In the 7th Century A.D. a new religion burst mightily upon the world
scene, Islam. (Ref. 1) The prophet Mohammed
was born in Mecca about 570 A.D. By the 608 the main shrine in pagan Arabia,
the Kaaba in Mecca, was erected. After receiving profound revelations supposedly
from an angel, and stirred by the polytheistic paganism and disorder at
the Kaaba, the prophet went forth, rejected by his people, on his Hijra
(migration) from Mecca to Medina. The Hijra of Mohammed in 622 marks the
beginning of the Islamic era. Two years later Mohammed's followers defeated
the Meccans at the Battle of Badr and in 630 Mecca was conquered by Mohammed
and became the spiritual center of Islam.
The prophet died in 632 and was succeeded by Abu Bakr as the first caliph. The official version of the Koran was established in 650 during the reign of Uthman, 18 years after the prophet's death. By 656 there was considerable civil war within Islam among the "descendants" of Mohammed - disputes of all kinds about who was the legitimate, appointed heir to the faith. Shi'ite extremism in Iraq was part of this revolution and began in 685. These root disputations persist to the present day - Islam is a divided religion in many ways.
In the 633-637 Arabs conquer Syria and Iraq, followed by Egypt, then Persia in 640-643 - as part of the charge they believe was given to them by Allah through his prophet Mohammed. Arab armies moved into the Holy Land and were in full control there by 638.
Historian Steve Runciman recounts the conquest of Jerusalem:
On a February day in the year A.D. 638 the Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem, riding upon a white camel. He was dressed in worn, filthy robes, and the army that followed him was rough and unkempt; but its discipline was perfect. At his side was the Patriarch Sophronius, as chief magistrate of the surrendered city. Omar rode straight to the site of the Temple of Solomon, whence his friend Mahomet had ascended into heaven. Watching him stand there, the Patriarch remembered the words of Christ and murmured through his tears: 'Behold the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet.' (Ref. 2)
Omar is said to have been shocked at the filth and rubble that lay strewn
about the Temple Mount. Because the holy site had been neglected, he made
the Christian Patriarch Sophronius grovel in the muck. Afterward Omar set
about clearing the site. He built a wooden mosque on the compound. Most
scholars believe the mosque was built on the foundations of an early Christian
One well-known historical account contains the following details:
The great mosque of Jerusalem, Al Masjid al Aksa, the " Further Mosque," derives its name from the traditional Night Journey of Muhammad, to which allusion is made in the words of the Kuran (xvii. 1): "I declare the glory of Him who transported His servant by night from the Masjid al Haram (the Mosque at Makkah) to the Masjid al Aksa (the Further Mosque) at Jerusalem" - the term "Mosque " being here taken to denote the whole area of the Noble Sanctuary, and not the Main building of the Aksa only, which, in the Prophet's days, did not exist.
According to the received account, Muhammad was on this occasion mounted on the winged steed called Al Burak "the Lightning" and, with the angel Gabriel for escort, was carried from Makkah (Mecca), first to Sinai, and then to Bethlehem, after which they came to Jerusalem. "And when we reached Bait al Makdis, the Holy City," so runs the tradition, "we came to the gate of the mosque (which is the Haram Area), and here Jibrail (Gabriel) caused me to dismount. And he tied up Al Burak to a ring, to which the prophets of old had also tied their steeds." (Ibn al Athir's Chronicle, ii. 37.) Entering the Haram Area by the gateway, afterwards known as the Gate of the Prophet, Muhammad and Gabriel went up to the Sacred Rock, which of old times had stood in the centre of Solomon's Temple; and in its neighbourhood meeting the company of the prophets, Muhammad proceeded to perform his prayer-prostrations in the assembly of his predecessors in the prophetic office Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others of God's ancient apostles.
From the Sacred Rock Muhammad, accompanied by Gabriel, next ascended, by a ladder of light, up into heaven; and, in anticipation, was vouchsafed the sight of the delights of Paradise. Passing through the seven heavens, Muhammad ultimately stood in the presence of Allah, from whom he received injunctions as to the prayers his followers were to perform. Thence, after a while, he descended again to earth; and, alighting at the foot of the ladder of light, stood again on the Sacred Rock at Jerusalem. The return journey homeward was made after the same fashion - on the back of the steed Al Burak and the Prophet reached Makkah again before the night had waned. Such, in outline, is the tradition of the Prophet's Night Journey, which especially sanctifies the Rock and the Haram Area in the sight of all true believers.
