" And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”.
This commandment was given by God to Moses and the people of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness and dwelled in tents. As nomadic people, their place of worship needed to be portable.
The Tabernacle was described in the Old Testament as a 15 by 5 meter rectangular tent (49 by 15 feet), which was divided into two distinct areas.
The first area was a courtyard called The Holy which stood inside the entrance. A seven-branched candlestick stood there and incense was burned as a sweet-smelling offering to God.
The far end of the courtyard, separated by a curtain, was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant in a sacred area, the Holy of Holies. The Ten Commandment Tablet, a vessel containing manna and Aaron’s staff. Sacrifices were carried adjacent to the Tabernacle in a designated area which measured 50 x 25m (164 x 82 feet).
All the specifications for the construction and adornment of the Tabernacle were carefully laid out in the book of Exodus, including detailed instructions for the curtains, colors and designs,
“Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim, you shall weave them. The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits. And every one of the curtains shall have the same measurements” (Exodus 26:1-2).
After the Israelites settled in the Promise land, the Tabernacle was placed in the city of Shiloh which became the spiritual center of the people for centuries.
The history of the Temple Mount began with legendary King David’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1004 BC. According to the story in the Sacred History (part of the Torah), there was a threshing floor which belonged to a local resident named Orna.
Why was this specific place chosen as the site of the Temple, for God the Creator? God Himself sent instruction through His prophet to David to build an altar in Jerusalem,
"And Gad came to David that day and said: Go, set up an altar on the threshing floor of Orna the Jebusite" (II Samuel 24:18).
David did not take possession of the land by force, but paid Orna (Aravna in Hebrew),
“Then the king said to Orna, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.’
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel” (II Samuel 24:24-25).
In the first few pages of Holy Scripture, the name of the region is recorded in the story of Abraham and the near sacrifice of his son, Isaac,
“Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Genesis 22: 2).
The names, the land of Moriah and Mount Moriah, are parallels which may not be accidental. Talmudic legend associates this mountain with the sacrifices performed by Adam’s son, Abel, before his murder at the hands of his brother, Cain, and Noah following the flood.
David dreamt of building a magnificent temple here as a dwelling place for God. He felt uncomfortable living in a palace while the House of God was so humble by comparison.
“Now it came to pass, when David was dwelling in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under tent curtains’” (I Chronicles 17:1).
He was destined to be disappointed, though, and his dream would never become reality. Through the prophet, Nathan, the Almighty announced that David would be denied this honor because he had shed so much blood. Instead, it would be fulfilled through his son,
"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men” (II Samuel 7:12-14).
This son, born “through his seed”, was Solomon (Shlomo in ancient Hebrew, meaning peaceful), who was destined to become a great king in the Land of Israel. The Temple dedicated to one God, the Creator of the Universe, was built, the first in the history of the people of Israel and probably all of mankind. It was constructed 480 years after the liberation of the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt in 957 BC, during the fourth year of the reign of King Solomon.
“And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 6: 1).
Unlike the pagans, Solomon did not view the Temple as a physical dwelling place for God,
But will God indeed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!”
(II Chronicles 6:18).
Solomon viewed the Temple as a universal place of worship,
“Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple;
Then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name" (II Chronicles 6: 32-33).
The First Temple also consisted of two courts which were roughly twice the size of the Tabernacle, and another courtyard was added to the facade (or ulam). The building of the Temple itself was surrounded by a courtyard (or azara).
A detailed description of the layout and construction of the Temple is found in 1 Kings. It is also documented in the historical writing of Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, although it was written much later. According to Flavius’ description, just prior to the construction of the Temple, terraces were built that flattened the top of the mountain. Today, the most obvious fragments of the foundations of the First Temple are seen at the Eastern Wall of Temple Mount.
The history of the First Temple began in 957 BC but this period ended tragically in 586 BC when it was destroyed by the Babylonian army.
The exiled Jewish people gradually began to return from Babylon and this procession continued for decades, although many decided to stay after assimilating to the local culture. Those who returned to Jerusalem immediately rebuilt the altar and eventually reconstructed the Temple itself.
