Also, because I haven't said it here on this blog yet: I am so thankful to Jason Isaacs for (a) putting up with me on Twitter and (b) retweeting and putting out the link to this blog on his Twitter page. First off, what he said about my geeky researcher issue was so NICE (Jason Isaacs is so NICE, Internet--you be nice to him!), that I have a feeling Jason may be a bit of a geeky researcher himself. Maybe? Second off, now not just my mom and 10 friends have visited this blog, and that's nice too. I don't know if he'll see this, but if he does: Thank you, Jason! That was so nice of you, I will forgive you for 1,000 things for the next 50 years, including but not limited to pillaging entire towns. (If your town gets pillaged and you complain about it, first I will ask you: Was it Jason Isaacs? And if you say "Yes! Jason Isaacs pillaged my town!" I will tell you to stop complaining--clearly your town needed pillaging and also THAT WAS JASON ISAACS.)
Okay. Onward! Here's your quick (heh, not really) & dirty on the Most Controversial Rock on the Planet:
Temple Mount--in Hebrew, known as Har HaBayit or Har HaMoriya. In Arabic known as Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Trapezoid in shape. Located in southeastern, Old City Jerusalem. Four religions have controlled and used it for thousands and thousands of years: Judaism, Islam, the Roman religion, and Christianity. Currently, it is occupied by four buildings from the Islamic Umayyad period: al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock (the gold structure you see featured prominently in DIG), the Dome of the Chainm and walls from King Herod's reign. The Temple Mount is also associated with Mount Zion (Har Tsiyyon), which is a hill just outside the walls of Old City Jerusalem, and is sometimes used in reference to the entire land of Israel.
There have been 2 Temples--the first Temple was built by King Solomon, second son of David and Bathsheba, second King of the United Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It was completed about 957 BCE. There is no archaeological evidence for the existence of a 1st Temple except for Biblical and rabbinical sources, as well as the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus' writings. Some scholars believe a Jebusite sanctuary stood there before Solomon built the Temple (the Jebusites were also known as the Canaanites--remember Dinah and Jacob?). In fact, the earliest known inhabitants of the area we now call Jerusalem were from the early Bronze Age period, about 3,000 BCE. Archaeological excavations have shown evidence of a town on the south side of Mount Moriah (also known as the Temple Mount). The name of this town was Urusalim, which means "foundation of Shalem," or "foundation of God."
Around 1,000 BCE, David conquered Urusalim, founded the joint kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and Urusalim became the capital. The Ark of the Covenant, traveling around with the Israelites wherever they went, was moved into Urusalim, around 955 BCE. The Ark is basically a portable shrine, inside it being the Ten Commandments given to Moses, and also--essentially--God's holy digs. (God was housed in the Ark, is what I'm saying.)
Mt. Moriah was already holy when Solomon decided to build his temple there, for a couple of reasons:
1. This is where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac.
2. Before THAT, this is the spot the serpent Tahum held the bare rock in its mouth. In the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 30, there is a prophecy about "the serpent of the rock." It is also brought up in the Book of Revelations, in Chapters 13 and 18.
It is, therefore, an Axis Mundi, which is a portal, an intersection of sorts, between the underworld and and the upper world. This is where ley lines come in--ley lines are alignments of geographic and historic significance and interest, such as ancient monuments (or, you know, Temples), natural ridges and rocks (the Grand Canyon, for instance), waterways and the like. We've been using the term since about 1921 when an amateur archaeologist named Alfred Watkins coined it. The geographic and historic areas of interest are considered mystical, and Alfred believed there was a whole system of them in Britain, actually (Stonehenge, anyone?). But basically, you can connect a line from one mystical place of significance to another, and essentially, the lines all lead to the same place (i.e., each other...there is no way to get lost, in other words. If you follow the ley lines...they're like magic Yellow Brick Roads).
They're connected to Axis Mundi in that an Axis Mundi is basically: the center of the world. It's the connection between Heaven and Earth. A magical, mystical pole, if you will. Or maybe an umbilical cord. It can be natural (a tree, a mountain, a vine), or man-made (a staircase, a totem pole, a church steeple). It can be secular in nature (a lighthouse, a rocket, a skyscraper), or religious (a temple, a mosque, a church).
Every inhabited spot on our planet has an Axis Mundi, supposedly, a place that is sacred above all. (I bet America's is Walt Disney World.) The main thing about an Axis Mundi is that it is ordered; it is settled, it is calm, it is peace. Everything that expands out from it (North, South, East, West) is mass chaos. But when you are in the Axis Mundi? Soooo chill, brother (and sister).
