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The Temple - The Dome Of The Rock

( Originally Published 1908 )

THERE is an upward impulse in man that draws him to a hilltop for his place of devotion and sanctuary of ascending thoughts. The purer air, the wider outlook, the sense of freedom and elevation, help to release his spirit from the weight that bends his forehead to the dust. A traveller in Palestine, if he had wings, could easily pass through the whole land by short flights from the summit of one holy hill to another, and look down from a series of mountain-altars upon the wrinkled map of sacred history without once descending into the valley or toiling over the plain. But since there are no wings provided in the human outfit, our journey from shrine to shrine must follow the common way of men,—which is also a symbol,—the path of up-and-down, and many windings, and weary steps.

The oldest of the shrines of Jerusalem is the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, which David bought from him in order that it might be made the site of the Temple of Jehovah. No doubt the King knew of the traditions which connected the place with ancient and famous rites of worship. But I think he was moved also by the commanding beauty of the situation, on the very summit of Mount Moriah, looking down into the deep Valley of the Kidron.

Our way to this venerable and sacred hill leads through the crooked duskiness of David Street, and across the half-filled depression of the Tyropœon Valley which divides the city, and up through the dim, deserted Bazaar of the Cotton Merchants, and so through the central western gate of the Haram-esh-Sherif, "the Noble Sanctuary."

This is a great inclosure, clean, spacious, airy, a place of refuge from the foul confusion of the city streets. The wall that shuts us in is almost a mile long, and within this open space, which makes an immediate effect of breadth and tranquil order, are some of the most sacred buildings of Islam and some of the most significant landmarks of Christianity.

Slender and graceful arcades are outlined against the clear, blue sky: little domes are poised over praying-places and fountains of ablution: wide and easy flights of steps lead from one level to another, in this park of prayer.

At the southern end, beyond the tall cypresses and the plashing fountain fed from Solomon's Pools, stands the long Mosque el-Aksa : to Mohammedans, the place to which Allah brought their prophet from Mecca in one night; to Christians, the Basilica which the Emperor Justinian erected in honor of the Virgin Mary. At the northern end rises the ancient wall of the Castle of Antonia, from whose steps Saint Paul, protected by the Roman captain, spoke his defence to the Jerusalem mob. The steps, hewn partly in the solid rock, are still visible; but the site of the castle is occupied by the Turkish barracks, beside which the tallest minaret of the Haram lifts its covered gallery high above the corner of the great wall.

Yonder to the east is the Golden Gate, above the steep Valley of Jehoshaphat. It is closed with great stones; because the Moslem tradition says that some Friday a Christian conqueror will enter Jerusalem by that gate. Not far away we see the column in the wall from which the Mohammedans believe a slender rope, or perhaps a naked sword, will be stretched, in the judgment day, to the Mount of Olives opposite. This, according to them, will be the bridge over which all human souls must walk, while Christ sits at one end, Mohammed at the other, watching and judging. The righteous, upheld by angels, will pass safely; the wicked, heavy with unbalanced sins, will fall.

Dominating all these wide-spread relics and shrines, in the centre of the inclosure, on a raised platform approached through delicate arcades, stands the great Dome of the Rock, built by Abd-el-Melik in 688 A.D., on the site of the Jewish Temple. The exterior of the vast octagon, with its lower half cased in marble and its upper half incrusted with Persian tiles of blue and green, its broad, round lantern and swelling black dome surmounted by a glittering crescent, is bathed in full sunlight; serene, proud, eloquent of a certain splendid simplicity. Within, the light filters dimly through windows of stained glass and falls on marble columns, bronzed beams, mosaic walls, screens of wrought iron and carved wood.

We walk as if through an interlaced forest and under-growth of rich entangled colours. It all seems visionary, unreal, fantastic, until we climb the bench by the end of the inner screen and look upon the Rock over which the Dome is built.

This is the real thing,—a plain gray limestone rock, level and fairly smooth, the unchanged summit of Mount Moriah. Here the priest-king Melchizedek offered sacrifice. Here Abraham, in the cruel fervour of his faith, was about to slay his only son Isaac because he thought it would please Jehovah. Here Araunah the Jebusite threshed his corn on the smooth rock and winnowed it in the winds of the hilltop, until King David stepped over from Mount Zion, and bought the threshing-floor and the oxen of him for fifty shekels of silver, and built in this place an altar to the Lord. Here Solomon erected his splendid Temple and the Chaldeans burned it. Here Zerubbabel built the second Temple after the return of the Jews from exile, and Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated it, and Herod burned part of it and pulled down the rest. Here Herod built the third Temple, larger and more magnificent than the first, and the soldiers of the Emperor Titus burned it. Here the Emperor Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter and himself, and some one, perhaps the Christians, burned it. Here Mohammed came to pray, declaring that one prayer here was worth a thousand elsewhere. Here the Caliph Omar built a little wooden mosque, and the Caliph Abd-el-Melik replaced it with this great one of marble, and the Crusaders changed it into a Christian temple, and Saladin changed it back again into a mosque.

This Haram-esh-Sherîf is the second holiest place in the Moslem world. Hither come the Mohammedan pilgrims by thousands, for the sake of Mohammed. Hither come the Christian pilgrims by thou-sands, for the sake of Him who said: "Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father." Hither the Jewish pilgrims never come, for fear their feet may unwittingly tread upon "the Holy of Holies," and defile it; but they creep outside of the great inclosure, in the gloomy trench beside the foundation stones of the wall, mourning and lamenting for the majesty that is departed and the Temple that is ground to powder.

But amid all these changes and perturbations, here stands the good old limestone rock, the threshing-floor of Araunah, the capstone of the hill, waiting for the sun to shine and the dews to fall on it once more, as they did when the foundations of the earth were laid.

The legend says that you can hear the waters of the flood roaring in an abyss underneath the rock. I laid my ear against the rugged stone and listened. What sound ? Was it the voice of turbulent cen turies and the lapsing tides of men ?

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