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Jerusalem’s History and Religious Developments

Introduction

Jerusalem is a place on the political map of the world known to all the followers of the three Abrahamic religions. Its historical past and political status have been a thorny issue between the peoples and states of the Middle East, Arabs, Jews, Israel, and the Palestinian over the centuries and up to nowadays. The acuteness of the problem and the arguments of the contrary views are mainly rooted in conflicting descriptions of the history of Jerusalem and its holy places. The events that have taken place in the city and continue to exist make it a key center both in the region and beyond. Jerusalem’s multi-faith and multicultural character facilitates events that transcend international law and political practice, thereby turning the city into a permanent battleground.

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The Importance of Jerusalem for Abrahamic Faiths

Despite its small size, the Old City of Jerusalem is home to many places of fundamental religious significance. For Jews, the Temple Mount and its Western Wall are holy sites; for Muslims, the mosques on the Temple Mount. The Church of the Resurrection and the many temples built where Jesus’ foot stepped are vital for Christians of all faiths. In this regard, Jerusalem has a very special status for adherents of the Abrahamic religions, as the location of the shrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Christian theology sees the sacred history of the Jews before the formation of Christianity as an introduction to its doctrine. The first Christians were Jews who held to the apocalyptic doctrine of the second coming of the Messiah and therefore understood the biblical prophecies of a New Jerusalem. As Christianity developed into an independent religion, however, allegories began to prevail, an interpretation of biblical prophecy that eventually became the official viewpoint of the church1. Since the Jewish Jerusalem was destroyed forever, inheritance by Christians must be understood solely as a spiritual act.

The center and chief sanctuary of the world becomes the Sepulchre; Jerusalem was seen as a trophy that has passed into the hands of the Christian-Roman world during this period. This view removed the theological obstacles to granting Jerusalem all the honors due to it in the Bible, while at the same time depriving the Jews of all rights to the city. The construction of religious buildings, begun by Constantine at the expense of the imperial treasury and continued with generous donations, turned Jerusalem into the largest center of Christianity. The armed pilgrimage in 1085-90 also aroused universal enthusiasm in Europe; the pope and the Byzantine emperor saw in this pilgrimage the first step toward recapturing the Holy City from the infidels2. The Crusades that followed resulted from a religious and mystical upheaval in Europe that revived the apocalyptic notions associated with Jerusalem. The transformation of the city into the capital of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem greatly enhanced its importance as the main, though not the only, center of Christian worship.

When the town was reunited under Israeli rule in 1967, most Christian churches demanded a special status for the holy places. In contemporary Christian theology, there are two opposing views on the revival of Jewish Jerusalem. On the one hand, conservative followers and the founders of the Reformation consider the Jewish Jerusalem a hopeless anachronism, and any attempt to identify contemporary Israel with ancient Israel is reprehensible.3 On the other hand, several theologians admit that Jews can indeed rebuild their city-though only as potential Christians.

For Judaism, the city has a special weight because even in the era of the Maccabees, the battle for the city meant the restoration of the Jewish character. The significance of Jerusalem as a national symbol in subsequent periods of foreign rule only increased. For example, coins were minted in honor of the city during the Great and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. 4However, it is only after the destruction of the Second Temple that the city’s importance rises to the level that it still retains today. Jerusalem is the center around which all Jewish life is focused, and all the aspirations and messianic hopes of the people are directed. It is a spiritual connection and a purely physical one: the buildings of all the synagogues in the world should be oriented to Jerusalem.

In everyday and holiday prayers, the city’s name is mentioned, and a significant number of verses are dedicated to it. For many generations, most Jews could not even dream of living in Jerusalem. Still, they supported their fellows living in the city in every possible way, particularly by providing shelter for the envoys of the community. This support was not simply a form of charity; it was how Jerusalem became close to everyone, and everyone felt a sense of belonging to the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

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Muslims also attach special importance to Jerusalem because when only the Almighty commanded the Prophet Muhammad and Muslims to perform namaz, they prayed in the direction of Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. This place of worship is described in the Qur’an as a holy place, making it the third most significant place for Muslims after the mosques in Mecca and Medina. The sanctity of Jerusalem is also based on the first verse of chapter 17 of the Qur’an, which describes how Allah carried his servant from the inviolable sanctuary to the remotest mosque by night. 5 While some theologians believe that the ‘farthest mosque’ is in heaven, it is generally accepted that this surah refers to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on which it was built. In addition to the Temple Mount, Islam also recognizes some Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, such as Mary’s tomb. They have honored the true love of the Prophet Muhammad for Jerusalem and all that it symbolizes throughout history. 6 Muslims consider Jerusalem sacred as all religions revere it and because it is a symbol of brotherhood between messengers and nations.

