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Jerusalem: the mistaken city

Jerusalem: the mistaken city.

 

There are very few cities in the world that were both important in the distant past and continue to be in the present. London is one, MexicoCity another and Rome, of course, a third. Of these three, only Rome can claim to be the headquarters of a word-wide religion—the head-quarters of Anglicanism is Canterbury not London. However, there is one city that trumps all the rest in this respect: Jerusalem., for it is both ancient, modern, and the centre of not just one but no fewer than three, major religions.

 

I first visited Jerusalem in 1972, just six years after the old city had been captured by the Israelis from the Jordanians. I found it both a welcoming and slightly scary place of foetid streets, bustling people in traditional clothing, archaic religious customs and always the sense that it was a place where rancour and recrimination were never far from the surface. Children begged, Israeli soldiers swaggered and shop keepers swindled. In a sense it was not much different, I suspected, from how it had been at the time of Jesus when, contrary to the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants, the Roman Empire held it in a vice like grip.

 

I remember how on that occasion it snowed around Christmas time and people huddled round braziers. I staggered down the Via Dolorosa with swirls of snow flakes blowing into my face., Muslims and Jews as well as Christians had smiles on their faces, relieved, perhaps, that the holiday season brought more tourist dollars to their  markets too.

 

At the bottom of the road, which wound its way down a steep hill, was what must once have been a narrow valley. On its other side was a precipitous wall and a large gate leading to some steps. Beyond this gate, which was only open to those of the Muslim faith, was the third holiest place in Islam: the Harem ash sharif or ‘Noble Sanctuary’. Skirting round the outside of this, I made my way past the holiest place in Judaism: the ‘Wailing Wall’. Here elderly men with long beards and black hats were reciting prayers and stuffing pieces of paper, with personal requests to God, into the cracks of a Wall built by King Herod. This seemed to me very odd: a bit like standing in the car park of a demolished church where someone else has since built a Hindu temple. I found such faith both moving and slightly worrying, for the desire of these men was clear: that the over thirteen hundred year old mosques which sit on top of the Harem (or Temple Mount as it is referred to by both Jews and Christians) should be demolished and in their place a new Jewish Temple built.

 

This was all before 1973 and the first great oil-price shock. At that time the Arab world, even in Saudi Arabia and the now rich Gulf States, was much poorer than it is today. Yet even so there was little

doubt in mine mind (or anyone else’s for that matter), that should such a plan be put into effect it would trigger a world war with unpredictable consequences. It was a relief, therefore, that for now the Jews seemed content to pray beside the Wailing Wall while the Muslims retained their mosques on the top of the hill above them.

 

When I returned to Jerusalem in June 2000 for the ‘Opening of the Star-Gate Tour’, although the old city itself seemed much cleaner, the religious stand-off was, if anything, amplified. Thirty years of Israeli occupation had not warmed the hearts of the Arabs of East Jerusalem towards the Israelis or even begun to address the sorest issue of all: ownership of the TempleMount. The Jews were still to be seen praying at the Wailing Wall while Arab boys jeered at them from the parapet above and, at times, threw stones.

 

The simmering cauldron of tension was, of course, about to boil over spectacularly. On September 28th  2000 Ariel Sharon, perhaps the most controversial Israeli politician of his generation, paid a surprise visit to the disputed Mount. He was met by an angry mob of stone-throwers and within minutes what was supposed to be a private visit turned into a full-scale riot. Within days the conflict had morphed into an nation-wide uprising—an intifada—that engulfed the entire West Bank and threatened international relations between Israel’s allies in the west and the wider Muslim world.

 

Though things are quieter in Jerusalem now, the situation is still tense and ready to explode at any moment. And now, since not only Israel but also Pakistan (and maybe soon Iran) has nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the consequences of a new war between the Jews of Israel and their old adversaries, the Muslim Arabs, would very likely escalate into Armageddon. Yet, one wonders, does it really have to be like that? The answer is an emphatic no!

 

Shortly after returning from Israel, while researching for my next book, I came across some extraordinary informtion that if accepted could truly bring peace to the Middle East. For unknown to me controversy was then raging concerning a new theory that cuts to the very heart of the Jewish/Arab stand-off over the ownership of the Temple Mount/Haram ash Sharif. Put simply, there is a new theory that neither Solomon’s nor Herod’s Temples were built elsewhere and much closer to MountSion: the original city of David.

 

The principle proponent of this idea, which is still a hot potato among archaeologists, biblical scholars and religious people of all denominations and none, was the late Dr Ernest T. Martin. You can read all about his theories on-line on this page (http://www.askelm.com/temple/) and a number of others from the same and linked websites.

 

Put in a nutshell, Martin had gleaned evidence from the writings of Josephus, the reports of early Christian pilgrims and maps dating from the crusades, that what we now call the ‘TempleMount’ is in fact the remnants of the old Herodian/Roman fortress that was called the Antonia. The Temple of Herod was so utterly destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD that even its location (somewhat to the south and west of the ‘TempleMount’) was forgotten. In part this was because the Jews were all expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans and apart from the Roman fortress, for half a century or more the city was no more than a heap of rubble.

 

Now this is quite a wide-ranging and detailed study so I don’t expect you to accept what Martin says straight away. The fact that he was a fundamentalist Christian may also be off-putting to some of you. However, I have to say that having read his articles closely and followed up on his sources, I am convinced he was on the right track. He may not have been right in every detail but his basic discoveries were correct: the ‘Temple Mount’ is what remains of the Antonia Fortress; the Dome of the Rock Mosque sits over the site of a former Christian Church that once marked the spot where Jesus stood while be sentenced by Pilate; the Al Aqsa mosque is on the site of the huge basilica of Hagia Sophia that was built on an extension to Mount Moriah by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

 

The extraordinary corollary to these findings is that what Martin believed to be the true site of the Temples of Solomon and Herod lies in what is already the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. There is therefore no reason for the mosques to be demolished or the Jews to delay in rebuilding their temple. Islam, Judaism and Christianity have their own, separate holy sites in Jerusalem and should be able to co-exist in harmony in this city whose name means Peace.

 

PS Another site of interest is Mysteries of the Bible

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