A building south of the Armenian section of Jerusalem’s Old City is probably the only building on earth deemed holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The building also shows how historical realities can become irrelevant in the face of religious traditions.
When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they discovered on Mt. Zion the ruins of a fourth-century church that was once a synagogue. Muslim residents repeated stories from the 10th century that the synagogue was built over the tomb of Biblical King David. Christians said the church was associated with Jesus’ last days on earth. So the Crusaders erected the Church of St. Mary of Zion to honor both traditions. An empty stone box in a first floor room symbolized David’s tomb and a larger space above was linked with the upper room where Jesus met with his disciples. When the Ottoman Turks gained control of Jerusalem, they added a minaret to the building and converted the upper room into a mosque honoring David, whom Muslims consider a prophet.
For about 800 years, Jewish residents of Jerusalem ignored claims associating the Crusader building with David because the Hebrew Scriptures say David is entombed in the “City of David,” hundreds of yards to the east. After the 1948 war, Jordan barred Jewish access to that and other important sites in Jerusalem, including the Western Wall. The tiny room with the stone box was one place having any claimed connection to Jewish history where Jews could gather to pray. So the box was covered with blue velvet richly embroidered with representations of musical instruments and Hebrew text proclaiming, “David the king of Israel lives forever.” A small sign over the entrance proclaimed “King David’s Tomb” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Following Jewish tradition, only men now enter the “tomb” and women view the covered box through an opening in the wall.
Jews pray in “King David’s Tomb” on the first floor, Christians pray in the “upper room” and Muslims pray on the roof. No one cares if David is really in his tomb. So, David, wherever you are, rest in peace.