History of religion

The temple in Jerusalem

(Published in GralsWelt 26/2002)


A strip of land at the transition from Africa to Asia, the only land bridge between these large continents, has been a passage and connection point between peoples, countries, nations and cultures for millennia: Palestine.

Trade and cultural exchange enriched, war campaigns devastated the country, which like most transit countries, wedged between larger empires, only found temporary peace. Even today, the interests of different groups clash there again. It is by no means only Israelis and Palestinians who cannot come to terms with a country that does not have enough water available for the population that has grown rapidly in recent decades. In the background are larger states that pursue their own interests and by no means act as altruistically as they say.

In the current bloody conflict, moreover, both sides are concerned with something other than such tangible issues as cultivable land with sufficient water. Religious passions burden this region more than almost any other place on earth. For there is Jerusalem, the holy city of the three Abrahamic (or monotheistic) religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Muslims, it is the third most important place; for Christians, it is the city where the most important events of Christian preaching took place; for Jews, the destroyed temple in Jerusalem is the most important symbol of their faith, which will one day rise again in its ancient splendor.

"How the navel is in the middle of the human body,
so is the land of Israel, in the middle of the world, the center of the world.
And Jerusalem is the center of the land of Israel,
and the temple in the center of Jerusalem,
and the holy of holies in the temple,
and the ark in the middle of the holy of holies,
and the altar before the holy of holies,
they are the center of the world that was founded here. "
Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim (translation from English according to (7))


The Temple of Solomon
When King David (approx. 1000-961 BC) had the Ark of the Covenant brought to the newly conquered Jerusalem and placed in a tent, he wanted to use this most important cult object in his new capital to consolidate the rule of his kingship over the various Jewish tribes. The "Holy Tent" described in detail in the Bible (Exodus 36:8 - 38) probably did not exist in this form, as scholars assume (4, p. 666), and the tent erected by David on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to store the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:17) was more simply furnished than the Holy Tent described by Luther as the "Tabernacle".

It was also clear that the ark of the covenant could not stay in a tent forever, and a temple was planned during David's lifetime, the execution of which was left to his son Solomon.
This Solomon temples was highly regarded in both Jewish and Christian cultural circles, far more than other, decidedly grander, buildings of antiquity. For in this temple the God of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims was worshipped. Here was the "Holy of Holies," a dark room that only the high priest was allowed to enter once a year (on the Day of Atonement = Yom Kippur) to ask God for forgiveness. In this holy of holies, according to tradition, God was present; thus, direct contact from man to God was possible. Religious scholars see parallels to Egyptian temples, where the pharaoh could speak with his god.
In addition to the ritual, there was also a political task for the temple. As the “royal chapel”, it was to become the religious center for the two parts of the empire, Israel and Judah.

The construction of the not too big temple, allegedly twice the size of the tabernacle, and therefore approx. 33 x 11 m (4, p. 663), was an achievement for the small kingdom that put a great strain on its economic strength. Solomon's ambitious building projects required slave labor, including from his own subjects, while David only obliged subjugated peoples to perform slave labor. This excessive demand on the productivity of his peoples, who had to build a palace in addition to the temple, laid the seed for the collapse of the kingdom after Solomon's death.

As the Bible reports in the First Book of Kings, the construction required the help of the Phoenician King Hiram, who, in addition to cedar wood, mainly sent builders and artisans. To the amazement of the Israelites, the technologically superior Phoenicians knew, for example, the stone carving: "When building the house, stones were used that had already been cut in the quarry ..." (1 Kings 6,7).

Numerous legends have grown up around this temple. For example, in Masonic esotericism, the Phoenician temple builder Hiram-Abi, "the widow's son", with his extensive technical knowledge, plays an important role.

The end for this fabled first temple came with the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple, and most of the population was deported to Babylon.

The temple of Zerubbabel
It was fortunate for the Jews that the tolerant Cyrus II became king of the Persians in 559 BC. He defeated the Medes and conquered the Babylonian Empire. He allowed the deported Jews to return to their homeland around 538 BC, and he even ordered the rebuilding of the Temple.

