How the Jews Started
By Ernest L. Martin, PH. D., June 2000
(This content is the intellectual property of Associates
When a person makes the suggestion that Jewish religious authorities and ordinary Jewish laypersons could lose the true site of the Temples for almost eight centuries of history – their most cherished of buildings (a structure initially constructed by no less than Solomon, then rebuilt by Zerubbabel and finally enlarged by Herod) – such a conclusion is normally assumed to be an assessment of complete absurdity.
Yet, in my new book (“The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot”), I have given convincing historical and biblical evidence that the Jewish people (and all other races and religious groups throughout the earth) have thoroughly forgot the whereabouts of the once renown Jewish Temples. Indeed, the Jewish authorities and people have turned their attention and their modern worship activities to the western part of a rectangular type of building in Jerusalem called their “Wailing Wall” (that they erroneously insist is the remnant of their once glorious Temple). The truth is, however, the well-known “Wailing Wall” has nothing to do with the original sanctuaries in Jerusalem. The western parts of the rectangular shaped area that they have selected to adore and at which they congregate to worship (and they have done so for almost 380 years) are the remains of a structure that was held by their forefathers in the first century to be in utmost contempt.
Modern Jews have literally set aside the true location of their former Temples and have substituted the real location for a first century Roman citadel called Fort Antonia that was built by Herod the Great. This Herodian structure was situated about 600 feet north of the northern wall of their former Temple at Jerusalem. The actual southern site of their Temple now stands in an unrecognized state. It is forlorn, lonely, abandoned, thoroughly forgotten and bereft of even a meager amount of attention by the people who once adored it. The site is even accounted today by the Jewish people as an inferior part of Jerusalem without the slightest reverence being attached to it, though Maimonides (the great Jewish philosopher of the twelfth century) said the spot would always retain its holiness and it would show a permanent sanctification no matter what derelict condition it might become (see Mishneh Torah, sect.8, “Temple Service”). But strangely, in the period of the Crusades, particular doctrines (erroneous opinions counter to biblical teachings) were accepted by Jewish people, along with misjudgments on archaeological and geographical matters, that caused the Jews to deliberately abandon their real Temple site for a false structure that was acknowledged by Christians and Muslims.
The History of Jewish Abandonment
In this Update segment, I will record some major factors from the seventh century leading up to the period of the Crusades (in the twelfth century of our era) that will help to demonstrate how the Jewish authorities started to abandon the true site of the Temples and to substitute it for the Dome of the Rock located within the Haram esh-Sharif. In a further Update next month I will also show how the Jews finally accepted their novel and formerly unheard of “Wailing Wall” in the early part of the sixteenth century (a mere 380 years ago) that had never before been taught as having a holy significance in Judaism. These are interesting accounts that are historically provable, and all people should be aware of them. The historical evidence helps to show how superficial and how temporary the memories of past religious beliefs can become in the estimation of people when certain contemporary events cause people to alter their former religious beliefs and customs. It can even lead to forgetting their most cherished of institutions. It has happened to all people. This has happened to Christians. It has happened to Muslims. And it has also happened to the Jewish authorities and people.
Let me state at first that this present Update is NOT written in an effort to censure the Jewish authorities when they made the drastic changes in their belief systems in two periods of time (once about 800 years ago, and again about 380 years ago). I am not Jewish and it is not my business what those of Judaism alter in their doctrines of faith, but I am a historian who can read what the historical records show. It is easy to report to the general public those Jewish alterations to their former faith patterns which introduced novel and erroneous doctrines in the above two time periods, and how anti-Torah (that is, non-biblical) those new beliefs were. That is all that I intend to do. What the Jewish people (or Christians or Muslims) do with this information remains their prerogative, not mine. However, the records demonstrate that the Jewish authorities created a very different type of Judaism from that which had existed up to the period of the Crusades. What they did (and the people accepted it) was not something unique to those practicing Judaism. This is because the same type of practice of change (and the acceptance of change) is not limited to Jewish believers. It has equally happened in the past to Christians. It has also happened to Muslims. And in this Update and in future ones, I will specifically show how changes in Jewish attitude to religious principles and doctrines of the Holy Scripture have resulted in them forgetting even the true site of the Temples that was located over and near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem. They have mistakenly substituted the Dome of the Rock within the Haram esh-Sharif as their new Temple site. It is even sad that they do not realize that the Haram esh-Sharif is the area of the Roman citadel called “Fort Antonia” that was held in abject contempt by their forefathers in the time of Jesus. This loss of knowledge began when major changes in their belief system started in the time of the Crusades (with subtle alterations beginning in the seventh century). What they fallaciously initiated as Jewish doctrines during the Crusades has developed into their modern ignorance of the true site of the Temples in Jerusalem.
Original Testimony to a Unique Condition Concerning the Site of the Temple in Jerusalem
I now want to give a major “key” that (if applied) can always be of usefulness in locating the true Temple site of God. It is a historical truism. If historians and theologians will pay attention to this initial factor that I will present (and let it serve as a “deal point” in showing historical truth – which it does), it will aid us in wading through the later contradictions given in literature that begin in the seventh century, and to take up the prime doctrinal changes in the Jewish belief systems that occurred from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries about the site of the Temples. This “deal point” is a fact of history that is recorded by the first Christian Arabic author and church leader by the name of Eutychius. He wrote how Omar (the Second Caliph within Islam) and Sophronius (the Christian archbishop of Jerusalem) originally recognized the true site of the Jewish Temples in Jerusalem. In my new book, I mention in detail the conversations recorded by Eutychius as having taken place between Omar and Sophronius. If you have read the book, you will recall that it was the final place selected for the former site of the Jewish Temple that Sophronius showed Omar (after two previous abortive attempts of Sophronius at giving false identifications that the Caliph did not accept). This third place had a particular (and even a unique) architectural history associated with it that none of the other supposed sites in Jerusalem possessed. Eutychius who recorded these facts in 876 C.E (and Eutychius had access to many earlier Arabic records) made the definite statements that the proper place of the former Temple site HAD NEVER BEEN BUILT UPON by the Romans from 70 C.E. to the time of Constantine. Furthermore, that even the Byzantine Christians from the fourth to the seventh centuries also HAD NEVER BUILT UPON THE SITE. The simple fact is: the Romans and the Byzantines left the area alone and they failed to construct any edifices of any consequence within the former Temple area. They deliberately shied away from the spot in order for the prophecy of Christ that “not one stone would be found on top another” would remain fulfilled for the Temple area in Jerusalem. So, they left the southeast section of Jerusalem alone and never constructed any major buildings (certainly no churches or holy shrines) in the area of the Temple Mount.
This fact recorded by Eutychius is a “key” or “deal point.” It is essential to remember that NO ROMAN or BYZANTINE buildings had ever been constructed in the region of the former Jewish Temples up to the time of Omar the Second Caliph. And though Omar and Sophronius saw ruins of buildings in the area, these remains were reckoned by those in the seventh century as THE RUINS OF FORMER JEWISH BUILDINGS AND PART OF A PREVIOUS TEMPLE. [There had been two Jewish attempts to rebuild the Temple: one in the time of Constantine and the other about 37 years later in the time of Julian the Apostate. These Temples were never completed and ruins from them continued at the site. Even a part of the western wall of the Holy of Holies from those fourth century Temples was left standing] While ruins of the two Temples and other Jewish buildings were seen on this spot that Sophronius showed Omar, no Gentile buildings had been erected in or on the Temple Mount for over 600 years — from 70 C.E. to 638 C.E. This fact is a major “key” in recognizing the true spot of the Temples in Jerusalem. Notice the translation of Eutychius as given inF.E.Peters, “Jerusalem,” pp.189,190.
