A Brief History
On November 21, 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus dedicated the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a restoration of the Temple first built by Solomon on Temple Mount in 957 BC. Temple Mount is the holiest location for people of the Jewish faith, although at this time an Islamic mosque called The Dome of the Rock stands on that location. The dedication of the restored Temple is celebrated by Jews worldwide each year as Hanukkah, The Celebration of Lights.
The first Temple had a trying existence, sacked only a few decades after being built and then restored in 835 BC, then sacked again in 700 BC and finally destroyed in 586 BC by invading Babylonians. The Second Temple was built under Cyrus The Great starting in 538 BC (completed about 515 BC). Periods of rule over Jerusalem by Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks (Macedonians), and Persians ensued over the years until the Jews rose up against their Hellenistic overlords and rededicated the Temple in 164 BC.
The Roman period of rule over Jerusalem likewise had some times of repression of the practice of Judaism, with the Temple renovated and expanded by Herod the Great in 20 BC, until the Temple was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
It was not until 691 AD that the Muslims that had taken over Jerusalem built the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, the current status quo. You can easily note by the timeline described here that Jews have been in Jerusalem for many centuries longer than the Arab Muslims that came later, despite the erroneous impression many Americans have that this land (Israel, Judea, Palestine, whatever) is somehow historically equally Muslim and Jewish. (Not to debate the Arab-Israeli confrontation going on today…)
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah stems from this re-dedication of the Second Temple when Maccabean led Jews revolted against the Seleucid Empire (Greeks). Based on the Hebrew calendar, the festival covers 8 nights and occurs between late November and late December on our modern calendar. (Good luck on finding a consistent spelling of Hanukkah!)
Ominously, the Bible has several references to a building of the Third Temple will signal the Second Coming of Christ, and therefore, also the End of Days. A considerable number of Jews would like to see a new Temple built over the ruins of the Islamic structures currently on Temple Mount, and many devout Jews pray for this event 3 times per day. Temple Mount is sacred to Christians as well as to Jews and Muslims, so any discussion of building or destroying anything there is contentious to say the least. No other place on Earth is so sacred to so many people, and unfortunately this one happens to be in a land ever threatened by war.
Question for students (and subscribers): Should the Jews build a Third Temple, perhaps on the site immediately adjacent to The Dome of the Rock? Should Jews take their “birthright” and destroy the Islamic buildings and rebuild the Temple where it once stood? Should things be left alone? Should the US impose our will on this decision? Please share your opinions about these contentious arguments in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Avi-Yonah, Michael and Yoram Tsafrir. Model of Ancient Jerusalem at the Time of the Second Temple. Palphot Ltd., 2003.
Charles River Editors. The Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE: The History and Legacy of Rome’s Destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (BCE-70 CE). The Jewish Publication Society, 2002.