“”The Jerusalem on earth is nothing.
|Preach to the choir|
|Crux of the matter|
|Speak of the devil|
|An act of faith|
Jerusalem (Hebrew: ירושלים, Yerushalayim; Arabic: القدس, Al-Quds; English: City of Peace) is a holy city to all three of the major Abrahamic religions. West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (according to Israel, all of Jerusalem is Israeli, but many countries do not recognize that), while East Jerusalem is viewed by Palestinians as the capital of Palestine. It is home to the ruins of the Jewish temple ("Temple Mount"), the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Muslim Dome of the Rock.
Politically, it is one of the most contested cities on earth and has been since the Crusades or earlier. During the city's long and bloody history, it has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Between 1948 and 1967 East Jerusalem, the part that contains most of the city's holy sites held sacred by all three Abrahamic religions, was controlled by Jordan until Israel seized it in the Six Day War. In Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city in the world right behind Mecca and Medina.
Given the nature of the region and the way Jerusalem is seen as holy beyond all reason by — at the very least — three major world religions, almost everything done in or to the city may be mired in controversy, which makes life for all inhabitants difficult at times. Just take the Light Rail Line, the construction of which resulted in calls for boycotts, international criticism on political grounds and years of delays, due to nearly all real estate in the area being "holy", "contested" or both. A particularly intractable conflict over real estate is the Temple Mount, where — despite the status quo not having actually changed since 1967 — a simple rumor or disagreement can result in riots and dead people in the streets. In 1929, for instance, a dispute over access to the Western Wall led to almost a week of rioting during which hundreds of both Jews and Muslims died.
In December 2017, then U.S. President Donald Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises and officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision was criticised by the European Union, the United Nations Secretary General, Pope Francis of all people, as well as some of America's allies, including the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
Why does everyone care so damn much about this place?
Jerusalem is a central part of the Jewish religion, being referenced incessantly by Jewish scriptures and histories. According to Jewish tradition, King David established the city, and his son King Solomon built the First Temple to God. That temple became the holiest site in the Jewish religion, central to the Jewish religion in a way that cannot be matched by any holy site in the modern era. Unfortunately for them, the First Temple was subsequently razed to the ground along with most of Jerusalem by Babylonian leader Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE. The Jews eventually returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple. In 70 CE, however, the Jews revolted against the rule of the Roman Empire, and the Romans retaliated by razing the temple and much of Jerusalem to the ground. Jews immediately decided that the Temple had to be rebuilt again, but the Romans successfully stopped any efforts. Plans to rebuild the holy building were put off indefinitely.
From the Roman destruction onwards, Jerusalem and the concept of a new Jewish temple had been a subject of religious longing for millennia. According to scriptures, Jews declared "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither", and the telling of the Passover story traditionally ends with the declaration, "Next Year in Jerusalem." Many conservative Jews still hope for a restoration of a fully Jewish Jerusalem and the building of a Third Temple.
The Third Temple also features heavily in Christian apocalypse stories.
According to Christian tradition, Jerusalem was an important place for Jesus Christ during his life. According to the Gospels, Jerusalem was repeatedly a site which Jesus visited to preach and heal. However, perhaps most importantly, Jerusalem also holds the site which all four Gospels claim was the location of Jesus' crucifixion and later resurrection. Depending on who you ask, it's called the hill of Calvary or Golgotha. The exact location of the hill will probably never be known, but most modern scholars believe that it was either the spot now covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or a hillock called Gordon’s Calvary just north of the Damascus Gate.
Jerusalem is also repeatedly referred to in the Old Testament of the Bible. The city has basically always been an important site for Christian pilgrimages for those who want to walk the "Way of Sorrow", or the path Jesus took to his death. Lately, however, poor management of tourism infrastructure and difficulty getting visas has caused the number of Christians who visit the city to drop drastically.
Today, Jerusalem is still a major part of modern Christian policy-making, although in a very frightening way. According to Biblical prophecies, one of the big events that kick off the End of Days is the construction of a Third Temple by Jews who control Jerusalem. Hence the frankly strange alliance between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Jews when it comes to matters related to the city. So-called Rapture Christians apparently have significant influence inside the Trump White House, and this influence seems to have resulted in the move of the United States' embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. By increasing Jewish control over Jerusalem, whacko Christians hope that this means that the apocalypse prophecy comes true.
