Temple Mount, the “Sacred Esplanade”

Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade

by Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar

Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009, 412 pp.
$75.00 (hardcover)






Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: From Solomon to the Golden Dome

by Hershel Shanks

New York: Continuum, 2007, 206 pp.
$39.95 (hardcover)






Reviewed by James F. Strange

As over sized productions featuring critical texts, beautiful and informative photographs, and in the case of Shanks’s book, drawings, reconstructions, tables and charts, these two books address the same audiences, namely, those who want scholarly detail but also sumptuous photographs on almost every page. Shanks readily calls this area “the Temple Mount,” but Grabar and Kedar coin a new expression, “sacred esplanade,” presumably for political reasons.

Grabar and Kedar have put together an international and virtually unprecedented team of writers from Israel, the West Bank, Switzerland, Great Britain and Canada. The editors state that their objective is to “present and explain” the “Sacred Esplanade,” by which they mean historically and sometimes archaeologically. They face head-on the rising insistence by certain Palestinians and Arabs that the idea of an ancient Jewish presence on this spot is a Jewish myth. The scholarly contents are presented in 16 essays and one photographic essay. In addition the reader finds three “personal essays” near the end. The final essay is an epilogue by Kedar and Grabar.

The essays advance the reader forward in increasingly shorter historical steps, from the “Tenth Century B.C.E. to 586 B.C.E. …” to The Temple (destroyed 70 C.E.), to the ruined Temple Mount, to the “Mosque of Jerusalem” (635–1099), to the Templum Domini of the Franks, to the Furthest Mosque of the Ayyubids, to the Noble Sanctuary under the Mamluks, to the Noble Sanctuary of the Ottomans, and penultimately to two chapters devoted to the period from 1917 to the present. In case this is not enough, there are additional chapters on the Haram al-Sharif as a work of art (Grabar) followed by the Haram in Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources. Finally there are three personal essays by Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University, Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, and Cardinal Carlo Martini, former archbishop of Milan.

The overall effect on the reader is of overwhelming detail and a fascinating text that is replete with detail. This is especially true for the later periods after the destruction of 70 C.E., but surely it is a safe bet that most of the readers will be those who want to know more about the period before 70 C.E.

For that level of archaeological detail augmented by reconstruction drawings, photographs of items we can no longer see, and an equally detailed text, we turn to Shanks’s tome. His presentation is to work backward in time from the present Dome of the Rock (in approximately the middle of the western side of the Haram al-Sharif) to the period before the Dome of the Rock was built to Herod’s Temple to the Temple built by the exiles returning from Babylon to Solomon’s Temple and finally to the period before Solomon’s Temple. His conclusions are focused on establishing that it is probable that Solomon’s Temple indeed stood on the Temple Mount. This is also the position of Victor Hurowitz in the first historical chapter in Grabar and Kedar. Yet readers need to know that these two volumes do not agree on everything. For example the reconstruction of the siting of Herod’s Temple in Grabar and Kedar shows the temple facing east by southeast (p. 57), which seems odd. Shanks shows it facing east (p. 67). There are more, but they do not detract from either volume as a publishing tour de force.

 


 

James F. Strange is distinguished university professor and executive director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

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