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Thursday, September 10, 2015

One Rock!

A quick lesson in topography for those who are not familiar. The map of two mountains flattens at the summit, one colored green another blue. The concentric lines surrounding each represents the slope from summit to valley below. This image captures the undulating hills, each with a summit, slope and valley, huddled in Jerusalem’s holy basin.

 Ancient Jerusalem's Holy Basin
The mountain subject of this essay is Mount Moriah with summit colored green, valley boundary in red - it is a single rock, a monolith! On the summit stands the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine to Caliph Omar who conquered Jerusalem in 637 CE.
To its south, Al Aqsa Mosque, further south the Ophel followed by City of David and to its east, the perennial Gihon Spring.

According to Jewish tradition Mount Moriah is the foundation stone of the entire world, yet this tradition was reduced through history and to this day, most people believe the foundation stone to be a rock on the summit somewhere under the Dome of the Rock. This location was designated as the place the Holy of Holies once stood during the period of the first and second temples of Jerusalem. The rectangular area around the summit of Mount Moriah are the remains of the Temple Mount constructed by King Herod toward the end of the second temple era.

I have no doubt King David once built an altar on the summit of Mount Moriah (in the green zone) in accordance with Jewish tradition and no doubt the Holy of Holies of the first and second temples were built on that approximate location within the bounds of the Temple Mount. However, I deeply question whether the King did so to conceal the true location until its rightful time. You see according to Jewish law, then and now, the Holy of Holies obtains its location from the holy altar. For the temple to be a permanent fixture the altar must be located on the place Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice, the place to which his son Jacob returned and made a covenant to build the House of God.

The tradition of this rock can be traced back to many texts, but one in particular, the story of Jacob recalls Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (chapter 35); ‘Now Jacob, on his journey from the house of his father, re-experiences that awe, a déjà vu of his father’s binding. Forced to lie down, arrested upon his journey by the sudden sunset, he experiences a primal fear, "How awesome is this place!" (v. 17). The vision of the ‘ladder’ is intended to be a palliative for that fear, a vision of the foundation of the temple, Beit Elokim (House of God), in that place. There Jacob sets up a monument of twelve-stones-fused-into-one to mark the spot.

matzevah light touched.jpg
Matzevah or monument of Jacob's covenant
According to Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, what did God do? He stretched out His right foot [symbolic of eternity] and sank the stone deep into the earth, as one sets a keystone into an arch. Accordingly, the stone is called, even hashtya, the Foundation Stone, and there is the navel of the world and from there the whole Earth was stretched out [in the Act of Creation], and, upon that stone the temple of God stands.’

The unique stone in the image above is more than 3500 years old and was re-discovered in 2008. Somehow it is stable, sunken into the bedrock and surrounded by small boulders facing east on a high (upper) ridge, on the neck of Mount Moriah, west of the Gihon Spring. It has survived like no other artifact in the City of David. In context, as seen in the image below, it sits in one of four stone carved bedrock chambers exclusively dedicated for holy worship. They contain a grain press an oil press, features for processing small animals and an altar.

High Ridge Art (3).jpg
Upper Ridge West of the Gihon Spring
Archaeologist Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered the stone, known as a matzevah. He recorded it was surrounded by soft, tightly packed earth, it and the entire upper ridge had been purposefully buried (based on other artifacts found in the layers above) by one of the last kings of Judah. Ongoing excavations at the site continue to yield first and second temple items, but soon for the first time in more than 2500 years, the area highlighted in green between the bedrock and this worship complex will be excavated and may inform us of its holy purpose.
Mount Moriah is associated with “HaMakom” meaning “The Place”, but where exactly on the mountain is the place? Where did Jacob locate his matzevah and dream of the ladder that extended to heaven on which angels were climbing up and down. According to tradition it is the head or summit, but according to more mystical sources the place is and will always be the neck. In time we will find out more, but for now the search continues to discover the special purpose of this holy place.