So now the Palestinians are saying that the concept of any historical connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount in particular, is pure myth, and they are trying to get UNESCO to adopt a resolution to that effect.
I wonder what would happen if they tried to claim that there’s no connection between Christianity and Jerusalem. Their ability to totally deny proven historical facts and create a fictional reality simply beggars belief. Admittedly, Christianity’s association with Jerusalem is not entirely lacking in violence, murder and mayhem, yet it cannot be denied that it existed and continues to exist. Understandably enough, the inhabitants of Rome don’t seem to be anxious to proclaim their connection with Jerusalem, though I believe that the Pope is not averse to asserting Catholicism’s association with the city. But when all is said and done, the Vatican is an independent political entity and cannot be linked to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Jews should not need to be reminded that most of what Jesus preached was based on Jewish ethics and teachings. His presence in Jerusalem prior to his death served as the culmination of a life lived as a Jew in the Holy Land, where pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple for one of the three ‘foot-festivals’ formed just one aspect of Jewish observance, and he obviously participated in this custom (although that particular pilgrimage ended badly).
The Crusaders who conquered Jerusalem in the eleventh century and remained there for several centuries until they were defeated by Saladdin and his army, left their physical mark in the form of churches, fortresses and other mementos. Jerusalem is mentioned in numerous Christian texts and prayers, as it is of course in Jewish ones. To give just one example, anyone who attends a performance of Fauré’s touching Requiem cannot fail to be moved by the final chorus about Paradise, which ends with the tender repetition of the word Jerusalem by the choir.
Of course, the Christian references are primarily to celestial Jerusalem, perceived as a metaphor for heaven, a place of love and peace. That seems to be the vision perceived by the nineteenth-century English poet, William Blake, whose poem, ‘Jerusalem,’ set to music by Hubert Parry, is tantamount to a second national anthem for England.
On a personal note, Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, contains several references to Jerusalem, all taken from the Torah. The beautiful aria, ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain, O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem…’ refers quite clearly to physical Jerusalem, as do innumerable verses in the Bible. For me, hearing that particular passage is always a special delight, because the far more concise Hebrew text reads Mevasseret Ziyyon and Mevasseret Yerushalayim, which are the names of the place just outside Jerusalem where I live. To be sitting in the church of the neighbouring Arab village of Abu Ghosh and hear this performed is an incomparable experience.
And of course, the funniest thing of all is that the Quran doesn’t have a single reference to Jerusalem. The Muslims say that a verse mentioning ‘the far place’ is in fact about Jerusalem, but that contention is flimsy in the extreme. Granted, Muslims or Ottomans did rule Jerusalem for several hundred years, as they did most of the area of the Middle East, and Suleiman the Magnificent built an impressive wall around Jerusalem in the fifteenth century, but Jerusalem is considered only the third most sacred site for Muslims. The original version of the Al-Aksa mosque was built on the Temple Mount in the eighth century C.E. (and rebuilt and extended several times after being destroyed by earthquakes and used as a palace by the Crusaders).
Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that Jews traditionally turn towards Jerusalem when praying whereas Muslims turn towards Mecca, which means in essence that they turn their backs and behinds to Jerusalem (just visualize their position while praying). Nevertheless, as Goebbels remarked, the more outrageous the lie, the greater the chances that it will be believed. Fortunately, Goebbels is no longer with us, but it seems that those who lie as well as those who give credence to untruths remain.
(This article firstappeared in the September issue of the AJR)