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Three personal views from representatives of the major faiths saves this volume about the Temple Mount from being a ‘coffee-table book.'

pope at temple mount 311 (photo credit: Ziv Goren/GPO/MCT)
pope at temple mount 311
(photo credit: Ziv Goren/GPO/MCT)
Where Heaven and Earth Meet
Edited by Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar
Yad Ben-Zvi/University of Texas | 411 pages | $75

If the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks ever evolve into a direct meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, we can be absolutely sure of one thing: The experts will tell us that the major significance of the meeting is that it took place at all. Likewise with the book under review: The most important thing about this sumptuously produced volume is that Jews, Muslims and Christians combined to produce a book about the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
A joint venture of the Hebrew University, Al-Quds University and the Ecole Biblique, the book is divided into “History,” “Thematic Chapters” and “Three Personal Views.” Illustrated with numerous fine photographs, it makes a valiant and largely successful effort to strike a balance among the three faiths and to show appropriate respect for each of them.
The history section chronicles the story of the Mount from the time of Solomon’s First Temple, through the exile, the Second Temple, Herod’s spectacular expansion, the destruction by the Romans in 70 CE, the interim “pagan” period, the first Muslim period, the Crusaders, the return of the Muslims under Saladin, the Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians, right up to Israel’s return in 1967. The account is comprehensive, if not innovative, and uses a wealth of sources.
Without underestimating the difficulty of bringing together academic articles from different languages and disciplines, it should be pointed out that the editing is sometimes unworthy of such an ambitious project.

The thematic section deals more with the artistic, cultural andreligious perceptions of the space. In his chapter, “The Holy Land,Jerusalem and the Aksa Mosque in the Islamic Sources,” Mustafa Abu Swayargues eloquently against suggestions that Jerusalem is less sacred toIslam than it is to the other two religions, while also making a pleafor coexistence and mutual respect. In the same section, MiriamFrenkel’s “The Temple Mount in Jewish Thought (70 CE to the Present)”does not shrink from depicting today’s fierce controversy among IsraeliJews regarding the relevance of the site from a religious point ofview, the Orthodox ban (not universally accepted) on visiting the areaand the differing attitudes to the idea of rebuilding the Temple.
It is, however, the three personal views of Hebrew University presidentMenachem Magidor, Al-Quds president Sari Nusseibeh and Cardinal CarloMaria Martini that give an extra dimension to what is basically a“coffee-table book.” A self-declared agnostic, Magidor writes: “When Iam present on the Temple Mount, I am transformed in time. In somestrange way I connect to the ecstasy felt by my forefathers at the sameplace. The feeling of continuity, of being part of a long chain, isoverwhelming.”
Magidor goes on to acknowledge that the narrative to which he connectshimself is not the site’s only narrative, thereby introducingNusseibeh, who ruminates on what divides different religions and whatmight unite them. “If the circumstances were not ripe, whether then ornow, for the true believers in the one God to become united in theirendeavors,” he writes, “can we still not entertain the hope that theholy precinct – what it is and what it symbolizes – will nonethelessone day succeed to inspire people who believe in the one God themselvesto become united in their faith?”
These sentiments are echoed in a passage from Martini: “We are allinvited today to seek peace and harmony, above all with respect to thereligious traditions and symbols that followed one another over thecenturies. May this mutual respect, alongside an open heart, help us toseek the truth that will conclusively manifest itself at the end oftime.”
In these contentious days, when extremist views are so often expressedby members of all the national and religious entities in our part ofthe world, this worthy ecumenical production comes as a welcomecorrective to the overheated rhetoric all too often heard about thissacred site.