After having a brush with the conflict and chaos that is connected with the holiest piece of real estate in the world, I have decided to take a step back to get a historical, linguistic perspective on what most people call the Temple Mount. I always find value in understanding the name of a place through the language of those closest to it. In Hebrew, the Temple Mount is called Har haBayit (“Mount of the House”) and in Arabic it is called Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”).
For those who claim that the present Temple Mount has no connection to its biblical foundation, language comes to the rescue. When the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to “rebuild” Jerusalem in 135 C.E. he had no intention of preserving the past spiritual significance of the city as he pursued his own pagan agenda. His strategy was not only to drive the Jews from Jerusalem, but also to completely desecrate God’s Holy Hill and disconnect its name from its biblical roots.
He renamed the city Aelia Capitolina and dedicated a temple to Jupiter on the very spot that the Second Temple stood before the Romans destroyed it in 70 C.E. Since the name of the city connects with the action on the hill, Hadrian knew that the Jews would have no interest in ascending a mountain to visit a temple dedicated to a pagan deity.
After nearly 500 years of disregard, disrespect, and disposal of garbage on the Temple Mount, in 638 the Muslim Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab ordered the clearing of the site and the construction of a “house of prayer.” He did the exact opposite of what Hadrian had tried to do. Rather than disconnect the name of the city from its powerful purpose, he and Muslims everywhere called it by the name found in the Quran: Bayt al-Maqdis. Once again the name of the city was reconnected with what happened on the hill.
If we slow down and take a closer look we find that Bayt al-Maqdis sounds like a term found in early Jewish literature that is a conflation of a phrase used in the Hebrew Scriptures. That gives me cause for a pause.
“We were shamed, we heard taunts; humiliation covered our faces, when aliens entered the sacred areas of the Lord’s House” (Jeremiah 51:51, NJPS).
The English phrase “the sacred areas of the House” gives us the origin of the words used in the Quran and by Muslims then and now.
There are other biblical examples of the words that make the Hebrew phrase Beit HaMiqdash what it was in the past and is today. See Ezekiel 45:4; 48:21; 1 Chronicles 22:19; 28:10; and 2 Chronicles 36:17.
Over time, this commonly-used phrase morphed into Arabic as Bayt al-Maqdis or Bayt al-Muqaddas. So it seems reasonable to suggest to those who deny that the Temple Mount was originally home to “the sacred areas of the House” —or Beit HaMiqdash in Hebrew—that maybe a little linguistic digging is in order.
This makes me wonder if Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (“Supporters of the Holy House”), the anti-Israel terrorist group operating in the Sinai, might want to consider a name change…or at least an admission that their name is linked to the original House on the Hill.
If I had more time and space I could unpack some of the convoluted and confusing history of Christian actions that have taken place on this hill. But that’s a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that the Christian history on this site causes me to wonder about the present view of some of those from my religious background who may see this place as only a hill, with no house, waiting for a future prophetic fulfillment. Some apparently take the position that the requests by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-53) and the promise by the owner of the House on the Hill have no relevance for those who claim Christianity as their own.
After Solomon prayed, “the Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually’” (1 Kings 9:3, NASB).
Does that sound like a temporary promise to you?
When I read the following entry in the official itinerary of Pope Francis’ “Pilgrimage of Prayer” to Jordan and Israel and his scheduled visit to Har haBayit I felt compelled to speak up.
Monday May 26th 2014 Visit to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques
The Pontiff’s itinerary designates this place as the “Esplanade of the Mosques” rather than the Temple Mount. We sincerely hope that as the religious leader from Rome with over a billion followers, he will respond to our request to set the record straight linguistically and practically about this Holy Hill being “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Only time will tell.
If you would like some background on my “brush with the conflict and chaos” on the Temple Mount, I invite you to watch this short video.