So the Temple Mount--it's supposedly an Axis Mundi. A spot you can speak to God. A place you can Know All and Be At Peace. And because it is SO very ancient, and SO full of mysticism, the Temple Mount is considered the PREMIERE Axis Mundi of the world; our planet's belly button. The spot all the ley lines from everywhere else lead to. Making us all one big, happy family. (HA! Just kidding...read on.)
When Jacob came to the spot, he took a stone from the spot his father Isaac had almost been sacrificed by his grandfather Abraham and he slept on that stone, using it as a pillow. While he slept, Jacob had a prophetic dream so amazing that when he woke up, he anointed the stone with holy oil he'd received from Heaven itself. And when he did that, the stone sunk deep into the earth, becoming the foundation stone upon which Solomon would build the first Temple. The spot was known as "Bethel," meaning Gate or House of Heaven.
The second Temple, begun by Ezra and Nehemiah about 353 BCE, was completed around 349 BCE. The four walls surrounding the current area date back to the 2nd Temple Period (around end of 1st century, BCE).
The four walls around today's current Temple Mount are partly built underground, and they were built around the top of Mt. Moriah, the spot where Abraham supposedly went to sacrifice son Isaac upon receiving instructions from God to do so. The original (as in: Solomon's) 1st Temple was supposedly constructed here, on Mt. Moriah, to be a permanent resting spot for the Ark of the Covenant (the box that contained the Ten Commandments God gave Moses). According the Bible, the 1st Temple had a ceiling that was about 180 ft long, 90 ft wide, and 50 ft high. Its highest point was supposedly 20 stories (207 ft) high.
Solomon spared no expense when building the first Temple: he ordered massive amounts of cedarwood from King Hiram of Tyre, chose HUGE blocks of only the best stone. To build the Temple, King Solomon drafted workers into forced labor, making them work shifts that sometimes lasted months. 3,300 officials oversaw the 1st Temple's construction. Building the 1st Temple put Solomon into so much debt, he handed over 20 towns in Galilee to King Hiram to pay it off. When completed, King Solomon inaugurated the Temple with sacrifices and prayer. He even invited non-Jews to come worship there; Solomon wanted all the people of the Earth to know, hear, and worship God's name.
The most important room in Temple #1 was the most glorious and elaborate, and it contained not a single bit of furniture. It was called The Holiest of Holies (Kodhesh Kadashim), and this is where the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments lay. This, essentially, was where God dwelled.
Four hundred years later, Nebudchanezzar II of Assyria and the Babylonians destroyed this Temple (around 586 BCE), and the Ark (and its Tablets) disappeared to antiquity.
When the 2nd Temple was built, God's special area was reduced to a small, plain, bare room. The High Priest would enter the room only once a year, on Yom Kippur, to pray on behalf of the Israelite nation (breastplate, 12 stones).
When Cyrus the Great of Persia took control of the area, all the exiled Israelites were allowed back into Jerusalem, thus making a 2nd Temple construction possible. They began construction at the site of Solomon's original Temple, which had lain in a devastated heap of rubble for over 70 years. It was finally completed and dedicated under King Darius of Persia's reign. King Herod finished it all off in 20-18 BCE, with the walls and he even smoothed off the surface of the Temple Mount and replaced all the foundation stones; for that, the Temple became known as Herod's Temple. There were four courts in Herod's Temple #2: the Court of the Priests (where they did the sacrifices), Court of Israel (men only), the Court of the Women, and the Court of the Gentiles (for non-Jews). Each edge of the Temple had a columned and covered area called a portico; Solomon's Portico was on the eastern side, and probably where Mary and Joseph found 12 year old Jesus who had disappeared to talk religion with the priests.
Eventually, the Romans conquered Israel and when they did, they lay waste to both Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, about 70 CE, under Emperor Titus. Not only did they build a temple to Jupiter on this spot, they also destroyed it as a calculated act; its destruction was meant to disenfranchise Jews, to disconnect them from their holy city, their holy relics, and their holiest sanctuary of worship. The Romans renamed Israel "Palestinia," a further effort to disconnect Jews from Israel. The only thing left from the Temple that was destroyed by the Romans is the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel, or the Wailing Wall).
When Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as its religion around the 4th BCE, his mother St. Helena, supposedly built a small church on the Temple Mount, but really they focused their efforts on constructing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre nearby, which is now one of Christendom's holiest sites. Herod's Temple? It just remained a giant garbage dump site. For many many years. In fact, with each destruction of the Temple Mount, many holy relics and artifacts were lost to antiquity.
...and, supposedly, the ashes of a pure, unblemished red heifer. So now we have to start all over if a Temple #3 is to be built.