“Then Omar [Umar in Arabic] said to him [to Sophronius]: ‘You owe me a rightful debt. Give me a place in which I might build a sanctuary [masjid “a prayer shrine”].’ The patriarch said to him: ‘I will give to the Commander of the Faithful a place to build a sanctuary where the kings of Rum [the Romans] were unable to build. It is a rock where God spoke to Jacob and which Jacob called the Gate of Heaven and the Israelites the Holy of Holies. It is the center of the world and was a Temple for the Israelites…. [And], the Byzantines neglected it [they also left the site empty] and did not hold it in veneration, nor did they build a church over it” (capitalization mine).
The particular place of this rock outcropping that Sophronius was showing Omar WAS NOT at the famous Dome of the Rock that was finally built two generations after Omar’s death. This is because (and I have shown this amply in the earlier chapters of my book) that area within the Haram esh-Sharif was the former spot where the resplendent and majestic Church of the Holy Wisdom had been built over the “oblong rock” under the Dome of the Rock. The Christians from the sixth century onward reckoned that the footprint of Jesus was embossed into the surface of the “oblong stone.” Sophronius as an eyewitness had even written a poem about that Church and its Stone (its special Rock) that later became the Dome of the Rock. That Church of the Holy Wisdom was destroyed by the Persians and Jews in 614 C.E. (about 24 years before the discussion between Sophronius and Omar took place). Everyone in Jerusalem knew at the time that that particular area within the Haram esh-Sharif where the later Dome of the Rock was constructed WAS ONCE the site of that famous Church. This fact disqualifies the Dome of the Rock area from being the place that Sophronius was showing Omar as the former site of the Jewish Temple because Sophronius said that was a “Jewish area” that was NEVER BUILT UPON by either the earlier Romans or by the later Byzantines.
The area being shown by Sophronius impressed Omar. As I explain in my book, Omar even took a single stone from that area and re-positioned it within his new mosque that he finally started to construct at the southern end of the Haram esh-Sharif. That stone became the qibla [the pillar stone that pointed the faithful Muslims to pray toward Mecca]. The reason Omar selected the southern part of the Haram esh-Sharif is because it fit all of the parameters that he had witnessed in his vision that Muhammad had supposedly given to him about his “Night Journey” from the “Farthest Mosque” into heaven. Omar believed the spot from which Muhammad began that famous “Night Journey” was in the extreme southern part of the Haram. That is the location in Jerusalem that Omar selected to build his Mosque. It is highly significant and of utmost importance to recognize that Omar gave no spiritual accolades whatever to the Rock under the Dome of the Rock at the time, and no other Caliph did until the time of Abn al-Malik near the end of the seventh century. Indeed, Omar rejected the Rock under the Dome of the Rock as having any holiness to those in Islam. Omar in his day concentrated only on building what became the Al Aqsa Mosque in the extreme south of the Haram. And he went even further. Omar began to retrieve many ruined stones from the same area that Sophronius said was the site of the Jewish Temple (in the southeast quadrant of Jerusalem – over the Gihon Spring) in order to build the Al Aqsa Mosque itself. Thus, Omar imagined he was using stones from the original “Solomon’s Temple” to construct his Muslim shrine. Because of this, it soon became common for those in Jerusalem to call the new Mosque as the remains of “Solomon’s Temple.” In fact, the procedure in Muslim theological thought signified the transference of all the holiness and sanctification once associated with Solomon’s Temple to the new area of the Al Aqsa Mosque that was built about 600 feet to the north in the south part of the Haram. The Encyclopedia of Religion, under the article “Blessing” (Vol.2, pp.251,252), shows the Muslim theological principle called “Barakah” that allowed the holiness of one site to be transferred to another site. The encyclopedia states:
“Barakah among the Arabs and in Islam. In the Arab world, the Semitic root brkseems originally to have meant both ‘blessing’ and ‘crouching.’ In the Arab mind, the idea seems to have developed of transferring this quality; barakah(noun; pl., barakat) [the quality or influence could be transferred] to such acts as kissing a hand or touching a holy object. See Touching. In popular Islam, traces of this nomadic notion of barakah [that is, a transference of holiness or title, or even the influence of persons] remain in attitudes toward localities, historical personalities, and sacred objects.” (words in brackets and underlining are mine).
Look at this principle closely. It is important in regard to our subject in this Update. This use of barakah is the first error adopted by the people of Jerusalem that helped even the local people to lose sight of the former spot of the Temple. By practicing this principle, even the Islamic people of Jerusalem began calling the Al Aqsa Mosque by the name “Solomon’s Temple.” Christians in time also adopted the same procedure. When the Europeans during the Crusades spoke of the Al Aqsa Mosque, they stated that it was indeed the remains of “Solomon’s Temple.” We will also see that Christians in Crusader times used the principle of barakah to transfer the influence and significance of a site (or a person) in the Holy Land to an area (or areas) in Europe that was located in close proximity to the person or persons doing the transference. In all likelihood, the early Arabs learned the practice from earlier Christians (and perhaps Jews) who regularly used the principle of “holy transference” (or, barakah) for many relics and holy sites [I will soon give some examples of this transference.]. So, it was no surprise that Omar reckoned that the influence and holiness of Solomon’s Temple could in his day be transferred to his new Mosque at the southern end of the Haram esh-Sharif. In no way was this principle a proper one from a biblical point of view. Note that when the Tabernacle went from place to place in the Wilderness with the Shekinah, the places where the Tabernacle had been formerly pitched retained no holiness with them. To further illustrate this, Jeremiah called the attention of the Jews of his day to the ruined state of Shiloh (where the Ark had remained for scores of years) and yet in Jeremiah’s time the area of Shiloh was ruined, desolate and bereft of all holiness. Jeremiah said Shiloh was deprived of any sanctification (Jeremiah 7:12-14; 26:6-9).
In spite of this biblical proscription, later people began to use this erroneous principle called barakah, and Christians from the fourth century, Muslims from the seventh, and Jews from the eleventh century adopted the principle almost wholesale as a proper means of transferring the so-called “holiness” of one site to another – even to places hundreds of miles away. This allowed the influence and holiness of Solomon’s Temple to be transferredto another the place (using the well-known and well-used barakah principle). But it even went further than that. Later peoples confused the issue and forgot about the transferenceprinciple and accepted a more literal interpretation that the area was in fact the very place where the former holy buildings had been. The people of Jerusalem soon came to believe that the area at the southern part of the Haram (where the Al Aqsa Mosque was built) was in actual fact the exact spot where Solomon erected his Temple. And since it was well known that Herod the Great expanded northward the size of the Temple (even doubling it from its previous dimensions), it was an easy thing to make a further transference and call the Dome of the Rock as a part of Herod’s Temple. The Dome of the Rock in Christian eyes finally became a part of the “Temple” because Jesus’ footprint was believed to be on the “oblong stone” and instead of the “footprint” being placed there in the time of Pilate (as the original story stated), they changed the account into the event when Jesus was a baby and was placed in the arms of Simon the priest. One error of the story became superimposed on another error and contradictions galore began to occur in the various accounts.
