TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The BBC is taking Jewish-Temple denial in Palestinian circles rather more seriously than it deserves.
Disputed facts under ground in Jerusalem
By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem
CRUCIBLE OF A CRUCIBLE OF A CRUCIBLE
Broadcast journalism does not just depend on accuracy and impartiality. Unfortunately, it also demands concision.
And, so pity the reporter who has to deal with a story about that - albeit important - bit of Jerusalem "known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary". That's five seconds of what may be your 40-second news piece for radio.
The reason for this circumlocution is what we politely call "competing narratives".
Here are the narratives:
The Western Wall was built by King Herod, 2,000 years ago. Jewish tradition - and western scholarly consensus - holds that it was one of four walls which supported the huge plaza on which the Second Temple was rebuilt.
Not everyone agrees that the wall is the only remaining part of the Temple complex, destroyed by the Romans in AD70.
Al-Quds University states, on its website, that "the Al-Aqsa compound (ie the Haram al-Sharif - site of al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam) cannot possibly be in the same place as the first or second temple".
There is muddle here, and Mr. Franks misquotes the Al-Quds University website. The relevant passage (my bold font) in context is this:
The "temple" issue dominates the politics about Jerusalem today. An assumption is made that the present Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa compound is the same location of the "Temple Mount" or "Mount Moriah." But as Ernest L. Martin has demonstrated (working strictly within biblical scholarship), the Al-Aqsa compound cannot possibly be in the same place as the first or second temple. Further, what is called the "first temple," associated with the legendary Solomon, was in fact a pre-monotheistic place where many gods were worshipped. As scholars like Herbert Niehr document, the "first temple" was dominated by Syro-Phoenician traits and appealed to pagan worshippers living in the area. Various "pagan" sites existed until after Constantine converted to Christianity in the early 4th century. At that time, Constantine's mother Helena determined many biblical sites, most coinciding with pagan temple locations.
The passage actually says, correctly, that the Al-Aqsa compound is not the site of one of the Temples. But this specific part of the platform (which is a Seleucid southern extension of the original platform) is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, not the Dome of the Rock. The latter (the site of the Dome of the Rock) may be the site of the Temple(s) - most reconstructions put the Temple there and all of them close by on the platform. The exact location of the First and Second Temples in the area of the Herodian Temple platform is debated, but not that they stood somewhere within what is now that platform.
That said, Mr. Franks's misquote does seem to reflect more or less correctly the claim of the Al-Quds website, which continues:
The Wailing or "Western" Wall is a focus of Jewish veneration. It is a site associated with a past memory, as Moshe Dayan once noted. The Wailing Wall is assumed to be what remains of Herod's Temple. But that Herod was a Jew is debated by some and rejected by others (he came from tribes east of the Jordan and had a Hellenistic cultural background). Judaism was different from how some see it today; like Christianity and Islam, it should not be confused with "ethnicity."
Further, the Wailing or "Western" Wall is a most likely candidate for being the wall of a fortress built for Roman legions (as Ernest Martin reports, citing other scholarship). Even if we assume that Herod built a "second temple," the building was reportedly destroyed in the 1st century AD. The Romans, then the Byzantine Christians, had prevented people of the Jewish faith from living in the city for hundreds of years. At other times, the two then-contending religious groups had exchanged expulsions and massacres, particularly before and during the Persian invasion of 614 AD. The hundreds of skulls at the Monastery of Mar Saba are said to be evidence of those massacres. One wonders then, under such circumstances, how the traces of any temple in Jerusalem could possibly have been preserved.
Herod's genetic background is irrelevant here (see here
for discussion). The point is that he extensively refurbished (to the point essentially of tearing down and rebuilding) the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. There is no debate in the specialist literature about the Western Wall and the platform of which it is a part being Herod's Temple platform. The business about it being a Roman fortress is simply nonsense. I have collected evidence for the existence of the Iron-Age II Judean ("Solomonic") Temple here
and for the Second and Herodian Temples here
. There is no surviving material evidence for the pre-Herodian Temples, but the inferential (literary) case for them is overwhelming and universally accepted by specialists.
There are "competing narratives" here only in the sense that there are "competing narratives" betweeen evolutionary theory and creationism. One is serious scholarship and the other is religious and political propaganda. I have some sympathy for reporters who have to try to sort through all the archaeological complexities of the Temple Mount. (I had help this morning from my colleague, Kristin De Troyer, who just taught a course on the Jerusalem Temple this semester. Any errors in this post are my mistakes, not hers.) But minimally reporters need to get it straight that there is no debate among specialists in specialist literature about the existence of the Iron Age II Judean Temple and the Second and Herodian Temples in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount platform. Again, narratives to the contrary are propaganda, not scholarship.
The fact that Jews and Muslims use different terms for the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary is a separate issue: all it means is that the site means something different (and not mutually exclusive) to Jews (site of the Temples) and Muslims (a stop on the Night Journey or Miraj
, Muhammud's visionary ascent to heaven).
The remainder of the article covers the fact that there are differences in the narratives of Jewish and Muslim tour guides in Jerusalem, a point also covered pretty thoroughly by Nadia Abu el-Haj in Facts on the Ground
, which I have reviewed here
and to which the title of the this article obviously alludes.