PART I: Some History of Zion, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre
THE ANCIENT PAST: Prehistoric to 13th century BCE
The world’s three most prominent monotheistic religions agree on a least one thing. The city of Jerusalem and its environs is the most holy city and site of holy places in the world. Christians, Muslims, and Jews, disagree completely and often vociferously upon who owns such holiness and who can live or worship there. The history of the place is rife with emotional, spiritual, and physical energy, and always has been. During its long history, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world. What its history lacks is any sense of ongoing and reliable peace or ecumenical coexistence.
Jews believe that the Temple Mount was the location of the First and Second Temples, the first built by King Solomon in the tenth century BCE to house the Ark of the Covenant and the second completed in the sixth century BCE. Both these temples–which remain of great significance to the Jewish faith–were destroyed in the sixth century BCE and first century CE respectively. Jews also believe Temple Mount to be the site of many prominent Hebrew biblical events such as where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac–on the Foundation Rock, now housed in the Muslim Dome of the Rock.
For Islam, Temple Mount has been an important site even prior to the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey and ascent into heaven–believed to have occurred on the site of the Dome of the Rock. Originally the practice of Islam was to pray towards Temple Mount, whereas today Muslims pray facing Mecca. Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Islam along with Mecca and Medina and is mentioned several times in the Hadith [sayings of Muhammad]. The Islamic structures on the site, such as the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, are perhaps the most ancient Islamic structures in existence, dating back as far as to Caliph Omar.
The site also has relevance for Christianity. The New Testament frequently mentions Jesus’s activities on the site including the prediction of the destruction of the Second Temple. In 324-525 CE–Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I–built a small church on the mount. Temple Mount is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mountains of research of all kinds have produced a compendium of literature that staggers the imagination, incites the emotions, and produces rapture or zealous agreement, or disagreement that has often led to war. It is literally impossible to do justice to the detail, to avoid conflict, or to select out fully impartial elements to permit a fair, truthful, and accurate, rendition that does not offend at least one religious, archeological, sociological, or historical, group. What follows is this author’s attempt to summarize some of the data into as truthful, understandable, and as brief, a story of the place and its people as he can.
Let us start at the beginning. Zion—the place and the concept—began in the prehistorical mists of time, before either the city, the Bible, the Jews, or their religion existed, at least in documentation. Jerusalem, the city, itself has a 3,000 year history.
First, some definition–The “Levant” is the area in Southwest Asia, south of the Taurus Mountains, bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Arabian Desert in the south, and Mesopotamia in the east. It stretches 400 miles north to south from the Taurus Mountains to the Sinai desert, and 70–100 east to west between the sea and the Arabian desert. The term is often used to refer to modern events or states in the region immediately bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, including the Hatay Province of Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.
In the Stone Age–prehistoric cultural stage, or level of human development–characterized by the creation and use of stone tools–flint was shaped and used as tools and weapons. The Stone Age–whose origin coincides with the discovery of the oldest known stone tools–which have been dated to some 3.3 million years ago, is usually divided into three separate periods—Paleolithic Period, Mesolithic Period, and Neolithic Period—based on the degree of sophistication in the fashioning and use of tools. The stone age includes—near its end–the Holocene Epoch [8,000-11,700 years BCE] and the peopling of the Levant. An important discovery from Lake Ram on the Golan Heights is a stone pebble with evidence of artificial shaping and polishing, which resembles the body of a woman and thus serves as one of the earliest figurines known. It has been named “The Venus of Berekhat Ram” and dated to 280,000-250,000 BCE.
Evidence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens have been verified by archeologists and anthropologists in the area of Mount Carmel in Canaan during the Middle Paleolithic Age dating from c. 90,000 BCE. That exceeds even the most imaginative or thoroughly computed time period of the Bible—including the Jews, their religion and their tribal God, YHWH [Yahweh or Jehovah], especially for the computation made by Bishop James Ussher resulting in his calculation of the age of the Universe beginning with the first day of biblical creation being October 23, 4004 BCE, no more than ten thousand years ago.
These first migrants coming out of Africa seem to have been unsuccessful; and by ~60,000 BCE–in the Levant–Neanderthal groups seem to have benefited from the worsening climate and replaced Homo sapiens, who were possibly confined once more to Africa. A second move out of Africa was seen in the Boker Tachtit Upper Paleolithic culture, from ~52,000 to 50,000 BCE. The date by which Homo sapiens Upper Paleolithic cultures began replacing Neanderthals was ~c. 40,000 BCE. This culture was quite successful in spreading.
After the Late Glacial Maxima, a new Epipaleolithic Iron age culture appeared. The appearance of the microlithic type culture, had domestication of wolves into dogs and the assistance of the animal in hunting and guarding human settlements. Extending from 18,000 to 10,500 BCE, the culture showed clear connections to the earlier microlithic cultures of Egypt using the bow and arrow. Some linguists believe this culture to have been the earliest arrival of Nostratic The later Natufian culture and its languages dominated in the Middle East early on. From 12,500–8500 BCE, the culture extended throughout the whole of the Levantine region, pioneered the first sedentary settlements, and probably supported themselves from fishing and the harvest of wild grains plentiful in the region at that time. The oldest remains of bread were discovered age dated to ~12,400 BCE—more than ~4,000 years before the advent of agriculture. This Natufian culture was apparently the first fully agricultural culture, adding wild grains, and domesticated sheep and goats.
