shown that they regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of Muslim domination over Jews and Christians.
By supporting the Palestinians in this effort, the powers of the world have shown they are totally unwilling to stand up against Islamist supremacism.
Jews have not taken this lying down. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the Western wall plaza on Wednesday, October 19, to hear the priestly blessing and to demonstrate against UNESCO’s erasure of Jewish identity.
Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home party), severed ties with UNESCO in a letter slamming the organization for ignoring “thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem” and supporting “Islamist terror.”
The first temple was built by King Solomon at about 950 BC, and was located on the highest point above the Kidron valley – on mount Moriah. As per the Bible (2 Chronicles 3:1: “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite”.
The temple was destroyed after the intrusion of Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar II (as per Jeremiah 34: 7): “When the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem”. He destroyed Jerusalem in 587BC (2 Kings 24: 10,13): “At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged….And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said” .
“Lions in Relief” – from the procession street in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar II period (604-562BC);
glazed brick [Istanbul Archaeological Museum]
- Second temple
The population was transferred to Babylon, but returned after 50 years. After their return, on 536, Zerubbabel built the first phase of the second temple. (Ezra 3: 8: “Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel … to set forward the work of the house of the LORD”). Over 500 years the temple was repaired and new walls were constructed, but the major overhaul was performed by Herod – the great builder.
Herod the Great, King of Israel under the Romans (37BC – 4BC), enlarged and rebuilt the second temple, and made it a magnificent temple. A reconstruction of the temple is illustrated below, with a view from the south-east.
Reconstruction of the 2nd temple mount – view from the south-east
The trapezoid area of the temple mount was 144,000 square meters – the size of about 20 football fields. Its wall lengths were 280m (south wall), 460 (east wall), 315 (north wall) and 485 (west wall). The mount was 10 stories high – its height above the street level was 30m with additional 20m underground, using heavy hewn boulders measuring between 2-5 tons (small size) to 10 tons and more. Indeed – a colossal enterprise designed to host more than 100,000 visitors during the holidays.
|One of the exciting findings belonging to the Herodian temple was found by Clermont and Ganneau in 1871 in a graveyard near the temple mount wall. This 1st C AD warning stone reads (in Greek): “No intruder is allowed in the courtyard and within the wall surrounding the temple. Whoever enters will invite death for himself”. This warning is based on the Bible (Numbers 1:51): “And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death”.||Jerusalem Temple warning stone, 1st C AD
[Istanbul Archaeological Museum]
- The Great revolt
Following the Jewish revolt against the Romans, the Roman troops headed by Titus destroyed and looted the city and the temple. This left most of Herod’s second temple in rubble. Only few remnants of this remarkable structure remained, such as thewestern wall, Hulda Gates, and the south-western corner in the southern wall.
Titus Arch, Rome – the victory procession, with the booty taken from Jerusalem, including the seven branched candlestick
- Byzantine period
The temple mount was left in ruins. The Romans rebuilt the city and laid out new roads, while the temple mount was left in ruins. A large church was built in the 6th C AD in the area of El-Aqsa mosque.
The Arabs conquered Jerusalem in 638AD, and Khalif Omar visited and prayed in the site in that year. The dome of the Rockshrine, with the large golden dome and an octagon structure, was built by the Umayyad Khalif Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan in 691 (72 year according to Muslim calendar), and named it after Omar. It is one of the most beautiful and enduring shrines in the World, and remained almost untouched throughout the years.
The rock is, according to Muslim tradition, the spot where prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven.
Years later, either in 696 (by the same Khalif) or in 705AD (by his son), another dome was built on the far south side: the Al-Aqsa mosque (also “Al-Aksa”, which means “the remote” mosque).
It was named after the tradition of prophet Muhammad’s imaginative travel from Mecca to a remote mosque.
Additional Umayyad palaces and administration structures were constructed south of the temple mount.
