Jerusalem - Religious Significance

Religious Significance

Jerusalem has been sacred to Judaism for roughly 3000 years, to Christianity for around 2000 years, and to Islam for approximately 1400 years. The 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem lists 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques within the city. Despite efforts to maintain peaceful religious coexistence, some sites, such as the Temple Mount, have been a continuous source of friction and controversy.

Jerusalem has been sacred to the Jews since King David proclaimed it his capital in the 10th century BCE. Jerusalem was the site of Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple. Although not mentioned in the Torah / Pentateuch, it is mentioned in the Bible 632 times. Today, the Western Wall, a remnant of the wall surrounding the Second Temple, is a Jewish holy site second only to the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount itself. Synagogues around the world are traditionally built with the Holy Ark facing Jerusalem, and Arks within Jerusalem face the "Holy of Holies". As prescribed in the Mishna and codified in the Shulchan Aruch, daily prayers are recited while facing towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Many Jews have "Mizrach" plaques hung on a wall of their homes to indicate the direction of prayer.

Christianity reveres Jerusalem not only for its Old Testament history but also for its significance in the life of Jesus. According to the New Testament, Jesus was brought to Jerusalem soon after his birth and later in his life cleansed the Second Temple. The Cenacle, believed to be the site of Jesus' Last Supper, is located on Mount Zion in the same building that houses the Tomb of King David. Another prominent Christian site in Jerusalem is Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion. The Gospel of John describes it as being located outside Jerusalem, but recent archaeological evidence suggests Golgotha is a short distance from the Old City walls, within the present-day confines of the city. The land currently occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered one of the top candidates for Golgotha and thus has been a Christian pilgrimage site for the past two thousand years.

Jerusalem is considered by some as the third-holiest city in Sunni Islam. For approximately a year, before it was permanently switched to the Kaaba in Mecca, the qibla (direction of prayer) for Muslims was Jerusalem. The city's lasting place in Islam, however, is primarily due to Muhammad's Night of Ascension (c. CE 620). Muslims believe Muhammad was miraculously transported one night from Mecca to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, whereupon he ascended to Heaven to meet previous prophets of Islam. The first verse in the Qur'an's Surat al-Isra notes the destination of Muhammad's journey as al-Aqsa (the farthest) mosque, in reference to the location in Jerusalem. The hadith, the recorded sayings of the Prophet Mohammad, name Jerusalem as the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Today, the Temple Mount is topped by an Islamic landmark intended to commemorate the event—al-Aqsa Mosque, derived from the name mentioned in the Qur'an, and also the place from which Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

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