The holy place common to all three religions is the Temple Mount. Despite the efforts to maintain peaceful religious coexistence, this site is a constant source of contradictions. The Mount and the adjoining Wailing Wall are the main religious sites of Judaism, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most valuable site in Islam. The Christian Gospels also assume that Jesus preached in the Temple courtyard. The status of the Temple Mount is among the pressing problems of Palestinian-Israeli relations, as is the problem of Jerusalem. During the British Mandate for Palestine, Islamic relics were controlled by a specially created body, the Islamic Religious Committee. After the first Arab-Israeli war, East Jerusalem and the entire Old City came under Jordanian control. Israel seized the land in 1967, but under the auspices of the Kingdom of Jordan, the Islamic Religious Committee was re-established on the Temple Mount itself.

After the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, Jordan received a special status — the protector of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. After establishing the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestinians gained the right to control the Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount.7 However, Israeli forces are responsible for the security of the Temple Mount and its environs. According to the status quo, only followers of Islam can pray there, while non-Muslims are free to visit. Jewish religious activists seek to have this restriction lifted, arguing that everyone has the right to pray where the Jerusalem temple once stood. Many Muslims, however, see this as an attempt to establish Jewish control over the holy site, so conflicts constantly arise.

The Political and Historical Aspect of the Significance of Jerusalem to the 19th Century

At the end of the fourth century, when Emperor Constantine had already changed to Christianity (313), and the Byzantine Empire was founded, the Land of Israel became a primarily Christian country. In the holy places for Christianity in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, churches were built, and monasteries opened their doors in different parts of the country. Jews lost their relative autonomy and the right to hold public office. They were forbidden to visit Jerusalem except for one day a year (Tisha be-Av, the ninth day of the month of Av) when they were admitted to mourn the destruction of the Temple. In 614, the Persians invaded the Land of Israel – not without the help of the Jews, who cherished the messianic hopes of deliverance. 8 As a gratitude for the assistance rendered, the Jews were granted the right to rule Jerusalem. This respite lasted about three years, after which the Byzantine army again took possession of the city (629) and expelled the Jewish inhabitants from it.

The Arabs appeared four years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632) and managed this land for more than four centuries. At first, the caliphs ruled over it from Damascus and then from Baghdad and Egypt. At the dawn of their reign, Jews settled again in Jerusalem, and the Jewish community was granted the then accepted status of ‘dhimmi’ (non-Muslim population under protection). The life, property, and religious freedoms of the Jewish people were protected in exchange for paying a poll tax and land tax. However, subsequently, various restrictions were imposed on non-Muslims (717), which influenced the position of Jews in society, their observance of religious rites and their legal status.

In the 11th century, the Jewish society in the Land of Israel had sharply declined and lost its former organizational and religious cohesion. Discrimination against non-Muslims pushed many Jews to leave the land. For the next two centuries, the country was ruled by the Crusaders. In 1099, after a five-week siege, the Knights of the First Crusade with their motley army finally captured Jerusalem, slaughtering most of its non-Christian inhabitants.9 Jews barricaded themselves in the synagogue, trying to defend their community, but they were destined to burn alive or become slaves. Over the next decades, the crusaders gradually extended their power to the entire territory of the country. This was partly achieved through the conclusion of agreements and treaties, but mainly through military victories in bloody battles.

