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Originally a Christian church

by James D. Tabor

(originally published in the United Israel Bulletin, Tevet 5754, page 3)

Anyone who has visited Jerusalem is familiar with the striking image of the 
golden dome of the rock on the ancient temple mount, clearly the most 
imposing structure in the old city. Most tourists and non-specialists refer to 
this beautiful shrine as a Moslem mosque. In point of fact, it isnothing of the 
kind. There is a Moslem mosque on the temple mount, the silver-domed Al
-Aqsa mosque, located at the southern edge of the platform, just above the 
ancient steps and Chulda gates which led up into the Herodian temple in 
Roman times. This mosque, still used today by Moslems for daily prayer, 
was built in 710 CE.

The dome of the rock is not a mosque. It is a sacred shrine built over a huge 
rock, measuring 41 by 58 feet and projecting six feet above the floor of the 
building. Here according to Jewish tradition, Abraham bound his son Isaac, 
prepared to sacrifice him at HaShem's command; Jacob dreamed of the 
ladder which reached to heaven and from this spot HaShem created Adam 
(Pirkei d' R. Eliezer 35; Yoma 54b) this is the highest point of Mt. Moriah, 
mentioned in Genesis 22:2 as the place where Abraham went with Isaac, and 
in 2 Chronicles 3:1 as the site of the First Temple built by Solomon. The 
Moslems call the whole Temple Mount area Haram esh Sharif, which means 
"the noble enclosure."

In Moslem tradition, according to the Koran, this is the spot where Abraham 
was prepared to offer his first born son Ishmael, not Isaac as the Torah 
states; but perhaps even more important, they believe it to be the spot from 
which the prophet Muhammad made his heavenly journey riding his winged 
horse Burak. Relics from the prophet, including the hairs of his beard, are 
said to be at this spot. Accordingly, the city of Jerusalem, and particularly 
this rock, has become the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina 
in Saudi Arabia. Under the rock is an opening leading to a cave below, which 
the Moslems call the Well of Souls. Although disputed, many Jewish 
authorities also believe that this rock is the Even Sh'siyah, the Foundation 
Stone of the holy temple, where the ark of the covenant rested in the Holy of 
Holies. It is worth noting that when Moslems pray on the temple mount, they 
turn toward Mecca, away from Jerusalem, with their backsides facing the 
holy mount. In middle eastern culture, such symbolic body language has 
great significance. To pious Jews, this is a daily insult to the holiness of Mt. 

The Dome's Rock

The origin of this Dome of the Rock is quite interesting. Most reference 
works will tell you it was built by Abd al Malik of the Omayyad dynasty 
between 685-705 CE. Inside the structure there is an inscription dating the 
building to the year 691 CE. The death of Muhammad was in 632 CE, and by 
638 Jerusalem and all of Syria and Palestine had fallen to the Arab 
conquerors. Most assume the moslems put up this shrine shortly thereafter, 
around 690 CE.

However, there is more to the story and the full facts have some interesting 
relevance to current Jewish and Moslem disputes over the ancient site of 
the two Jewish temples. Politics of the early 7th century CE were much more 
complicated than this general storybook version of the so-called Moslem 
invasion of the holy land. What most casual readers overlook is the brief 
period of persian rule from 614-628 CE, just prior to the Arab conquest. In 
614, the Persians invaded and captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine 
Christians, who had ruled Jerusalem since the time of Constantine (320 CE).

Byzantine Christians take over

It was through the assistance of the Jews who lived in Jerusalem that the 
persians were able to liberate the city. The Jews had been treated horribly 
under three centuries of Christian rule, like the persians of old, these 
liberators passed legislation favorable to the Jews. Many Jews were 
convinced that the redemption was at hand, and that Isaiah 45, which 
speaks of the Persian king Cyrus as the anointed of HaShem, was being 
fulfilled in a prophetic way, signaling the time for the rebuilding of the third 
temple. There was such enthusiasm among the Jews that temple sacrifices 
were even resumed for a short time of the holy mount. However, this 
Persian victory was short lived and the Jewish hopes were soon dashed. In 
628 CE, just a decade before the Moslem conquest of Jerusalem, the 
Byzantine Christians were able to regain control of the city. In retaliation 
against the Jews, and to dash any hopes of redemption, they passed laws 
forbidding Jews to go up to the temple mount to pray or to come within 3 
miles of the city of Jerusalem. They also forbad Jews to assemble and recite 
prayers. Many Jews were executed and many fled to the desert, to further 
infuriate the Jews, *they built a small octagon shaped Christian church on 
the top of the holy mount!* When Jerusalem fell into Moslem hands in 
March-April, 638, it was that Christian church which was CONVERTED into 
the Moslem shrine we see today---the Dome of the Rock. This explains why 
the Dome of the Rock is so different from the three major types of mosques 
found in the Moslem world- --the Arab or hypostyle type, the Iranian type 
(four vaulted halls), Or the Ottoman type (all minarets around a soaring 
dome). As an aerial photo clearly shows, the basic shape of the building is 
that of an eight sided Byzantine church. Indeed, the Moslems employed the 
very Byzantine craftsmen who had built the original church to remodel the 
structure into a Moslem shrine for the rock.

An affront to Jews

This overlooked fact has great symbolic and prophetic significance for 
Israel and the future of Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is more than an 
attractive tourist site, or a Moslem holy place. the very structure was put up 
as an affront to faithful Jews who longed for the redemption in the 7th 
century CE, hoping at long last for an end to Roman-Christian cruelty and 
oppression. Indeed, the structure itself fits into a long history of pagan 
affront to the holy site beginning in December, 167 BCS when Antiochus IV 
(Epiphanes) dedicated the altar to Zeus Olympus, offered pigs and other 
forbidden animals, and decreed that a festival of Dionysus be celebrated on 
his birthday, the 25th of Kislev. This was the beginning of THE SHIQQUTZ 
MESHOMEM, the "abomination that makes desolate" spoken of by Daniel 
the prophet. (Daniel 11:31).

After the destruction of the Second Temple, and following the 2nd Jewish 
revolt against Rome, the emperor Hadrian rebuilt the ruins of the Jewish 
temple into a pagan temple to Zeus.

Jews were forbidden to even go to this site to pray.although constantine 
had this pagan Roman temple destroyed, the Byzantine church, built there 
after 628 CE, essentially continued the same policy---TO SPITE AND 
CONFOUND ALL Jewish HOPES OF REDEMPTION. That is the historic 
meaning of this structure. In 1099, when the Christians recaptured the city of 
Jerusalem, they turned the building back into a church calling it TEMPLUM 
DOMINI, and erecting a cross at the top. This was removed by Saladin 
in1194. Maps and drawings from ancient times show that the appearance of 
the building was once quite different than it is today. The building was 
restored through massive contributions from Moslem countries from 1958-
1964. Currently king hussein of jordan had contributed millions of dollars to 
refurbish the golden dome.

This article is a gleaning of two source books: Eugene Hoade, Guide to the 
Holy Land, 9th edition (Jerusalem, Franciscan printing, 1978); M. Avi-Yonah, 
The Jews of Palestine, (New York: Schocken Books 1976, pg 257-278.) The 
author, James Tabor, is affiliated with the Bnai Noach movement and is a 
Professor of Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity at the University 
of North Carolina, Charlotte.