After the capitulation of Jerusalem to 'Omar in 635 (A.H 14), that Khalif caused a mosque to be built on what was considered to be the ancient site of the Temple (or Masjid) of David. The traditional position of this site, 'Omar (as it is stated) verified, by the re-discovery of the Rock concealed under a dunghill from the description that had been given to him, 'Omar, by the Prophet, of the place where he had made his prayer prostrations in Jerusalem on the occasion of his Night-Journey. (Ref. 3.)
In A.D. 691 Caliph Abd el-Malik commissioned the best architects to build
the Dome of the Rock. His plan was based upon a Fourth Century Christian
shrine on the Mount of Olives marking the site of Jesus' Ascension. The
Caliph's new shrine was deliberately built as a political, economic, and
religious counter attraction to Mecca. Medina and Mecca, the two cities
holy to Islam, were under the control of a rival Caliph. Abd El-Malik sought
to build up the importance of Jerusalem as an Islamic center for pilgrimage
and worship. The holy spot of Judaism was now to be identified with the
spot where Mohammed's horse ascended to heaven.
Another indication that Jerusalem was not considered of great importance to the Muslim armies is the fact that it was one of last cities taken by the Syrian Muslims after the death of Mohammed. It was conquered by a mediocre commander, and not by Omar himself. The Arabs first called the city Ilya (Aelia Capitolina) rather than Beit el-Maqdas (the holy house). An early Muslim proverb says, "One prayer in Mecca is valued as ten thousand prayers; a prayer in Medina is valued at one thousand prayers; and a prayer in Jerusalem at five hundred prayers." (Ref. 4)
Although Abd El-Malik had commissioned the structure, it became known as "The Mosque of Omar." The structure, however, was not (and is not today) a mosque, but rather a shrine.
Inside the Dome is an outcropping of the bedrock of Mount Moriah, the "Sacred Rock." On the rock's pock-marked surface is one indentation which is believed to be the footprint left by Mohammed as he leapt into heaven. (Pilgrims over the centuries have whittled off pieces of the rock---the Crusaders especially were known to chip "holy souvenirs" from it.) Mount Moriah is a long, extended hill in Jerusalem, extending north from the City of David and extending beyond the present North wall of the Old City. That same hill is the traditional site of Abraham's sacrificial altar for Isaac, the threshing floor or Araunah, and the site of the First and the Second Temple.
The Foundation Stone is not solid, beneath it lies a cave and a well known as "the well of souls."
East of the exposed bedrock in the Dome of the Rock is a tall cupboard where it is believed hairs from the beard of Mohammed are contained. Within the hollowed out chamber of under the rock are the "places of prayer" of Elijah, Abraham, David, and Solomon. The Muslims call this cave the "well of souls" where they believe the dead meet twice a week to pray.
In medieval times this spot was considered to be the "center of the world" and was marked such on maps. Since the rock under the Dome of the Rock, where the cave is shows the effects of quarrying above the level of the cave, it is logical to hold that the rock stood higher originally and that the threshing floor surrounded the rock and the cave.
The exterior of the Dome is covered with tiles from Persia as well as marble. The "Golden Dome" is not made out of gold but rather anodized aluminum. The original dome was wooden, later covered with brass, and then lead sheathing in 1448. The excess weight of the lead-clad dome caused grave concern for the entire building because of periodic severe earthquakes in Jerusalem and finally the anodized aluminum dome. Most recently, in 1993, a million dollars in gold foil was provided by the government of Saudi Arabia as a gift. As of this writing the installation of the gold leaf has now been completed and the dome is today resplendent in brilliant pure gold.
During the seventeen centuries of the Dome's existence it has undergone many repairs but it has not been substantially changed in overall appearance since its completion in A.D 691. After one of the earliest renovations in A.D 820, Caliph al-Mamun removed the name of Caliph Abd el-Malik from the dedication plate and inserted his own name instead. However he neglected to change the dates and his fraud is there for all to see.