When the crusaders paved transport routes from Europe to the Holy Land, pilgrims flocked here and more Jews began to return to their homelands. Documents from this period have come down to presents discourse of the arrival of 300 rabbis from France and England. Some of them settled in Acre (Akko), and some in Jerusalem10. When the Muslim army led by Saladin defeated the Crusaders (1187), the Jews again received some independence, including the freedom to live in Jerusalem. Thus, it can be argued that the rulers of different times wanted to seize the sacred land and extend their power to it. Due to the constant struggle, the Jews tried to flee their own territory, and the issue of religion declined, which negatively affected the accessibility of holy places for pilgrims.

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The Political Problems of Jerusalem in Recent History

The requirement to control human rights and fundamental freedoms in Palestine was recognized in the early 20th century by the League of Nations. It presented Britain a mandate to govern Palestine. Understanding the historical association of the Jewish people with their land, Britain was to help establish a Jewish national hearth there, Eretz Israel (Hebrew for ‘Land of Israel’).11 Later, the Council of the League of Nations and Britain decided that the notion of a Jewish national hearth did not extend to the areas lying east of the Jordan River – and these areas constituted three-quarters of the mandated territory.

The British Mandate authorities provided the Jewish and Arab communities to manage their internal affairs. After that, the Jewish population elected a self-government body (1920) that included representatives of different parties. They met annually to review their work and elect a national council, which implemented the policies and programs of the Jewish. Under the terms of the mandate, the ‘Jewish Agency’ was established in 1922 to represent the Jewish people to British authorities, foreign governments, and international organizations. The Jewish national revival and the community’s efforts to build its own country met with fierce resistance from Arab nationalists. Their dissatisfaction led to open violence (1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-39), and the Jewish population was subjected to unprovoked attacks. These included the Hebron massacre of 1929, attacks on Jewish transport, and the burning of fields and forests. The dispute began because of the desire of each party to control Jerusalem entirely.

Recognizing the radically opposing goals of these two nationalist movements, the British recommended (1937) the country’s division into two states. The Jewish leadership accepted the idea of separation and authorized the Jewish Agency to negotiate with the British administration to discuss different features of the proposal. The Arabs were completely denied any partition plan. The ongoing Arab revolts forced the British (May 1939) to issue a White Paper, which forced strict restraints on the entrance of Jews into the land. As a result, European Jewry had nowhere to flee from Nazi persecution. Shortly after World War II broke out, David Ben Gurion, the future first prime minister of Israel, declared ‘we must fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we must fight the White Paper as if there were no war’. 12 Throughout World War II, the Nazi government actively pursued a plan to systematically exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. During these years, about six million Jews were murdered, among them about 1.5 million children.

After the war, Arab opposition forced the British to further tighten restrictions on the number of Jews allowed to enter the country. In response, the Jewish community developed an active ‘illegal immigration’ effort in the name of saving the survivors. Considering of the British inability to meet the conflicting requirements of the Jewish and Arab communities, the British government demanded that the ‘Palestinian question’ be placed on the agenda of the UN General Assembly. Organization voted to recommend dividing the territory into two states, Jewish and Arab13. Immediately after the UN vote, local Arab militants, supported by Arab volunteers, attacked Jewish settlements to frustrate the separation plan and prevent the formation of a Jewish state. Thus, after adopting the resolution, the international community undertake to observe for violations of the truce between Israel and Palestine.

Conclusion

The city of Jerusalem is the place of many sites of fundamental religious importance. As a result, Jerusalem has a very special status for adherents of the Abrahamic religions as the site of the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Jews, this city is an element of mythological consciousness and a part of national history, the first and only capital of a united Israel. For Muslim Arabs, it is an object of mythologized past, a sacred city associated with facts of the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, a monument to the loud glory of the Arab Caliphate.

It can be concluded that for all three groups, Jerusalem is the spiritual center of their religion, which possesses the minds of millions or at least retains for them its significance as a system of moral and ethical values. At the same time, there has been heightened attention and desire for nations to seize power in Jerusalem throughout history. The greatest tension existed between Israel and Palestine, and it began when the international community granted Britain the responsibility of building a ‘national home’ for the Jews. For the Jews, it was their ancestral home, but the Palestinian Arabs also claimed the land and opposed such a move. Thus, the conflicts over the control of Jerusalem were provoked by political and religious factors.

