Magness surveys Jerusalem’s holy sites

One of the oldest cities in existence, Jerusalem straddles the line between antiquity and modernity. It is the beating heart of Abrahamic religions, and it means different things to all those who live there and come to visit.

Speaking from the Hall of Philosophy podium Friday, Jodi Magness delivered her lecture “Sacred Space: What Makes Jerusalem Special?”

In 40 minutes, Magness gave a broad survey of religious formation in the city to explain what makes it so important to so many people.

“Jerusalem is special because it’s the place where the presence of God dwells,” she said.

The most important aspects of Jerusalem both historically and contemporarily, Magnes said, is its temples. “While people today” use the word “temple” synonymously with “synagogue,” Magness said there is an important difference.

“A temple was literally the house in which the deity dwelled,” she said. “It was not a congregational hall for worship.”

From 1200 B.C. on, citizens of Israel would come to the Temple Mount, not to worship, but to burn meat and pour out wine in sacrifice to the God of Israel.

“The God of Israel, in his laws to his people, gave a lot of laws that talk about how he wants to be worshipped,” Magness said. “A lot of those laws concern the kind of house he wants. That house became the Jerusalem temple, and there were eventually two temples that were dedicated to the God of Israel on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

The second temple erected in Jerusalem was the one that stood during Jesus’ era. After his crucifixion and the birth of Christianity, the temple was destroyed. The ruling Christians, however, decided not to rebuild the temple.

“The Christians had come to see the destruction of the second temple as a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that the temple would be destroyed,” Magness said. “They also saw it as a visual witness to the triumph of Christianity over Judaism.”

Because Christians had no need for a temple, they moved their sacred spot to a different area in the city where the crucifixion occurred.

By the seventh century, Muslims gained control of the city and continued the pattern of establishing a sacred site on the land. They returned theirs to the Temple Mount, which is why Muslim artifacts can be found there today.

It is the three main Abrahamic religions, each finding their own route to God in the same city over thousands of years, that give the city its lasting appeal, Magness said. Even in the present day, people still flock to Israel to interact with God, she said. As an example, she mentioned the practice of writing one’s wishes on a sheet of paper and inserting them into the Western Wall, a former barrier to the second temple.

“All this is how Jerusalem came to be the place that it is today,” Magness said.