The fallacious identification of the Dome of the Rock with the Temple Mount, started in a minor way during the days of Abn al-Malik. Instead of the “footprint of Jesus” being in the Rock, the Muslims made a slight shift in the story and they substituted the “Jesus indention” (that the Arabs called a “cradle”) with what they called the “footprint of God.” Indeed, even Christians also said that “footprint” was that of “God” because Jesus was (in the doctrine of the Trinity) also recognized as God. As time went on, the “footprints” of other notables of the biblical period began to be identified with several indentions in the Rock. In fact, the Muslim writer Nasir-I Khusraw in the early eleventh century was able to count SEVEN FOOTPRINTS on the Rock and among them were those of Abraham and Isaac (see F.E.Peters, Jerusalem, pp.248,249). Some thought Adam’s footprint was there, and finally the footprint of Muhammad was also placed there (along with his hand, or that of Gabriel the Archangel).
The body parts of Muhammad got on the stone in Muslim eyes because, within a short time of Abn al-Malik building the Dome of the Rock, it became popular for Muslims to transferthe account of Muhammad’s “Night Journey” to heaven from the Al Aqsa Mosque to the Dome of the Rock. The handprint of Muhammad was also thought to be embossed in the Rock because the Rock (so the story goes) wanted to accompany Muhammad into heaven. The prophet would not allow it to do so. He forcibly held it down with his hand. But the Rock persisted in its attempt to journey with Muhammad into the celestial abode of God. The Rock then lifted itself up about six feet and refused to settle back to earth, thus creating the cave that is now seen in the southeast sector of the Rock. Most reasonable people call these stories mere folklore and nonsensical (and the rational Arab historians later in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries called them “outright lies”) (see for example, Ibn Taymiyya 1936: 7-13, trans. S. Levy, and see F.E. Peters, Jerusalem, p.377). Lies though they were, they began to be believed with a passion by many of the people of Jerusalem. And religious folk still accept such absurdities. It is folklore accounts like these that finally got the Dome of the Rock to become the site of the Temple. And what is sad is the fact that the religious authorities (instead of condemning such teachings of the people) promoted them and gave their blessing to many of them. Thus was established official sanction to such lies.
This transference (using the barakah principle) started in a limited sense with Omar when he moved the holiness of Solomon’s Temple up to the southern area of the Haram esh-Sharif. This was the first instance in history that people began to think that part of the Haram esh-Sharif was the site of the Temple. But later, there was an avalanche of folklore accounts with some stating that even “God’s footprint” and the “footprints” of other biblical people (and finally those of Muhammad’s himself) were believed to be embossed on the Rock under the Dome of the Rock. These erroneous tales of the people (and sadly, the absurdities were conveniently supported by the religious authorities) finally convinced people that the literal site of the Temple (at least Herod’s Temple) was the area of the Dome of the Rock. It then became a place of the Jewish Temple. And when the Christians finally took over Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades, they continued the myths by calling the Dome of the Rock “The Temple of God.” This was error of the first magnitude! No Jew would at first have done such a thing, but during the Crusades (because of a supposed archaeological discovery in the Christian “Mount Zion” that I will soon relate) even the Jews began to speculate that the Dome of the Rock was indeed the Temple site.
Still, however, the area of the Al Aqsa Mosque was NEVER the location of Solomon’s Temple, and the later tales about the Rock under the Dome of the Rock were pure and simple nonsense. As a matter of fact, in the time of Omar and Sophronius, no one in Jerusalem imagined that the region of the Haram esh-Sharif was the Temple site. The area that Sophronius showed Omar was over and around the Gihon Spring on the southeasternridge of Jerusalem. This was the place where the original “Mount Zion” of the Bible and its northern extension called the “Ophel” mound were situated. This was the area where Solomon, and later Zerubbabel and then Herod built the Jewish Temples. And it was well known that the region had NEVER BEEN BUILT UPON by either the Romans (from 70 C.E. to 303 C.E.) or the Byzantines (from 325 C.E. to 638 C.E.). The testimony of Eutychius (cited above) confirms this fact. Even the Jews in the time of Omar and Sophronius knew that the site of the Jewish Temple had never had any churches or Christian buildings constructed within its precincts. This limits the area to the southeastern sector of Jerusalem (over and near the Gihon Spring). Notice the next historical fact that abundantly proves this reality.
Jews Wanted to Live in the Southern Part of Jerusalem
Thankfully, we now have records from the Geniza documents from Egypt which give us some early and reliable teachings from the Jews themselves at the very time that Omar and Sophronius were having their discussions in Jerusalem. The records (many of them contemporaneous to the events they describe) show that SEVENTY FAMILIES of Jews from Tiberias were permitted by Omar to settle in Jerusalem. And where did these Jews wish to establish their residence? As I show in my book, these historical narratives reveal that they wanted to live in the SOUTHERN PART of Jerusalem near the Siloam water source. They wanted to reside SOUTH of the present southern wall of Jerusalem near the Haram esh-Sharif. Indeed, their area of interest was even further SOUTH than the palatial Umayyad buildings that Professor Mazar and our Ambassador students (under my direction) discovered SOUTH of the Haram. In all clarity, the documents for the next 400 years show that the Jewish quarter was located where the Bible places the real “Mount Zion” region on the southeastern ridge. When later (in the tenth century) some Karaite Jews settled in Jerusalem, they also settled next to the Rabbinate Jews and established themselves on the eastern side of the Kedron on lower Olivet. These Jewish people did so (as the record states) because they wanted TO BE NEAR THEIR FORMER TEMPLE. Scholars are fully aware that it was this southeastern region where the Jews lived for over 400 years (see Dan Bahat’s The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem for several maps showing this).
These Jews for over 400 years following the time of Omar did not settle in the southwest hill that the Christians were calling their “Mount Zion.” There is not the slightest hint in the records that the Jews’ SOUTHERN PART included the southwestern hill that the Christians were calling their “Mount Zion.” As a matter of history, a Jewish traveler by the name of Benjamin of Tudela stated in the middle of the twelfth century that only Christian buildings were found on the southwestern hill and that Jews showed no interest in that particular section of Jerusalem until some so-called tombs of David, Solomon and the kings of Israel were supposedly discovered below the ruins of a Christian church in the mid-twelfth century. The only area the Jews were interested in from 638 to 1077 C.E. (obviously, for over 400 years) was the southeastern area of Jerusalem where the biblical records make it clear was the former region of the original Mount Zion of David. This was where the proper site of the Temples was understood by the Jews to be. And this was the very region that Sophronius showed Omar was the original site of the Jewish Temples.
Only Jewish Buildings were Concentrated in the SOUTHEAST quadrant of Jerusalem
For the most part, ONLY JEWISH BUILDINGS were permanently built in that southeasternquadrant of Jerusalem for those four centuries and more. As for the Muslims, they concentrated in building their sanctuaries and other structures within the Haram esh-Sharif. The Christians on the other hand attended to the region in the northwest near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and also on the southwestern hill erroneously called “Mount Zion.” Remember that in the historical account of Eutychius, Sophronius said to Omar that the Roman and the Byzantine authorities NEVER BUILT any buildings where the Jewish Temples were once located in Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities were well aware of this essential truth. But now I wish to give even a further historical reference that confirms this fact written about six hundred years later. We have the express testimony of Rabbi David Kimchi, one of the great biblical commentators of the Jews (otherwise known as the RADAQ) who lived from about 1160 to 1235 C.E. Rabbi Kimchi said that as late as his time the region of the former Temples still remained in ruins and that it continued to be a fact that NO GENTILES (whether Roman, Byzantine or Muslim) HAD YET BUILT ANY OF THEIR BUILDINGS OVER THE SITE OF THE TEMPLE. He said (and I am quoting him verbatim): “And [the Temple] is still in ruins, [in] that the Temple site WAS NEVER BUILT ON BY THE NATIONS” (Commentary on Isaiah 64:10 and quoted by Prof. Kaufman in Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April, 2000, p.61 – the letters in capitals are my emphasis).
