Holy Lands of the World - Jerusalem

About the Holy Land Jerusalem, sacred in the world to Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, history of the religious city.


Jerusalem, meaning "foundation of peace," is the cradle of 3 great historic religions. Sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this world center of monotheism has been a holy city for 35 to 40 centuries. Its geographical features are also religious symbols and help explain its spiritual preeminence. At an elevation of 2,500', it is a city set on a hill, a place to which one ascends. Many ancient peoples thought of mountains as holy and there they built their altars. Set apart by its inland location, away from major trade routes, Jerusalem developed an intense spiritual preoccupation.

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem stood in the center of a web of sacred places, where altars to Yahweh had been built. Later, its own temple was the center of Hebrew worship from the time of King David--who made Jerusalem the nation's capital c. 1000 B.C.--to 70 A.D., when it was destroyed by the Roman legions under Titus. To worship in the temple, Jews made an annual pilgrimage at Passover. This is the city of Israel's Kings, prophets, and religious leaders; the site of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, as well as Mohammed's ascent into heaven. Under the name of Zion, the city is the object of Jewish messianic hope, and symbolizes heaven to Christians.

Enclosed by ancient walls, the Old City sector is visited by pilgrims of all faiths. Muslims, who in common with Jews revere the Holy Land for its patriarchs and prophets, consider Jerusalem a chief shrine after Mecca and Medina. The elegant 7th-century Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), said to be built on the site of Mohammed's ascension, almost compares in sanctity with the Kaaba in Mecca. Of the great Temple of Herod, only a portion of the western wall was left exposed. From the 5th century to modern times, except for 1948 to 1967, Palestinian Jews have prayed at this Wailing Wall daily and have gathered there to recite the lamentations of Jeremiah on the anniversary of the temple's destruction. The southern wall is now being excavated.

Among the many Christian sites in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, today marking the tomb of Christ, and the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is said to have carried his Cross, are most notable.

In 135 A.D. Hadrian demolished Jerusalem and then rebuilt it as a pagan shrine, in retaliation for the Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochbar. Hadrian considered Christianity a Jewish sect. He tried to obliterate the sites of the crucifixion and resurrection by covering them with concrete. Then he erected a statue of Jupiter over Calvary and he built a temple to Venus over the site of the tomb. Of course, the statues served instead as obvious markers, drawing Christian pilgrims like a magnet for almost 2 centuries.

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