Writing about A.D 985, Mukadassi, the famous Muslim traveler born in Jerusalem, wrote:
At the dawn, when the light of the sun first strikes on the cupola and the drum catches the rays, then is this edifice a marvelous site to behold and one such that in all Islam I have never seen its equal; neither have I heard tell of aught built in pagan times that could rival in grace this Dome of the Rock. (Ref. 5)
From the Muslim point of view the Dome of the Rock was an answer to and
a denial of the attractions of Christianity and its Scriptures, providing
the "faithful" with arguments to be used against Christian theology.
The inscriptions are seven hundred and thirty-four feet long in all, amongst
the lengthiest inscriptions in the world. There is a great amount of repetition
and many quotations from the Koran.
The following extracts are relevant:
Inner Face: South Wall. In the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no God but Allah alone; he has no co-partner. He is the Kingship and His the praise. He giveth life and He causeth to die, and He hath power over everything.
South-East Wall. Verily Allah and His angels pronounce blessing upon the Prophet. O ye who have pronounced blessings upon Him and give Him the salutation of peace. O, People of the Book (i.e. the Jews and Christians, always referred to as such by the Muslims -Ed.) do not go beyond the bounds in your religion and do not say about Allah anything but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is but a messenger of Allah and His word which he cast upon Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe only in Allah and of his messenger, but do not say "Three" (Trinity) and it will be better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory that he should have a son.
North Wall. The Messiah will not deign to be in the service of Allah nor will the angels who stand in his presence. O Allah; pray upon Thy messenger "the servant Jesus - (N-W Wall) the son of Mary and peace be upon him the day of his birth, the day of his death and the day of his being raised alive." That is Jesus, son of Mary - a statement concerning which YOU are in doubt. It is not for Allah to take for Himself any offspring, glory be to Him.
West Wall. Allah bears witness that there is no God but Him, likewise the angels and the people possessed of knowledge (S-W WALL) - Upholding justice. There is no God but He, the Almighty and All wise. Verily, the religion in Allah's sight is Islam.
Outer Face: West and North-West Walls. In the name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate. There is no God but Allah alone. Praise be to Allah who hath not taken to himself offspring. To Him there has never been any person in the sovereignty. Mohammed is the messenger of Allah, may God pray upon Him and accept his intercession.
Praise be God who has not taken unto himself a son and who has no partner in sovereignty nor has He any protector on account of weakness.
If religious Jews are offended by the presence of this Islamic shrine on their holy mountain, Christians have even more reasons to take offense at the offense to their God, and the deliberate insults to Biblical revelation that the interior inscriptions clearly intend.
Since it is an historical fact that Mohammed never came to Jerusalem why is the Temple Mount considered holy to Muslims? One passage from the Koran does link Mohammed with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It is the seventeenth Sura, entitled "The Night Journey." In this Sura there is a dream or vision by Mohammed in which he is carried by night:
...from the sacred temple to the temple that is more remote, whose precinct we have blessed, that we might show him of our signs.
Islamic tradition identifies the first temple as Mecca and the second
as Jerusalem. Mohammed's journey was with the Archangel Gabriel. Muslim
belief says they rode together on a winged steed called El Burak ("lightning").
El Burak is not mentioned in the Koran, its first mention is two centuries
after Mohammed's death in a document called Hadith, a collection of oral
After they arrived at the Temple Mount, Mohammed and horse ascended through the seven heavens into Allah's presence. Various spots on the Mount were later indicated as the place where El Burak was tied up before the ascent into the presence of Allah.
A later account of the night journey states:
The prophet of God said: 'While I was sleeping within the wall of the Kaaba, came to see me Gabriel and kicked me with his foot, so I sat up, but not seeing anything, I lay again on my bed. He kicked me then once more, and I sat up and did not see a thing, so I lay back on my bed. He then kicked me a third time and I sat up, whereupon he pulled me by the arm and I rose, and went to the door of the temple. There was standing a white beast, between a mule and an ass in size, with two wings on its thighs, digging its hind legs in and placing its forelegs as far as it can see. Gabriel carried me on the beast, and we went together at the same speed.' So the Prophet of God journeyed, and with him also Gabriel, until they reached the temple in Jerusalem. He found there Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among other prophets, and he led them in prayers. Then he was given two vessels, one filled with wine and the other with milk, so the prophet of God took the vessel with milk and drank it, leaving the vessel of wine. Seeing that, Gabriel said to him: 'You were guided to the true religion [Islam] and so was your nation, for wine is forbidden unto you.
