Jerusalem of Holiness. “Ten measures of beauty descended into the world. Jerusalem got nine, and the rest of the world got the remaining one.” "There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.” ( The Bavli Talmud, Kidushin tractate (.
Jerusalem of Holiness
“Ten measures of beauty descended into the world. Jerusalem got nine, and the rest of the world got the remaining one.”
"There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.”
( The Bavli Talmud, Kidushin tractate(
Indeed, anyone walking the streets of Jerusalem, visiting its ancient alleyways, or climbing its turrets or the mountains surrounding the city, cannot escape its overwhelming beauty, nor can they ignore the cloud of Shchina which envelopes it, turning it into a magnet for pilgrims of every kind, color and gender.
Jerusalem attracts amateur archeologists, Jews from all over the world who come to search for their heritage, Christian pilgrims of every denomination and sect, and Muslims who come to pray in its mosques.
The core of Jerusalem’s holiness is this rock at the center of “Temple Mount”, called “The Drinking Stone” – the very stone upon which the whole world rests…(Today, the rock, and the cave within it, can be reached from the “Dome of the Rock” at the center of Temple Mount.
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham came upon this rock four thousand years ago, on Mount Moriah, when he prepared to sacrifice his own son on it (the scene is depicted in this mosaic found at an old synagogue in the ruins of Tzipori).
Three thousand years ago, King Solomon built the first Jewish temple on Temple Mount, with The Rock in the middle, and so did King Herod when he built the Second Temple a few hundred years later.
The Muslims, whose religion was born in the Arabian desert 600 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, adopted Jerusalem as a holy city. Their “Dome of the Rock” has been standing at the center of Temple Mount for the last 1,300 years. Within the mosque lies The Rock from which, according to their belief, Mohammed ascended to Heaven.
Three thousand years ago, David conquered the city and made it his capital, building on the western slope of the Kidron wadi. The ruins of the old city and its surrounding walls reveal the tortuous history of the people of Israel during the centuries.
King Solomon, who inherited the kingdom from his father David, enlarged the city and, on the hill overlooking “The city of David”, he built a temple to the God of Israel. This building, which, according to the Bible was magnificent, was destroyed without trace by Nebakanezer of Babylon. Here and there a few remnants were left, as in the example below which was a section of the city wall during the period of the First Temple.
This is an approximate map, which shows the lines of the city walls at various periods. The red dotted line shows the walls, which included “The City of David” and “Temple Mount”, during the First Temple period.
This is the section of the wall shown in the previous picture.
70 years after the Jews’ exile to Babylon, King Cyrus allowed them to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city. Many people accepted the challenge and joined the “Azariya and Nechemya Aliya”. They rebuilt parts of the city and the Temple. However, for lack of funds, the new temple was a small, unimposing building, which remained the same for centuries. King Herod, who was an Adomite and who wanted to strengthen his rule over the Jews, rebuilt the temple, turning it into a most magnificent, sumptuous palace.
Herod straightenedout Temple Mount, and built supporting walls from huge stones to provide the vast flat area for the magnificent new temple. The temple itself was surrounded by various courtyards and facilities to provide shelter for the many pilgrims who came to Jerusalem every year. Unfortunately, Herod’s temple did not last very long. Following the Jewish uprising against Roman rule in 70 AC, only 90 years after it had been built, the temple was completely burned down by Titus. The only parts left standing were the supporting walls. A small section of the western side became sacred around 700 years ago, and is now a focus for pilgrims and visitors who come to pray, or to express their wishes for the renewal of the temple.
The Antonia Fortress
The Western Wall
Beneath is a drawing depicting the southern wall with the entrances to Temple Mount: on the left – the double “Hulda” gate; on the right – the “Triple gate”. Those were the gates through which the crowds entered the temple courtyard, and whose remains can still be seen today.
At the bottom of the staircase, a vast array of bathing and washing facilities was unearthed. These facilities served the many visitors who used them to clean and freshen up before entering the holy grounds of the temple.
Above is the Triple Gate, which was blocked up by the Muslim conquerors. The grand stairs leading up to the gates have recently been reconstructed.
On the left – the stairs leading to the “Hulda” gate, and a part of its frame head. Today the gate is hidden by a building from the Omah period.
Beneath – the Western Wall, which, as explained before, is a part of the supporting wallsfor the temple area.
The total length of the wall is 488 meters, but only 57 meters face the square. The height of the south western section is 30 meters, and in the middle of the square it is 18 meters.
The Wall is built of huge hewn stones placed very precisely one on top of the other without any cement to secure them together. Some of them weigh many tons, and the largest one, which can be observed at the “Wall Tunnel”, measures 13.6 m long, 4.5 m wide, and 3.5 m high, and weighs 570 tons !
