A recently studied inscription from a mosque near Hebron offers insight into how, until the mid-20th century, the Muslim world considered Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock to be the successor to two ancient Jewish shrines that formerly stood atop the Temple Mount.
The previously overlooked dedicatory inscription from the Mosque of Umar in Nuba, a village nearly 26 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Jerusalem, mentions the village as an endowment for the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. But what’s striking is that the Dome of the Rock is referred to in the text as “the rock of the Bayt al-Maqdis” — literally, “The Holy Temple” — a verbatim translation of the Hebrew term for the Jerusalem temple that early Muslims employed to refer to Jerusalem as a whole, and the gold-domed shrine in particular.
Local tradition ascribed the construction of the mosque to Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, under whose rule Arab armies conquered Jerusalem and the rest of Byzantine Palestine in the mid-7th century. It was under his eventual successor Abd al-Malik, the fifth caliph, that the Dome of the Rock was completed in 691 CE.
The limestone block into which the Kufic script was carved stands above the mosque’s mihrab, the niche pointing toward Mecca, and reads: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, this territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful, Umar ibn al-Khattab for the glory of Allah.”
Two Muslim scholars who previously described the inscription ascribed it to the 7th century, the time of Umar. But Israeli researchers, who presented their findings during a conference on Jerusalem archaeology last week, dated it to the 9th or 10th centuries CE, based on the Arabic writing’s orthography and formulation comparable to dedicatory inscriptions from mosques in Ramle and Bani Naim.
The Jerusalem archaeology conference coincided with a UNESCO resolution that ignored Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount and referred to the controversial holy site solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defined it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.”
The distinction between the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock in the text, authors Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven wrote, “together with the Hadith tradition and [Arabic] literature praising Jerusalem [from the 11th century], leads us to posit that the term Bayt al-Maqdis as it appears in the Nuba inscription… alludes directly to the Dome of the Rock.”
Further, medieval Muslim traditions surrounding the Dome of the Rock cited by the authors “identified the mount again and again with David and Solomon’s temples” and “understood that the mount is the ancient temple rebuilt, the Quran is the true faith and the Muslims the true Children of Israel.”
The 10th-century Muslim historian Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Shams al-Din al-Muqaddasi wrote in his description of Syria and Palestine that “in Jerusalem is the oratory of David and his gate; here are the wonders of Solomon and his cities,” and that the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque “were laid by David.”
Likewise Nasir-i Khusraw, an 11th-century Persian travel writer, recorded in his description of the Haram that “Solomon — upon him be peace! — who, seeing that the rock was the Kiblah point, built a mosque round about the rock, whereby the rock stood in the midst of the mosque, which became the oratory of the people.”
“Rites imitating activities performed in the Jewish temple were held in and around the Dome of the Rock in the Ummayad period,” Avraham and Reuven wrote. “Performers of those rituals purified themselves, changed clothes, burned incense, anointed the stone with oil, opened and closed drapes and lit oil lamps.”
“In effect, the Muslims saw themselves as the ones continuing the biblical tradition of the temple,” Avraham explained; they considered themselves the “new Jews.”
In that vein, the Muslims built the third temple in the 7th century in the form of the Dome of the Rock.
For several centuries, until the fall of Jerusalem to crusading Christians in 1099, Muslims associated the Haram al-Sharif with the former temples, Andreas Kaplony wrote. After Jerusalem was conquered in 637, “their plan is to rebuild as a Muslim mosque the destroyed Temple,” he explained.
“Muslim traditions identify the Haram again and again with the Temple of David and Solomon, from where the Ark of the Covenant and God’s Presence had been removed, where the Children of Israel killed John, the son of Zechariah (the biblical prophet Zechariah), and Nebuchadnezzar in revenge slaughtered them,” Kaplony wrote in a chapter of “Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade.”
“With the sanctuary destroyed and transformed into the city’s garbage dumps by Helena, mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, when she built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but recognized and cleaned by Umar; and with the Furthest Mosque visited by Muhammad on his Night Journey. To cut a long story short, this is the Former Temple rebuilt, the Qur’an is the true Torah, and the Muslims are the true People of Israel,” he wrote.
Despite the fact that Muslim texts and historians associated the Temple Mount with the two ancient Jewish temples that stood there, since the foundation of the State of Israel that narrative has been expunged from the Palestinian narrative.
A guide to the Haram al-Sharif, the Arabic term for the Temple Mount, published by the Islamic Waqf in 1925 informed visitors that the fact that the Dome of the Rock was built atop the site of Solomon’s Temple was “beyond dispute.”
Even as late as 1951, historian — and then-Palestinian mayor of East Jerusalem — Aref el-Aref’s history of the Dome of the Rock stated unequivocally that “the ruins of Solomon’s Temple are under al-Aqsa” and that Umar built a mosque atop the former building’s site. But by 1965, “A Brief Guide to the Dome of the Rock and Haram al-Sharif,” published by the Supreme Awqaf Council, completely avoided mentioning the ancient Jewish temples.
Amid clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police on the Temple Mount last October, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, the Muslim cleric in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, said that there was never a Jewish temple atop the Temple Mount, and that the site has been home to a mosque “since the creation of the world.”
Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein told Channel 2 that the site, considered the third-holiest in Islam and the holiest to Jews, was a mosque “3,000 years ago, and 30,000 years ago” and has been “since the creation of the world.”
“This is the Al-Aqsa Mosque that Adam, peace be upon him, or during his time, the angels built,” the mufti said.