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Monday, July 1, 2013

Essay on Ritual Space in Jerusalem

INSTRUCTIONS:  Write an 8�10 page essay on a ritual space in ancient Israel or Judah
(temple, tomb, threshing floor, �high place�, etc.).  The essay should accomplish two things: 1) provide a description of the sources that inform our knowledge about the ritual space, and 2) provide a description of the ritual actions that these sources indicate took place within the ritual space as well as an explanation of the intended meaning of those action within the space.  In addition to the
biblical texts, the essay must consult at least three outside sources.  The essay must interact with relevant chapters in the book \"Sacred Time, Sacred Space: Archaeology and the Religion of Israel\" and must cite from the \"New Revised Standard Version of the Bible\". The paper should have a bibliography separate from the 8 pages of research.

Essay on Ritual Space in Jerusalem
            One of the most interesting aspects in the study of scared and ritual places is how the followers of different faiths share in the sanctity of a particular space. Both religious historians and scholars suggest that the nature of the site retains its holiness although it changes hands. This means that once a space has been considered scared, its sanctity is retained, regardless of the religious or political perspective. And perhaps, there is no other place that best exemplifies this theory than in Jerusalem (Brockman 257). 

During the last two thousand years, the country has undergone numerous changes, generally caused by major wars of conquest. Such wars have repeatedly changed Israel’s main religion. During the first millennium for instance, it shifted from Jewish belief to paganism, before becoming a Christian and Muslim land. By the second millennium, it passed from Muslim to Christian, before ultimately adapting the Jewish faith. The changing of the religion did not necessarily affect the belief of the inhabitants as followers of different religions lived in relative peace. More than this however, some of these religions share a number of common holy sites with a particular sacred tradition. This includes David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, The Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the Western Wall among many others.

This paper will discuss and describe the ritual places in Jerusalem which includes the David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, The Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the Western Wall. More significantly, this paper will provide the various rituals and religious actions practiced in those scared sites. Accordingly, it will attempt to discuss the meaning behind those rituals in relation with the holy space.

The Tomb of David on Mount Zion
            Despite of their difference in belief, Jews, Christians, and Muslims holds the site where King David was buried as a place of ritual and prayer. The ancient tomb is situated on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It is specifically in a small chamber on the ground floor remains of the church of Dormition. Inside the building are a number of rooms lined side by side still with traces of a Franciscan church built there during the fourteenth century. On the second level of the building is a room referred to as Cenacle which is the site of the Last Supper. The room of David’s Tomb lies directly under the Cenacle. It is an elongated room, aligned north-south, with a narrow apse in its northern wall. Placed before the apse is a massive stone sarcophagus. It is covered in a green drape with an embroidered name: David, King of Israel (Books LLC 25).

            David is regarded as an important figure in Christianity as he is believed to be the father of a royal dynasty from which Jesus descended. Hence, his tomb has been a site of prayers and even pilgrimage for some. There has been a number evidences that show that the great king’s tomb was a site for different memorial ceremonies. What is even more interesting was that apart from Christian followers, the Muslims similarly regard the place as a venerated site. In fact, the first evidence from came from Muslim sources dated in the tenth century. An inscription by Al-Mas’udi wrote “the Church of Zion that was mentioned by David, may he rest in peace.” Numerous eleventh century Muslims similarly mentioned the tradition of praying in the burial site. According to historians, Muslims also regard the tomb of David as a place of worship primarily because the tomb used to be a mosque as the place was conquered by the Muslim during the late Middle Ages. It was only during the fifteenth century when diplomatic negotiations were held which resulted to the Franciscans taking over the place. Since then, the place has been a shared scared place for the Christians and Muslims (Books LLC 25).

            The Jews similarly consider this tomb as a holy site. The Jews however, did not refer to the site a tomb but rather called David’s Shrine. Various Jewish pilgrims from different parts of the world travel to Mount Zion in order to pray in David’s tomb. Accordingly, the faithful recites psalms of David as part of their prayer. By 1949, a blue drape was placed over the sarcophagus which includes embroidered images of the Torah scroll as, as well as several Hebrew texts (Books LLC 25).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
            The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a venerated site located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The space is regarded as Golgotha or the Hill of Calvary which is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Similarly, the site was also believed to the place where Jesus was buried. As such, the church has been an important place for many Christians and is regarded as a pilgrimage destination since the fourth century (Brockman 424).