The comments of Rabbi David Kimchi is first-class Jewish testimony in about 1235 C.E. So, on the precise site of the Temple, Rabbi Kimchi dogmatically states that NO GENTILE BUILDINGS had ever been built – and this included the period of 600 years before him when the Muslims (and during the Crusader period, the Christians) had control over all areas of Jerusalem! In fact, Rabbi Kimchi said that the precise region of the Temple EVEN IN HIS DAY was “still in ruins.” There can be no doubt that Kimchi was stating absolute fact and that he was not speaking allegorically that the so-called “ruin” including the Christian and Muslim buildings that were supposed to be on the spot (and IF that spot were supposedly within the Haram esh-Sharif as most Christians and Muslims thought the Temple site to be). Indeed, Rabbi Kimchi wanted his readers to know he was not speaking allegorically because he emphatically stated (to emphasize the ruined condition of the former Temple site) that the Temple “is still in ruins, in that the Temple site was never built on by the nations [the Christians and Muslims].” This statement alone eliminates any of the area of the Haram esh-Sharif from consideration because it was built up by the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the region north, west and south (and partially east) of the Dome of the Rock paved over with beautiful paving stones.
This latter observation of Rabbi David Kimchi is the second “key” (or “deal point”) that the areas of the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock COULD NOT be considered as possible contenders for the original sites of the Temples because those areas had long been built upon first by Christians (for the Dome of the Rock area ) and then by Muslims for both the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. In fact, we have the testimony of the Jewish poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol of Spain (born about 1021 and died about 1070 C.E.) who included among his collection of poems an important observation concerning the state of the Temple in Jerusalem. He wrote:
“Remember me when You [God] rebuild Thy Temple, that I may behold the bliss of Thy chosen ones. And purify me to seek diligently Thy Sanctuary [the Temple now] devastated and ruined. And to cherish its [the Temple’s] stones and its dust, and the clods of its desolation, and rebuild Thou its wastes” (Poem 39, trans. Israel Zangwill, Jewish Publication Society, 1923, p.121).
Gabirol cannot be describing the site of the Haram esh-Sharif which was everything but desolate. It was totally a built-up area and NOT in a ruined state. Then there are the comments of the eminent poet of the Jews by the name of Judah Halevi who lived a short time after Gabriol (Judah Halevi lived from about 1085 to 1140 C.E. – during the Crusades). He confirms the state of the Jewish Temple as then consisting of desolate ruins. He wrote several works about the condition of Jerusalem and the site of the Temple in his time. Note the lament of Rabbi Judah Halevi over the ruined and desolate state of the Temple Mount during this early period of the Crusades. The Temple site was certainly not then a built-up area like the Haram esh-Sharif was at the time!
“My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west. How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me? How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet Zion lieth beneath the fetters of Edom [Rome, Christians by inference], and I in Arab chains? A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain [where he lived], seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary [in Jerusalem]” (Section One, Judah Halevi, edited by Heinrich Brody, Jewish Pubication Society, 1924, 1952). NOTE: the Dome of the Rock and the Haram esh-Sharif were not then in adesolate state.
“Sweet would it be unto my soul to walk naked and barefoot upon the desolate ruins where thy holiest dwellings were; in the place of thine Ark where it is hidden [Halevi believed the tradition that the Ark was hidden in the tunnels and caves underneath the Holy of Holies] and in the place of thy Cherubim which abode in thine innermost recesses” (Section 5, ibid.).
Thy captives “pant toward thee, worshipping everyone from his own place toward thy gates [in Zion]. They are in pain over thy [Zion’s] desolation, and that weep over thy ruin” (ibid.).
“The tumult of my tenderness is stirred when I remember thy glory of old that is departed – thine habitation [the Temple] which is desolate” (Section 8).
“They [our Jewish people] mourn the wasteness of thine [the Temple’s]overthrow and weep at thy destruction bitterly” (ibid.).
“Sweet to my soul it would be to wander barefeet, to go unshod in places waxen waste – desolate since the oracles were there: Where thine Ark rested, hidden in thine heart, and were, within [the Temple] thy Cherubim were placed” (Section 19).
A short time later, the famous Maimonides (who modernized Judaism with rationalistic doctrines in the twelfth century as I will later show) was also non-allegorical in his descriptions of the Temple Mount when he came to relate the condition of the Temple site in his day. We should pay attention to what Maimonides stated during the time when the Crusading Christians were in charge of Jerusalem. Indeed, he and his father and brother even visited Jerusalem for three days on their way from North Africa to Egypt and they all witnessed the ruins and desolation of the Temple site while the area of the Haram esh-Sharif and the Dome of the Rock were then built over with beautiful religious structures and plazas that were kept in the finest conditions (there were no ruins within the region of the Haram whatever). Note what Maimonides stated in his “Book of Temple Services” which was the eighth section of the Misneh Torah written in the year 1180 C.E.
“As far as the Sanctuary and Jerusalem were concerned, the first sanctification [by Solomon] hallowed them for all time to come…. Wherefrom the Sages have averred, even though they are desolate [at the time of Maimonides], the sanctuaries retain their pristine holiness…. Now just as we are obliged to keep the Sabbath for all time to come, so must we reverence the Sanctuary [the Temple] for all time to come; for even though it is in ruins, its sanctity endures.”
In 1210 C.E. there is a brief account by Rabbi Samuel Ben Samson that in Jerusalem was a place where “only the foundations [of the Temple] remain now in existence.” It was near the “fount [spring] of Etham, the bathing place of the priests.” This is a reference to the Gihon Spring which had been closed up by Saladin in 1187 C.E. Rabbi Samson said that opposite the fount was a Gate in the Western Wall. “At the base of this wall there is to be observed a kind of arch placed at the base of the Temple. It is by a subterranean passage that the priests reach the fount of Etham, the spot where the baths [of the priests] were” (Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages, p.104). The spring was then being named after a site called Etham. Etham was an area south of Bethlehem that was once a water source for Jerusalem when conduits brought water to Jerusalem from the higher area of Etham. Many people thought that the water that came from the Gihon had its origin in the Etham area and thus the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem was sometimes called by that name. In the time of Rabbi Samson, there was no outside entrance to the Gihon or the Etham fount (it was “blocked up” by Saladin). The spring had to be reached by subterranean tunnels and shafts that led downwards from the Ophel mount [the site of the Temple] to the waters that finally emerged at the Siloam pool area southeast of the city. In no way could Rabbi Samson have been describing the Dome of the Rock area within the Haram esh-Sharif in his account of the Temple site. He concluded his remarks with: “Only the foundations [of the Temple] remain now in existence, but the place where the Ark stood is still to be seen” (ibid.). He then said that from that spot he and his party then journeyed to the adjacent Pool of Siloam.
And now we once again come to the comments of Rabbi David Kimchi. He reported about the condition of the Temple and the Temple Mount about twenty years after Rabbi Samson (about 1235 C.E.). He was the final Jewish authority who stated without ambiguity that the site of the former Temples in Jerusalem “were still in ruins” in his day and he qualified his statement with the further observation that NO GENTILE BUILDINGS WERE THEN ERECTED OVER THE TEMPLE SITE (this account disqualifies the whole region of the Haram esh-Sharif with its Dome of the Rock from being considered because there were then many Christian and former Muslim buildings in evidence in those areas). This shows that Rabbi Kimchi was not allegorizing about the ruins and desolation of the Temple site.