But building a Temple #3 would be baaaad news, World Wide Web. Because currently standing on (supposedly) the place where Solomon built Temple #1 is the beautiful gold domed Dome of the Rock, Qubbat As-Sakhrah, in Arabic). It was built towards the end of the 7th CE, somewhere between 681-691. It was built Abd al-Malik, from the Umayyad Caliph period (a caliph is a civil/religious leader who succeeded Mohammad, and they lead the entire Islamic community). A mosque is nearby the Dome of the Rock--al Aqsa Mosque (meaning "the farthest mosque") and it is silver-domed.
Some mistakenly believe the Dome of the Rock itself is a mosque; it is not. It is merely a shrine, built on top of a foundation stone, the spot Muslims believe Mohammad took his famous Night Journey on a horse named Buraq, in one single trip in the year 621 CE. This was a physical and a spiritual journey (it's called Isra and Mi'raj) for Mohammad, and Muslims believe he ascended into Heaven to speak to God and be given details about how to pray, and he ascended into Heaven from the spot the foundation stone the Dome is built on.
Today, the Dome of the Rock is under the control of an Islamic foundation called the Waqf, and the Waqf's activities inside the Dome are monitored by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
When you visit the Temple Mount today, you'll see the big gold dome, but also a huge plaza full of minarets, fountains, pavilions, date palms and cypress trees. There are 8 stairways that lead to the platform of the Dome of the Rock, and each has a set of arches where Islamic tradition says that the Last Judgement will use to hang scales on to weigh souls. There is also an Islamic Museum in the Southwest corner that displays ceramics and other archaeological artifacts removed during the restoration of the Dome.
There are also several blocked gateways that had stairs or ramps leading into or out of the city. The eastern wall is where The Golden Gate supposedly was; it's the spot Jews think the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. And then there's the Western Wall (the Kotel) where people pray and leave written prayers in the wall.
The big controversy around Dome of the Rock right now (and why it's a ticking time bomb, essentially) is who it belongs to. And who gets to use it; who has access to it. Right now, non-Muslims are allowed in through the Moors' Gate, located near the Western Wall. The hours of visitation are restricted, and no one is allowed in during Muslim prayer times, or when there is tension between Arabs and Jews. And modest dress is required. The Israeli police and government support these rules.
If you aren't Muslim, you won't be allowed to actually go into the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa Mosque. And non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount is a big, big NO (no).
However, the Chief Rabbinite of Israel has placed a warning for Jews that they aren't to go in there anyway--it's too holy. I mean, hello! You might step on the LORD accidentally.
In addition to all of THAT, who knows what lies beneath the Dome...thousands and thousands of years' worth of antiquities. And DON'T TOUCH IT. (There was controversy a couple of years ago when the people running the Dome of the Rock put in new carpet, and the Antiquities Authority wasn't notified--apparently, the ancient floor was exposed and some geeky people really wanted to see it and document it. But now it's got new modern materials on it, so. Crap.) (This sounds JUST like an episode of HGTV, where they pull up flooring and find beautiful parquet floors underneath and go: Why'd they cover THIS up?? People have NO taste.) (And also, it sounds like my Home Owner's Association, every time I want to plant flowers in my front yard: DON'T TOUCH IT.)
I could probably go on and on for about 200 more pages--I could spend gobs and gobs of time talking about the anger and resentment over how very conservative and religious Jews feel Muslims need to get the heck off their property, and how very conservative and religious Muslims feel Jews need to get the heck over themselves.
But I'm not going to do that, because that's going on right now, in some corner of the Internet and if you want to get involved in that kind of discussion and stress your spleen and guts out, you go right ahead. I've got enough stuff on my own Life Plate and my spleen and guts will burst if I have to have one more stress on it. So go ye forth, seek and ye shall find. But please don't do it here, because quite frankly when it comes to religion I've about had it. I'm spiritual; I believe in a Something...and I love you guys, and I know this is what keeps you going 7 days a week, and so I want you to do that which brings you comfort and peace. But please also know some of you get so intense about it you weird me out and give me the sads. The world simply doesn't have to be like this. And we don't need to be fighting over a rock, I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but there it is: stop fighting over a rock, Major World Religions. If I were allowed into the Dome of the Rock and could find the spot the serpent had in its mouth, I would step into that Axis Mundi and have a long talk with Heaven. And I bet Heaven would agree with me: Yes, Amy, those guys ARE ridiculous, and Yes, Amy, you SHOULD be in charge.
And THEN we could have World War 3, world. Because DIG (on USA!) ends TONIGHT and I'm going to need to have something to keep myself occupied.