“As the navel is set in the centre of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world... situated in the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, and the ark in the centre of the holy place, and the foundation stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.” - Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim
The above represents the traditional Jewish Rabbinical poetic view (and the Islamic view as well) of the importance of the rock in the center of the Temple Mount in the City of Jerusalem. The rock in the center where the Dome of the Rock is located is believed to be where G-d fashioned man out of the dust and Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac as proof of his faith. At the time of the Jewish Temples, it was believed to be the floor of the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant containing the two stone tablets inscribed with the ten commandments given to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai was kept, the inner sanctuary. The rock in the center is today called Mount Moriah, but immediately after Solomon built the first Temple about 1,000 BCE, it was called Mount Zion. Over the centuries however, in the turmoil of the changing political control of Jeru- salem, another mount west of the old City of Jeru- salem was ident- ified or mis-identified as Mount Zion in- stead, and retains the name to this day.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 606 BCE. When Cyrus the Persian King defeated the Babylonians and freed the Israelites, he directed that the Israelites return to Jerusalem to build the second Temple in 515 BCE. Israel did this, but went through a succession of conquering rulers, until finally the Romans took over with King Herod’s help. Under King Herod’s rule the Temple was rebuilt by the Romans. It was during this period in 37 BCE that the west wall was built, wherein it extended the platform to the west, but also to the other three compass points as well, more than doubling the size of the platform to 37 acres total.
The Romans constructed the walls without mortar, of stones of varying sizes, generally larger on the bottom and smaller on the top - with one exception. There is a stone visible today, in the excavated tunnel north of the building juncture with the west wall parallel to and exposing the west wall to the north, where it had previously been covered over by buildings, that measures approximately 11'-4" square x 42'-4" long, weighing in at approximately 407 tons. This was not a unique Roman achievement: at the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek (present day Lebanon), the Romans placed three stones measuring 14' x 12' x 64' long each weighing 806 tons each, along with six stones 14' x 10' x 33' each weighing 347 tons each, all with no mortar and all laid 20' up in the air on smaller stones! See E&A Architecture, 3rd Quarter 1989 on our website. With all of our modern lifting equipment, we would have difficulty matching this ability, especially with no mortar and the joints being razor blade tight!
The Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD in reprisal of the Jewish revolt that he put down, and dispersed the Jews throughout the Roman empire. All of the stones comprising the temple were knocked down and thrown over the sides of the mount. Thereafter, other conquerors came and built upon the mount. The Byzantine Christians built worship facilities: The Church of St. Cyrus and St. John by St. Helena in 325 AD, later converted to the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sofia) that was subsequently torn down also. In 610, the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and shortly afterwards, in 691 the Dome of the Rock was built, and 78 years after that the al- Aqsa Mosque. Mohammed is reputed to have ascended to heaven on a fiery chariot from the rock under what is now the Dome of the Rock - the navel of the earth. After the Arab conquest, a Jewish synagogue was also built on the Temple Mount, but was subsequently destroyed by the Crusaders during their conquest in 1099. Its location is unknown.
During most of the Arabic and Muslim rule of the Temple Mount, it was forbidden for Jews to walk the Temple Mount. It was forbidden by the Muslims out of disdain for the Jews as well as the “infidels”- all considered unclean to walk this hallowed ground. Curiously, Jews are forbidden by the Rabbis from walking the Temple Mount also, as they may inadvertently tread upon the Holy of Holies ( forbidden trek) since its exact ancient location is unknown.
Israel was re-founded in 1948, but the old part of Jerusalem remained a part of Jordan and totally under Muslim control. Jews were forbidden entry into the old city and anywhere near the Temple Mount. During the 1967 war, Israel captured Old Jerusalem and liberated it by incorporating it within Israel. Yet the Temple Mount remains under the control of the Muslims. An Islamic Waqf (religious committee) manages the Temple Mount and provides little access to non-Muslims. Non-Muslim prayer is prohibited on the Temple Mount.
Ladd P. Ehlinger, AIA