The Bible mentions only three locations purchased with money. The field of Machpelah in Hebron bought by Abraham, the field near Shechem purchased by Jacob and where Joseph was later buried, and Mount Moriah, atop which was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which David obtained and designated the future location of the Temple.
The First Temple, built by David’s son Solomon, stood for almost four centuries before being destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Though little is known about this earliest incarnation, from the time David purchased the mountain until its destruction, the First Temple had assumed a place of paramount importance.
The wealth David accumulated for the building project and the splendid structure produced under Solomon’s supervision leaves one with the impression that from the beginning the welfare of the Temple was associated with the welfare of the people of Israel.
This conclusion is supported by the fact that the destruction of both the First and Second Temples were followed by exile. Conversely, the building of the Second Temple at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah marked the beginning of the return home to Zion.
The centrality of the Temple was again demonstrated at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Greeks in the second century BC. The rededication of the Temple marked Judea’s Independence Day. The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD came after a failed attempt to regain Jewish control over Judea, Jerusalem and the Temple from the Romans. While the revolt ended in catastrophe, the fall of the Second Temple stands as a testimony to the price Jews were willing to pay to protect this sacred place.
The place of the Temple in Jewish hearts was captured by the psalmist: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
With one exception during the short reign of Emperor Julian in 362 AD, no one has ever again attempted to restore the Temple. During the Byzantine era, the Temple Mount was deliberately unattended, most likely to break any association between Christianity and Judaism. According to Muslim sources, Caliph Umar ordered a clean-up of the rubbish that had accumulated for centuries atop the Temple Mount. The same Umar later began work on the al-Aqsa Mosque, which was completed by his son in 704 AD.
Islamic tradition holds that al-Aqsa is the place from which Mohammed went on his famous nighttime journey from Mecca to “the farthest mosque” and back, despite the fact that the Temple Mount only came into Muslim hands centuries after his death. But no matter how important Muslim may claim this mosque is to their faith, its status can’t be compared to the position of the Temple in Judaism.
Likewise, though the Crusaders of the medieval period turned al-Aqsa into a church, the most important church in the Holy Land remained the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be built over the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
Though no one today disputes the importance of the Temple Mount for Muslims and, to some degree, for Christians, this holy site would have remained a forgotten threshing floor had Israel not sanctified it some 3,000 years ago.
It is the paramount importance of this place for Jews that drives the Arab world mad in its quest to erase any trace of Jewish heritage. Professor Jamel Amer from Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, for example, has said on Palestinian Authority TV that “there is an opinion that on its place [Dome of the Rock] once stood the Holy of Holies of the fictitious Temple – which, by the way is only an illusion. There is no evidence for it. It is a myth, a story like the Arabian Nights.”
Nevertheless, it is simply undeniable that as it was in the past, the Temple remains a central part of Israel, just as the navel is a central part of the body. If successful, attempts to destroy this connection would bring about the demise of Israel, which is, of course, precisely the aim of the new Palestinian narrative.
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