Islamic legends claim that the Prophet Muhammad went on a magical journey to Jerusalem shortly before being exiled from Mecca. The story states that Muhammad rode on a mythical beast from Arab stories which carried him from Mecca to Jerusalem, and he also got to see Bethlehem and Medina along the way. After that, Muhammad allegedly ascended to Heaven to meet with the other prophets in Abrahamic history before receiving an order directly from God that Muslims must participate in five daily prayers.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque marks the location where Muhammad supposedly arrived in Jerusalem, and until Muhammad's exile to Medina, this is the location Muslims turned to during prayer. The Dome of the Rock, meanwhile, was built atop the site of the former Second Jewish Temple, and it is intended to mark the place where Muhammad ascended into Heaven.
Jerusalem is also considered holy by Muslims for similar reasons as Christians and Jews. Jerusalem is associated with Abraham, David, Solomon, and Jesus, all of whom are considered to be prophets in the Islamic religion.
Notable landmarks and locations
Temple Mount, known by Muslims as Haram esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), is a hill located in East Jerusalem which is perhaps the most venerated site in the entire city. There are numerous legends attached to the place, and many people go there to quietly contemplate religious matters — after going through an intricate web of security checkpoints. According to the Talmud, Temple Mount is where God gathered the dirt to make Adam and Eve, and it's also where Noah, Cain, and Abel made sacrifices. It's also believed, mostly without evidence, that Solomon's First Temple was built there. No archaeological evidence has ever been found for the existence of Solomon's Temple at that site, and excavation is out of the question for obvious reasons.
The Second Temple was constructed at Temple Mount before being razed by the Romans and replaced with a church. While the Byzantine Empire left the site desolate due to not holding it in high significance, but Caliph Umar of the Rashidun Caliphate later conquered the city and erected a mosque on Temple Mount. That mosque was later replaced by both the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque.
Despite being controlled by Israel, Temple Mount is still a site of religious dispute. To appease the Muslim population of Jerusalem, Israel passed a number of domestically unpopular regulations on who could visit the site. Non-Muslims have their visiting hours limited, and only Muslims are allowed to pray or bring religiously-significant items to the area. Some of the more hardcore orthodox Jews also forbid themselves from entering Temple Mount due to the fear that they might accidentally and unknowingly desecrate the site of the First Temple by stepping on it. The actual site of Temple Mount is also technically not under Israeli control. Inside the area's nine gates, Islamic Religious Endowments Authority, also known as the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, calls the shots. The Waqf are funded and controlled by the government of Jordan, and they have occasional disagreements with their Israeli hosts.
Temple Mount is home to many other holy sites in Jerusalem.
Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is that awesome-looking gold-plated building you see in the picture there. The building was constructed on the orders of the Umayyad Caliph Abd Al Malik around 690-ish CE as a way to demonstrate Islam's power to the Jews and Christians living in the city. Inside are Arabic inscriptions of Quaranic verses about how Jesus was a prophet rather than the son of God, a direct refutation of Christian theology. The building also marks the location where Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven to converse with his fellow prophets.
The "Of the Rock" part of the name refers to the Foundation Stone, which lies at the center of the building. Jewish tradition holds that the rock is the center of the universe and also where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac to God, while Muslims think the Muhammad stood upon the stone before rising into Heaven. That two different religions have two completely different stories about the same rock demonstrates how religions often build on each other's traditions.
The Dome of the Rock has a long history as well. The Crusaders captured it and briefly turned it into a church, and it has been renovated numerous times, most recently with gold plating for the dome which was donated by the king of Jordan. Today, only Muslims are permitted to enter the building, although visitors of all religions and creeds can view the exterior so long as they are dressed "appropriately."
Ultimately, the building is more of a shrine than a mosque. No religious ceremonies are held there, and the building is mostly empty save for the Foundation Stone. For Muslims who want to attend a prayer at a mosque while on Temple Mount, there is the Al Aqsa mosque.
Al Aqsa Mosque
The Al-Aqsa Mosque has a capacity of 5,000 people, and its name translates to "Furthest Mosque" as a reference to the belief that this is where Muhammad arrived in Jerusalem during his legendary nighttime journey. Like its sister structure the Dome of the Rock, the mosque was originally constructed as a more modest building by Caliph Umar before being replaced by Caliph Abd Al Malik.
After the Crusaders took Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque became the headquarters of a religious military order, who became known as the Templar Knights due to their location. Some Christians also consider the place holy because they believe it was where Jesus attacked all those shitty bankers.
Unsurprisingly, the Al Aqsa Mosque has seen its share of bloodshed, even in recent decades. King Abdullah I of Jordan was assassinated on the steps of the mosque by an Arab in 1951, probably in retaliation against his religiously moderate and pro-Western stances. In 1969, a radical Protestant Christian from Australia set fire to the Al Aqsa Mosque, causing extensive damage and sparking riots across the world. The perpetrator apparently wanted to destroy the building so that the Israelis could get on with building their Third Temple and bringing on the apocalypse, apparently not realizing that the Al Aqsa Mosque was not on the site of the Temple. Of course, Christian fundamentalists aren't often noted for their intelligence.