The northern kingdom, which is not the focus of attention in the Bible and has been more important for centuries Israel was already 722 BC. destroyed by the Assyrians. Its deported residents disappeared from history as "the ten lost tribes of Israel". Only the southern kingdom Judah could be resurrected as a Persian province; with the capital Jerusalem. However, setting them up was time-consuming and difficult. Under the governor Zerubbabel the construction of the Second Temple succeeded. Could be consecrated. Religious life started again. The dimensions of the second temple corresponded to the temple of Solomon, but the ark was missing and the furnishings could not be compared with the former splendor. So no one was in a position to see the entrance pillars Jachin and Boaz, the famous bronze sea (1. Kings 7.23; 2. Kings 25.13) as well as the many other exquisite cult objects to be reproduced.
It was not until decades later, when Nehemiah*), who worked at the Persian court, was sent as governor to the Persian province of Judah in 445, that the city walls of Jerusalem could finally be restored.

But now it came to religious tension. The conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians had left a deep trauma. According to ancient prophetic tradition, many blamed the people for allegedly deviating from the true faith. Indeed, the frivolous rebellions of the kings Jajakim and especially Zidkija against the Babylonians had challenged their vengeance.
Many Jews in the Diaspora had come into contact with other teachings. Then the victorious Persians were followers of Zoroaster, whose philosophy enriched the Jewish religion but challenged the Orthodox temple priesthood. There were also many marriages between Jews and non-Jews; and the latter were suspected of worshiping ancient gods like Baal.

The Persian lords were religiously tolerant, and Nehemiah was able to initiate a return to Mosaic Law to ease religious tension.
Now Ezra (born around 397 BC in the Babylonian exile) appeared in Jerusalem around 458 BC; a priest and scribe. He was commissioned by the Persians to complete the work of Nehemiah and put an end to the religious turmoil. Ezra, a religious fanatic, promoted faith in Yahweh and demanded strict adherence to religious laws. Jews had to separate from non-Jewish women and non-Jews were forbidden to enter the Temple Mount. Anyone who resisted this victory of orthodoxy was threatened with confiscation of property, banishment and even death.

In the confrontation with Hellenism, the Asidaioi or Hasidim, a religious group dedicated to the rigorous observance of the laws of the forefathers, formed in the 2nd century BC. These "pious" or "reverent" people continued the work begun by Ezra. Even today, we still speak of Sephardim (Sephardim), the more intellectually oriented Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the strictly religious, partly mystical Judaism of the Hasidim, to which the Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe were still counted in the 20th century. Today, the influence of the orthodox Hasidim on the politics of the State of Israel should not be underestimated.

The temple of Herod
The victory of Orthodoxy strengthened the temple priesthood, enforced religious unity within, and ritually sealed off Jews from non-Jews. On the other hand, the province of Judah could not ignore external influences due to a lack of military strength. After the destruction of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) Judah came under Egyptian (Ptolemy), Greek (Seleucid) and finally Roman rule. In between there was a short period of independence due to the successful, religiously motivated Maccabees uprising. **) When Jesus was born, Herod the Great (73-4 BC) ***) was King of with Roman support Judaea.

In the warlike turmoil of the centuries, the Second Temple was looted and damaged several times; a restoration that came close to a new building was due. This is how the impressive temple was built under Herod, in which Jesus once taught.

“The outside of the temple showed everything that amazes the heart and eyes. For the temple was covered over and over with plates of gold, and when the sun rose it gave off a glow like fire, so that the beholder, even if he looked deliberately, averted his eye as if from the rays of the sun. Indeed, the strangers who approached Jerusalem had the impression of a snow peak; for wherever he lacked gold, there he was shining white. "
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (1st century AD) on the temple of Herod, quoted from (3, p. 32).

Some speak of the temple of Herod as the "third temple" in which the Messiah preached, but in the Jewish count it is still the second temple, regardless of various renovations and the extensive renovation and expansion of Herod.
The Temple of Herod, a much admired building from antiquity, only stood until the year 70. To put down a Jewish revolt that had broken out in 66, the Roman general Titus conquered Jerusalem. The city and the temple were burned down by angry legionaries against the will of the general.