During the restoration, the surviving building blocks and fragments of the walls of the First Temple were used. The architectural layout of the new Temple remained essentially unchanged except the adjacent courtyard was divided into levels of different heights which were connected by steps.
The ascent to the Temple began from the Women's Court (built just before the destruction of the First Temple) which was restored during the reconstruction. Just as the custom in the the first Temple period, women could enter this courtyard. The next section was the Court of Israel, and behind this was the Court of the Priests.
From a historical perspective, there is much more evidence for the existence of the Second Temple compared with the First Temple. It is chronicled in the works of historian Flavius Josephus as well as in the literature of the Jewish oral tradition, the Talmud and Mishna (or Midot), in the 2nd to 7th centuries AD.
In 19 BC, Judean King Herod the Great undertook a large-scale reconstruction of the Second Temple. He doubled the area of the Temple Mount by incorporating part of the hill on the northwest side. To accomplish this, four retaining walls were constructed and the Temple Mount was expanded on top of this foundation. After the Temple was essentially razed by the Romans in 70 AD, the walls and platform survived the destruction and remained standing.
Later, during the periods of Roman, Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader rule over Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to ascend to the Temple Mount. Therefore, the retaining walls of the Mount became the place of worship closest to the Temple and the Holy of Holies. Today, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, has become a holy place for the Jewish people.
During the thousands of years of the Temple's existence, it served as the center of religious and social life of the people. In addition to ritual services and sacrifices, people came together to share their joy and troubles. The Temple was also a place to unite in hours of national calamity and commemorate solemn events. People came to make sacrifices, pray and receive advice from religious leaders.
The highest religious court, the Sanhedrin, sat in the Temple. Prophets called out to the people and the kings walked among their subjects. The books of the New Testament, created by authors who lived amid the Jewish people, repeatedly mentioned the Temple. During the events described, the Temple had not been destroyed yet and served as the focus of the religious life of Jesus and his disciples.
According to the law of Moses, the firstborn son was to be brought to Jerusalem. The Gospel of Luke records the first time Infant Jesus was brought to the Temple,
"Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord'" (Luke 2:22-23).
Jesus and his parents made pilgrimages regularly to Jerusalem and the Temple. Even before He became a teenager, He had a special relationship with the Temple,
'His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And [Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously’” (Luke 2: 41-49).
Jesus was passionate for the purity of the Temple and referred to it as the House of his Father,
"Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’” (John 2: 13-17).
He also foretold and mourned the destruction of the Temple,
"Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down’” (Matthew 24: 1-2).
Religious life of the Temple was also a priority for the disciples of Jesus and they were present at the appointed hours of prayer and worship,
"Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1).
And here how the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem is described in the Book of Acts of the Apostles:
"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and [o]sold their possessions and goods, and divided[p] them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:44-46).
By contrast, the followers of Jesus in the early Christian church showed no interest in the Temple Mount, and the main shrine they revered in Jerusalem was the place of Jesus' execution and burial.
In 70 AD, the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans caused extensive damage to Jerusalem’s Second Temple with most of the destruction sustained on the northern side.
The Roman Empire established rule over Judea which led to another uprising (132 to 135 AD) which was finally suppressed by the Roman Army.
After conquering the land, Emperor Hadrian sought to erase the memory of the Temple and Jerusalem’s Jewish history. Judea became Palestine and Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman colony called Aelia Capitolina. To replace the Second Temple, a new temple was built on the site of Temple Mount and dedicated to Jupiter.
The Eastern Greco-Roman Empire, (known historically as the Byzantine Empire), established Christianity as the official religion.
During this period (4th-7th centuries), the character of Jerusalem changed significantly. Many churches were built throughout the city, but the Temple Mount remained desolate. It is known that a church was built on the top of the Temple Mount at some point but was destroyed during the war with Persia.
In 638 AD, Jerusalem and all of Palestine were conquered by the Arab army, inspired by the new religion of Islam that originated in the Arabian desert. The new conquerors of Palestine perceived the Temple Mount as a holy place for a few reasons.
First, the Holy Temple was built on this site by the righteous King Solomon (Suleiman in Arabic) who is one of the most revered men in Islam.