The fact is, Rabbi David Kimchi in 1235 C.E. was the last Jewish authority who unambiguously stated that the beautiful Christian/Muslim buildings of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque COULD NOT BE the site of the Temple. These Christian/Muslim areas were not in ruins. Just the opposite was the case. With the seventh century, the Muslims began to build the Al Aqsa Mosque in the southern part of the Haram, and then near the end of the century we find Abn al-Malik constructing the famous Dome of the Rock over the former site of the Church of the Holy Wisdom and its “oblong rock.” For the grandeur of the Haram esh-Sharif in Arab times, we have the eyewitness reports of Muslim travelers (principally Nasir-i Khusraw and Al Ghazali), and the Christian Daniel the Abbot(see F.E.Peters, “Jerusalem,” pp.246-250, 280, 314-316, 358, 374,5) who report the beautiful buildings and pavements of the plaza areas that were in various parts of the Haram esh-Sharif and that the earlier Muslims and the later Christians viewed the precincts as a holy and sanctified place. It was especially taken care of with utmost attention and that no ruins of any kind were found within its confines. Even with frequent earthquakes the sites were quickly restored.
The Start of Jewish Attention that the Dome of the Rock was the Actual Temple Site
But things began to change about the site of the Temple at Jerusalem. Even in the time of Maimonides, Rabbi Samson and David Kimchi who showed the actual Temple site to be in desolate ruins, there were some Jews who were beginning to think that the Dome of the Rock was indeed the location of the Temple. And within another hundred years, all Jewsaccepted the changeover with the full sanction of the Jewish authorities. The change in Jewish attitude came quickly and without ambiguity. It first developed with the observations of a Jewish traveler who happened to pass through Jerusalem on his round-trip journey from the city of Tudela in northern Spain into Babylon, then to Egypt and finally back to Tudela. This traveler made his trip in the middle of the twelfth century. He was known as Benjamin of Tudela. He visited Jerusalem for a short visit about 1169 C.E. He was the first Jew who unambiguously stated that the area of the Dome of the Rock was the Temple site.
Benjamin of Tudela arrived on the scene in Jerusalem when the Christians in the Crusade period were in control of Jerusalem and they had been masters of the city for the previous 70 years. When Benjamin got there he found four Jewish people who lived near the Tower of David (as it was being called) near the present day Jaffa Gate. Some texts of Benjamin state that he found “200 Jews,” but this is contradicted by another Jewish traveler of the same period by the name of Petahyah of Regensburg who stated that there was only one Jew (a dyer) in the city when he visited it (see Prawer, The History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, p.48). Just a handful of Jews were in Jerusalem when Benjamin of Tudela hurriedly visited the Holy City. This has to be the case because when the Christian Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 C.E., they forbad any Jew from entering the city (this also included Muslims) and this prohibition was strictly adhered to for at least 52 or so years. But after that period of 52 years of complete Jewish abandonment of the Holy City, a few Jews then began to live in or on the edge of Jerusalem. So, there were from one to four Jews in the area in the time of Benjamin of Tudela. It was at this time that some Jews (but not all) first began to think that the Dome of the Rock was the site of the Holy of Holies of their former Temples. Benjamin testified to this fact. These Jews simply began to acknowledge that the Christians and Muslims were right in identifying the spot as that of their former Sanctuary.
Why Benjamin of Tudela Readily Accepted the Dome of the Rock as the Temple Site
Let us now look at an important observation made by Benjamin of Tudela when he got to Jerusalem. He reports an event that occurred 15 years before he visited the city during which some workers on the southwestern hill called by Christians “Mound Zion” (while working on rebuilding a wall of a Christian church) accidentally came upon a cavern which was filled with tombs and other finery that was interpreted by a Jewish resident of Jerusalem as being the tombs of David, Solomon and the other Kings of Judah. The Jewish person who made the interpretation was named Abraham al-Constantini. So, this means (if the story is factual – and later Jews took it to be) that this Abraham al-Constantini must have been in Jerusalem in the year 1054 C.E. (some 15 years before Benjamin of Tudela talked with him about the discovery of the so-called tombs of David, Solomon and the Kings of Judah when he visited the city). Before that period of Abraham al-Constantini (and for a period of at least 52 years) there had not been a single Jew who could enter into Jerusalem. The city had been empty of Jews for over five decades. Indeed, in 1129 C.E., the Spanish Rabbi Abraham Hiyya said: “Not even one Jew is to be found in Jerusalem in our own days” (see Prawer, ibid., p.48).
Those 52 or so years when there were no Jews able to visit Jerusalem (from 1099 to 1151 C.E. or thereabouts) is an important period of time in our quest to explain why Jews finally began to accept the Dome of the Rock in the Haram esh-Sharif as the real site of the Temple (even though the Jews who began to think so were mistaken in their beliefs). The fact is, during that period of 52 years Jerusalem underwent a great change geographically. The Christians came into the region and began to tear down former buildings and to construct new ones. And when Jews (almost two generations later – and having been ejected from Jerusalem for over five decades) came back to the city, the memories of how it once appeared were different from what was then being displayed. That span of 52 years is a long time for Jews to be prohibited from entering Jerusalem. That is like stating that no Jew of modern times ever visited Jerusalem from Israel’s Independence Day as a State in 1948 until the Spring of 2000 when the Pope visited the city. Of course, in our time Jerusalem has grown and grown so that over a half million Jews live in the surrounding area, but back in the period of the first five decades of the Crusader period, NOT A SINGLE JEW had visited or entered the city of Jerusalem (the Jews were banned from doing so by the Christian masters of the city).
In 1152 C.E., however, one or two Jews were permitted to live near the Tower of David at the Jaffe Gate. One of them must have been Abraham al-Constantini because it was about 1154 C.E. that Benjamin of Tudela stated that Abraham al-Constantini told him of the discovery of the Tombs of David, Solomon and the other Kings of Judah underneath a church on the southwest hill of Jerusalem then being called by the Christians “Mount Sion” (Christians use the spelling “Sion” rather than “Zion”). Indeed, Benjamin states that it was this Abraham al-Constantini who informed the Christian bishop that the newly discovered tombs were those of David and the other kings. Though the bishop had the entrance to the tomb/cavern soon closed up and no one has since seen the resplendence of the Tombs as they were described by Benjamin, still the knowledge of that archaeological discovery spread like wild-fire throughout the whole of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish worlds. This new “Tomb area” was considered an archaeological discovery of great significance and the interpretations based upon it began to change the very way Christians, Muslims and especially Jews viewed the early geography of Jerusalem. Let us see why.
If there really was a Tomb area found on the Christian “Mount Sion” just before the time of Benjamin of Tudela, it was because Simon the Hasmonean in the second century before Christ moved David’s “Tomb” (which he built as a cenotaph, and not an actual Tomb) to thesouthwest hill. I have explained this as a definite possibility in my book. But whatever was discovered, the matter became a very controversial subject even with the Jews when they came to interpret that “archaeological” discovery. If those tombs were reckoned to be genuine (and not simply a later cenotaph), then it meant that the southwest hill was indeed the real and proper “Mount Zion” and it was NOT the southeast ridge that the Jews from the time of Omar had thought (recall that the SEVENTY FAMILIES mentioned in the Geniza documents wanted to be near the Temple in the SOUTHERN part of Jerusalem and Jewish presence continued in the southeast quadrant – and only there — until 1077 C.E.).