            The Church is divided into various parts. The Calvary or Golgotha can be located by climbing the stairs in the south side of the altar. This particular area is perhaps the most lavish part of the entire church. The main altar houses the Rock of Calvary of the twelfth station of the Cross. The rock is placed under a glass on either side of the altar. Just beneath it is a hole which is believed to be the place where Jesus’ cross was placed. It is for this reason that Golgotha is the most visited space in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Just beside the altar is another chapel built by the Franciscans. It is the Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross which is also the eleventh station of the cross. At the left side towards the Eastern Orthodox chapel is a statue of Mary. This statue is believed to be a source of miracles for the faithful primarily because it was the place where Jesus’ body was removed from the cross before being handed over to Mary. Underneath Golgotha are two additional chapels which include the Chapel of Adam. According the Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified in the place where Adam’s skull was buried (Brockman 424).

            Just a few metres from the entrance of the Church is the Stone of Anointing. Also referred to as the Stone of Unction, this space is believed to the place where Christ’s body was prepared for burial. This tradition however, was added only in the reconstruction in 1810. The wall situated behind the stone was supposed to be a temporary addition as it supports the arch above the stone. Several lamps can be found hanging over the stone which is given by the Greeks, Armenians, Latin, and Copts (Brockman 425).

            Situated at the center of Anastasis is a rotunda in which a chapel referred to as The Edicule stands. The chapel which contains the Holy Sepulchre has two chambers. The first one contains the Angel’s Stone or the stone which sealed the tomb of Christ after his burial. The second chamber is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. This site is venerated not only by the Roman Catholics by various churches as well. This includes the Eastern Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic Churches – each have rights to the tomb. Accordingly, a number of rituals and ceremonies are held inside the tomb. Holy Mass for instance, is held there on a daily basis. Morning worships were conducted with the intention of receiving God’s blessings (Brockman 425). 

Similarly, various ceremonies are celebrated there during special occasions such as the Holy Saturday of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.  This ceremony is attended by thousands of followers as well as by other denominations. An unlit blue fire descends from the dome and is ignited by the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. The followers then raise their hands as a sign of worship while waiting for the blue fire to be lit. As he receives the fire, the Patriarch then passes it around to clergymen other pilgrims who are also gathered in the area. The flame is traditionally believed to symbolize Christ who rose from the dead after three days. The pilgrim then allows the flame to touch their hands as it is believe to not burn those who come in contact with in. The candles lit by the Holy Fire are then taken to Nazareth which is the site where Jesus was born (Brockman 425).

The Western Wall
            Popularly referred to as the Wailing Wall, the Western wall is considered as the holiest shrine in the Jewish faith. It is a 187 foot ancient wall located at the western section of the Temple Mount. This particular space faces a plaza which is set exclusively for prayers. The upper ground section of the Western Wall stretches for more than 1,600 feet, most of which is concealed behind residential structures. On the other hand, the southern part of the wall which measures about 262 feet functions as a support to the temple (Simone 40).

            The Wall itself contains about 45 stone courses, 28 of which are above the ground while 17 is located underneath it. The first seven layers came from the Herodian period and is built from massive lime stones. Most of these stones weight about two to eight tons while others weight heavier. Each of these stones are similarly surrounded by a chiseled margins which measures somewhere from five to twenty centimeters. Correspondingly, the next four layers of the wall as added during the seventh century by the Umayaads while the other fourteen layers were from the Ottoman period (Simone 41).

            In Judaism, the Wailing Wall is regarded as the only remnant of the Holy Temple, thus making it a venue of pilgrimage for Jews. It is the only accessible site for the holiest spot in Judaism which the Foundation Stone which in on the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition, the wall was initially constructed by King Solomon which God promised would never be destroyed. In addition to this, tradition also states God Himself has removed his presence from the sanctuary and has placed it on the Wall. As such, the faithful pray before it as they believed that it is similar to praying before the throne of glory. The Jewish Law similarly states that Jews must face towards Jerusalem as it is the place where God’s blessing emanates. Prayer notes were likewise placed on the crevices of the Wall while some remove their shoes and bow in prayer. Men and women visiting the Western Wall are also expected to dress appropriately with their heads covered. After praying, the custom is for the faithful to walk backwards as a sign of respect (Simone 41).