Secondly, the night journey of the prophet Muhammad from the Sacred Mosque (Al Masjid Al-Haram) to a distant Mosque (Al Masjid Al-Aqsa) was perceived as a visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, described in Sura 17 of the Qur'an Al-Isra,
"Holy is He who took His servant be night from the sacred place of worship (At Makkah) to the remote house of worship (at Jerusalem) - the precincts of which We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs...” (Sura 17: 1).
Another important reason is that Jerusalem was chosen by the prophet Muhammad as the initial direction of prayer for Muslims. After his return from Medina to Mecca, Mecca was restored as the status of "qibla" (directions in prayer), described in
Sura 2: 142-145, "The Cow":
"The foolish will ask, 'What has made them turn away from their direction of prayer which they used to face?' Say, 'The East and West belong to God. He guides whom He pleases to the right path. Thus We have made you a middle nation, so that you may act as witness to mankind, and the Messenger can be a witness for you. We decreed your former prayer direction towards which you used to face only in order that We might make a clear distinction between the Messenger's true followers and those who were to turn their backs on him. This was indeed a hard test for all but those whom God has guided. God will never let your faith go to waste. God is compassionate and merciful to mankind. We have frequently seen you face towards heaven. So We will make you turn in a direction for prayer that will please you. So turn your face now towards the Sacred Mosque (Al-Masjid Al Kharam): and wherever you may be, turn your face towards it'”.
Despite construction and renovations carried out by various rulers, Temple Mount remains a mountain with a rocky ledge at the peak. A dome was erected over this ledge which is known as the Foundation Stone or the Stone of the Universe in the Jewish tradition (Even Shtiya). Muslims call this site Rock or Al-Sahra.
Over the Foundation Stone, the dome above it is commonly called “the Golden Dome”. In 1965, the gold color coating was applied then the actual gold gilding was laid in 1994. The building is often called the Umar's Mosque, although this is incorrect because it was not built by Caliph Umar and it is not a mosque.
According to rabbinical Judaism teaching, the world was established on the Foundation Stone (Treatise Yoma). The Pentateuch describes the First Temple which housed the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments tablets. Later, in the Second Temple, the Ark was no longer there. On the Day of Judgement, the high priest offered incense.
According to Islamic historical sources, the location of the Rock was shown to the Arab conquerors by a Jew who converted to Islam. His name was Kaab abu-Ishaq ibn-Mani and he held a high position at the court of Caliph Umar,
"They also say that the Caliph himself went up there and with him was Kaab al-Akhbar. Umar said to the Kaaba: ‘Oh, Abu Ishaq, do you know where the rock is?’
The Kaab answered him: ‘Measure from the wall standing in the valley of Ben Hinnom, so many cubits, start digging there and you will find it.’
And he added: ‘This place is now covered with filth.’
They started digging and found the Rock.
Then Umar asked the Kaaba: ‘Where do you think we should build the sanctuary?’
The Kaab replied: ‘Set aside a place for him behind the Rock and then you will combine the two qiblahs, Musa and Muhammad.’
Umar replied: ‘You are still drawn to the Jews, O, Abu Ishaq, but we will put a sanctuary in front of the Rock’ "(Arab Chronicle of Mutir Al-Jaram).
Abu Ishaq desired to unite Jews and Muslims in one prayer place on the Temple Mount. This story precedes the construction of the Farthest Mosque (also known as Al-Aqsa) by decree of Umar, located south of the Foundation Stone.
Jewish medieval sources also support the story of Abu Ishaq,
"All the Muslims who were in the city and the surrounding villages came, and several Jews with them. Umar ordered them to clean up and sweep the place of the Temple and every minute asked the Jews about the Rock"
(Cairo Gniza, from the book by Z. Koren "Courts of the House of the Lord").
According to historian Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in 638, the city fell to a minor Muslim officer, Khalid ibn Thabit. The Patriarch, Sophronius, surrendered the city and opened its gates in order to avoid bloodshed.
