How important is Jerusalem in modern Christianity


Simone Paganini

To person

is Professor of Biblical Theology at RWTH Aachen University. His main research interests include the legal history of the biblical and ancient oriental world, the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran and the period of "Second Temple Judaism". [email protected]

"Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? "[1] In these words, which are attributed to the first Prime Minister of the modern State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, different considerations are mixed up that are also relevant for Jerusalem to this day. It's about land, about different claims, about history and ultimately also about God.

The self-chosen name Ben-Gurion was an expression of an idealistic political program. In Aramaic it means "son of the star" and alludes to the name of Simon bar Kochba, the leader of the second Jewish revolt in Judea against the Romans from 132 to 135 AD, who also means "son of the star". But while bar Kochba failed, Ben-Gurion succeeded. The "Causa Jerusalem" thus encompasses a number of challenges which, however, can be reduced to two essential aspects: sovereignty over the city and the role of the holy places. Two national groups are currently fighting over the former. Three religions and countless denominations are involved in the holy places. Both aspects - as Ben-Gurion correctly saw - are inextricably linked.

In the following, however, an attempt will be made to analyze the role of Jerusalem not as a political force but as a holy place for three religions. To limit this question to the disputes between Jews, Muslims and Christians would, however, misunderstand the real circumstances, simplify them in a dangerous way and inevitably lead to an ideological - more or less radical - positioning. It is not just about the conflict between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but about a much more subtle and differentiated problem.

The "fight" for control of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher takes place, for example, between the Armenian Apostolic priest and the Greek Orthodox monk, while the Franciscan priest, who is also a Christian, watches. In the Jewish quarter, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi attacks the representatives of Sephardic Jewry, and on Haram al-Sharif ("Significant sanctuary", the Arabic name of the Temple Mount), the Mufti appointed by the Palestinians is brutalized against the Imam from Jordan. These quarrels are not new, and it is worth taking a stroll through the religious history of this city in order to be surprised by its diversity, but also by its contradictions and pluralistic dimensions.

Village in the Canaan Mountains

South of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, below the al-Aqsa mosque, where the national park of the "City of David" is located today, there is a spring - the Gihon spring. [2] It has always been easily accessible from the nearby hill surrounded by three deep valleys. On this hill, around 5000 years ago - the oldest potsherds and flint stones excavated there are so old - a small settlement whose inhabitants, who are now called Jebusites, had unrestricted access to this spring even during sieges. We do not know who exactly lived on this hill at that time, what these people did, whether they had a state organization or what they believed in.

What this little town was called back then is also not known. A name appeared much later: on a cursed statuette from the time of Pharaoh Sesostris III. (around 1850 BC), along with 18 other conquered cities. The statuette was made by Egyptian priests. They wrote the names of their enemies on it, cursed the clay figure and broke it as a sign of contempt. In the language of the Egyptians the settlement was called "Ruschalimum". The name is extremely interesting as it contains the name of the Canaanite god Shalimu. Ruschalimum translates as "House of Shalimu" and means that the city was founded as the work of a deity. This is also the meaning of the name Jerusalem. [3] Of course, the strategically favorable position and the inexhaustible water supply were reason enough to settle here, but the residents saw the founding of this city as a religious act. According to the knowledge of the modern sociology of religion, the worship of a holy place forms the beginning of a religious belief and is not connected with any rational consideration. So it was believed that the place was protected by the presence of a god, and that was enough for the foundation.

In addition to the spring, Ruschalimum had another important feature: a hill rose to the north, and elevated places have always been places where a form of divine presence was assumed. Today nothing can be seen of this hill because the huge platform of the Temple Mount, which King Herod built in the first century BC. Chr. Built, it completely occupies. Only the summit, which for centuries was used as a sacrificial site by Jewish priests, is still visible today, at least for those who are allowed to enter the mighty construction of the Dome of the Rock with the huge gold-plated dome. As soon as a place was declared "holy", it was given a special position that had nothing to do with the tangible reality. For example, this hill was celebrated as "Mount Zion" as the highest of all mountains - undeterred by the fact that it was not a real mountain and that the hills to the west and east of it are significantly higher. [4] The determination of the sanctity of a place does not have to do with science, but with feelings, emotions and belief.

One can assume that there was a sanctuary in Ruschalimum, [5] in which ritual acts were held: blood and smoke offerings, libations and perhaps even human sacrifices. There are indeed texts in the Hebrew Bible that polemicize and invalidate human sacrifice. Such texts naturally emerged as a reaction to real circumstances. The story of Abraham not to kill his son Isaac is a reminder of this. Although this story is not to be understood historically, it has an identity-creating moment and - according to tradition - takes place on the very hill north of the nucleus of Jerusalem, which the Hebrew Bible identifies as Mount Moria or later as Mount Zion.

Archaeological traces of human settlement on the hill dedicated to god Shalimu do not appear again until the 14th century BC. When Egypt had the supreme power over the area. The transit country of Canaan was conquered and made a vassal state. The influence of Egypt was not only politically and militarily, but also culturally and religiously recognizable, as the finds from this time prove. There are even six letters from the Jebusite governor of the capital Ruschalimum, Abdi-Chepa, to Pharaoh Akhenaten. Around 1350 BC In BC Abdi-Chepa asked for help in the fight against neighboring peoples for his city, which was still referred to as the "House of Shalimu". [6]