The following paragraph has raised the ire of many Jews and forced the NY Times to apologize and retract. It read: “The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.”
The Times, realizing belatedly that what the paragraph actually suggested was placing in doubt millennia of Jewish teachings, posted a retraction: “An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.”
Obviously, if you’re to the right of the Times you know they wanted to get away with delegitimizing the Jews’ claim to the Temple Mount, and if you’re left of center you don’t get what the whole brouhaha was about. The Times amended the offending paragraph to read:
“The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is where on the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.”
The article itself points the finger of blame for all this uncertainty at the Jordanian Waqf, saying “the Waqf has never permitted invasive archaeological work that could possibly yield proof.”
“That’s where you get to the Catch-22,” Jodi Magness, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the Times. “The logical thing would be to dig.” But she acknowledged that “if you did that, you’d probably cause World War III to break out. It’s not even in the realm of possibility.”
Another expert, Jane Cahill, said “nobody knows exactly” where the temples once stood, although “pretty powerful circumstantial evidence” suggests they were on the site, and bewailed the fact that “because there have been no organized excavations there, and not likely to be, circumstantial evidence is probably all we’re going to have.”
Any discussion of the geography of the Temple Mount begins and ends with Even Hashetiah, the Foundation Stone, whose location marks the precise site of the Holy of Holies. The Mishna Yoma (5:2), dealing with the labors of the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur reads: “After the Ark had been taken away, there was a stone from the days of the earlier prophets (Samuel, David and Solomon), called the Hashetiah (the word means foundation, as in the foundation of the world), three fingers above the ground, on which he (the High Priest) would place [the pan of burning coals]. He would take the blood from [the priest] who was stirring it, and enter [again] into the place where he had entered (the Holy of Holies), and stand [again] on the place on which he had stood (between the two staves), and sprinkle (the sacrificial blood).”
In simple terms: the Mishna offers testimony that during the First Temple, aka Solomon’s Temple, which was sanctioned in 832 BCE and destroyed in 587 BCE, the Holy Ark, complete with the Ten Commandments, stood on the Foundation Stone. Then, in the time of the second Temple, between 516 BCE and 70 CE, with the Ark gone, the High Priest used the same Foundation Stone as a resting place for his pan of burning coals for the sacred incense.
The lovely, golden Dome of the Rock, located at the very center of the Temple Mount, is, according to the vast majority of Jewish and Muslim stories, built right above the Foundation Stone. This is the spot where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, and, according to the Zohar, the stone was brought there by our third patriarch, Jacob, on is way from Canaan to Haran.
Naturally, there are competing Muslim narratives, and the Jewish Foundation Stone doubles there as the spot from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven, although there are disputes over whether this happened in reality (modern version) or in a dream (original version).
The walls around the Rock are adorned by anti-Christian statements, written in mosaic stones, expressing doubt in the dogma of Jesus the son of God.
The NY Times has, actually, gone farther than many in rebuking the Muslim Waqf for forbidding an architectural examination of the Dome of the Rock. Over the years, Israeli media have reported of many attempts by the Waqf to degrade whatever archeological remnants of the former Temples have remained beneath the Dome. It could be said that the vehement response of Muslims in and out of Israel to provocative incitement regarding Jewish plans to start visiting the Temple Mount more regularly reflect deep anxieties about the true origins of the place, which must be hidden in the rubble underneath.
Trying to explain “why is the shrine so important?” AP noted Monday that while Jewish believers say that Jewish religious practice would only be complete once the Third Temple has been rebuilt, “leading rabbis, citing religious purity laws, have banned entry to the compound since Israel captured it in 1967, along with the rest of east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” and “Israel’s chief rabbis reaffirmed the ban in 2013,” so that “most Jews continue to worship exclusively at the adjacent Western Wall, a Temple remnant.” Of course, the Western Wall is not a remnant of Solomon’s Temple, or even Ezra and Nehemia’s Temple, but was most likely built, judging by recent findings, by King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson, as a supporting wall for his grandfather’s renovated Temple, which was destroyed only a few decades later.
There is no mystery, according to Jewish sources, about the precise location of the Holy of Holies, God’s Sanctuary. It lies directly beneath the golden dome which can be seen from practically every corner of Jerusalem. The true mystery is: why are the Muslims in Jerusalem and elsewhere so anxious, to the point of starting a wave of suicidal violence and terror against Jews — when so few Jews–a mere few dozens–show an interest in the Temple Mount?