Temple Mount is probably the most contested piece of real estate in the world. Today the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque stand there. But what are the origins of this important place and why does everyone want “a piece of the rock”?
Temple Mount is actually a mountain called Mount Moriah. It is believed that parts of Mount Moriah were inhabited as early as the fourth millennium BCE. Around four thousand years ago a settlement was established which was called Jebus. The Bible refers to the inhabitants of this area as Jebusites. Some historians think the people were Hittites, a known group in middle east at the time.
The Jebusites used the top of Mount Moriah as a threshing floor, where the usable parts of wheat were separated from the rest of the shaft. Since wheat produces bread, the most basic of foods, threshing floors took on a holy aura among ancient cultures of the area.
According to Jewish tradition, the binding of Isaac took place on Mount Moriah. In Genesis 22 it states: Then G-d 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. At the critical moment an angel stops Abraham and so a ram is sacrificed instead. Rabbinical literature discusses this passage in depth and most commentaries conclude it was a test of Abraham’s faith in G-d.
As a side note, according to Muslim tradition it was Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, who was the intended sacrifice. Ishmael was Abraham's first son, born to Hagar, Sarah's hand maiden, according to both Jewish and Muslim tradition. However, in the Muslim version the story takes place on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia and not on Mount Moriah.
It is known that the local people, at the time this event took place, were regularly sacrificing children to their gods, so this incident negates this type of worship. It also marks Mount Moriah as a holy place for Judaism and later, Christianity.
In the year 1004 BCE, King David, the Israelite king, conquers Jebus and makes it his capital, Jerusalem. The Bible states that David purchases the threshing floor on Mount Moriah from Araunah, the defeated Jebusite king. When Araunah tells David it is his since he conquered the city, David insists on paying for the site since it is a holy place, not to be taken by force.
Once secured David intends to build a “House for the Lord” on Mount Moriah but G-d tells him he must not, since he is a man of war. The First Temple was later built by a man of peace - King Solomon, David’s son. More about that in Part 2.