Current scholarship is questioning ancient and modern narratives, including those records of Greek or Roman or other times that have been assumed to be accurate. With Jerusalem, the lenses of observation remain more distorted than elsewhere. The city is subjected to processes of enlarged focus or of blurring that are affected by multiple narratives and past or present claims. Available descriptions of the “Holy Land” have been filtered through cultural and political agendas, as well as conflicting monotheistic traditions…Even biblical scholars now acknowledge that the reported conquest by David did not result in any changes in population or religion. Others confirm that David never existed as a tribal chief-except in the huge realm of legend. What is called the “Tower of David” in Jerusalem (made into a showcase museum by Israel) has nothing to do with David. Meron Benvenisti, among others, has deflated the mythic creations about the Tower, which was built in more recent centuries. Jerusalem has no trace at all of a person called “King David.”
The current mythology about the city’s name and associations are typical examples. The “salem” or “shalim” in Jerusalem does not come from the word for “peace,” as is circulated. “Shalim” is the god associated with the city’s founding by the Canaanite Jebusites (“Uru-shalim,” the city or foundation of the god Shalim, cited in ancient Egyptian texts). There are systematic efforts, however, to link Jerusalem with David (thus the recent Israeli “3000” anniversary celebrations). However, as Thomas L. Thompson has noted, there are three different biblical accounts involving the “conquest” of Jerusalem. The efforts to connect the city with David are intended to formalize connections between present Jews or Israelis and that idealized biblical community called “Israelites.” The city’s archaeological and other documentation, however, demonstrates actual habitation by the Jebusites about 5000 years ago.
The work of many scholars (Philip R. Davies, Marc Zvi Brettler, Keith W. Whitelam, Thomas L. Thompson, Lester Grabbe, Donald B. Redford, Israel Finkelstein, Ze’ev Herzog, to name a few) has cast irreversible doubts about the actuality of other characters and events. The “conquest” as described in “Joshua” never occurred. The Exodus story is nothing more than Canaanite cultural memory appropriated by “Israelites” as their tradition. Initially, Canaanite-derived gods were both male and female – including the pairs ‘Asherah (Mother of Gods) and El (Father of Gods), ‘Anat and Ba’al, and also later ‘Asherah and Yahweh’. Such information is shaking certain monopolies on religious truth. This scholarship has filtered into discussions among Israeli academicians, but some are afraid it is a threat to the legitimacy of Israel’s creation.
Palestine was conquered in times past by ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Muslim Arabs, Mamlukes, Ottomans, the British, the Zionists. These are recorded conquests (not literary legends), whose facts and remains are documented. Meanwhile, another development was the evolution of monotheistic faiths that followed the “pagan” religions. It is crucial to keep these two developments as distinct as possible, for the sake of not confusing issues and identities. The people of Palestine may have become more mixed with each consecutive conquest, or may have changed religions, but essentially (especially in villages) the population remained constant-and is now still Palestinian, though many villagers were tragically dislocated in the 1948 Nakba.
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 palace 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 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 A.D. 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 A.D. 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.
Al-Quds University, by Basem Ra’ad
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The Realities of Jerusalem
The major reality of the Temple Mount / Harim-al Sharif is that it contains only visible Moslem constructions. Moishe Dayan wrote in his book “Milestones”: “.. since for the Muslims, the Temple Mount is “a Muslim prayer mosque,” while for Jews it is “only a historic site of past memory,” it followed that “the Arabs should be permitted to continue their practices here from the past,” and the rights of the Muslims to rule over the site should be recognized. After years of archaeological excavations, one of which was led by Israeli archaeologist Professor Benjamin Mazar, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated: A thumb sized, vase shaped ivory pomegranate “is the only known relic associated with the Temple by King Solomon.” Herschel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, states: Not a stone of Solomon’s Temple has survived (“Jerusalem, An Archaeological Biography,” p 49) Add to these significant observations the conclusions expressed in a book by Meir Ben-Dov, who directed the Mount Moriah excavations that began in 1968:
There are five centuries (500 B.C. to 1 A.D.) about which our historical knowledge, the Temple Mount, and the Temple itself is relatively abundant. But the lion’s share of the information comes to us from written sources alone, for no archeological excavations prior to the Six-Day War (1967 war) yielded any more than a paucity of finds from this rich period. In fact, anyone attempting to reconstruct the history of Jerusalem through archaeological means would find himself in very difficult straits when it comes to this span of half a millennium. The only material available is common to all artifacts, all of them small objects, architectural finds-meaning the remains of buildings-are almost entirely absent. Of course, we hoped that our own dig would change this sorry situation, but our hopes went unfulfilled. Neither our excavations below the Temple Mount nor any of the other digs carried out in the Old City after the Six-Day War uncovered any architectural remains.
As for the old city Western (WAILING) Wall, supposedly a bearing wall of the temple platform constructed by King Herod under Roman rule, is considered to be revered by Jews as the most existing spiritual construction of their heritage. According to Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem Jews did not pray at the Western Wall until the Mamluks in the 15th century allowed them to move their congregations from what at that time was a dangerous Mount of Olives, and permitted them to pray daily at the Wall. At that time she estimates that there may have been no more than 70 Jewish families in Jerusalem. Reliable archaeologists, after examining excavations that contain pottery shards and buildings, have concluded that the archaeological finds don’t substantiate the biblical history of Jerusalem and its importance during the eras of a united Jewish kingdom under David and Solomon. Margaret Steiner in an article titled “It’s Not There: Archaeology Proves a Negative,” in the Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August, 1998, states:
… from the tenth century B.C.E. there is no archaeological evidence that many people actually lived in Jerusalem, only that it was some kind of public administrative center… We are left with nothing that indicates a city was here during their supposed reigns (i.e., of David and Solomon)… It seems unlikely, however, that this Jerusalem was the capital of a large state [or] United monarchy as described in Biblical texts. Archaeological Digs Stoke Conflict in Jerusalem.
– Meir Ben-Dove, In the Shadow of the Temple, P.64