In 2017, two Israeli police officers and three gunmen were killed in a shootout near the mosque, an attack which was condemned by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a rare personal phone call with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The mosque saw violence again in 2021 when Israeli police stormed the sacred building with riot gear and tear gas amid multiple days of unrest in the city. The police attack happened during Ramadan worship and injured at least 170 Palestinians.
Although not the holiest place in Jerusalem for Jews, the Western Wall is considered their holiest site of prayer due to the fact that Jews are banned from praying at Temple Mount, as mentioned above. It's a relatively simple structure, just a stone wall that holds up the platform of Temple Mount. However, Jews consider it holy because that wall was allegedly once part of the Second Temple. Jews historically gathered at the Western Wall to lament the destruction of the Temples and the end of Jewish rule over Israel. Due to the lamenting nature of these prayers, the site is also sometimes referred to as the "Wailing Wall", although Jews don't seem to like the use of that term.
The Western Wall has been associated with Judaism since at least the reign of Ottoman Emperor Suleiman I, for he ordered rubble around the wall cleared in 1546 to create a place for Jews to pray freely. Subsequent Muslim rulers weren't so kind, and at times the wall was used as a garbage dump to further degrade the Jews of Jerusalem. After the Kingdom of Jordan took over the West Bank during the 1948 war with Israel, their authorities expelled Jews from East Jerusalem, destroyed many Jewish holy sites, and forbade Jews from praying at the Western Wall. Israel seized East Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. They proceeded to demolish an entire Muslim neighborhood to create a large praying plaza in front of the Western Wall.
Even with the wall now under Jewish control and open to all religions, there are still controversies around it. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have a long history of opposing the freedom of women to pray at the wall, and some of the conservatives have rioted against women who dared disobey them and visit the Wall anyways. Since 1967, the Western Wall has been under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which is the supreme religious authority for Jews in the country. As a result, the Western Wall is run just like an Ultra-Orthodox synagogue, with a giant fence separating men and women. Women are forbidden to pray in loud voices, are forbidden to carry certain items to the wall like Torah scrolls, and they naturally have the smaller area. Many liberal Jews, especially those from the United States, don't appreciate these sexist rules very much. An Israel-based group called Women of the Wall has formed to advocate for equal rights at the Western Wall. On 8 March, 2019, Women of the Wall supporters clashed with Ultra-Orthodox women at the Wall, with the Ultra-Orthodox women apparently having been bused in by religious schools to block the liberal protests. Jerusalem's mayor also seems to have blamed mixed-sex prayers for an incident in 2018 when part of the wall fractured.
Indeed, that raises another issue: that the Western Wall seems to be slowly falling apart due to erosion. The problem is that repairing or renovating the wall is extremely difficult due to religious and political factors. Jerusalem's Muslims really don't like it when Israel's government starts poking around the holy sites with heavy machinery, and there are concerns over whether the Muslim authorities on Temple Mount might consider a renovation effort an encroachment on their turf.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church built in Jerusalem's Christian Quarter. Tradition holds that the building sits on the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and entombed. The structure was first built by Roman Emperor Constantine and then destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly through history. As you can guess, the various Christian denominations fought with each other for control of the site for centuries. Today, there's an uneasy understanding between them, with Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic Church being the primary custodians and with other rights granted to the Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Orthodox churches. The building is actually divided into separate sections between the different denominations, with some shared, some exclusive, and foot travel between them heavily regulated.
Within the Church are different artifacts like the the Aedicule, which supposedly covers Christ's tomb, the Stone of Anointing, where Christ's body was prepared for burial, and the Rock of Calvary where the crucifixion apparently took place. There are a few reasons to doubt the historical authenticity of some of these claims. Testing has confirmed that the tomb inside the church is indeed the same tomb found by Roman Emperor Constantine, although there's no reason to think that Constantine was right about which place Jesus was crucified. The Stone of Anointing story has only existed since the Crusader era, and the actual stone there today was only added in 1810.
Nonetheless, the church is still fought over by Christians. In 2008, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians rioted against each other and caused some damage to the building's decorations. Even the church's monks occasionally decide to beat the shit out of each other. For instance, in 2002, an Egyptian monk scooted his chair out of the sun into a disputed part of the church, starting a massive brawl that put eleven people in the hospital. There's a ladder on the building's roof that hasn't been touched since the Eighteenth Century because no one knows which denomination put it there.