Mount of Olives
            Mount of Olives is regarded as one of the most sacred spots in the Holy City. It is located in the eastern part of Jerusalem and is widely known as a cemetery. More than this, however, this site holds immense significance to the Jews, Christians, and Muslims as well. Since ancient times, Jews have been buried on this mountain and is believed that upon the arrival of the Messiah, the resurrection of the dead will begin at this very spot (Kochav 125). 

The Bible has referred to the Mount of Olives a number of times. It was first mentioned when David went up the mountain and wept. Similarly, this place is associated with the Garden of Gethsemane which is the place where Jesus wept before he was arrested by the Roman soldiers. According to tradition, Jesus wept for the destruction of Israel in the spot where the Dominus Flevit Church is standing now. In the same manner, biblical accounts suggest that Jesus spent time teaching his disciples in this mountain. In addition to this, Christians believe that Jesus ascended to heaven in this mountain (Kochav 125).

Jewish tradition on the other hand, indicated that the Mount of Olives is the burial place for the prophetess Huldah. What was most interesting about this is that believers climb up to the spot of Huldah’s tomb to pray for their sins and seek atonement. This is primarily because the figure of Huldah which was said to have an ascetic life learned the value of repentance. It is in this context that believers pray in penitence for their sins. As such, the sanctity of this place for the Jews is associated with sincere repentance from a life full of sin (Kochav 125).

Another ritual held in the Mount of Olives is the ritual of atonement. This are particularly applied to those who are buried in the mount, as they have their feet facing the Temple Mount, hence making their journey their easier (Kochav 125).

Temple Mount
            The Temple Mount is considered as an important religious place in Jerusalem. It is venerated by a number of religious groups which includes Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The Temple Mount is located at the northern part of a hill, particularly in the eastern section of the Old City in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is placed at the peak of the hill. Just below it is a cave referred to as the Well of Souls. At the eastern part of the Dome Rock is the Dome of the Chain which is associated with the belief that the chain will prevent the sinners from passing through Heaven, while permitting the just to pass (Inbari 81). 

            The lower part of the Temple Mount takes the most part of the Mountain. It features a garden in the eastern and northern section as well as an Islamic school in the far north. Similarly, the lower platform holds a fountain called al-Kas which is said to originally have a water supply from the pools of Bethlehem. The wall of the platform also holds various gateways which are all currently blocked. One of which is the Golden Gate which is believed by the Jews as the place where their Messiah will enter (Inbari 81).

            The sanctity of the Temple Mount encompasses the belief of various religions. In Judaism, the Temple Mount contains the Foundation Stone is believed to the spot where the world was created. Subsequently, the spot became the site for the Holy of Holies or a sacred place of the Tabernacle. Although Jews consider this place as a holy site, believers are not permitted to enter the place because of its extreme sanctity. Hence, followers are only permitted to pray in the Wailing Wall. Muslims on the other hand, regard this site as a scared place as they believe that it is one of the earliest places of worship of Allah. In fact, during the first years of Islam, Muhammad directed his followed to face the Mount while praying. In addition to this, the Muslims consider this site as the “Farthest Mosque” which is the location of the Prophet Muhammad’s journey to heaven.  Hence, followers of Islam travel to this place and venerate its sanctity. Accordingly, Christians also view the Temple Mount as a holy place. This is largely because the followers believe the Temple will once again be reconstructed prior to the Second Coming of Christ. As such, number Christians include this route as an important part of their pilgrimage (Inbari 81).

Works Cited
Books, LLC. Jerusalem Shrines. NY: Books LLC, 2010
Brockman, Norbert. Sacred Places. NY: ABC-CLIO, 2011
Inbari, Motti. Jewish Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount. NY: Suny Press, 2009
Kochav, Sarah. Mount of Olives. CA: Yad Ben ZVi Press, 1999
Simone, Ricca. Reinventing Jerusalem.  CA: I.B. Tauris, 2007
Wigowsky. Paul. Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. CA: Arthur House, 2013

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