STEPHEN GABRIEL ROSENBERG, THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 24, 2007
Traditionally the Temple Mount Faithful attempt to set up a foundation stone for the Third Temple on Tisha Be'av, and the police routinely prevent them from doing so. The occasion for this street theater is the anniversary of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and that of the Second Temple in 70 CE, both said to have occurred on the same calendar date.
It is certainly right that the date be commemorated; but would rebuilding the Temple be an appropriate act for the State of Israel today?
Assuming there were no Dome of the Rock and no Muslim presence on the Temple Mount, no Wakf and no Aksa Mosque, the pressure to rebuild the Temple would be enormous - but would it, in historical terms, be sound?
The last time such an opportunity occurred was in the time of Julian the Apostate, in 362 CE. That Roman Emperor, who succeeded Constantine, reversed his predecessor's decision to turn the empire into a Christian state and returned to the former pagan religions, which were permissive of other cults, including the Jewish one. It seems that he gave permission for the Temple to be rebuilt, and then went off to fight his enemies.
In Jerusalem work commenced on reconstructing the altar, but hardly had a few stones been put one on another, when a massive earthquake hit the area and the work collapsed. Worse still, Julian was killed in Persia and his place was taken by the Emperor Jovian, who reinstalled Christianity as the official religion. Any hope of rebuilding the Temple ceased, never to return.
IN 638 CE, the hordes of Islam conquered Jerusalem and by 692 the Caliph Abd al-Malik had completed the Dome of the Rock, which stood on the mountain inviolate for the following 1,315 years.
During the Crusader years it was converted to Christian use, and most Crusaders thought it had been built originally as the Temple of Solomon, but it was not changed structurally and returned to the Muslims on expulsion of the Crusaders in 1187. However, it did not return as a mosque, as it had never been one.
As the Dome was not a mosque, why did Abd al-Malik build it? It may be that he was attempting to set up a place of pilgrimage in competition to Mecca, which was controlled by his rival, Ibn al-Zubayr, but it seems more likely that, probably advised by an ex-Jewish companion, he recognized the historic significance of the site and in particular of the rock, the foundation stone, the even shetiya, that carried so much religious baggage. It was the scene of the Mihrab of Dawood (shrine of David) and the Bayit al-Makdis of Sulayman (Temple of Solomon) so al-Malik may have selected the site as a kind of location of ultimate holiness, maybe even for the Day of the Last Judgment.
The unique design of the building, a circular dome over an octagonal base, emphasized its concentration on the central feature, the Rock. Unlike any mosque, the building had no directional focus and was entered by four doorways, one to each of the cardinal points, as if to encourage access to persons or, indeed, their souls coming from the four corners of the earth.
LATER THE Muslims observed that the Rock was the mythical arrival and departure point of Mohammed on his white steed Buraq, but Abd al-Malik had recognized the precedence of Solomon and even Abraham on the site.
This makes it clear that the sanctity of the site stems from its Jewish origins, though the Muslims, of course, claim Abraham as one of their own, and venerate Solomon as divine. Now, even if the Muslim attitude would be to allow a Jewish presence, and even a rebuilding on the site, would it be in the Jewish interest to proceed with a third Temple?
WHEN HEROD decided to rebuild the Temple in 19 BCE, 18 years after having been handed the throne by the Romans, there must have been much trepidation among the population, the priests and others, about his intentions. He managed to calm their fears by employing only priests on the Temple itself and by enabling the Korban Tamid, the daily sacrifices, to continue without interruption.
The resources that he used were vast and would have pleased the local craftsmen, who were provided with employment for many years. The end result pleased even his rabbinic critics, though well after the event: "Whoever has not seen Herod's building has never seen anything beautiful," they crowed.
This was a surprising reaction, as very few rabbis were yet around to see the Temple in its glory. Additionally, modern reconstructions show a rather high, lopsided building with an overblown classical front sitting on a vast platform that completely ignores the beautiful mountain it covered. Such an oversize terrace must have intimidated anyone venturing on to it.
The huge expanse of uncovered space would not be conducive to our weather, be it sunshine or rain. For all its glory, the structure was not completed until 60 CE, well after the death of Herod, and it only stood another six years before its service was embroiled in the revolt against the Romans.
So what did Herod's great work really achieve? Did it achieve unity among the Jewish people? Did it achieve harmony between our different factions? Did it achieve reconciliation with our governors, the Romans, who admired the structure built on classical lines by their favorite Jewish ruler? Did its presence give us protection against our enemies or absolution for our sins?
QUITE THE contrary. The daily sacrifices were used by the zealots to exclude the offering of the Roman emperor, which led to reprisals and insults by the occupying army. Different parties saw different ways of resolving the crisis, but could find no unanimity among themselves. The High Priest, who might have been a potential leader, was just another political appointment, as he had been under the Seleucids; even his sacred clothing was held hostage in the hands of the Roman governor. The priests were divided in their loyalties and unable to conduct the divine service in a dignified manner.
When it came to the actual revolt in Jerusalem, things turned perilous, and civil war reigned. The zealots, led by John of Gischala, got the upper hand and the peace party was unable to stop them. Another zealot leader, Simon bar Giora, was welcomed into the city to oppose Gischala, but the two soon joined together against the moderates. That union did not last and within a short time there were three "gangster" parties (in the words of Josephus) who burnt each other's grain supplies, not realizing that they would all suffer in the end.
Only the Romans could benefit from the chaos, and so they did, in spite of the brave efforts put up by the separate parties, one of whom used the Temple precinct for a heroic, if vain, last stand. The magnificent Herodian Temple, as finally completed, had stood for only 10 years.
THIS WAS not so different from the vicissitudes of the First Temple. Solomon completed it with forced labor shifts, directed by his chief taskmaster, Adoniram. On Solomon's death, the majority of the tribes revolted against his successor Rehoboam, put the hated Adoniram to death by stoning, and set up the Northern Kingdom, which had no use for the Temple.
In the south, the Temple was sacked by Pharaoh Shishak in about 925 BCE, and all its gold was stripped away and taken to Egypt. Rehoboam was forced to present to the people shields of polished brass to simulate the looted metal. The golden glory of Solomon's Temple had lasted for just 40 years.
Not long after, king Asa had to use the replaced Temple treasures to bribe Ben-Hadad of Aram (Syria) to help him fight against Baasa, king of Northern Israel. Worse than all that loss of treasure was the fact that the First Temple, as described in our sacred books, became the focus of idol worship in the reigns of the Judahite kings Asa, Jehoram, Amaziah and the queen Athaliah, who gave its treasures to the House of Baal.
The timely restoration under Hezekiah was undermined by his son Manasseh, and the renaissance initiated by Josiah was sabotaged by the desecration of his successors that culminated in defeat by the Babylonians in 597 BCE, followed by destruction 11 years later.
What happened to the glory of the First Temple? It lasted 40 years. The Second Temple never achieved glory until its rebuilding by Herod, and that lasted 10 years.
Will a Third Temple fare any better? The records of history are against it.
The writer is a Fellow of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.