In 1099 the Crusaders called the Temple mount as “Templum Domini”, turned the Dome of the rock to a church, adding a cross on the dome. They turned the Al-Aksa mosque to a prayer house and then to Baldwin’s royal palace in 1104, naming it King Solomon’s palace.
The Templar Knights military-religious organization was established in 1118, and named their organization after the temple. The vast halls under Al-Aksa mosque was believed to be King Solomon’s stables, a name still used today in the area that the was cleared under the mosque.
The Crusaders were driven out from Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187.
During the 14th-20th C the temple mount became a major Muslim prayer site; new walls and gates were constructed around the temple mount and the city; dozens of shrines, prayer domes and fountains added in the temple mount.
- Modern Years
In 1967 Israel reunited Jerusalem, but left the control of the temple mount to the Muslim Wakf. From time to time there are religious and political frictions ignited at the site, for example the riots in year 2000 that sparked the 5-years Palestinian uprising, called the “Al-Aksa Intefada”.
The situation seems explosive almost periodically, and the Israeli police staffs thousands of policemen in some Fridays, limiting the age and residence of the allowed persons to enter the temple mount in order to reduce the friction.
There are some extreme Jewish groups who want to rebuild the “third temple”, but this is a small group which is limited by the authorities. In addition, there are political debates over the fate of the city, which spells out more trouble in this hot spot.
Plan of Today’s temple mount sites:
The plan of the temple mount, as it is today, is illustrated in the following diagram. The Dome of the Rock is located in the center of the Area, while the Al-Aqsa mosque is on the south (bottom) side.
You can point & click on most of the highlighted sites to navigate to that point.
(a) Temple mount
One of the best views of the temple mount can be seen best from the bell tower of the Redeemer church, near the Holy Sepulcher. The golden Dome of the Rock is in the center. Behind it is Mount of Olives.
The following photo shows an aerial view of the the temple mount area, as seen from the south-west side.
The Dome of the Rock, an octagon structure with the Golden dome, is seen in the upper middle of the photo. Al-Aksa silver dome mosque is seen on the right side of the raised temple mount, which is adjacent to the southern wall.
On the west side of Al-Aqsa mosque is the Islamic Museum. Just above the walls, between the two mosques, is the Western wall. On the east side (left of the photo) is the Kidron valley, and beyond it is Mount of Olives.
(b) Dome of the Rock
The shrine of the dome of the Rock, with its large golden dome and an octagon structure, was built in 696Ad. It is one of the most beautiful and enduring shrines in the World, and remained almost untouched throughout the years.
The rock is, according to Muslim tradition, the spot where prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven.
The shrine is located in the center of a raised platform which itself is in the center of the temple mount.
A view of the gateway from Al-Aqsa mosque to the Dome of the Rock is seen in the following picture. This arched entranceway is one of the eight around the raised platform.
(c) Al-Aqsa mosque:
The Al-Aqsa mosque is located on the southeast side of the temple mount. Its silver dome towers over the southern wall. On the left side of the wall is a base of the “Robinson” arch, was part of the Herodian 1st C temple.
(d) Other sites on the mount:
In addition to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are additional sites around the walls of the temple mount.
A view from the north side is seen below.
This was taken from the the Al-Omariya school, near station 1 of Via Dolorosa.
About one third of the area of the temple mount, which covers a total area of 48 dunams (11.87 acres), is planted with trees.
In the center of the temple mount is a raised platform where the shrine of the golden dome of the rock stands. Other domes, water fountains, gates, minarets and other structures are located around the peripheral walls.
(e) Where were the 1st & 2nd temples located?
The Roman destruction of the temple and the reconstruction by the Muslims and Crusaders wiped out the location of Herod’s 2nd temple and its older Biblical predecessor.
Their exact location is a mystery that haunted the scholars and the faithful for centuries.
There are many speculations on the location of the ancient temples. A summary of some of the theories may be found in Tuvia Sagiv’s article.