Friday, 6 July 2012

The Temple at Jerusalem

from the July/August Pioneer

The City of Jerusalem and within it the Holy Temple dominate Jewish, Islamic and, of course, our Christian faith. No visit to the Holy Land such as my recent one is complete without going to Jerusalem and by visiting the site of the former Temple.

The Bible reports that the First Temple was built in 957 BC by King Solomon (reigned 970-930 BC). As the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, the Temple replaced the portable sanctuary constructed in the Sinai Desert under the auspices of Moses, as well as local sanctuaries, and altars in the hills. This temple was however sacked a few decades later by Sheshonk I, Pharaoh of Egypt. Although efforts were made at partial reconstruction, it was only in 835 BC when Jehoash, King of Judah in the second year of his reign invested considerable sums in reconstruction, only to have it stripped again for Sennacherib, King of Assyria in 700 BC. The First Temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC when they sacked the city.

According to the Book of Ezra, construction of the Second Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great and began in 538 BC, after the fall of the Babylonian Empire the year before. It was completed 23 years later, on the third day of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the Great (12 March 515 BC), dedicated by the Jewish governor Zerubbabel. Despite the fact that the new temple wasn't as extravagant or imposing as its predecessor, it still dominated the Jerusalem skyline and remained an important structure throughout the time of Persian suzerainty. The temple narrowly avoided being destroyed again in 332 BC when the Jews refused to acknowledge the deification of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander was allegedly “turned from his anger” at the last minute by astute diplomacy and flattery. After the death of Alexander on 13 June 323 BC, and the dismembering of his empire, the Ptolemies came to rule over Judea and the Temple. Under the Ptolemies, the Jews were given many civil liberties and lived content under their rule. However, when the Ptolemaic army was defeated at Panium by Antiochus III of the Seleucids in 198 BC, this policy changed. Antiochus wanted to Hellenize the Jews, attempting to

introduce the Greek pantheon into the temple. A rebellion ensued and was brutally crushed, but no further action by Antiochus was taken. When Antiochus died in 187 BC at Luristan, his son Seleucus IV Philopator succeeded him. However, his policies never took effect in Judea, since he was assassinated the year after his ascension.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeeded his older brother to the Seleucid throne and immediately adopted his father's previous policy of universal Hellenisation. The Jews rebelled again and Antiochus, in a rage, retaliated in force. Considering the previous episodes of discontent, the Jews became incensed when the religious observances of Sabbath and circumcision were officially outlawed. When Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus in their temple and Hellenic priests began sacrificing pigs (the usual sacrifice offered to the Greek gods in the Hellenic religion) their anger began to spiral. When a Greek official asked a Jewish priest to perform a Hellenic sacrifice, the priest (Mattathias), killed him. Predictably, Antiochus resorted to the same bloody reprisals. In 167 BC the Jews rose up en masse behind Mattathias and his five sons to fight and win their freedom from Seleucid authority. Mattathias' son Judas Maccabeus, now called "The Hammer", re-dedicated the temple in 165 BC and the Jews celebrate this event to this day as a major part of the festival of Hanukkah.

The temple was rededicated under Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BC. The temple was desecrated again in 54 BC by Crassus, only for him to die the year after at the Battle of Carrhae against Parthia. When news of this reached the Jews, they revolted again, only to be put down in 43 BC. Around 20 BC, the building was renovated by Herod the Great, and became known as Herod's Temple. During the Roman occupation of Judea, the Temple remained under control of the Jewish people. It was later destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during the Siege of Jerusalem. During the last revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 132–135 AD, Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva wanted to rebuild the Temple, but bar Kokhba's revolt failed and the Jews were banned from Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. The emperor Julian failed to have the Temple rebuilt in 363 AD.

After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ordered the construction of an Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple. The shrine has stood on the mount since 691 AD; the al-Aqsa Mosque, from roughly the same period, also stands in the Temple courtyard. The mount bears significance in Islam as it acted as a sanctuary for many Hebrew prophets. Islamic tradition says that a temple was first built on the Temple Mount by Jacob and later renovated by Solomon, son of David. In addition, it is considered to be the site of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Ride (Isra and Mi'raj) and his ascent into Heaven - one of the most significant events recounted in the Koran.

More recently, the Temple Mount, along with the entire Old City of Jerusalem, was captured from Jordan by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War, allowing Jews once again to pray at the holy site. Israel officially unified East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, with the rest of Jerusalem in 1980 under the Jerusalem Law, though United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 declared the Jerusalem Law to be in violation of international law. The Muslim Waqf has administrative control of the Temple Mount.

To this day Judaism is incomplete without there being a Temple in which to offer sacrifice and praise to God. It is the ultimate aim of many Jews and especially the Orthodox Hasidic Jews that there shall be built a third Temple on the site of those that went before; Rather a problem given that the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are now on the site. The Temple was the place where offerings described in the course of the Hebrew Bible were carried out, including daily morning and afternoon offerings and special offerings on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Levites recited Psalms at appropriate moments during the offerings, including the Psalm of the Day, special psalms for the new month, and other occasions, the Hallel (Psalms 113-118 and also 145-150) during major Jewish holidays, and psalms for special sacrifices such as the "Psalm for the Thanksgiving Offering" (Psalm 100).

As part of the daily offering, a prayer service was performed in the Temple which was used as the basis of the traditional Jewish (morning) service recited to this day, including well-known prayers such as the Shema ("Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one," found in Deuteronomy 6:4), and the Priestly Blessing, (May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His face unto you and give you peace). The Mishna (oral tradition) describes it as follows:

The superintendent said to them, bless one benediction! and they blessed, and read the Ten Commandments, and the Shema, "And it shall come to pass if you will hearken", and "And [God] spoke...". They pronounced three benedictions with the people present: "True and firm", and the "Avodah" "Accept, Lord our God, the service of your people Israel, and the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer receive with favour. Blessed is He who receives the service of His people Israel with favour" (similar to what is today the 17th blessing of the Amidah), and the Priestly Blessing, and on the Sabbath they recited one blessing; "May He who causes His name to dwell in this House, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship" on behalf of the weekly Priestly Guard that departed. —Mishna Tamid 5:1 ”

Isaiah spoke of the importance of prayer as well as sacrifice in Temple, and of a universal purpose: Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make joyful in My house of prayer, Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7, JPS translation).

I was privileged to be in Jerusalem at the start of the Sabbath and to visit the Western or Wailing wall for prayers at that time, it was a truly unique experience and I hope to be able to repeat it with some of you in October 2013, As many Jews say at the end of their celebrations ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’

May God be with you

- Fr. Martin.

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