El Aksa is mentioned in the Koran in a vision of Mohammed's Ascension.
It means the "distant place." This refers to its geographical
location far from Mecca. El Aksa is regularly referred to as Islam's third
holiest shrine after Mecca and Medina. The present mosque is believed to
stand over the area where Solomon built his magnificent palace south of
The El Aksa Mosque was built between A.D. 709-715 probably by Caliph Waleed, son of Abd el-Malik, the man who constructed the Dome of the Rock. Throughout the years the mosque has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and subsequently rebuilt. A few supporting columns east of the cupola are the most prominent remains of the original mosque that has survived.
The most important reconstruction was after an earthquake in A.D 1034 when the mosque was enlarged to house 5000 worshipers. The builders used capitals and columns of destroyed Byzantine churches in their reconstruction work.
The conquering Muslims brought a different attitude with them. In contrast
to the Byzantine and Roman conquerors who let the Temple Mount remain in
ruins as a proof of the destruction of Jewish nationalism, the Muslims restored
worship to the Mount. Yet the worship was not of Yahweh, the God of the
Bible, but of Allah.
When the Muslims became the rulers in Jerusalem some matters became easier for the Jews. They were officially allowed to live in the city and there is evidence that on certain holy days they were even permitted on the Temple Mount.
Reports say that the Jews would march in procession around the walls of the Temple Mount on feast days and pray at the gates. A document written in the tenth century indicates that one of the conditions for allowing the Jews to pray at the gates was that the Jewish community would be responsible for keeping the Mount clean. The Jews, the document states, were responsible to sweep the Mount. Other accounts indicate that Jews were employed in the Mosque area and that Jewish craftsmen made lamps for the Mosque.
The Mishna (Berachot 9:5) reveals that the Jews of all ages are required to show reverence for the site of their former temples:
No man shall behave frivolously when standing near the eastern gate, which looks to the Holy of Holies: he shall not enter the temple mount with his cane, his shoes, his purse, or the dust on his feet, nor shall he use it as a short cut, still less shall he spit there. (Ref. 6)
Inscriptions have been found at the gates of the Temple Mount that were probably put there by Jewish Pilgrims during the early Arab rule. One such inscription, when translated, reads:
You Lord of Hosts build this House in the lifetime of Jacob ben-Joseph, Theophylactus, and Sisinia and Anistasia. Amen and amen.
The names on the inscription indicate they were Jews from a Greek-speaking country. Though the Jews were allowed more access than in the Roman or Byzantine period, they were still far from their desired goal of retaking Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
In the last 1300 years, with only one exception, the Temple Mount has
been in the hands of Muslims. On July 15, 1099 Jerusalem was taken from
the Muslims by the Crusaders from Europe. The Crusaders slaughtered the
inhabitants of Jerusalem in an unjustified carnage. The Dome of the Rock
was converted into a Christian Church called the Templum Domini - "Temple
of our Lord."
The Crusaders then began to use the Al-Aksa Mosque as headquarters for the Knights of the Templar who officiated the Temple Compound. A remnant of the Crusader occupation still exists today, the tombs of the assassins of Thomas Beckett the Archbishop of Canterbury (1118-1170). After murdering Beckett the assassins traveled to Jerusalem and took up with the Templar Knights. Their tombs are situated near the main entrance.
The Western world rejoiced that Jerusalem was in the hands of "Christians." The victory, however, caused Muslims to immediate launch campaigns to regain the city and the Dome from the Christian infidels.
The Crusader occupation was relatively short-lived. The Muslim leader Saladin (Salah al-Din) proclaimed a jihad, or holy war, to retake the land of Palestine. After ninety years of Crusader control, Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin's army on October 2, 1187. In contrast to the brutality of the Crusaders, Saladin treated the defeated Crusaders with kindness and mercy.