At that point in history, the Arabs did not possess technical means or practical experience to attack a well fortified city which was a built in typical Roman style with thick walls, scores of towers and imposing gates. For some unknown reason which has been lost in the shadows of history, Sophronius decided to capitulate.
A century later, Islamic written traditions also include the conquering of Jerusalem including Caliph (means "successor, ruler") Umar's conquest. The title of this particular caliph was emphasized as Al Farukk (meaning savior, deliverer, essentially Messiah).
According to the narrative, he reached Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, just as the Messiah was expected to come and entered the city through the Eastern Gate (another Messianic allusion). Finally, he found the place of the former Solomon's Temple and restores the worship by building the house of prayer (the mosque). Prophet Muhammad constantly emphasized the Judgment Day (or the Ressurection Day known as Yom Il -Kayama).
It is very likely the Jews and Moslems worshipped at the Rock in the early stages. This view is not contradicted in the historical facts in the later Moslem period. Rabbinical tradition allowed Jews to pray in mosques in the Moslem countries.
An unnamed pilgrim from Bordeaux visited the Holy Land in 330 AD ( Byzantine Christian period) confirmed the Jews were allowed to pray in the Temple Mount at least once a year.
Jewish Midrash hails Moslems as initiators of Israel's redemption and praises them as the builders of the House of the Lord.
The structure built over the Foundation Stone was constructed in 691 AD (72 A.H.) by Caliph Abed Al-Malik, later called the Dome of the Rock (or Qubbat As-Sakhra in Arabic). It is an octagon and in the center there is a rock which is called As Sahkra (The Rock in Arabic).
The Dome of the Rock was built as a monument designed to emphasize the holiness of the place and the Rock is illuminated by the placement of the building's windows.
The Rock itself is surrounded by metal bars (probably built during the Crusader period) and two rows of columns. The architectural design of the building is very similar to a typical Christian church or martyrium (a place where the relics of martyrs are preserved), although there is no hall for public prayer.
According to modern Moslem belief, The Rock is the stone from which prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on the night of his journey to the Farthest Mosque and the location is the same place where the magnificent temple of Suleiman once stood (also known the Mosque of David or Mikhrab Daoud).
Judaism claims the site as Solomon's Temple Holy of Holies and Rabbinical tradition sees it is the Foundation Stone from which God created the world.
The building built over the Foundation Stone was built in 691BC (72 A.H.) by Caliph Abed Al-Malik and afterwards was called the Dome of the Rock (or Qubbat As-Sakhra in Arabic). The exterior design dates from the 16th century during the reign of Turkish Sultan Suleiman and is easily recognized by white and blue colors inscribed with verses from the Qur'an, written in calligraphic Arabic.
The interior decor of the building dates mainly to the early Islamic period, but some details are probably earlier, from the Byzantine (4th-7th centuries) and Roman (1st - 3rd centuries) periods. There are some architectural remains which possibly date back to the time of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.
Temple Mount stands mainly on the level top of Mount Moriah, but there is a square platform which is elevated 4m (13 feet) which was built during the Second Temple period. Today, the Dome over the Rock stands here along with several other Muslim structures.
The inscriptions that adorn the building express anti-Christian sentiments, ordered by the order of the Umayyad Caliph Abed Al Malik. Inside the Dome of the Rock, there are quotes from the Qur'an that explain about the basics of faith in One God and criticize Christianity.
The inscriptions on the outside of the gallery read:
"In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Merciful. There is no god but God. He is one. He has no companion."
"Say: He is God, One! God, eternal refuge! He does not give birth and is not born. He has no equal. Muhammad is the Messenger of God - God bless and greet him. "
"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Merciful. There is no God but God. He is one. He has no companion. Muhammad is the messenger of God. Indeed, God and His angels pour out blessings on the Prophet. O you, believers! Ask him for blessings and greet his dignified greeting. "
"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious. There is no God but God. He is one. Glory to God, who has no son and no companion in His dominion and He does not need a defender because of His weakness; and glorify Him with great glorification" (Sura 17: 111).
"Muhammad is the Messenger of God and the blessing of God, the angels and His prophets on him, and peace be upon him, and may God have mercy on him. "
"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious. There is no God but God. He is one. He has no companion. He has power and all praise belongs to Him. He gives life and causes death, and He rules over everything."