The Christian custodians of the church mistrust each other so much that no Christian actually holds the keys to the church building. Instead, the responsibility for locking the building at night and unlocking it in the morning falls to the senior member of the local Muslim Nusseibeh family, an arrangement which apparently dates back to the reign of Saladin. That's right. Christianity's holiest site is guarded by a Muslim and has been for centuries. Eat shit, Islamophobes.
Meaning "The Way of Sorrow" in Latin, the Via Dolorosa is the path that Jesus supposedly walked on the way to his crucifixion. It is a major site of religious pilgrimage for Christians who wish to retrace Christ's steps. The 14 Stations of the Cross are stops that pay homage to the events during the torture, sentencing, carrying of the cross, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus of Nazareth. The path and the stations, though, are based on traditional knowledge rather than archaeological evidence, and historical knowledge shows that many of the stations are inaccurately located. Oh well, it's the thought that counts.
- The Chapel of the Flagellation, where Jesus was sentenced to death and then had the shit beaten out of him (see Passion of the Christ for the gory reenactment). Problematically, current archaeological evidence indicates that this would have happened at Herod's Palace further south.
- Church of Condemnation, where Jesus got the cross to carry across town. Some Christian pilgrims will start to carry crosses themselves for the full torture experience. The vendors and shops crowding the path will probably ruin the effect.
- Third Station, where Jesus fell over for the first time. Also has a nice gift shop.
- The, uh, uniquely named Armenian Chapel of Our Lady of the Spasm, where Jesus met his mom.
- Chapel of Simon, where Simon of Cyrene had to help Jesus carry the cross.
- Sixth Station, where Saint Veronica wiped some sweat from Jesus' brow. This is based on Medieval legend rather than actual scripture, though. =
- Seventh Station, where Jesus fell over again.
- Eighth Station, where Jesus stopped to give a sermon to some women.
- Ninth Station, where Jesus fell over yet again.
- Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was stripped of his clothes.
- Also within the Church, where Jesus was nailed.
- Also within the Church, where Jesus died.
- Also within the Church, where Jesus was taken down from the cross.
- Also within the Church, Jesus' tomb.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a tall hill located adjacent to Temple Mount. It has a pretty sweet view of Jerusalem's Old Town, but that isn't quite why it's significant. In the Christian apocalypse prophecy, the Mount of Olives is apparently where God will show up and judge the population of Earth. Presumably, at that time almost all of the planet's population will be sent to Hell while those lucky few who hated gay people alongside Fred Phelps will gain salvation.[citation NOT needed]
On a less gruesome note, the Mount of Olives also contains some religiously significant sites. First is the still-active great Jewish cemetery, which is the world's oldest and contains the graves of Jews who died in the region over the course of three millennia. Among those entombed are said to be the prophets Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi, as well as King David’s son Absalom.
There are also multiple Christian holy sites along the way. First is the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the hill, where Jesus supposedly prayed and waited for his arrest after being narc'd on by Judas. The problem is that, depending on who you ask, there are no less than four different places on the Mount of Olives claiming to be the original Garden of Gethsemane, each championed by a different denomination of Christianity.
The Mount of Olives is also host to a wide variety of different Christian church buildings. The Catholic Church of All Nations site is built near the Catholic Church's accepted location for Gethsemane, and it contains a rock upon which Jesus supposedly knelt to pray. The Chapel of the Ascension marks the location where Jesus supposedly rose into Heaven after being ressurected. There's also a tomb believed by Eastern Christians to be the tomb of the Virgin Mary, although its authenticity is extremely questionable. Perhaps the most distinctive Christian church is the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene, owned by the Russian Orthodox Church and notable for its seven gilded onion domes. Finally, there's the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center, which the Mormons were only allowed to build after promising not to proselytize in Jerusalem.
If you want a room with a view, there's also a hotel called the Seven Arches, which is managed by the government of Jordan.
Located in West Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is Israel's main Holocaust memorial and research center. Established in 1953 by the Knesset, the organization aims to remember those people murdered by Adolf Hitler's Nazi state as well as commemorate the heroism of Jewish resistance fighters and those non-Jews who helped save Jews from slaughter. On site there are a series of museums dedicated to the Holocaust as well as an archive of three million names of known victims.
The main memorial on site is the Hall of Remembrance, an empty chamber which is empty save for an eternal flame. The floor is inscribed with the names of the 21 Nazi death camps, and a crypt in the chamber contains the ashes of some of the victims. There is also Yad Layeled, the children’s memorial, which commemorates the one and a half million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust; and The Memorial to the Deportees, a railroad car hanging over the cliff on the road winding down from the mountain commerorating those who were deported.
Last but not least is the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, which is a garden with trees planted to commemorate the actions of the non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis.
Jerusalem is also the title of a hymn by William Blake.
“”And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England's mountains green; (Err… no)
And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen! (still no, I'm afraid)
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