A source of major resentment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the religious divide between the Israeli Jewish people and the Palestinian Muslims. This resentment stems from the fact that Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in both Judaism and Islam remains the bone of contention behind the conflict. The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism where Jews turn towards during prayer is in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount complex is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are allowed to worship, and the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine that is instantly recognizable because of its gold-plated dome.
However, before the construction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, there was a grand Jewish temple on the same location on the Temple Mount. This Jewish Holy Temple, called the Second Temple, was the holiest Jewish site of worship until it was destroyed by the Roman Empire in the 70 A.D. as punishment for a Jewish revolt. The Second Temple was constructed in 516 BCE after the First Temple or Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE.
The Foundation Stone, the holiest site for the Jews at present, is located on the floor of the Dome of the Rock. However, the Jews are not allowed to visit it as it located inside the Islamic shrine.
The Western Wall, which is now the holiest site Jews are allowed to worship due to the restrictions on entry to Temple Mount, is a remnant of the retaining wall erected by King Herod as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple. There is extensive physical evidence confirming the existence of the Second Temple on Temple Mount.
Evidence confirming the existence of a Jewish temple on Temple Mount
In 1871, a stone tablet engraved with Greek letters was discovered near a court on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This stone tablet was identified by French archaeologist Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau as being the Temple Warning inscription. The stone inscription outlined the prohibition extended unto those who were not of the Jewish nation to proceed beyond the soreg (a low wall) separating the larger Court of the Gentiles and the inner courts. The inscription goes on for seven lines.
The translation reads, “Let no foreigner enter within the parapet and the partition which surrounds the Temple precincts. Anyone caught [violating] will be held accountable for his ensuing death.” Today, the stone is preserved in Istanbul’s Museum of Antiquities. The inscription confirms the existence of a temple beyond a shadow of a doubt. A partial fragment of a less well-made version of the inscription was found in 1936 by J. H. Iliffe, who was Keeper of the Palestine Archaeological Museum from 1931-48, during the excavation of a new road outside Jerusalem’s Lions’ Gate. The inscription is now held in the Israel Museum.
Another ancient inscription, called the Trumpeting Place inscription, was partially preserved on a stone discovered below the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. The inscription shows two complete words and a third incomplete word in the Hebrew alphabet. The translation of the two complete words reads, “To the Trumpeting Place”. This has been interpreted as belonging to a spot on the Mount described by the 1st-century historian Josephus, “where one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by sound of trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following evening of the close, of every seventh day…” closely resembling what the Talmud says.
The various walls and gates surrounding the Temple Mount, constructed by King Herod are all proof of the Second Jewish Temple. These walls and gates include, the Western Wall, the Southern Wall, Robinson’s Arch and even structures like Solomon’s Stables are all proof of the existence of the Second Jewish temple.
On September 25, 2007, Yuval Baruch, an archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a quarry compound which may have provided King Herod with the stones to build his Temple on the Temple Mount. Coins, pottery, and an iron stake found proved the date of the quarrying to be about 19 BCE. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer confirmed that the large outlines of the stone cuts are evidence that it was a massive public project worked by hundreds of slaves.
The Magdala Stone, a carved stone block unearthed by archaeologists from an ancient synagogue, dates before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. It is notable for detailed carvings depicting the Second Temple, carvings made while that Temple still stood and therefore assumed to have been made by an artist who had seen the Temple before it was destroyed by the Roman military. Some archaeologists describe the carvings as enabling a new, scholarly understanding of the synagogue conceptualized as a sacred space even during the period while the Temple was still standing.
All of the above-mentioned inscriptions, stone tablets, etc. are proof of the existence of a Jewish Holy temple on Temple Mount, hundreds of years before the Al-Aqsa Mosque, or the Dome of the Rock, or any Islamic presence for that matter. The idea of religious Palestinian nativism is incorrect because it ignores the historical reality of Jerusalem’s Jewish roots.
According to Jew Theology related to events associated with the end of days, a Third Temple will be built where once the Second Temple stood. Several attempts were made in the past to construct the Third Temple, but they were not successful, and several Jew organisations have been formed in modern times with the goal of constructing the temple. Israeli Jews keep talking about building a Third Temple on Temple Mount to succeed the First Temple and the Second Temple, and it remains a major subject of tension between Muslims and Jews in the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Even though the Jerusalem city is part of Israel since 1967, the Islamic Shrines located on Temple Mount are managed by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. Moreover, currently the Israeli government prevents non-Muslims from entering the area as a security measure.