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Reviewed by:
  • God's Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Place, and Memory
  • Robert Goldenberg
God's Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Place, and Memory, by Yaron Z. Eliav. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. 353 pp. $40.00.

This book offers a history of the Temple Mount (har ha-bayit) in Jerusalem that is consciously at odds with the common understanding of that history. According to Eliav, the Temple Mount as such was absent from most people's mental map of Jerusalem until very near the time the actual Temple was destroyed: Jewish literature from the Second-Temple period is overflowing with references to the Temple or the city of Jerusalem, but lacks any indication that the larger compound in which the Temple structure or the Temple courtyards were found had any religious significance of its own.

On the other hand, rabbinic and Patristic writings are full of such indications, though not surprisingly the two corpora handle the theme very differently. Rabbinic stories often tell of Sages who visited the despoiled Mount (the Temple itself was gone, of course) and had various experiences there, and rabbinic law often distinguishes the status of the Temple Mount from those of the Temple proper and the city respectively. In Christian writings, the holiness of the Mount is often transferred to Golgotha and thus to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that stands elsewhere in the ancient city, but the idea of a holy mountain plainly continued to stimulate the Christian religious imagination. [End Page 201] It should also be noted that a particular group of early Christians remained attached to the figure of James the brother of Jesus, and these people preserved the memory that James had been buried after his martyrdom on or very near the Temple Mount. For them the original location therefore kept its power, though for reasons very different from the rabbis'.

What made all this possible was the enormous construction project, begun by Herod the Great but not completed till the 60s CE, which created a large public plaza with the Temple structure in its midst. This huge artificial mountain, now home to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aksa mosque, continues to dominate the Old City of Jerusalem, psychically as well as "on the ground," but rabbinic allusions to har ha-bayit during the period of the actual Temple rest on imagined history, memory that was constructed long after the time it purported to represent. The idea that the Temple Mount did not exist as a significant space until the very end of the Temple's existence is one of Eliav's revisionist contributions to the history of Jerusalem and of Judaism.

His other departure from widely accepted views has to do with the history of the Temple Mount after 70 CE. Eliav rejects the common view that a temple to Jupiter was erected on the Temple Mount. There surely was a military encampment somewhere in or near Jerusalem, and there can be no question that pagan shrines could be found all over the region, but in Eliav's view the Mount itself was never even cleared of its rubble, let alone rededicated as a major site of pagan worship. This remained the case even after the city was officially refounded as Aelia Capitolina; in fact, in Eliav's redrawn map of the new pagan city the Temple Mount lay outside its boundary and was more or less ignored. In his view the new city center was shifted to the northwest and located near the site of the future Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This remained the configuration of Christian Jerusalem right up until the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. In other words, neither the pagan Romans nor their Christian successors moved to take over the Temple Mount or even symbolically to supplant the Jewish presence there with their own. Only under the early caliphs was Herod's platform cleared and then graced with the mosques that have come to stand there.

As Eliav himself knows, this whole presentation rests in part on an argument from silence: if the Temple Mount was a significant factor in the nation's consciousness before...


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