The golden cross that was placed on the Dome of the Rock was torn down. Saladin rededicated the Templar's headquarters as a mosque. The Dome was covered with beautiful mosaics and a prayer niche facing Mecca was added.
Jerusalem was back in the hands of the Muslims and Europe was ready to avenge the defeat. A Third Crusade was undertaken (1189-1192) to free Jerusalem from the armies of Saladin. Richard the Lion-hearted led England and other Crusaders in a fruitless attempt to retake the city. To this day, the Temple Mount remains in Muslim control.
In 1267 the Jewish sage Nahmanides wrote to a letter to his son. It contained the following references to the land and the Temple.
What shall I say of this land . . . The more holy the place the greater the desolation. Jerusalem is the most desolate of all . . . There are about 2,000 inhabitants . . . but there are no Jews, for after the arrival of the Tartars, the Jews fled, and some were killed by the sword. There are now only two brothers, dyers, who buy their dyes from the government. At their place a quorum of worshippers meets on the Sabbath, and we encourage them, and found a ruined house, built on pillars, with a beautiful dome, and made it into a synagogue . . . People regularly come to Jerusalem, men and women from Damascus and from Aleppo and from all parts of the country, to see the Temple and weep over it. And may He who deemed us worthy to see Jerusalem in her ruins, grant us to see her rebuilt and restored, and the honor of the Divine Presence returned.
An account exists of Napoleons visit to the Temple Mount of the 9th Av, the day of the commemoration of the Temple's destruction. When asked what all the crying and wailing was about, Napoleon was told that the Jews were mourning their Temple which had been destroyed 1900 years previously. Touched by the incident the French Monarch said, "a people which weeps and mourns for the loss of its homeland 1800 year ago and does not forget - such a people will never be destroyed. Such a people can rest assured that its homeland will be returned to it."
The Ottoman Turks, non-Arab Muslims, became the dominant power in the
15th century. In 1453 they captured the city of Constantinople and brought
about the final destruction of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine). They
renamed the city Istanbul and made it the center of their empire.
In 1517, under Sultan Selim I, the Turks captured Jerusalem and all of Israel. The rule of the Turks over Jerusalem would last exactly four hundred years. The walls which today surround the Old City were built by Suleiman the Magnificent, son of Sultan Selim. Suleiman restored the Al Aksa Mosque and some of the present stained glass windows date from this period.
The Arabs found themselves under the domination of the Turks. For four hundred years of Turkish rule the Arabs did not possess even a single, independent state.
Even during the Jewish exile extending over many centuries, the people continually expressed hope for a return to Jerusalem, for the rebuilding of the city and of the Temple. Two eighteenth century rabbis, Jacob Emden and Jonathan Eibschutz were fierce rivals. On the subject of returning to Jerusalem, however they saw eye to eye. Emden wrote:
We do not mourn properly over Jerusalem. Were we guilty of this transgression alone, it would be sufficient reason for the extension of the period of our Exile. In my opinion this is the most likely, most apparent and the strongest reason for all of the dreadful terrifying persecutions which have been fallen us in Exile, in all the places of our dispersion. We have been hotly pursued. We have not been granted rest among the nations with our humiliation, affliction and homelessness, because this sense of mourning has left our hearts. While becoming complacent in a land not ours, we have forgotten Jerusalem; we have not taken it to heart. Therefore, "Like one who is dead we have been forgotten," from generation to generation sorrow is added to our sorrow and our pain.
One must weep ceaselessly over the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the glory of King David, for that is the object of human perfection. If we do not have Jerusalem and the kingdom of the House of David, why should we have life? . . . Since our many transgressions have led to the Destruction and to the desolation of our glorious Temple and the loss of the kingdom of the House of David, the degree which we suffer the absence and the lack of good is known to all. Surely have we descended from life until death. And the converse is also true: "When the Lord restores the captivity of Zion," we shall ascend from death unto life. Certainly the heart of anyone who possesses the soul of a Jew is broken when he recalls the destruction of Jerusalem. (Ref. 6)
The hope of the Jews in diaspora is that one day they would again come to their land, rebuild the Holy City, and their Temple.
