The Seat Of Three Religions
It’s our last day in Israel. Why not end with a bang?
The traffic is at a crawl up the street that leads to the Temple Mount or, Haram Al Sharif to the Arabs. Gil drops us off at the base of the street leading to the entrance as he goes to try to find a parking place. We hike up.
It’s Tisha B’ Av, one of the most somber days in the Jewish calendar. It is the day of the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. Both Temples were right here. This is also the day when many Israelis start their summer break. There are lots of reasons for crowds.
The line to get into the Temple Mount is long and slow, and it’s hot. Furthermore, since many on the line (the same line as the one to get to the Western Wall) are Orthodox Jews and it’s a fast day, we would not offend them by drinking water.
Israeli police control the pinched-in check point. They are there primarily to stop Orthodox Jews from gaining access to the Temple Mount to pray. They even give groups of Orthodox Jews a police escort to make sure the rule is not broken by a zealous worshipper. Only Muslims may pray on the Temple Mount for it is the site of two huge mosques, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jews may enter the plaza of the Temple Mount at certain times. This is one of them, so we wait and eventually gain access to the plaza which is the size of twelve football fields. This is the holiest site in the world for Jews for it is the place where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac and was stopped by an angel before he killed his own son and it is the site of both of the ancient Temples. This is also the place from which Mohammed ascended to Heaven. The rock of the Dome of the Rock is the top of that place, Mt. Moriah. In 1999, before the Second Intifada, I was able to enter the mosque and touch the rock. No longer.
It is the third holiest site for Muslims behind Mecca and Medina. Muslims are free to enter the mosques, but we Jews are prohibited from even praying up here or carrying in a Hebrew Bible.
This is a volatile and potentially dangerous hot spot, site of many incidents including those of violence over the years. The police presence is overwhelming. They are everywhere.
Gil walks us off the Temple Mount into the Christian Quarter of the Old City, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is here, a site that was outside the Old City’s walls in 33 or so C.E., that Calvary resides. We enter through huge 900-year old wooden doors, controlled by Muslims, up a steep staircase in the part of the church run jointly by the Catholics and Greek Orthodox branches of Christianity, that is supposed to be the spot where Jesus was crucified. It is ornately adorned in the Greek Orthodox style and contains a hole in the bed rock purported to have borne the actual cross upon which Jesus died.
Down the steps from Calvary in the other direction from the ascending stair, is a slab that is the site on which Jesus’ body was laid after it was removed from the cross. Across the room is the site of his resurrection. Obviously, as holy as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall are to Muslims and Jews, this site is for Christians. Gil tells a unique story that I had never heard before.
In the New Testament, the crucifixion was supposed to have occurred at 9 in the morning and his body taken down about six hours later. He is entombed quickly. There is insufficient time to completely prepare the body for burial as it is Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath and may even have been during Passover. It is for that reason the complete burial process was unfinished and why his followers returned to his tomb after the Sabbath on Sunday to finish the process. This was how they would roll back the covering stone to find his burial shroud, but no body. This is an important story as it explains why anyone would go back to a tomb after a death before the traditional seven days of mourning. He was not buried, just entombed.
This is a heavy day. In a matter of hours we visited the holiest site in Judaism, the third holiest site in Islam, and the holiest site in Christendom.
We leave on an awesome note, humbled as always. We depart tonight.
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