Jerusalem

Jerusalem An ancient Middle Eastern city uniquely holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, where monuments and other sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are concentrated. It lies within the modern nation of Israel, although its exact political status remains in dispute. From 1948, the year of the founding of modern Israel, to 1967, Jerusalem’s old city remained in the hand of Palestinian Arabs, who still maintain claims to it and are the dominant population in some parts of the city. Besides its vital religious significance, Jerusalem is today the capital of Israel. For most of Jewish history Jerusalem was a symbol of hope and of God’s promise. According to the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem, formerly a village held by a people known as the Jebusites, was established as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel by King David in the mid-tenth century B.C. The first Temple was constructed there, mostly under David’s successor, Solomon. It served as the Jewish capital until, in 587 B.C., the Babylonian Empire subdued the city after a long siege and destroyed the Temple. The destruction of the Temple marked the last point until 1967 that Jews had full political control over Jerusalem. Jews built a second Temple in Jerusalem during their so-called era of reconstruction, from approximately 538 B.C. to A.D. 70. Despite the fact that control over the city passed from the ancient Persian Empire to Alexander the Great’s Greek successor states to the Roman Empire, Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish religious, intellectual, and cultural life. The Romans destroyed much of it following a Jewish rebellion in A.D. 70. All that remained of the second Temple was its western wall, an edifice known later as the Wailing Wall and an important Jewish pilgrimage site. A small Jewish community remained in Jerusalem, although the center of the faith switched to the Diaspora, or dispersal communities that emerged elsewhere. A common hope of these communities was that one day God would make possible a return to Jerusalem. For Christians, Jerusalem is remembered as the location of Jesus’ final teachings, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. It was also the site of the first Christian Church, although its members disbanded it in the face of Jewish oppression in A.D. 62. In the fourth century, as Christianity became institutionalized, Jerusalem was named one of the seats of the church’s main bishops. Over the next centuries Jerusalem also became an important destination for Christian pilgrimage. Among the important sites are the Church of the Resurrection, the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was said to have forbidden his disciples to defend him prior to his arrest, and the hill of Golgotha (or Calvary), outside the old city, where Jesus was crucified. In Islam, Jerusalem is noted as the destination of the night journey of the prophet Muhammad (recorded in sura 17), where he met with other prophets, and as the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. Muslims were origi- nally instructed to pray toward Jerusalem, which was the practice of Arabian Jews in Muhammad’s time, although that was later changed to Mecca. Jerusalem remains the third holiest city for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina. It fell to the armies of the caliph Omar in 633 or 634, who captured it from the Christian Byzantine Empire. Jerusalem remained in the hands of various Islamic kingdoms until 1919 (when the area came under British control) aside from a brief Christian Kingdom of Israel established during the Crusades of the late eleventh and twelfth centur ies. Muhammad’s ascent to heaven was judged to have taken place from a site at or near the Jewish Temple, a place commonly known as the Temple Mount. Muslims built two important monuments there, the Dome of the Rock, or Mosque of Omar, and Al-Aqsa Mosque. SEE ALSO: Crusades; Dome of the Rock; Temple

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