The three principal Pottery Neolithic cultures–known to us in the Holy Land as Yarmuki-an, Coastal, and Jerichoan–were contemporary to some degree. The Yarmukian culture, in particular, settled down in the central Jordan Valley, the Coastal in the coastal plain andthe Jezreel Valley, and the Jerichoan in the lower Jordan Valley and other southern parts. All three were well-advanced in the making of pottery on their first arrival, sometime in the Sixth Millennium.
-Emmanuel Anati, The Prehistory of the Holy Land (until 3200 BCE) A History of Israel and the Holy Land, p. 32, The Continuum Publishing Group, 2001
By the mid-19th century BCE, Amorite communities were in the ascendancy. Hazor dominated southern Syria and northern Palestine from its optimum position in the Upper Jordan Valley. The warlike tendencies of the Amorite successor states are clearly reflected in the town architecture of MB IIA and B. To accommodate an increase in population–the population of Palestine in MB IIA [1950–1750 BCE has been estimated at 100,000, that of MB IIB [1750-1600 BCE] at 140,000–cities were enlarge;d and fortifications introduced.
By 8500–7500 BCE, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture developed out of the earlier local tradition of Natufian, dwelling in round houses, and building the first defensive site at Tell es-Sultan–ancient Jericho [“guarding a valuable fresh water spring”]. This was replaced in 7500 BCE dwelling in square houses, coming from Northern Syria and the Euphrates bend.
Also, during the period of 8500–7500 BCE, another Levantine hunter-gatherer group, showed clear affinities with the cultures of Egypt in Sinai. This culture subsequently fused with elements from the Levantine culture during the climatic crisis of 6000 BCE to form the Syro-Arabian pastoral technocomplex, further spreading to the first Nomadic pastoralists in the Ancient Near East including Mesopotamia.
In the Amuq valley of Syria, the Natufian culture survived–influencing further cultural developments further south. From 5600 BCE, the Natufian culture morphed into the first Chalco-lithic culture of the Levant. This period witnessed the development of megalithic Mesopotamian structures, which continued into the Bronze Age [the time from ~2,000 to 700 BCE when people used bronze, gradually replacing stone. Bronze was made by melting tin and copper, and mixing them together]. The later Iron age came ~1200-550 BCE.
Starting in the 4th millennium BCE, the region entered the Chalcolithic period/copper age–~ 3500 to 2300 BCE–which has also been called the East Semitic era in Mesopotamia and Levant. It included the proto-Akkadian sites of Abu Salabikh and Kish in central Mesopotamia, which constituted the Uri region as it was known to the Sumerians. Trade on an impressive scale and covering large distances continued during the Chalcolithic. Obsidian found in the Chalcolithic levels at Gilat, Israel have had their origins traced via elemental analysis to three sources in Southern Anatolia 310 miles east of the other two sources. This is indicative of a very large trade circle reaching as far as the Northern Fertile Crescent at these three Anatolian sites.
The important Kish civilization was considered to end with the rise of the Akkadian empire in the 24th century BCE. The Early Syrian period was dominated by the East Semitic-speaking kingdoms of Ebla [3000–2300 BCE]. The city has been described as the world’s first recorded superpower, controlling most of present-day Syria.
The Amorites next dominated much of the Levant and at some point the entire ancient Near East for centuries. They were a nomadic West Semitic people despised by the settled and highly urbanized Sumerians and East Semitic speakers of Akkad and Ebla. They spread throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia, founding powerful kingdoms and city-states including Babylon and Egypt.
By the 16th and 15th centuries BCE, most of the older centers in the Levant were overrun and were in decline. Several of the Egyptian cities were destroyed and reduced in series of wars and conflicts with Babylon. Ebla and others were conquered and completely destroyed by the Hittites ~1600 BCE.
Following the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt by Ahmose I, the New Kingdom of Egypt pushed its campaigns into inner Canaan. Between 1550 and 1100 BC, much of the Levant was contested between Egypt and the Hittites. Rule remained strong during the 18th Dynasty, but Egypt’s rule became precarious during the 19th and 20th Dynasties. Ramesses II was able to maintain control over it in the stalemated battle against the Hittites at Kadesh in 1275 BCE; but soon thereafter, the Hittites successfully took over the northern Levant–Syria and Amurru.
At their height in the 9th century BCE, the Assyrians dominated all of the Levant, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. During the reign of Ramsses II’s successor Merneptah, the Merneptah Stele was issued which claimed to have destroyed various sites in the southern Levant, including a people named as “Israel”.
~c. 1125 BCE, Egyptian control over the southern Levant completely collapsed in the wake of the invasion of the Sea Peoples–the Philistines who settled into the southwestern Coastal Plain. The Philistine menace put Israelite survival into constant jeopardy at the time of the judges. The Philistines were one of the “Peoples of the Sea” which had invaded the Fertile Crescent from the north, along the coast of Anatolia [Turkey], and descended through Syria and Canaan all the way to Egypt. In addition to them, a people called the Tjeker or Tjekel–but belonging to the same “Peoples of the Sea”–settled along the coast of Dor in the northern regions.
In northern Mesopotamia, the era ended with the defeat and expulsion of the Amorites and Amorite-dominated Babylonians from Assyria by the rise of the native Sealand Dynasty [c. 1730 BCE]. Babylon was taken over ~c. 1595 BCE.