Column: Visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount


Today, in our continuing tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we go onto the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.

After the Romans destroyed the Jewish Second Temple in A.D. 70, the Temple Mount fell into disuse, with reports that Christians later used it for their garbage. After Islamic armies captured Jerusalem in A.D. 634, the new rulers decided to build a monument over an outcropping of rock on the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), to demonstrate their presence in the city toward which Muslims had once prayed. The location was near where the Second Temple had stood. Reflecting Islam’s rivalry with Christianity, the dome on the monument, completed in A.D. 691, duplicated to within a few inches the dimensions of the dome on the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site in Christendom. An Islamic prayer hall at the south end of the Temple Mount has been rebuilt and enlarged several times, now accommodating 4,000 worshippers. Most Muslims today associate the rock beneath the dome with a night ride they believe Muhammad made to Jerusalem in A.D. 621, from which he traveled to heaven. As a result, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque of which it is a part are the third-holiest sites of Sunni Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The Temple Mount is controlled by a trust administered by Jordan. Non-Muslims can go onto the Temple Mount but cannot enter the buildings or pray while there. Visitors to the Temple Mount can visit the nearby Bethesda Pool, where the Gospel of John says Jesus healed a paralyzed man. They can also visit the Church of St. Anne, erected by the Crusaders to honor Anne, the claimed grandmother of Jesus, who they somehow concluded had lived and bore Mary in Jerusalem.