J.T. Barclay in the mid 19th Century wrote about the barring of those from the Mount who were not of the Islamic faith:
When the clock of the Mosk needs repairing, they are compelled, however reluctantly to employ a Frank. But in order to have a clean conscience in the commission of such an abominable piece of sacrilege as the admission upon the sacred premises, they adopt the following expedient. The mechanic selected being thoroughly purged from his uncleanness ablution . . . a certain formula of prayer and incantation is sung over him at the gate. This being satisfactorily concluded, he is considered as exorcised, not only of Christianity (or Judaism, as the case may be), but of humanity also; and is declared to be no longer a man but a donkey. He is then mounted upon the shoulders of the faithful, lest . . . the ground should be polluted by his footsteps; and being carried to the spot where his labours are required, he is set down upon matting within certain prescribed limits; and the operation being performed, he is carried back to the gate, and there, by certain other ceremonies, he is duly undonkeyfied and transmuted back into a man again.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish persecution was on the
increase. In 1882, as a result of persecution of the Jews in Russia and
Romania, the first immigration of Jewish settlers to Palestine began.
In 1891 Arab leaders prepared a petition to the Ottoman government in Constantinople to demand and end to Jewish immigration into Palestine and prohibit Jewish land purchases.
In 1896 Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionism published the Jewish State. He argued that the only way in which the "Jewish problem" can be resolved is by establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Herzl's writing start the Jews on the road back to their Promised homeland.
During the time of Turkish rule, at the beginning of this century, one
of the biggest uproars that ever occurred around the Temple Mount took place.
It was the ill-fated Parker expedition. Captain Montague Parker organized
an expedition to Jerusalem to find a $200 million treasure that was supposedly
hidden underneath the Temple. A Swedish philosopher named Valter H. Juvelius
thought he found a coded passage in the book of Ezekiel that gave the location
of this lost treasure. Since digging was not allowed on the Temple Mount
Parker and his group had to content themselves with digging around the area.
After months of digging around the Temple Mount no "secret passage"
could be found. With their permit to dig about to expire Parker bribed the
Turkish governor to let him and his cohorts secretly dig on the Temple Mount.
Dressed in Arab garb the group came to the Mount at night and stealthily
dug while it was dark. For about a week they continued this practice. However
just when they began to excavate the place where they believed the treasure
to be fate intervened. An attendant of the Mosque decided to sleep that
night on Temple Mount. Hearing strange noises coming from the Mosque he
decided to investigate. He came upon Parker and his illegal dig. Immediately
the horrified Muslim took to the streets to reveal with sacrilege. This
result was a riot:
On the morning of April 19, 1911, a crowd of angry Muslims, outraged at what they considered to be a desecration of the holy Mosque of Omar or the Dome of the Rock, rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem, quickly mobbing the entrance to the government citadel. The Turkish governor of the city, fearing for his own life at the hands of the crowd ordered troops to quell the disturbance. But the soldiers were unable to control the growing mobs, and by nightfall, rioting and mayhem had spread to all parts of the city.
Never before had an archaeological expedition ended in so violent an uproar. But never before had there been an archaeological expedition quite like Captain Parker's. Conceived in folly, but planned with cunning, the Parker Mission had come to Jerusalem with a single goal: to locate and unearth the fantastic treasure of Solomon's Temple buried beneath the Temple Mount. (Ref. 7)
Parker and his companion escaped with their lives but the episode is another of the strange events that have occurred around the Temple and the Temple Mount.
When the first World War occurred the Arabs helped the British fight
the Turks. D.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - was instrumental in achieving
the victory over the Ottoman Empire.
In October in 1917 General Allenby launched an invasion on the land of Palestine. On Sunday, December 9th, the Turks were driven out of Jerusalem. Two days later the General made his entry into conquered Jerusalem on foot. He said no one could enter the holy city except in humility on foot. He said upon entering:
Since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three great religions of mankind, and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and the pilgrimages of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore I do make known to you . . . that all sacred buildings will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those who faiths are sacred. (Ref. 8)
Britain, France and Russia then forged what became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement which was a plan to carve up the old Ottoman Empire following Turkey's defeat in World War I. Britain gained control of Palestine under this agreement. For the first time in four hundred years the Holy sites of Christianity were delivered from the domination of Islam.
