The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem is a magnet for the three major monotheistic faiths. Some believe the area is the center of the world, and pilgrims flock there all year round.
The majestic Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aksa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and the oldest existing Islamic mosque, sits on the Temple Mount.
Yet what Judaism, Islam and Christianity share also tears them apart. The conflict starts at the Temple Mount, which was occupied by each faith at different points in time.
A new book Where Heaven and Earth Meet collects opinions about the history and meaning of the Temple Mount from adherents of the three faiths that hold it dear, aiming to bring them closer together. All the essays deal with Jerusalem's sacred esplanade, an area that makes up about one-sixth of the area of the Old City.
Edited by Oleg Grabar of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and Prof. Benjamin Z. Kedar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the book is bound to shape new dialogue on one of the world's holiest sites. Kedar, who lives in Jerusalem, says that we should do whatever we can to foster mutual understanding and acceptance.
The co-editors invited Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars to write essays based on the site's history. With 11 points of view, this is the first time, say the book's editors, that Jerusalem-based Israeli, Palestinian and Dominican institutes of higher learning have collaborated on such a project. It includes insights from scholars at the Hebrew University, Al-Quds University and the Dominica Ã‰cole biblique et archÃ©ologique franÃ§aise de JÃ©rusalem.
Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University asks: "Could Muslims ever see Abraham leaning over that Rock, about to sacrifice Isaac? Could Jews and Christians ever see Muhammad descending by Heavenly fiat into that precinct, and then being lifted up from that Rock unto the Divine presence?"
Cardinal Martini of the Dominican church asks: "Could Jews and Muslims ever see the parents of Jesus bringing their infant child to the Herodian Temple and offering him there to the Lord?"
According to Kedar, who is Jewish, the answer is yes, but the book doesn't claim to offer whole truths; what it hopes to do is bring people closer together: "We decided to leave the differing views untouched, for we believe that readers should know that much about the subject remains uncertain."
The Temple Mount is one of the foremost issues on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace agenda, says Kedar. "I thought if we could produce a book, sponsored by Hebrew University, Al-Quds and the Dominican Institute, this would be a step in the right direction, showing people who are committed to truth that with a fair treatment of the subjects, we could produce together a book on this place that arouses so much passion and conflict."
Kedar, a historian, points out that the book focuses on the area where the Jewish Temple used to be and where the "most striking" Dome of the Rock has stood for the last 1,400 years. "To deal with it fairly and to deal with all periods fairly was the aim of this book," he emphasizes.
The site is holy to Christians, for "Jesus taught there as a young boy and foresaw the destruction of the Temple," says Kedar. As the site is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, "the book tries to show all this side by side," he concludes.