This discovery of the so-called “Tomb of David” prompted some Jews to question the validity of the southeast hill. This was especially so because this “Tomb of David” was located at a church that was believed to be built over the ruins of a Jewish synagogue whose walls showed that the building was orientated with its niche directed northward. Though our modern scholars have now surmised that the ruined structure within the church area is actually that of a fourth or fifth century Christian church (NOT a synagogue) that was destroyed by the Persians in 614 C.E. or by later Muslims in 965 C.E. (a good summary of these archaeological details is found in the excellent book: Blue Guide Jerusalem, p.237), in the Middle Ages it was thought the remains were those of a Jewish synagogue built at the so-called “Tomb of David.” What was striking about the holy niche in the building was its northward orientation that seemed to focus attention toward the Haram esh-Sharif and the Dome of the Rock. Since Jewish tradition stated that early synagogues in Palestine were normally oriented toward the Temple, this particular configuration of this church (that was erroneously thought to be a synagogue) was precisely in the direction of the Dome of the Rock. This appeared to be proof that the region of the Haram esh-Sharif must have been the true site of the Temple (and that it was NOT situated on the southeastridge as all history and biblical teaching demanded that it be). Because of this assumption, within a century of this so-called “archaeological” discovery, Jews were now speaking dogmatically about “the Royal Tombs on Mount Zion” (see the work Sefer Qabbalath Sadiqei Eretz Israel as cited by Prawer, ibid., pp.176-180). This is further confirmed by what is called The Forged Itinerary of Rabbi Menahem of Hebron in 1215 C.E. who spoke of “the Tombs of the Kings on Mount Zion” (Prawer, ibid., p.223). And then in 1270 to 1291 there is The Itinerary of the Anonymous Pupil of Nachmanides who not only visited the site of the “Tomb of David” (and the other kings) but he described a building at the place which was then being called (hold on to your hats, folks), “the Temple of David” with the Hebrew name Heikhal describing it. This same Hebrew word was that which sometimes was used for the Holy of Holies in the actual Temples. And note this. This later Jewish traveler gave a further interpretation about this new site on the Christian “Mount Sion.” He stated: “Some [Jews] say that the Ark of the Covenant which was brought by David [to Jerusalem] rested here [on the southwest hill] until he built the Temple.” The author then added the further interpretation: “Not far away [from this “Temple”] is the Tower of David, built of huge stones.” This was the Christian “Tower or David” located at the Jaffe Gate to the north and west. The author then stated that anyone can see that this Tower of David “is an ancient building” (Prawer, ibid., pp.239,240).
So, by the end of the thirteenth century, even the Jewish authorities throughout the world had mistakenly gone over to believing that the southwest hill was indeed the original “Mount Zion” of David’s time. And with the so-called “synagogue” under the church where the “Tomb” was supposed to have been pointing its niche toward the Dome of the Rock, it was easy for the whole community of the Jews (along with the Christians and Muslims) to identify the area of the Haram esh-Sharif as the former Temple site of the Jews. They also began to believe that the so-called “Tower of David” at the Jaffe Gate was the real “Tower” of David. The truth is, that false “Tower” was built no earlier than the sixth century and it was situated about three quarters of a mile northwest of where the former and accurate “Citadel [Tower] of David” was positioned in biblical times. From this time onward, the confusion (it should be called “the deception“) was now complete and within two generations after the time of the Crusades, all people (including the Jews) now accepted the Dome of the Rock as the place near where the Holy of Holies once existed. They forgot all about the proper place on the southeast ridge.
This was the period when all peoples finally accepted the southwest hill of Jerusalem as the actual “Zion,” and they forgot the real biblical “Zion” on the southeast hill. So certain did this false identification become in the eyes of all scholars, historians and theologians that even Robinson (one of the great explorers of Palestine in the early 19th century and after whom “Robinson’s Arch” in the western wall of the Haram esh-Sharif is named) said the truth of the southwest hill as being the real “Mount Zion” was thoroughly unassailable. To him and his colleagues there was not the slightest doubt that the southwest hill was the correct biblical site. Indeed, virtually everyone throughout the world (and at all official levels of academic and theological authorities of all religious persuasions) dogmatically accepted that the southwest hill was the true “Mount Zion.” The error brought chaos to the actual biblical geography of Jerusalem. Among other mistakes because of this wrong identification, Robinson went so far as to believe that the Gihon Spring (which the Bible shows was at the foot of “Mount Zion” at the southeast ridge) was actually a place west of the southwest hill and down in the upper valley (wadi) Er-Rababi where water would drip from crevices in the wet season. Robinson’s location was at least a mile west of where it actually was (see George Adam Smith, Jerusalem, vol.I, p.83).
The Jewish authorities had been swayed by this archaeological discovery and the orientation of the so-called “synagogue” at what was considered the “Tomb of David,” that they shifted the real “Mount Zion” of biblical Jerusalem erroneously to the southwest hill. So entrenched did this new concept become regarding the geography of Jerusalem that both Christians, Muslim and Jews began to accept the southwestern “Zion” as certain. As a matter of fact, as I explain in my book, all scholars in England and America until the year 1875 C.E. strongly believed that the southwest hill was indeed the “Mount Zion” that David conquered from the Jebusites. Thankfully, however, common sense finally returned to the thinking of scholars about 1875 C.E. It was the indefatigable efforts of W.F. Birch in England who wrote his passionate pleas (he held out almost single-handedly against the opinions of all the scholars in his day) that the southwest hill WAS WRONG and that the southeast hill was the correct “Mount Zion” (he wrote in the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly from 1875 to 1885). Birch’s persistence on behalf of the truth paid off and all the scholars in the universities finally had to give in and accept that the southeast hill was proper and that thesouthwest hill WAS NOT the original “Mount Zion.” Yes, W.F. Birch won the match againstall the top scholars of his day including the most respected and prestigious in the business. It is interesting that this procedure is now being repeated in my endeavor to get the Temple site back to its original position over the Gihon Spring. The truth is, everyone now knows that the original “Mount Zion” was truly on the southeast hill and this shows that the Jewish authorities who wanted to settle “near the former Temple” in the time of Omar and Sophronius went to that southeast region and settled. No Jew before the twelfth century showed any interest in the erroneous southwest hill until that “archaeological discovery” was made 15 years before Benjamin of Tudela went to Jerusalem. The main culprit who introduced the error was the reference to this “discovery” in the account of Benjamin of Tudela in 1169 C.E.
What Did Benjamin of Tudela Report and What are his Qualifications?
The events that were told Benjamin of Tudela about Jerusalem when he got to the Holy City made him instantly arrive at some profound conclusions on the early geography of Jerusalem that no Jewish authority before his time had unambiguously accepted. But Benjamin presented his views with vigor and certainty. Without the slightest doubt, and with full dogmatism, Benjamin arrived at the conclusion that the Christians were right and that the Dome of the Rock was the actual site of the former Temples of the Jews. He stated: “Jerusalem is furnished with four gates, called the Gate of Abraham, of David, of Zion, and of Jehoshaphat. The latter stands opposite the Holy Temple, which is occupied at present by a building, called Templo Domino [the Dome of the Rock]. In front of it [to the west, because Christian entrance to the building was on the west] you see the western wall, one of the walls which formed the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple, it is called the Gate of Mercy [on the east where one could view it] and all Jews resort thither to say their prayers near the wall of the court yard [the east wall of the Haram]” (Sarah Benjamin, The World of Benjamin Tudela, p.171, emphasis and words in brackets are mine). His dogmatism as to these identifications were no doubt prompted by what he learned from Rabbi Abraham al-Constantini about the Tombs of David found on the Christian “Mount Zion” and the orientation of the early church (which they interpreted as being a “synagogue”) being directed toward the Haram esh-Sharif. It was the discovery of these so-called “Tombs” (and the “synagogue”) that prompted all later Jews to adopt the Dome of the Rock as the actual site of the Temple (as Christians demanded and even the Muslim were now accepting).