The time is half past midnight on a regular week day. The praying area in front of the Wall is full of people, as if it were the middle of the day. Some stand glued to the wall, praying to God with devotion, some are silent while others may cry out loud. Some people kiss the cold stones, and may even shed tears. A stranger may find it difficult to understand, but will definitely feel the electrifying holy atmosphere of the place.
The Wall is dramatically light up, but the people are only mindful of the stones in front of them, of their prayer, and of God.
Soon after the demise of King Herod ( in the year 4 BC), a man was born in Israel whose influence on the world will be unparalleled.
A simple Jewish family lived in Nazareth: the father, Joseph, was a carpenter, the mother, Miriam, was a housewife. According to the Christian belief, Miriam was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The new born was called Yeshua, and he grew up to become the Messiah for millions of believers. We shall skip the birth and childhood of this Jew, and get straight to his last years.
When Jesus was approximately 30 years old, he met on the shore of the river Jordan a relative, John “The Baptist”, an eccentric Messianic who preached the strict following of Jewish scripture, and the purifying of mind and body by bathing in the Jordan river. Jesus was deeply impressed by this meeting, felt an overwhelming ecstasy, and concluded that he might be the person chosen to bring redemption to his people.
However, only the tragic death of John (he was beheaded by the executioners of Herod Antipas) caused Jesus to start actively preaching purity, devotion and the following of God. He was active mainly in the Galilee, did a few miracles, and then, just before Passover, he arrived in Jerusalem.
WhenJesus arrives at Temple Mount, excited crowds are getting ready to enter the Temple compound. People are purchasing chickens or lambs in order to hand them to the priests to be sacrificed to God in their name. At the money- exchange booths, foreign currency is exchanged for shekels, so that levies can be paid at the temple. The place looks like a colorful, noisy, and dirty market. Jesus feels that this is disrespectful of the temple: he gets angry, starts chasing the chickens, upturns tables, and shouts against the corruption of the priesthood, and the lightheaded popular attitude towards the holiness of the temple. He calls upon his listeners to adhere strictly to the laws of the Torah, the Holy Scriptures.
Jesus’ actions and ideas aggravate the Jewish nobility, and the Roman authorities worry that another false prophet may cause trouble, even revolt, so they try to lock him up and to prosecute him.
Room of The Last Supper
Jesus spends the Passover night with a plain family of a water man who lives on Mount Zion. This place is very popular with visitors to Jerusalem.
Jesus spends the night outside the city walls, as far away as possible from the law enforcing officers. He rests his head on a rock, as seen in the picture below, but he is restless and worried. Not long after, the Sanhedrin messengers arrive, led by his pupil Judas Iscariot who hands him over to his persecutors for money. Henceforth Judas Iscariot’s name becomes synonymous with treachery and disloyalty.
This is the handsome “Church of All Nations”, which was built over the rock at Gat Shmanim where Jesus was sitting at the time of his arrest.
Jesus is questioned before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish rabbinical court), who try to prove his guilt. If he admits to claiming that he is the Messiah, he can be sentenced to death. However, the Sanhedrin do not carry out the death sentence; rather, they hand him over to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilatus at the Antonia Fortress. The Roman soldiers lead him through the Via Dolorosa to the Golgotha Hill, where he is crucified according to the Roman custom of the time.
The Road of Suffering – Via Dolorosa.
The Antonia Fortress in the Holy land Model
Along the Via Dolorosa there are 14 stations, each marking a certain event that happened to Jesus on his Way of Suffering. This metal work of art, placed near the entrance to the Church of the Grave, depicts some of those events.
Most “stations” are marked by special features. On the left, “Station no. 2”, is the Church of Flagellation, where the Romans flogged Jesus and put thorns on his head.
Five of the stations are situated inside the area of the Church of the Grave.
Station no. 3 marks the place where Jesus fell down for the first time under the weight of the heavy cross he was carrying.
Jesus is led to the Golgotha Hill, where he is crucified. After a few hours, the Jewish owner of a burial cave nearby by the name of Joseph Haramati asks for permission to take him down off the cross and bury him properly, and permission is granted. Jesus is taken off the cross and is taken into the cave, as shown in this picture placed at the entrance to the Church of the Grave. The Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected, that he met with his pupils again, and only after that he went to heaven.
On the left – Jesus’ cave of the grave, within the Church of the Grave.
