Mount Moriah is famously remembered as the location of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. ‘Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”’ (Genesis 22:2) God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, however, upon the mountain, God told Abraham to stop. The knowledge that Abraham would have gone through with the command was enough for God to determine the strength of the patriarch’s faith.
Despite being such a famous event, the name “Mount Moriah” is only mentioned once more in the Bible. This occurs in the Second Book of Chronicles. “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David.” This verse tells us that the mountain has appeared more than once previously, however, it was not necessarily named. Here, Solomon built the first temple of the Lord and, since then, the mountain has been known as Table Mount.
“In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.” Micah 4:1
To modern-day Jews, Table Mount is also called Mount of the House and for Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary. Despite being referred to as a mountain, Table Mount is a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem. It rises approximately 2428 feet above sea level and in 19 BC was artificially widened by Herod the Great, resulting in a flat expanse on the summit that covers an area of 37 acres.
As well as the two mentions of Mount Moriah in the Hebrew Bible, Temple Mount has been the location of many historical and religious events. In Judaism, Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world and it is believed God’s divine presence has manifested there more than anywhere else. According to the Talmud, it was on this hill that God gathered the dust he used to create Adam, the first human. Some rabbis believe it is also the spot from which God created the world.
The Sacrifice of Isaac was the first significant event to take place on Mount Moriah/Temple Mount after the creation. Some also believe it was the location of Jacob’s dream and the place where King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite. David had plans to build a sanctuary on the hill but it was his son Solomon who achieved this in 950 BC.
Solomon’s temple is now referred to as the First Temple; however, there is no archaeological evidence for its existence on Temple Mount. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed this temple in 586 BC and the Second Temple was constructed in 516 BC. The Roman emperor Titus destroyed the new building in 70 AD and, by the 2nd Century, the site was being used as a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus – a group of three deities comprised of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Jewish texts predict a third and final temple will be built on the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
The Temple gradually became less important during the early Christian period, although paintings of the circumcision of Jesus are frequently depicted as taking place there. Of course, none of these painters knew what the Temple looked like and there is no written evidence of the ceremony taking place there in the Gospels.
In Islam, Temple Mount is the third holiest site. The “Noble Sanctuary” is the location of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. The Quran considered Temple Mount to be the site of the Temple built by the Islamic prophet Sulayman. Many prophets of Islam are believed to have worshipped there, including Jesus.
It is thought that the hill has been inhabited since the 4000 BC and from around 1850 BC it was home to the Canaanites. The Romans built the city of Aelia Capitolina on the hill in 130 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Initially, Hadrian had intended to gift the city to the Jews, however, after the construction of the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus, the Jews were horrified by the idolatrous city. Hadrian went on to issue a decree prohibiting circumcision and encouraged Roman rites involving the sacrifice of pigs. Enraged by these practices, the Jews led a revolt, however, they were defeated and forbidden on pain of death to enter the city.
Emperor Constantine I, the first Christian Emperor, demolished the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus and invited the Jews to rebuild their Temple. Supposedly, while the Jews were clearing the area, an earthquake damaged all their progress and the construction was abandoned. Archaeological evidence suggests another temple or religious building was built during the Byzantine period, however, there is very little knowledge of this.
The Jews finally gained back control of Jerusalem and Temple Mount in 610 AD when the Sassanid Empire, or Empire of Iranians, pushed the Byzantine Empire out. For five years, the Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth let the Jews practice their ceremonies and permitted them to rebuild the Temple. Unfortunately, the Byzantines took the area back in 615 AD and Christians replaced the Jews. Since then, Temple Mount has changed hands many times. It became a Muslim city when the Arabs defeated the second Byzantine Empire in 637. The Crusaders temporarily reintroduced Christianity from 1099 until 1187 and from the Ottoman period until the 19thcentury, non-Muslims were forbidden from setting foot on Temple Mount.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been under Israeli control. Initially, Jews had the right to visit the area unobstructed and free of charge as long as they respected the religious beliefs of the Muslims living there. Since then, rules have changed and Jews are no longer allowed to pray on the mount. New rules dictate that:
From Biblical times to the present day, Mount Moriah/Temple Mount has seen many significant events and wars. It has been home to three different religions and currently contains constructions or the remains of buildings from each. Just for fun, I have researched what you may find there:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon