Not long ago, a group of American tourists stood about 30 steps from the Dome of the Rock, the gold-covered landmark of Jerusalem. While an Israeli tour guide was sharing information about the entire Temple Mount, a member of the Islamic Waqf walked up and stood right next to the guide.
It was an act of intimidation, and both men had an idea of the argument that was coming. Immediately, it was an uncomfortable situation for the tourists.
The Israeli guide pointed out that the Jewish Temple once stood on or very near the spot where the Dome of the Rock now stands.
“There was never a Temple here!” challenged the intruder. The tour guide held his ground and the two men entered into a heated – and familiar – argument.
Though Israel has controlled Jerusalem since 1967, Jewish authorities have allowed the Waqf to continue its control of the Temple Mount. The area is home to both the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Both are revered by Muslims the world over. In one form or another, the Waqf has maintained civil jurisdiction of the Temple Mount since 1187.
That doesn’t mean conversations between members of the Waqf and Israeli tour guides will carry a civil tone.
As the argument became more heated, Israeli Defense Force personnel arrived on the scene. The American tourists slipped away without their guide, clearly uncomfortable with the escalating situation.
Though tempers finally calmed, the man insisting that a Temple had never stood on the “Temple Mount” had given no hint of changing his mind. As the incredible video above shows, “Temple Denial” is a product of recent years and an effort to remove any Jewish claim to the epicenter of Jewish life. Because of the importance Muslims place on the same piece of property, conflict is to be expected.
But to suddenly announce that a Temple never stood on the property? That’s insanity.
It’s amazing. How could a person surrounded by the literal evidence of the Temple Mount deny the ancient presence of the building itself? How could he ignore a century of archaeological work under his very feet? Does he not know that scholarly research now includes more than a million texts from the ancient world, many of which refer to Jerusalem and its ancient, Jewish Temples?
When it comes to the stormy relationships in the Middle East, it’s not difficult for visiting Westerners to see the prejudices that exist or the motivation there might be to wish-away any claim of Jewish ownership to the Temple Mount.
It’s a little more difficult to see our own prejudices when it comes to reading the Bible.
There’s been a great deal of debate in recent years – including inside the pages of Middle Georgia’s largest newspaper – about the reliability of the Bible’s record of events. There are a lot of miraculous events in the Bible. Did they actually happen? There are a lot of dogmatic claims in the Text. Are we supposed to take them literally? Can a thinking person actually read the Bible as if the history recorded there is true, or should we put it on a shelf beside the latest volume of Harry Potter stories?
The easiest approach for a skeptic would be announce that the Bible is obviously full of legendary and manipulative stories that bear no resemblance to truth.
If you’re a reader of Macon’s The Telegraph, you’re probably familiar with the regular Sunday column of Bill Cummings, who loves to announce that events in the Bible aren’t true. Last Sunday (Sept. 11, 2016, “Peter the Rock”), for instance, Cummings announced that a key passage from Matthew 16 wasn’t true. Here’s what he said:
“I know this is a big leap of faith,” Cummings wrote. “It means I believe the evangelists could invent stories … I think it’s obvious that both Matthew and Luke did this when telling the story of his birth; why not here?”
In short, since he’s already decided some stories were invented, then Cummings gets to decide which other stories were fabrications.
How convenient such an approach is! If one has the opportunity to announce that part of the Bible has been fabricated, there’s no reason to give heed to the instruction of that passage. Adopt this philosophy and you can pick and choose your own morality.
Cummings is an extreme. Forget him. What is much more important is to realize how easy it is for any of us to misread the Text. All of us – and I mean all of us – come to the Text with a built-in world view. You could even call it a prejudice. It’s hard work to overcome this prejudice.
A Temple-ignoring member of the Islamic Waqf has an anti-Semitic view fueled by a lifetime of very personal and costly conflicts. It’s not hard to understand why he would like to re-write biblical and extra-biblical history.
Our world view? It comes from our modern, Western and American lifestyle. We’re accustomed to historical events being lived out in front of us via 24-hour news outlets. The Bible is obviously an ancient text. It has no video clips of its events. Could you imagine someone from the ancient world hearing about our culture for the first time? Understanding a different era requires an enormous amount of study.
We’ve also been immersed in Western culture, which is dramatically different from the Bible’s Eastern culture. Even today world leaders have trouble trying to communicate across the Western-Eastern divide. We should not be surprised that we might struggle with the same challenges.
For those of us who grew up in non-Jewish homes, there’s also the shocking reality that the Bible is an intensely Jewish book. This is even true of the “New Testament,” which tells the story of a man purporting to be the Jewish Messiah, and of his first group of very Jewish followers.
If we can overcome our own prejudices and preconceived ideas, it turns out believing the Bible to be literally true isn’t out of the question. In fact, academia in many fields has helped us to understand the Bible better than ever. It hasn’t always been the case, but today, the world’s best scholarship actually affirms biblical history.
A few decades ago, it was easy to disregard the Bible’s message. For instance, some of the brightest minds in the world openly doubted the existence of David. After all, there was no tangible evidence outside of the Bible that David had ever lived. As such, all the “David” stories were written off as legend. Other skeptics used the missing tunnel Hezekiah was purported to have built underneath Jerusalem as evidence of the Bible’s tendency to invent wild stories. Some even ventured that Jesus never lived.
Archaeological discoveries in the past few years have changed all of that. Museums hold the tangible evidence of David’s existence. If you’re not claustrophobic, you can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. No one of intellectual repute would today dispute the existence of Jesus.
With every new discovery, the geographic reliability of the Bible’s recorded history is surfacing as one of the strongest arguments in the field of biblical apologetics. Archaeological discoveries combined with outside sources of recorded history – like the writings of Josephus – continue to affirm historical events and people mentioned in the Bible.
The writers of the Bible went to a great deal of trouble to give us historical and geographical information that could be verified. We happen to live in a time when more of that verification is coming to light than ever before.
Choosing to believe the Bible’s theological message is, indeed, a matter of faith and choice. Choosing to say that the writers of the biblical narrative must have created stories to satisfy their own purposes is a matter choosing to ignore the actual evidence before us.
And that’s as foolish as declaring a Temple never stood on the Temple Mount below your feet.