Before Solomon built his Temple in circa 800 BCE, King David had built an altar on top of what is now the Temple Mount. David had purchased a threshing floor from the Jebusite Araunah and built a site of worship for YHWH to replace the tabernacle and to be a site of sacrifice and worship for the Israelites of Jerusalem. Some scholars have claimed that the threshing floor is a story to explain the origins of the temple, but that the site of the temple actually evolved out of a Canaanite, Jebusite, temple which already stood on the site. 1 If this is accurate, then it means that the sacredness of this particular space has been maintained for likely three millennia. The same space which served as an altar to the Canaanite God Zedek has been used to worship YHWH, the God of Israel; and this site has been used as a site of worship in Second Temple Judaism, and by Muslims since the seventh century CE. It should also be noted that though the site wasn’t used for worship by Christian Byzantines, the site’s vacancy was maintained as a symbol of Christianity’s replacement of Judaism. In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries CE, Christian crusaders used the site as they took interest in Solomon’s Temple. Crusaders carved a small cave into the foundation stone bedrock and commemorated the cave as the site of the Holy of Holies. The continuity of this sacred space has powerful implications for the political situation in the modern space. As the space continues to be contested by Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem, the space remains as a reminder that sacred space is dynamic and transcends time. Countless people throughout three millennia have come to this mountain to worship, and they have encountered the holy on this site.
For me, the spaces of Jerusalem created opportunity for deeper reflection. I reflected on the spaces as political, theological, liturgical, and historical spaces. The spaces told stories of pilgrims, ancient peoples, conflict, sadness, sacredness, holy encounters, and love. To me the Temple Mount represented space which is contested and space which tells a story. It contains a sacredness that transcends not only time and people, but also religious understanding. For three millennia people across faith and culture have found this space on top of Mount Moriah captivating and offering an opportunity to encounter God. The space of the Mount of Olives, when juxtaposed to the Temple Mount, reveals the political space. This space also tells a story, but a different one from the Temple Mount. It tells a story of shared space, deeper communion, and commitment to the space as both Muslims and Christians share the site of the Ascension of Christ. The spaces tell powerful stories of historical and theological significance. My time in these spaces transformed how I understand sacred space and how I encounter God in the sacred spaces of my own life. 2
Thank you to all who contributed gifts toward my Jerusalem course at St. George's College. I am overwhelmed by your generosity and love. Your gifts helped lift the financial burden of this amazing opportunity in Jerusalem.
1 Matthew Black, Harold Henry Rowley, and Arthur Samuel Peake, Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1962).
2 Other material not cited in this essay from lectures by Rodney Aist and others, during the course.