Jesus died as a proper Jew. He preached the strict following of the Jewish commandments, and not the creation of a new religion. His pupils, who spread his teaching, turned it into a new religion. In fact, the first Christians were persecuted by the Romans, and Christianity was recognized as a legitimate religion only 300 years after the death of Jesus. Only then did it start spreading all over the world.
Constantinos was the emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and who is considered to be the first Byzantine Caesar. His mother, Helena, went to Jerusalem in 326 AC, and with the aid of a (Jewish) guide “located” the Golgotha Hill, where she built the first “Church of the Grave”. The building was ruined and rebuilt several times over the centuries, and the present building is from the 12th century, built by the crusaders.
The schedule at the Church Of the Grave is strictly divided between the various Christian denominations, each gets a certain amount of time for its followers to pray and conduct their particular ceremonies.
The façade of the Church of the Grave.
An example of time allocation to the various denominations
Top left – the Armenians
On the right- the Franciscans
Below – The Knights of Malta
Around 600 years after the death of Jesus, probably in 570 AC, Mohammed, son of the El Koreish tribe in Arabia, was born.
At the age of 40, when secluded in a cave, he had a “vision” – the angel Gibril appeared in front of him and instructed him to read some verses from the Koran. Mohammed refused, since he was illiterate, but when the angel insisted he succeeded in reading. Excited, he told his wife what had happened to him. In time he received from the angel more parts of the Koran – 144 chapters in all.
Mohammed was persecuted, fled from Mecca to Medina, fought with his followers against his enemies, and finally, in 629, he conquered Mecca, cleaned the Kaaba Stone which was used by pagans, and turned it into the holiest site for Islam. Every Muslim must visit the Stone of Mecca at least once in his lifetime.
It should be emphasized that Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Koran: it became holy to Islam only after it was conquered in 638.
The Dome of the Rock was built in 691 by the Halif Abd El-Malik. This is the oldest existing Islamic building: it has remained where it was erected, unchanged except for periodic renovations. It was built in the middle of Temple Mount, over the “Drinking Stone”, right where the ruined Jewish temple used to stand. According to Islamic tradition, Mohammed arrived here riding a winged horse (El Bouraque), stood on the Drinking Stone, and ascended to heaven.
The building of the Dome of the Rock serves not as a mosque but rather for personal prayer, particularly for women.
In the Koran, the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven is only mentioned by the name El Aqsa Mosque (the Far Mosque), but there is no mention of Jerusalem. Mohammed died six years before Jerusalem was conquered by the Arabs. When the Muslims arrived, they found a city which was holy both to the Jews and to the Christians. For political reasons they decided to make it holy to Islam, too, and so they built the holy mosque El Aqsa, and Jerusalem became the third holiest city to Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
Dome of the Rock
The first El Aqsa was built from wood by El Walid in 710. The building was destroyed and rebuilt at least 5 times. The present building was completed in 1035, and it serves the many Palestinian Muslims who come to pray there every Friday.
El Aqsa and the southern part of Temple Mount as seen from Mount Olives.
And so it happened that Jerusalem became the holy city of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and each fought to rule over it. The Jews were exiled from the city 2000 years ago, were replaced by the Christians, who in turn lost it to the Muslims, then returned during the Crusades, then were driven out once more by the Mamlouks, and later by the Ottomans. Thus, the city rulers changed during its history, but it has always preserved its atmosphere of holiness, and has remained a magnet of mysticism and attraction to millions of pilgrims who flock to it from all corners of the world.
Today one of the few holy places left to the Jews is the Western Wall, which is a section of the western supporting wall of the temple’s courtyard.
Another remnant of the Jewish past is the “Burnt House” – a house of a wealthy Jewish family from the year 70 AC which was burned by the Romans, together with the temple. Also left are the ruins of some ancient synagogues.
The Western Wall, and, overlooking it from above, the Dome of the Rock and The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
Some people are getting ready for the future, practicing playing on David’s harp… And someone has also constructed a golden candelabrum, to be ready for the Third Temple ? ! ?
The typical Muslim focal point, The Dome of the Rock, can be observed from every place in Jerusalem. Here it is seen from the Tower of David, with Mount Olives in the background.
And here it is seen from the East, facing Westward.
El Aqsa Mosque, although it does not have a golden dome, still shines impressively when dramatically lit up at night.
Christian Jerusalem rules the skyline with its tall, impressive church domes.here is The church of Dormission
Church Notre Dame de France
Church of Maria Magdalena
We shall conclude with a look, through a lovely lattice work in the Church of the Christian Tear, at Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, and others.
We have wondered through various places in Jerusalem, and everywhere we turned, we were met by a shroud of holiness, which every time seemed different, depending on the spectator, his religion, and the particular site he was observing.
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