After reading about UNESCO’s decision to rename Jerusalem’s historic Temple Mount to El Aksa mosque site, I had a question about its history.
Was there ever a temple? Did the Jews make it up? If so, what does the arch of Titus represent?
Dear Mr. Daniel,
Whether or not the “Jews made it up” depends on whether or not one believes there is any accuracy in the Bible…and on the arch of Titus, which among other things depicts the destruction of the second temple. The unwillingness of Jewish “true believers” to tread on that location is based on their belief that it is the Mount Moriah on which Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice, only to have his hand stayed by direct godly intervention, rendering it exceptionally hallowed ground. Both the eastern and the western hills of Mount Zion are attributed to have been the sites of temples, the first of which was built by King Solomon in 957 BC (or BCE, before the common era, if you’re Jewish) and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The second, built by Zerubbabel in 516 BC, was the one destroyed by Titus’ Roman army after besieging Jerusalem in 70 CE (AD 70).
Noted for both courage and cruelty during the Jewish War, Titus was emperor for only two years, but distinguished himself in that little time for his conscientiousness and generosity in dealing with two crises, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 and a devastating fire in Rome in 80. Consequently, after his death of a fever in 81 his younger brother and successor, Domitian, had an arch built on the Via Sacra honoring both him and their father, Vespasian. Titus’ side of the arch clearly shows the victorious Roman army returning with a menorah and silver trumpets, and possibly the Ark of the Covenant, all meant to represent spoils from the Second Temple.
According to a description by visiting Gallic monk Arculf, there may have been a mosque built on the Temple Mount, called the Haram al-Sherif (Noble Sanctuary) by the Arabs, as early as 679 under the caliph Muwawiyah, and it was definitely expanded to incorporate the Dome of the Rock by Caliph Abd al-Malik in 690. Since then the mosque has been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt several times until taking final form as the Al Aqsa Mosque and undergoing its last major repair in 1942.
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