Though some Rabbis in the first hundred years after the archaeological discovery knew better (notably Maimonides and Rabbi David Kimchi who said the Temple site was still in ruins and was desolate – and Rabbi Kimchi even stated that no Christian or Muslim building had ever been constructed on the true Temple Mount), by the end of the thirteenth century, there was not a Jew in the world (of which we have record) that did not accept the Dome of the Rock as the real site of the Temple and even that it was the place of the Holy of Holies. Even the “western wall” was identified as being in front of the entrance to the CrusaderTemplo Domino (there was a short and low balustrade that once stood in that area that the Jews mistakenly thought was the “Western Wall” of the Holy of Holies that the Jews wrote about in the period of the Talmud and a short time afterward). Of course, the Jews of the earlier period were speaking about a “Western Wall” near a cave over and near the Gihon Spring, but Benjamin of Tudela boldly asserts (and without the slightest compunction) that the so-called “Western Wall” was then found at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock. [Note: even this so-called “Western Wall” of the Holy of Holies as described by Benjamin of Tudela, is NOT TO BE CONFUSED with the later “Western Wall” of the Haram esh-Sharif (which became the “Wailing Wall” of the Jews only in the sixteenth century). I will explain next month just how the later “Wailing Wall” became the so-called “Western Wall” of Jewish tradition. There is NOT THE SLIGHTEST DOUBT, the present “Wailing Wall” of the Jewish authorities (accepted by most religious Jews) is an invention of the sixteenth century and it has no relevance whatever to any architecture of the first century. Interestingly, Jewish scholars today admit this fact.
However, it was this Benjamin of Tudela who was the first Jewish person who unambiguously stated that the Dome of the Rock was the site of the Holy of Holies and that the balustrade then in front of its entrance was the “Western Wall” of Jewish tradition. Just who was this Benjamin of Tudela who pontificated on all these matters? No one knows anything about him besides what he wrote in his treatise that has come down to us. He writes of the Jewish people who were in the towns and cities he visited (even giving the names of eminent scholars and politicians), but his accounting is strange because when he gets to Cairo in Egypt he fails to mention the presence of Maimonides (the leader of all Egyptian Jews, and one of the most outstanding Jews in all history and one who had influence throughout all Jewry). That would be like someone traveling to Mount Vernon in Virginia two hundred years ago and mentioning all about several activities of the area (and Benjamin always mentioned the top leaders of Jewry and even of the Gentiles in the other lands he visited), yet the man failed to say a word about the activities or presence of George Washington the first President of the United States. There is much to be desired in the geographical reporting of this Benjamin. He was sloppy in his accounting. This is easily shown.
The Glaring Geographical Mistakes of Benjamin of Tudela
The geographical knowledge of Benjamin of Tudela was one of great ignorance and his judgments are often absurd. For one thing, when the archaeological discovery was made of “David’s Tomb,” Benjamin boldly placed Mount Zion in Jerusalem half a mile west of where it actually was. He also placed the early Citadel of David (called in his day the Tower of David) almost a mile northwest of where it once was. He placed the Temple a third of mile north of its actual location. Not only that, when he entered the Holy Land at Tyre, he journeyed south and when he came to Haifa he called it the ancient Gath-Hepher where Jonah was born (although the actual city of Gath-Hepher was located about 25 miles northeast of Haifa). He also said Capernaum was located south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, though it was actually located on the Sea of Galilee about 40 miles northeast of where he placed it. He also said that the famous Maon of Judah (located about 8 miles southwest of Hebron in Judah) was also the same place as Capernaum and located just south of Haifa. He said that Caesarea was the city of Gath where David hid out for awhile, though the city of Gath was 30 miles south and east of Caesarea. He stated dogmatically that one of the streams that came from Mount Hermon (the eastern one) was in fact the River Arnon that anciently separated Moab from Edom (but the Arnon River was actually located about 100 miles south of where Benjamin placed it). And he also located the city of Keilah of Judah at least 60 miles away from its actual location. Most of these anomalies of Benjamin are recorded by Col. Claude R. Conder of the Royal Engineers (and one of last centuries’ top scholars regarding Holy Land geography) in a report to The Palestinian Exploration Fund Journal dated 27th of October, 1876. Indeed, when this Benjamin was traveling through southern Italy in the province of Apulia, he said the capital city of that province is where the Assyrian king named “Pul” came from (mentioned in II Kings 15;19 and I Chronicles 5:26). Let’s face it, the land of Assyria in Asia and Southern Italy in Europe are two very different locations on earth. And even if there were a slight bit of historical truth that Benjamin recorded from the Jewish tradition that he accepts without criticism, his opinion is jaundiced because he gives so many ridiculous and outrageous erroneous statements concerning geographical matters in his work that a child would know are not correct. Without the slightest tinge of criticism, Benjamin reported that he saw in Rome “two copper pillars constructed by King Solomon, of blessed memory, whose name ‘Sh’lomo ben David’ is engraved on each.” He continues: “The Jews of Rome say that every year, about the time of the Ninth of Ab, these pillars sweat so much that the water runs down from them” (Sandra Benjamin, The World of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 88). One wonders how the Romans (and for what reason) received the two pillars of Solomon from the first Temple that was destroyed in the time of Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon in Mesopotamia) in the sixth century B.C.E.? Though Benjamin expressed no doubt in the veracity of the story, I have to apologize to my friends who are believers in such folklore that I cannot accept such unreasonable nonsense. The fact is, Benjamin was not only a sloppy and ignorant geographer, he also became a most dangerous authority for later Jews because many accepted his opinions without controversy.
But wait a moment. The Jews who lived after the Crusades are not entirely to blame for accepting these outlandish geographical anomalies of Benjamin of Tudela and other Christian and Muslim accounts of the time that are equally absurd and false. Do you know why Benjamin of Tudela placed Capernaum and Maon (two different cities and miles apart from each other) at the same location near the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa? That’s because the Christian authorities told him that is where those cities were then reckoned to be, and he gullibly believed the Christians. Col. Claude R. Conder of the Royal Engineers in his report to The Palestinian Exploration Fund Journal dated 27th of October, 1876 related that Benjamin of Tudela placed Capernaum and Maon on the main highway from Haifa to Jerusalem because Christian authorities wanted to grant pilgrims their full religious indulgences that the Roman Church were then awarding if they went to such places. But because at the time, the Muslims controlled both Capernaum and Maon, so the ecclesiastical authorities wanted to satisfy Christian pilgrims that they had indeed been to those holy places so they officially moved those cities from their original sites to the main road to Jerusalem so that Christians could conveniently stop off and gain their sought after indulgences that the Church guaranteed. That’s right. It was our misguided Christian church authorities who moved those two cities to the same convenient location on the main highway (at least 40 and 60 miles from their sites) and Benjamin of Tudela simply accepted these geographical errors without the slightest criticism.