On November 2, 1917 the British government, in the Balfour declaration, pledged its support for a nation home in Palestine for the Jews. British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour wrote a letter to Baron Edward de Rothchild as a representative of the Jewish people:
His majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. (Ref. 9)
The Arabs believed they had been betrayed. Because the Arabs had help
the British oust the Turks they expected to receive full control of Palestine.
Britain said that Arab independence did not include the land of Palestine.
The situation was bad for both Jews and Arabs. The Turks were no longer in control it was now the British who were their new masters.
The land of Palestine saw riots occur in 1929. Agents of the Grand Mufti
began spreading false rumors among the Palestinian Arabs that the Jews planned
to attack the Dome of the Rock. An armed Arab mob, inflamed by these claims,
descended upon the Jewish part of Jerusalem on August 23. The following
week the violence spread throughout the entire country. By the time British
reinforcement arrived 133 Jews had been killed as well as 116 Arabs. This
outbreak had an important impact on British policy concerning the Holy Land.
Again the Temple Mount was at the center of the controversy.
As we have already observed, history has afforded many example of anti-Semitism among "Christians." Yet there are many examples of others who helped the Jews. One person who made a significant contribution toward the rebirth of the State of Israel was Orde Wingate.
From 1936-1939 the Arabs of Palestine revolt in an attempt to halt the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. British army units as well as Jewish settlements come under attack.
Captain Wingate, a Bible-believing Christian, was posted as an intelligence officer to Jerusalem in 1936. At the time of his arrival, a new wave or terrorism had broken out among the settlements. To counter this terrorism, Wingate trained special units that helped defend against the Arab attacks. He introduced successful techniques in countering the marauding bands. His heroic efforts did much to insure the security of the Jewish settlers.
Wingate explained why he felt responsible to help the Jewish people:
This is the cause of your survival. I count it as my privilege to help you fight your battle. To that purpose I want to devote my life. I believe that the very existence of mankind is justified when it is based on the moral foundation of the Bible. Whoever dares lift a hand against you and your enterprise here should be fought against. Whether it is jealously, ignorance or perverted doctrine, such as have made your neighbors rise against you, or "politics" which make some of my countrymen support them, I shall fight with you against any of these influences. But remember that it is your battle. My part, which I say I feel to be a privilege, is only to help you. (Ref. 10)
The example of Orde Wingate serves as a reminder that those who accept the Bible literally cannot help but have a love for God's Chosen People the Jews. Wingate's story is in contrast to the unspeakable things said and done in the past by those who claimed they were doing it in the name of Christ. To those individuals who persecuted the Jews, desecrated the Temple Mount and other Jewish Holy Places, all in the name of Christianity, Jesus said: "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! (Matthew 7:23).
The British finally gave up and turned the problem of Palestine over
to the United Nations. The United Nations votes to partition the land of
Palestine into two states: one for the Palestinian Arabs and the other for
the Jews. War was inevitable.
The British mandate was slated to end on May 15, 1948. The Arab leaders promised they would invade Palestine at that date and crush the Jews. Poised on the border were the armies of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. They were ready to deliver the death blow to the newly formed state. The Jordanian army had already strategic positions within Palestine. The Jews had no planes, tanks or artillery to handle a full-scale invasion. Furthermore, there was no place for them to retreat. Everything looked hopeless.
On May 14, 1948, against all the odds, the modern state of Israel was reborn. At four o'clock that afternoon the members of the provisional national council, led by David Ben-Gurion, met in the Tel Aviv Art Museum. Ben-Gurion rose and read the following proclamation to the assembled guests:
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here there spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained, faithful to it in all countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom. . .
Accordingly we, the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish people in Palestine and the Zionist movement of the world, met together in solemn assemble today, the day of the termination of the British Mandate of Palestine, by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people and the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL . . .
With trust in Almighty God, we set out hand to this declaration, at this session of the Provisional State Council, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth year of Iyar, 5708, the fourteenth day of May, 1948.
