The Shape of the Holy

Researcher: Jews and Muslims once worshiped together at Dome of Rock.

temple mount dome of the rock  248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
temple mount dome of the rock 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Jews and Muslims once worshiped together at the Dome of the Rock, and many Jews considered it to be the Third Temple, according to research compiled by Dr. Moshe Sharon. In his study, "The Shape of the Holy," the Hebrew University professor theorizes that the Dome of the Rock's construction challenged Christian dominance in the city, and that the Islamic tradition of the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey and ascension to heaven from this spot was an invention to legitimize their presence in Jerusalem. Islamic tradition ascribes the conquest of Jerusalem to a number of glorified Muslim rulers, but Sharon believes this to be a fabrication, saying Jerusalem capitulated to a minor commander out of choice rather than necessity. "The tradition about its conquest was shaped at least a century after the event took place and it was no longer possible for the first association of Islam with Jerusalem to remain mundane," writes Sharon. The city was a bastion of Christian relics and glory, epitomized in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Between the two sat the desolate rectangular complex where Herod's Second Temple once stood, which intrigued the Muslims who learned of its connection to Koranic prophets Abraham, David and Solomon. Before the Arabs entered the city, Jews held the belief that the perforated rock on Mount Moriah was present in Solomon's Temple, a tradition that the Muslims adopted. "There is reason to assume that Muslims together with Jews attached themselves to the rock and Jews had developed around it annual pious rituals," writes Sharon. Islamic tradition attributes construction of the Dome to ruler Abd al-Malik, and according to Sharon it symbolized Solomon's Temple, a notion accepted by Jews of the time. The tradition of the Al-Aksa complex as the site of Muhammad's Night Journey developed years later. "It was built to symbolize the renewal of the Solomonic Temple, and an early Jewish Midrash known as Nistarot Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai hailed the Muslims as the initiators of Israel's redemption and a Muslim ruler as the builder of the House of the Lord. Abd al-Malik acquired his Divine authority by rebuilding a mighty symbol for his temple, and was the new Solomon," writes Sharon. Other pre-Crusades Islamic traditions regarding the Dome of the Rock highlight a heavy Jewish role at the site. "One tradition says, 'The Jews used to light the lamps of Bayt al-Maqdis.' Bayt al-Maqdis is the exact Arabic rendering of the Hebrew Beit Hamikdash, and is reminiscent of the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple," writes Sharon. Other Islamic traditions mention Temple customs practiced by Jews in the Dome, such as the use of incense, oil lamps and prayer services conducted by wuld Harun, Arabic for "the sons of Aaron." "There is nothing remotely Islamic in these rituals and the traditions insist that they took place on Mondays and Thursdays. These days have no meaning in Islam but are of particular sacredness in Jewish tradition," writes Sharon. In the final section of his work Sharon builds on the research of Tuvia Sagiv, attempting to prove that the foundations and design of Al-Aksa replicated the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which the Roman Emperor Hadrian had built on the Temple Mount. Noting that all Roman Temples of Jupiter had an almost identical design, Sharon compares the schematic of the ruins of a Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek to that of the Al-Aksa complex. "Jupiter's Temple in Baalbek had exactly the three features which we find in the Al-Aksa complex: the polygon building in the front where the worshipers assembled, the open space where the god's statue stood and the rectangular main temple. The same symmetrical line which goes through the three components of Jupiter's Temple also goes through the Al-Aksa complex, and both plans fit each other perfectly," writes Sharon. Sharon and Sagiv's theory is potentially incendiary because it suggests the Al-Aksa complex was built on pre-existing foundations and was not designed according to Muhammad's famous Night Journey to Jerusalem. Sharon's research, which questions the Islamic justification for the Dome's existence and describes similar patterns in Jewish and Muslim worship, has inflamed some figures in Israel's Islamic community. "We Muslims believe that Jews have no right to a single inch in front of the Al-Aksa Mosque, the whole complex - everything within the walls of the holy site. Jews have no right to worship there - under the ground, above the ground or in between the skies," said MK Sheik Ibrahim Sarsur, who heads the Islamic Movement in Israel.