The Temple Mount (Hebrew: הַר הַבַּיִת, Har HaBáyit, "Mount of the House (of God, i.e. the Temple in Jerusalem)"), known to Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif (Arabic: الحرم الشريف, al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf, "the Noble Sanctuary", or الحرم القدسي الشريف, al-Ḥaram al-Qudsī al-Šarīf, "the Noble Sanctuary of Jerusalem") and the Al Aqsa Compound is a hill located in the Old City of Jerusalem that for thousands of years has been venerated as a holy site, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike.
The present site is a flat plaza surrounded by retaining walls (including the Western Wall) which was built during the reign of Herod the Great for an expansion of the temple. The plaza is dominated by three monumental structures from the early Umayyad period: the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain, as well as four minarets. Herodian walls and gates, with additions from the late Byzantine and early Islamic periods, cut through the flanks of the Mount. Currently it can be reached through eleven gates, ten reserved for Muslims and one for non-Muslims, with guard posts of Israeli police in the vicinity of each.
According to the Bible, the Jewish Temples stood on the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition and scripture, the First Temple was built by King Solomon the son of King David in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE – however no substantial archaeological evidence has verified this. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Jewish tradition maintains it is here that a third and final Temple will also be built. The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site.
Among Muslims, the Mount is the site of one of the three Sacred Mosques, the holiest sites in Islam. Amongst Sunni Muslims, it is considered the third holiest site in Islam. Revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, the site is also associated with Jewish biblical prophets who are also venerated in Islam. Umayyad Caliphs commissioned the construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on the site. The Dome was completed in 692 CE, making it one of the oldest extant Islamic structures in the world. The Al Aqsa Mosque rests on the far southern side of the Mount, facing Mecca. The Dome of the Rock currently sits in the middle, occupying or close to the area where the Holy Temple previously stood.
In light of the dual claims of both Judaism and Islam, it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site as a Waqf. The Temple Mount is within the Old City, which has been controlled by Israel since 1967. After the Six-Day War, Israel handed administration of the site back to the Waqf under Jordanian custodianship, while maintaining Israeli security control. It remains a major focal point of the Arab–Israeli conflict. In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslims.
Temple Mount in Alpha and Omega
When the Israelis captured East Jerusalem and the Old City in 1967, they needed to decide what to do with the Temple Mount. Moshe Dyan imposed a compromise where Jews could visit the top of the Mount but not worship there. They could only pray at the Western Wall. Instead, the Waqf would continue to administer the holy site.
This was extremely frustrating to right-wing Jews who felt that the Messiah would have arrived if the Dome of the Rock had been dynamited and construction of the Third Temple had been begun. One such group was the Reconstruction Alliance and the archaeologist Yoram Louvish who worked with them. They had a hidden tunnel dug from a passageway to the Western Wall that went deep into the lower levels of the Mount. At the end of the tunnel old stonework dating from before the Babylonian conquest was discovered. This made it from the period of the First Temple.
- Alpha and Omega, pgs. 22-23, hc.
- Ibid., pgs. 22-26.