As promised by her enemies, the new state of Israel was attacked by Arab forces as soon as their independence was declared. The result was victory for Israel and defeat for their Arab enemies. Jews started to return to Israel. Time magazine reported:
Out of the concentration camps, ghettos, courtrooms, theatres and factories of Europe the Chosen People had assembled and won their first great military victory since 166-160 B.C. Israel's victory came after the worst of a thousand persecutions.
As we have noted, the Bible had predicted the Lord would scatter His people as a consequent of their disobedience under the Palestinian covenant:
Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither your nor your fathers have known---wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. (Deuteronomy 28:64-66).
But also under the terms of the same covenant and in keeping his other covenants with Israel, scripture also predicted God would bring the people of Israel back to their own land:
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among the nations where the Lord your God drives, you, and you will return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I commanded you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord God has scattered you. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).
Yet now they were back, but not totally. The Jews did not control the Temple Mount area or the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1948 full Muslim control of the Old City of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount returned to Islamic rule when King Abdullah took that part of the city in the war with Israel.
The Temple Mount remained in the headlines. In 1951 King Abdullah of Transjordan was assassinated at the entrance of the El Aksa Mosque. A bullet-scarred pillar just inside the entrance serves as a reminder of the event. His youngest son, King Hussein, took over his rule at the age of seventeen. It was his grandson, King Hussein, who was the first person to full lift restrictions to non-Muslims to visit the Enclosures and the interior of the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aksa Mosque.
From the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, there has been no real center for the Jews. They have not been able to perform their religious duties as the Scriptures call for. Synagogues are not the same thing as the Temple---all Jews recognize this fact. Synagogues are places of prayer, reading, and training. The priesthood has been inactive since Jerusalem's fall. This also was predicted in Scripture:
For the children of Israel will abide many days without a king and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod and without teraphim (Hosea 3:4).
The ephod and teraphim were vestments of the priest. The priest was not
able to perform his duties without them. For two thousand years the nation
Israel has had a religion without a Temple; believers without a sanctuary;
and a liturgy without the ability to sacrifice.
From their dispersion world-wide the Jews have wished for access to the Temple site, any remnant of the Second Temple, and the possibility of building a Third Temple. This has been their dream.
Since the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews have suffered repeated humiliations as the Holy Places in Palestine have been desecrated. The domes of the two buildings on the Temple Mount stand high and reflect the bright sunshine. This serves as a reminder to the people that "pagan" holy places are on the site of their sacred Temple.
The words of the prophet Ezekiel are true today as ever:
"And their Holy Places shall be defiled . . . The enemy has said against you, Aha, even the ancient high places are ours in possession." (Ezekiel 7:234; 36:2)
From the time of the destruction of the Second Temple until June of 1967
the city, except for three short years under Bar Kochba, had never been
in Jewish control. The story of the Jews is one of wandering, humiliation.
Yet after twenty centuries the Jews came back and the modern state of Israel
was reborn - in one day.
Mark Twain wrote:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine . . . are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality? (Ref. 10)
Though the modern State of Israel was reborn, Jerusalem was not completely
in their hands and the Temple Mount was still in the control of others.
Between 1948 and 1967 the area of the Temple Mount was off limits to Israelis.
The liberation of the Old City would have to wait another nineteen years.
1. See separate essay for a brief summary
of the teachings of Islam.
2. Steve Runciman, A History of The Crusades. Volume One: The First Crusade, Cambridge University Press, 1951, p. 3
3. Guy Le Strange, History of Jerusalem Under the Muslims, (From A.D. 650 to 1500), 1890.
4. Menashe Har-El, This is Jerusalem, Canaan Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1977.
5. Cited by Solomon Steckoll, The Temple Mount, London, Tom Stacey, Ltd., 1972, p. 31.
6. Cited by Arthur Herzberg, editor, Judaism, George Braziller, Inc. New York, 1961, pp. 163-164
7. Neil Asher Silberman, In Search of Solomon's Lost Treasures, Biblical Archaeological Review July/August 1980, pp.31-33
8. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol 4, p. 131
9. Orde Wingate, cited by Michael Pragai, Faith and Fulfillment, p. 112 10. Time Magazine, August 16, 1948
10. Mark Twain, Concerning the Jews, 1899