Jerusalem: Crucible of Sacred Lore & Profane Violence
The unending struggle for Jerusalem – massacres, mayhem, wars, terrorism, sieges and catastrophes – have made this place into a seemingly perpetual battlefield. OR In Aldous Huxley’s words, the “slaughterhouse of religions”. The sanctity of the city grew out of the exceptionalism of the Jews as the Chosen People. Jerusalem became the Chosen City, Palestine the Chosen Land, and this exceptionalism was inherited and embraced both by the Christians as well the Muslims.
Canaan, Judah, Judaea, Palestina, BilAd-al-Sham, Palestine, Greater Syria, Coele Syria and The Holy Land are some of the names that quite frequently figure to describe the country in which this Holy City is located.
The story of Jerusalem unfolds when David (Hazrat Dawud ASW) conquered a kingdom that stretched from Lebanon to the borders of Egypt, and eastwards into today’s Jordan and Syria. King David was crowned in Bethlehem in 1004 BC, after which he made Jerusalem his new capital, in which he installed the Ark of Covenant. David’s Jerusalem was tiny – no more than 15 acres, just enough to house 1,200 people around the citadel as compared to Babylon (in today’s Iraq) which covered 2,500 acres. Even the nearby town of Hazor covered 200 acres.
The first Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon (Hazrat Sulaiman ASW) who died in 930 BC after a reign of fifty years. Everything which Solomon had was bigger and better than any ordinary King. His wisdom generated 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, his army boasted 12,000 cavalry and 1,400 chariots. He hosted the Queen of Sheba (Saba of today’s Yemen) who came to Jerusalem with a very great train with camels that bore spices, gold and precious stones.
For around four centuries after 900 BC, the Davidic dynasty ruled Judah, the small rump around the royal Temple city of Jerusalem, while the much bigger Israel became a local military power in the north, usually dominated by charioteer generals who seized the throne in bloody coups.
When Israel rebelled against its Assyrian King (present day Syria) in 727 BC, the Assyrians swallowed it after a siege of three years and deported 27000 of its people to Assyria. It is at this point of time that ten of the twelve Jewish tribes who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel almost vanish from history.
To avoid a similar fate in the south, King Ahaz of Judah (735 – 720 BC) continued to pay tribute to Assyria and encouraged his people to worship Assyrian gods. However, the Prophets Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah forewarned the rulers that unless and until they dispensed with the empty rituals of the Temple and followed the Scriptures in letter and spirit, the southern kingdom, too, would be made a heap of ruins by God Almighty.
However, the rulers, as well as others who mattered, refused to give any importance to these prophetic words, trusting in their own political alliances and holding the firm belief that the kingdom of Judea, unlike Israel, was absolutely secure. This, however, proved to be wishful thinking as in August 586 BC, Jerusalem was sacked and burnt to ashes by Nebuchadnezzar (Bakht Nasr), the ruler of Babylon. He not only deport 20,000 Judaeans to Babylon, but also burned the House of the Lord, the king’s palace and all the houses of Jerusalem and broke down its walls. The Temple was destroyed, it’s gold and silver vessels plundered, and the Ark of the Covenant vanished forever. However, to the good luck of the Jewish people, the King of Persia, who had overpowered the Babylonian empire, released them from bondage and allowed them to go back to Jerusalem, and rebuild their Temple there, which they did in 515 BC, during the reign of Darius . The Third Jewish Temple was built by Herod, the ruler of Jerusalem, who died in March of 4 BC after a reign of 37 years.
The new Temple was a wonder of the world – there was one stone in it which was 44.6 feet long, 11 feet high, weighing 600 tons. Jerusalem then was part of the Roman Empire, which was headed by Octavian, the Augustus, who became emperor after defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
Jerusalem was attacked and sacked once again by Titus, the son of Roman Emperor, Vespasian, in 70 AD who virtually erased it to the ground. There were between 6 to 10 lac people besieged in the city who either died of starvation or were killed / sold in slavery.
In 130 AD, the new emperor of Rome Hadrian visited Jerusalem, and decided to abolish the city down to its very name. He ordered a new city to be built on the site of the old one, to be named Aelia Capitolina. There, Hadrian built his Temple of Jupiter with a statute of Aphrodite outside it, on the very rock where Jesus was supposedly crucified— Hadrian was deliberately eradicating Jerusalem’s Jewishness.
When Hadrian was on his way back to Rome, a mysterious Jewish leader, Simon Bar Kochba, known to be Son of the Star, launched a terrible rebellion. The Romans almost wreaked a genocidal vengeance. 50 of the Jewish outposts and 985 villages were razed to the ground, 585,000 were killed in battles and by starvation, disease and fire. Seventy five known Jewish settlements vanished. Though Jews continued to live in the countryside, Judea itself never recovered from Hadrian ‘s ravages. Jerusalem had vanished. Hadrian wiped Judea off the map, deliberately renaming it Palaestina, after the Jews’ ancient enemies, the Philistines.
It is from then onward that the Jews dispersed all over the world but their longing for Jerusalem faltered, and they ultimately made it back to the Holy Land after the lapse of more than 1,700 years in 1948 (when Israel was carved as an independent country) . Wherever they lived in the followed centuries, they prayed three times a day, wishing that the Temple be built in their lifetime .
The present structure at Jerusalem was built during the reign of Abdul Malik, the Umayyad Caliph (691- 692) . Basically the Dome dominated Jerusalem and overshadowed the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem had a shrine in the Dome but not an imperial mosque, so Abdul Malik and his son Waleed who succeeded him, built the further mosque Al- Aqsa, at the southern boundary of the Temple wall.
The author is a former Member of the Federal Board of Revenue, Pakistan with interest in writing on unknown facets of history. Email: [email protected]