For now: a last post on Jerusalem

Though only loosely connected to the history of global Christianity, a recent book on the other major holy place of Jerusalem, styled the "sacred esplanade" by its editors, forms an interesting complement to the two earlier books on the Holy Sepulchre or Church of the Resurrection mentioned earlier. In this book, the editors Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Kedar, with the help of a mixed group of Israeli, Palestinian and international scholars, describe the history and present status of the "Temple Mount" also known as the "Al-Aqsa Mosque" (today’s preferred name for the whole area by Palestinians, rather than the earlier Haram al-Sharif). Despite difficulties such as this, the book (published towards the end of 2009) is a major landmark in bringing together Jewish, Christian and Islamic history of the site in one continuous story, also reversering an striking trend in recent Palestinian nationalist writing to completely disregard or even deny the Jewish phases of the area. Whereas the earlier contributions present an up to date overview of the results of historic research (for me one of the most interesting notions was that the Dome of the Rock was often seen as the Temple of Salomon, a conception sometimes taken over by Christians and more often by Jews (who, at the same time, kept remembering its destruction) — which made me wonder whether the image of the Dome of the Rock in the Abuhav synagogue in Tsfat should not be seen as evidencing this fusion of the two, rather than as a reminder of the need to rebuild the Temple of Salomon – implying the destruction of the Dome of the Rock), the later chapters on the twentieth century help readers to understand why and especially how the area is such a sensitive issue in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And despite the differences in view points expressed in these later chapters, they have enough in common to be hopeful about possible solutions.

A concluding note in view of my earlier posts on the Holy Sepulchre: this book underlines (mostly implicitly) the importance of studying the two major sites of Jerusalem in tandem: the area of Church of the Resurrection was developed as an obvious replacement of the destroyed temple of the Jews and the Christians all but neglected this earlier holy place. When in early Islam the area was again developed as a holy place (attempts by Jews not having succeeded because of lack of political power), it intended, in turn, to outdo the Christian re-interpretation of Jerusalem’s holiness, by re-building the Temple and visibly expressing Islam’s superiority over Christianity – perhaps, as was suggested by Kruger, even mirroring the lay-out of the Holy Sepulchre/Anastasis: two distinct sanctuaries, one round, one basilica-shaped, separated by a court (which in Haram al-Sharif is much bigger than in the Anastasis/Holy Sepulchre but part on one larger conception). During the Crusades, Christians for a while tried to re-integrate the area into a Christian sacred geography, with some limited succes among the pilgrims of the time, but as soon as the crusades were over, the Haram al-Sharif vanished from Christian consciousness almost completely, to be left to Muslims and Jews. It is in the 20th c. that some Evangelical Christians, parallel to and in support of Jewish radical groups, again began to be fascinated by the Temple area itself — hoping to see its current sanctuaries destroyed and a new temple erected — an ideology that was expressed violently in 1969 when an Evangelical Christian from Australia set fire to the Al-Aqsa mosque, destroying much of its extensive woodworks.

Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade. Editors: Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar Sponsors & publishers: Hebrew University/ Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, Al-Quds Unviersity and Centre for Jerusalem Studies, Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise de Jerusalem.

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