The third temple
Since the destruction of the Herodian Temple there have been various approaches to rebuilding over the centuries, all of which have failed (cf. eg 3). With the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem in the Six Day War (1967), centuries-old hopes of Orthodox Jews for the restoration of the temple were given new strength. In Jewish esotericism, biblical and extra-biblical prophecies can be found that announce the new building of the temple in the age of the Messiah and oblige the believers to fully commit to a reconstruction (cf. e.g. 3).
The exact location of the former temple, and thus the place where the future “Third Temple” was to be built, is only roughly known. It is often believed that the Holy of Holies was located in the center of today's Dome of the Rock. As long as archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount are not feasible, many questions about the Temple Mount and the underground passages in it must remain unanswered.

The Islamic Dome of the Rock (Omar Mosque, from the 7th century) and the Al-Aksa Mosque now stand on the Temple Mount, on which the ancient Jewish shrines were once located. Muslims see on the “Holy Rock” in the Omar Mosque the place from which Mohammed was once raptured into the seven heavens. Another legend is that Abraham sacrificed here. The Christian sanctuaries of the "Promised Land" are not on the Temple Mount.

After the Six Day War, the moderate Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) left the Temple Mount to Muslim control; a diplomatic act of tolerance that outrage Zionists and Orthodox Jews to this day. As far as is known, there have been four attempts by ultra-Orthodox Jews to blow up the Dome of the Rock in the last few decades (1, p. 11). Attempt attempts that, if successful, would have deeply outraged the entire Islamic world.
The Jews only had part of the western wall of the Herodian Temple, the “Wailing Wall”, as a place of prayer and remembrance.

On the Temple Mount today the claims of two religions clash violently, one speaks of the "Most explosive square meters in the world" (New York Times, 3, p. 9).
Muslims invoke the power of the factual, the facts created more than a millennium ago with the construction of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque. The Dome of the Rock, the golden dome above the Holy Rock created less for prayer services than for pilgrimage processions, is one of the most highly esteemed buildings of mankind in terms of culture and art history.

These structures, built by Muslims on the Temple Mount many centuries ago, now stand in the way of the desire of many devout Jews to rebuild the once-lost Jewish temple in its old location, as true to the original as possible. This temple had been the center of Jewish religiosity for a millennium. After its destruction, the devout Jews scattered all over the world longed for the lost cultic center for two millennia and hoped for its prophetically promised resurrection. After the state of Israel took possession of Jerusalem, the fulfillment of this age-old longing seemed to be within reach.

How can a compromise look like, which satisfies the hopes of the believing Jews without hurting the religious feelings of more than one billion Muslims, as a precondition for the peaceful future of the "Holy Land", so often tormented by war and destruction, sought by all parties? Two world religions have here the chance to prove the peacemaking power of their faith, and to show that they serve the one God who is a God of peace.

*) Nehemiah, who came from a Jerusalem family, became a eunuch at the Persian court and cupbearer of the king in 445 (1).
** ) See . "An outburst of anger influences world history" in "Brief, concise, curious" on page 279.
***) Jesus was probably born in 7 B.C. (cf. 5), and "From the beginning of our time, under "History"). At the time of his crucifixion (30 AD), Herod Antipas (20 BC-39 AD) was king of Judea.

(1) Andrews, Richard “Temple of Promise”, Gustav Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach, 1999.
(2) Freedman, David Noel / Robinson, Thomas L. “1000 questions to the Holy Scriptures”, Das Beste, Stuttgart 1992.
(3) Liebi, Roger "Jerusalem - an obstacle to world peace?", Schwengeler, CH-9442 Berneck, 1995.
(4) Mertens, Heinrich A. "Handbuch der Bibelkunde", Bechtermünz, Augsburg 1997.
(5) Naredi-Rainer, Paul v. "Salomons Tempel", Dumont, Cologne 1994.
(6) Negev, Avraham “Archäologisches Bibellexikon”, Hänssler, Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1991.