(Surah 64: 1 and 57: 2)
"Muhammad is the Messenger of God and God bless and greet him.
May he accept His intercession on the Day of Judgment on behalf of his people."
"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious. There is no God but God. He is one. He has no companion. Muhammad is the messenger of God. The blessing of God is upon him."
"The servant of God Abed (Allah Imam al-Mamun, the ruler) of the faithful built this dome in the seventy-second year (from AH). May God accept it from him and be pleased with him. Amen, Lord of the worlds, praise God."
On the inside of the building the following inscriptions:
"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious. There is no God but God. He is one. He has no companion. He has power, and all praise is to Him. He gives life and causes death, and He rules over everything."
(Sura 64: 1 and 57: 2)
"Muhammad is a Servant of God and His Messenger.
Truly, God and His angels pour out blessings on the prophet.
Oh, believers! Ask for his blessings and greet him with a worthy greeting."
"The blessing of God on Him, and peace be upon Him, and may God have mercy on him."
"O people of the Book, do not allow too much in your religion and do not say anything about God but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was only a messenger of God and His words, which He conveyed to Mary and souls created by His command."
"So believe in God and His messengers. And don't say three, it's better for you.
Truly, God is one. He is exalted above the son. Everything in heaven and everything on earth belongs to Him. And enough is God as a steward over (earthly) affairs."
"The Messiah did not neglect to be a servant of God, nor did His angels.
And whoever neglects to worship Him and is arrogant will answer on the day of Judgment." (Sura 4: 171-172)
"O God, bless your messenger and your servant Jesus, the son of Mary. Peace be upon him on the day he was born, and on the day when he dies, and on the day when he will rise alive!" (Sura 19:33)
"This is Jesus, the son of Mary - the word of truth about which they argue. It is not fitting for God to take a son; He is exalted! " (Translated by Estelle Whelan).
Dome of the Ascension (Qubbat Al-Maraj) marks the place of the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven and is the oldest among the group of buildings on Temple Mount, built in 1200 AD.
During its construction, fragments of the destroyed church of the Crusaders period were used and the Gothic influence is noticeable in its architecture.
Dome of the Prophet (Qubbat Ha-Nabi) is also called the Dome of the Angel Gabriel (Qubbat Al-Jibril). Here, according to legend, the prophet Muhammad prayed before ascending to heaven.
Dome of Souls (Qubbat Al-Arwa) is the traditional place of prayer for the souls of the dead and Hebron Dome (Qubbat Al-Khalil) was built in honor of the Islamic sheikh from Hebron.
Dome of Al-Khader was built to honor Al-Khader, the Christian Saint George, who lived in Palestine. According to Islamic tradition, he was known as the biblical prophet, Elijah.
Located on the east side of the platform is the Dome of the Chain, (Qubbat Al-Salsila) which is an architectural copy of the Dome over the Rock, built in the same period (691). According to the Arabic legend, here the righteous King David (or Nabi Daud in Arabic) administered judgment over people with the help of a magic chain.
The Farthest Mosque is the third holiest site for the Moslems around the world. Although the Quran never specifically mentioned Jerusalem as its location, it has been believed to be the location of the Mosque from the dawn of the Islam's history.
According to Moslem tradition, the Prophet Muhammad made his Night Journey in 620 AD and the story is told in 17 th Surah 'Al -Isra':
"Holy is He who took His servant by night from the sacred place of worship (at Makkah) to the remote house of worship (at Jerusalem) - the presincts of which We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs."
According to Moslem beliefs, on the Night of 'Al-Isra u Al- Maraj' , the prophet Mohammad was transported by the sacred animal, Al-Burack , from Meccah to Jerusalem which is celebrated on 27th of the Moslem month Rajav.
The mosque itself was built much later after the conquest of Jerusalm by Caliph Umar in 703 -705 AD.
The first mosque may have been built just a few years after the death of the prophet, constructed with wood. Significantly, one of its names was 'Masjid Al Maqdas' which means the house of prayer of the Temple (!)