Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 19, 2001
Jerusalem - a city both sacred and violent
When we were nomads, all ground was sacred. As we moved into towns and cities, we believed these places to be holy as well. Cities of old were dominated by a magnificent place of worship where God dwelt.
In Sumer or Babylonia this was a ziggurat; in Jerusalem it was a temple; in the land of the Mayas, a pyramid and in medieval Europe it would be the cathedral. In secular New York, the trade centres occupied a dominant place.
Some cities, like Rome and Mecca, have maintained an aura of sanctity in spite of growing materialism. The most sacred city of all, and regarded as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims, is the city of Jerusalem. It is an ancient place that has witnessed humanity at its worst and its most noble.
Jerusalem dates back to around 3000 BC and by 1800 BC it was already mentioned by the Egyptians as a trouble spot. During the reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, in the 14 century BC, nomadic tribesmen invaded Jerusalem.
The Hebrews arrived around 1000 BC, when King David took the town from the Canaanites. He had brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and instructed his son Solomon to start construction on the house of God.
For this purpose David had purchased some sacred ground that contained a huge boulder, long revered by nomads.
In 724 BC, during the Assyrian reign, the Israelites rebelled against unfair tribute. Jerusalem was wiped out, the Temple defiled and the people scattered. In 586 BC, after Judah rebelled against Nebuchadnezar of Babylon, the Temple itself was destroyed and the Jews were carried off into exile.
Under subsequent Persian rule, the Temple was rebuilt. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in the fourth century BC. Antiochus, one of his successors, tried to turn the Temple into a pantheon to honour Zeus.
The victorious 167 BC rebellion that followed is still celebrated as Hannukah. But the victory soured when the nation was fragmented by internal strife.
The infighting terminated when Pompey of Rome marched into Jerusalem in the year 63 BC. Plundering legionnaires vandalized the Temple and the vanquished king was triumphantly taken back to Rome.
Around 40 BC, Herod the Great, puppet of Rome, rebuilt the Temple to new heights of glory. At Herod's death, the Romans divided the kingdom and Jerusalem came under the control of a procurator. The fifth procurator was Pontius Pilate.
It was during Pilate's rule that Jesus taught in the Temple. It is also written that Jesus wept as he foresaw that Jerusalem would be destroyed again. Rome plundered the Temple in 70 AD.
In 132 AD, after another rebellion, Titus, son of Vespasian, laid siege to the city. The population was massacred or sold into slavery and the Temple was destroyed.
When the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in AD 638 they requisitioned many Jewish and Christian shrines for their own use, including the site of the Holy Rock from where Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven.
In 1099 the crusaders sacked the city and massacred its inhabitants, they ravaged but spared the Dome of the Rock, believing it to be Solomon's Temple.
Today, the city's preoccupation with God is still evident everywhere as pilgrims pour in from all corners of the world.
Unfortunately it is also still one of the most violent cities where believers clash with each other about the nature of this one God and the right to control the sacred places of worship.
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