Such things were common practice at the time. In the year 1291, the so-called “House of Mary” in Nazareth was, according to top ecclesiastical authorities, transported physically through the air to a place in Croatia in Europe. But that was not on the most favored route for pilgrimage, so three years later it was also carted (lock, stock and barrel) by the angelic hosts to a laurel grove near Loreto in Italy where it became a very famous place of pilgrimage. Now, the faithful did not have to go to Palestine to get their indulgences from the Vatican. They could now accomplish all they needed to do in regard to worshipping at the very “House of Mary” that the angels had transported to Loreto. Note what theEncyclopedia Britannica has to say about this famous site of pilgrimage. “Papal bulls were issued in favour of the shrine. Pope Innocent VII established a special mass for the feast of the Transportation of the Holy House (December 10)” (article: Loreto). Indeed, so sure and certain is the Vatican of the holiness of the site and that the angels did in fact transport Mary’s House to Loreto in Italy that “Benedict XV declared the Madonna di Loreto to be the patron of modern aviators (1920)” (ibid.). Some of us might laugh at such nonsense (and I believe the story deserves such laughter), but Roman Catholic Church officials to this very day DO NOT laugh at these accounts. They take them seriously and even papal authority vindicates their veracity by awarding the patronage of those angels to our modern airplane pilots.
Of course, this transporting through the air by the angels of the “House of Mary” from Nazareth to Loreto is a Christian story. We should think that no Jewish person would be so daft as to believe such nonsense. Oh? Again (hold on to your hats, folks) because the Jewish religious authorities have a similar account that happened about the same time to the stones of the Temple once it was destroyed by Titus in 70 C.E. Note the following quote from the excellent work by Zev Vilnay titled Legends of the Jews that is published by the Jewish Publication Society of America. It states:
“In the city of Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia, there is a synagogue which dates back to the most ancient days of the exile. According to tradition, its foundation contains stones taken from the Great Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temple, angels carried on their wings a number of stones, and said to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Lord of the Universe, we take these holy stones on the condition that when the Temple is rebuilt, we are to return them to their place.’ Then the angels took the stones to Prague and left them in the Jewish quarter; over them a synagogue was built. Therefore the Jews name the synagogue ‘On Condition’ – in Hebrew Al Tenai. With the passing of generations, the name Al Tenai was corrupted into Altneu-Shul, which in Yiddish means Old-New Synagogue” (p.204, emphasis mine).
That is not all. Following up on the belief that angels deposited some stones of the Temple in Prague, Vilnay continues:
“It is reported by Rabbi Yitzak of Moskovera: ‘The old synagogue in the city of Prague was built from stones of the Temple, because as the children of Israel went forth in the abundance of their love for its holiness, to fulfill the words of the psalmist: ‘because Your servants desired her stones.’ And when they came to the city of Prague, they built there a synagogue, and they placed there these stones.” When the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, scattered its stones over all the world. And on every place where a stone fell, a synagogue was erected. Therefore, each synagogue is called “a little Temple” because it contains within it a little of the Great Temple of Jerusalem” (Legends of Jerusalem, pp.204,205, the punctuation is Vilnay’s).
There you have it! No wonder archaeologists cannot find stones of the Temple in Jerusalem! We have this Jewish account that the angels have carried them to all areas of the world and then the angels directed that synagogues be raised up in the sites in which those stone chips have been deposited. Believe it if you will. People in the Middle Ages certainly did. We can call all of this mere folklore if we wish (but, as I said before), the papacy of Christendom does not consider the transportation of the “House of Mary” to Loreto as folklore, nor do many Jewish religious leaders believe their “little Temples” (with stones from the literal Temple in Jerusalem at their sites) to be mere folklore. But folks, this is the very type of teaching that finally got the Christians to switch the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus from the Mount of Olives (where the Holy Scriptures demand that the events took place) to their Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the western part of Jerusalem, and it was the same type of teaching that got the Jewish authorities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to transfer the site of their former Temples from the southeast ridge up the northeast quadrant of early Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock is now situated. And these erroneous sites are being taught by official church and synagogue leaders within this modern period. Oh God, help us!
The Muslims are no better off. Vilnay gives another tradition (this time a Muslim one). He relates that the Muslim geographer Makadissi, who was born in Jerusalem, wrote in 955 C.E. that “on the night of Arafat [when Muslim pilgrims gather on the Mount of Arafat near Mecca], the water in the holy well of Zamzam [which was shown to Hagar and her son Ishmael, and is near the mosque of Mecca] flows underground to the water of the Spring of Siloam [in Jerusalem]. And the people hold a festival here [in Jerusalem] on that evening” (ibid., p280). This Muslim belief reckons that underground stream at travelling about 800 miles from Mecca to Jerusalem. Indeed, nearby the Haram esh-Sharif is the famous Muslim bath called “the Bath of Healing.” Vilnay again comments with a modern example of transference: “They [the Muslims] believe that its waters come from the Well of Zamzam in Mecca, the holy city of Arabia. Should you appear unconvinced,” said Vilnay, “they will tell you the following story, which you must admit,” said Vilnay with tongue in cheek, “is conclusive proof.” Vilnay then relates the story: “A few years ago a Muslim from India went on his pilgrimage to Mecca. As he was bathing in the holy waters of the Well of Zamzam, a unique and valuable bowl which he had brought with him was carried away by the stream. This bowl was made of copper, and engraved theron were many artistic and distinctive pictures and designs. The pilgrim was much grieved over his loss and consoled himself by visiting sacred sites. From Arabia he traveled to Jerusalem, and there he went to the Bath of Healing. When he was bathing, he suddenly saw in the flowing waters the very bowl he had lost. Only the water which flows underground from the Well of Zamzam in Mecca to Jerusalem could have carried it thither” (ibid., p.212). Many of the religious Muslims in Jerusalem believe this story. Should we believe it?
What I am trying to show is the fact that even modern religious authorities continue to relate or sustain such stories about the transference of sacred spots and items to other areas of holiness. Since this is the case, why should we blame Benjamin of Tudela for reporting that Capernaum and Maon (brought to a single location) was where the Christian authorities had falsely placed them just south of Haifa? It is difficult to blame Benjamin (who merely reported what he was told), when we have the Vatican in our modern period also stating with utter belief that “Mary’s House” in Nazareth can no longer be seen in that city because the angels took it to Loreto in Italy. And we have religious Jews convinced that the oldest synagogue in Prague was made from stones from the ruined Temple that the angels carried through the air to the spot. And many religious Jews believe that each site for a synagogue was where an angel positioned a part of a stone from the Temple no matter where the synagogue is found in the world. Indeed, even Vilnay tells us that the originator of modern Zionism (Herzl, who was NOT a practicing religious Jew) was prompted by his nostalgia to name his book proposing a modern Jewish state by the name of the Prague synagogue, Altneu-land. The Hebrew translation of this very work was titledTel Aviv (Hill of spring) the name later given to the first city established by Zionist efforts in the land of Israel. The naming of the modern city of Tel Aviv from accounts generated from Jewish folklore may be for nostalgic reasons alone, but such innocent procedures often have a strange way of becoming very literal as time passes and people want to rescue traditional beliefs from being simply traditional nonsense. It is the use of such erroneous teachings that people are led far away from simple and common sense biblical truths. The modern church and synagogue authorities need to change their ways and admit these are profound errors.
My prayer is: Oh Lord, may you help us at the beginning of this twenty-first century to jettison these “Dark Age” beliefs that now thrive and flourish within the bowels of the religious authorities of this world whether they are Christian, Muslim or even Jewish. Oh God, please help us to get rid of this “crap” that now embraces the foundational beliefs of our Christian, Muslim and Jewish theological doctrines and that lead us (and sustain us) in enormous errors and rampant foolishness. This is my urgent prayer to God. I plead with the Pope, with Billy Graham, with the Archbishop of Canterbury (and with all other religious authorities) to help us get rid of these ridiculous and absurd beliefs and teachings that have made even the Jews to lose their Temples. God speed that day.