Why is Jerusalem holy?

August 3 2014

A city can […] become holy through having been the scene of a transcendent spiritual experience, whether authentic or legendary. For instance, Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad believed that this was the place where, on “the Night of Power”, he had ascended into Heaven and re-descended to Earth. The most tragic of all possible events in a prophet’s life is martyrdom, and the holiness of the scene of a martyrdom is enhanced if the martyr has been buried in the same place. The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem are the two events in Jesus’s history that have made Jerusalem a holy city for Christians.

[…]

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims today? Because it was a holy city for the Prophet Muhammad; and it was holy for him because of its long-established holiness for Christians and Jews – “the People of the Book” who enjoyed religious prestige in Muhammad’s eyes in virtue of their having been previous recipients of divine revelation. This is why Muhammad originally instructed his followers to face towards Jerusalem when they were saying their prayers, and it is also why, in his mind, Jerusalem was the place from which he ascended to Heaven and to which he re-descended on “the Night of Power”.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Christians today? Because it was a holy city for Jesus. It was holy for him because he was an orthodox Jew, and he was observing the Jewish Law, as this stood in his day, when he went from his native Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there in the year in which he was crucified and was buried outside Jerusalem’s city-wall.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Jews? Because King Josiah of Judah (circa 640-610 B.C.) [meaning reigned] centralized in Jerusalem all acts of worship in his kingdom and put all other places of worship there out of commission.

Moses and Joshua conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. The Hebrews were often subject to the coastal Philistines and were ruled by Judges until c 1000 B.C.

The prophet Samuel, florebat from c 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured Moses’ Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul’s reign. In this role he also anointed David, a shepherd, who was from the Jewish tribe of Judah.

Saul was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c 970-928 BC), the kingdom broke up into two states: Israel in the north, established by Jeroboam, with its capital at Shechem, then Tirzah, then Samaria, and Judah in the south, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. Josiah was of the house of David.

When the “eternal” Davidic dynasty failed after four centuries, it formed the basis for the Jewish belief in the Messiah.

Why did Josiah carry out this act of cultural synoecism (to use an Hellenic term of constitutional art)? Because Jerusalem was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in Josiah’s day. Why was Jerusalem the capital of Judah? Because, at an early date in the tenth century B.C., David [of the united Israelite kingdom] had conquered and annexed the Canaanite city-state of Jerusalem and had made this city the capital of his kingdom, which included not only Judah but Israel. After the irruption of the Israelites and Judahites into Palestine circa 1200 B.C., this Canaanite city-state had maintained its independence for about two hundred years in between the Israelite invaders to the north of it and the Judahite invaders to the south.

The Judahites were one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: he must be referring to the split that led to the formation of the two states. How did each of the twelve tribes align themselves in this?

It will be seen that the holiness of Jerusalem is paradoxical. It was the last piece of Canaanite territory to be acquired by the Judahite worshippers of Yahweh, yet it became the only place in Judah where the worship of Yahweh was allowed, and it acquired this cultural monopoly because, after its annexation to Judah, it had been made the capital of the Judahite state.

The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c 720 BC) and Judah by Babylonia (586 BC). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and held the Jews captive in Babylon.

Why is modern Israel called Israel, not Judah (House of David), when Jerusalem gained so much more prestige than Samaria?

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The history of the City of Jerusalem since the liquidation of the Kingdom of Judah has been as kaleidoscopic as the history of Rome since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. When, in 538 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was liquidated in its turn by the Persians, Jerusalem became a non-sovereign temple-state [the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and the temple was rebuilt], and it retained this status under the successive Persian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes till the second quarter of the second century B.C. A Hellenizing party among the Judaean Jews then attempted to transform the Jerusalem temple-state into a city-state on the Hellenic pattern. This led to a domestic Judaean Jewish conflict between Hellenizers and conservatives, and to a consequent collision between conservative Jewish religious and political nationalists and the Seleucid Imperial Government. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire enabled the [anti-Greek] Hasmonaean leaders of the Jewish nationalist movement to turn the Jerusalem temple-state into a Palestinian Jewish miniature empire of the kind that Pope Martin V and his successors carved out in Central Italy in and after the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. The Hasmonaean Empire was cut back to the dimensions of its nucleus, the Jerusalem temple-state, by the intervention of the Roman war-lord Pompey in 63 B.C. The sequel was a head-on collision between the Palestinian Jewish community and the Roman Empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; the foundation, on the vacant site, of a Graeco-Roman city, Aelia Capitolina; and the eviction of the Jews from all parts of Palestine except Galilee.

Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 BC, but the state survived until 37 BC with a loss of autonomy. From 37 BC to AD 92 the Roman province of Judaea (Judea) was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herodian Dynasty, a Jewish dynasty from Idumea.

When the Jews revolted in AD 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (AD 70). The foundation of Aelia Capitolina led to another revolt between AD 132 and 135, led by Bar Kokhba, which was also suppressed. Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from most of Palestine.

At the moment of writing, in October 1969, a new Jerusalem, outside Aelia Capitolina’s western wall, was the capital of the post-Second-World-War state of Israel, while the Old City which contains the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places was a piece of Jordanian territory under the Israelis’ military occupation. Since 1929 it has looked as if the relations between the Vatican City, the rest of the City of Rome, and the Italian national state have become stabilized; but in 1969 the future of the two parts of the City of Jerusalem was still unpredictable.

Jerusalem

The Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, territory which Israel re-occupied in 1967; it is the site where any Third Temple would be built

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

I have referred to a US edition.

2 Responses to “Why is Jerusalem holy?”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Jesus was crucified and buried in Jerusalem c 30-33; the apostles Peter and Paul were martyred and buried in Rome c 64 and c 67 respectively.


  2. […] in 853 BC at the Battle of Qarqar, in which Assyria, conquering Syria, fought Aram-Damascus and Israel. A camel cavalry under King Gindibu fought on the side of […]


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