Bibliography

Albayrak, Tahir, Herstein Ram, Caber Meltem, Drori Netanel, Bideci Mujde, and Berger Ron. ‘Exploring Religious Tourist Experiences in Jerusalem: The Intersection of Abrahamic Religions,’ Tourism Management 69, (December 2018): 285-296. Web.

Ben-Shalom, Ram. ‘The Messianic Journey of Jonathan ha-Kohen of Lunel to the Land of Israel Re-examined.’ Mediterranean Historical Review 33 no.1 (2018): 1-25. Web.

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Boyd, Samuel. ‘Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The problem of ‘Abrahamic religions’ and the Possibilities of Comparison.’ Religion Compass, August 27, 2019. Web.

Cesari, Jocelyne. ‘Time, Power, and Religion’, Journal of Law, Religion and State 9, no. 1 (2021): 95-123. Web.

Ijaz, Sabir, Summer, Sultana, and Mubashar Hassan Jafri. ‘Violation of Holy Sites in Jerusalem.’ The Islamic Culture 42 (2019): 35-50. Web.

Khoury, Hind. ‘Jerusalem for All Times.’ Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 22 no.4 (2017): 16-24. Web.

Prime Minister of Israel and Prime Minister of Jordan. The Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty. Peace Treaty, 1994. Web.

Shoki, Nemoto. ‘Jerusalem: How it Became the Crown of Religious Controversy.’ European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 4, (2020): 171-178. Web.

Talmon-Heller, Daniella, and Miriam Frenkel. ‘Religious Innovation under Fatimid Rule: Jewish and Muslim Rites in Eleventh-Century Jerusalem.’ Medieval Encounters 25 no.3 (2019): 203-226. Web.

The Qur’an. Translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford UP, 2005.

UN Security Council. Resolution 181 (II). General Assembly, 1947. Web.

Whitney, Hannah. ‘Simple Narratives, Great Implications: Children’s Stories on Religious Conflict in Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem in the Stacks 2 (2021): 141-158. Web.

Yitzhak, Ronen. ‘Politics and Ideology: Lord Moyne, Palestine and Zionism 1939–1944.’ Britain and the World 10, no.2 (2017): 155-169. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Tahir Albayrak et al., ‘Exploring Religious Tourist Experiences in Jerusalem: The Intersection of Abrahamic Religions,’ Tourism Management 69, (2018): 289.
  2. Samuel Boyd, ‘Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The problem of ‘Abrahamic religions’ and the Possibilities of Comparison.’ Religion Compass, 2019. Web.
  3. Jocelyne Cesari, ‘Time, Power, and Religion’, Journal of Law, Religion and State 9, no. 1 (2021): 99.
  4. Nemoto Shoki, ‘Jerusalem: How it Became the Crown of Religious Controversy.’ European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 4, (2020): 177.
  5. The Qur’an. Translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford UP, 2005.
  6. Hind Khoury, ‘Jerusalem for All Times.’ Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 22 no.4 (2017): 18
  7. Prime Minister of Israel and Prime Minister of Jordan. The Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty. Peace Treaty, 1994.
  8. Daniella Talmon-Heller and Miriam Frenkel, ‘Religious Innovation under Fatimid Rule: Jewish and Muslim Rites in Eleventh-Century Jerusalem.’ Medieval Encounters 25 no.3 (2019): 220.
  9. Sabir Ijaz, Sultana Summer and Mubashar Hassan Jafri. ‘Violation of Holy Sites in Jerusalem.’ The Islamic Culture 42 (2019): 35.
  10. Ram Ben-Shalom, ‘The Messianic Journey of Jonathan ha-Kohen of Lunel to the Land of Israel Re-examined.’ Mediterranean Historical Review 33 no.1 (2018): 20.
  11. Hannah Whitney, ‘Simple Narratives, Great Implications: Children’s Stories on Religious Conflict in Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem in the Stacks 2 (2021): 144.
  12. Ronen Yitzhak, ‘Politics and Ideology: Lord Moyne, Palestine and Zionism 1939–1944.’ Britain and the World 10, no.2 (2017): 157.
  13. UN Security Council. Resolution 181 (II). General Assembly, 1947.

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