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From that day the bowlder on the top of Mount Moriah became the place of sacrifice—the great central shrine of the Jewish faith. David decided to build a temple there, and prepared for it abundantly, as became his high purpose. But because David had shed much blood, the Lord interfered and commanded him to turn the enterprise over to Solomon, “a man of rest.” “He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.”
In the light of thoughtful Bible reading, it is not easy to see that Solomon was much of an improvement over David, in the long-run, and one cannot but notice the fact that the promise to establish his throne over Israel forever was not long maintained. But perhaps the Lord did not foresee how Solomon was going to turn out; besides, forever is a long time, and the Kingdom of Solomon may still prevail.
Soloinon completed the ternple in a manner that made it celebrated, even to this day. The “oracle, or holy room, which held the Ark of the Covenant, was overlaid within with pure gold,” and the rest of the temple was in keeping with this dazzling chamber.
The temple was often pillaged during the troublous times that followed Solomon's reign, but it managed to stand till Nebuchadnezzar's conquest, four centuries later. It was twice rebuilt, the last time by Herod, on a scale of surpassing splendor. It was Herod's temple that Christ knew, and the work of beautifying and adding to it was going on during his entire lifetime. It was finished in 65 A.D., and five years later it went down in the general destruction, though Titus himself tried to preserve it.
Most of what exists to-day are the remains of Herod's temple. The vast court, or temple area, occupies about one-sixth of all Jerusalem, and of the genuineness of this site there is no question. In the centre of it, where once the house of David and Solomon stood, stands the Dome of the Rock-also called the Mosque of Omar, though it is not really a mosque, and was not built by Omar. It is, in fact, a marvellous jewelled casket — the most beautiful piece of architecture in the world, it has been called -built for no other purpose than to hold the old sacrificial stone of Melchizedek and Abraham-a landmark revered alike by Moslem, Christian, and Jew.
One is bound to feel impressed in the presence of that old bowlder, seamed and scarred by ages of sun and tempest; hacked for this purpose and that; gray with antiquity—the very corner-stone of three religions, upholding the traditions and the faith of four thousand years. There is nothing sham or tawdry about that. The building is splendid enough, but it is artistically beautiful, and the old rock itself-the genuine rock of ages-is as bare and rugged as when Isaac lay upon it bound, and the “chosen people" narrowly missed non-existence.
There is a railing around it; but you can look over or through as long as you like, and if one is of a reflective temperament he can look a long time. Among other things he will notice a number of small square holes, cut long ago to receive the ends of slender supports that upheld a royal canopy or screen, and he will see the conduits cut to carry off the blood of the sacrifice. To his mental vision these things will conjure pictures—a panorama of rites and ceremonialsof altar and incense, with all the splendid costume and blazonry of the Judean king. And, after these, sacrifices of another sort—the cry of battle and the clash of arms across this hoary relic, its conduits filled with a crimson tide that flowed without regard to ritual or priest.
Other pictures follow: the feast of the Passover, when Jerusalem was crowded with strangers, when the great outer court of the temple was filled with booths and pens of the sellers who offered sheep, goats, cattle, and even doves for the sacrifice; when the temple itself was crowded with throngs of eager worshippers who brought their sacrifices, with tithes to the priests, and were made clean.
Amid one such throng there is a boy of twelve years, who with His parents has come up to Jerusalem “after the custom of the feast.” We think of them as quiet, simple people, those three from Nazareth, jostled by the crowds a good deal, and looking rather wonderingly on the curious sights of that great yearly event. They would work their way into the temple, by-and-by, and they would come here to the Rock, and perhaps the sad, deep-seeing eyes of that boy of twelve would look down the years to a day when in this same city it would be His blood that would flow at the hands of men.
I hope He did not see that far. But we know that light for Him lay somewhat on the path ahead, for when the feast was over, and His parents had set out
for Nazareth, He lingered to mingle with the learned men, and He said to His parents when they came for Him, “Wist ye not that I must be about my father's business?” Among all those who thronged about this stone for a thousand years, somehow the gentle presence of that boy of twelve alone remains, unvanishing and clear.
And what a mass of legends have heaped themselves upon this old landmark!-a groundwork of Jewish tradition-a layer of Christian imagery—an ever-thickening crust of Moslem whim and fantasy. A few of them are perhaps worth repeating. The Talmud, for instance, is authority for the belief that the Rock covers the mouth of an abyss wherein the waters of the Flood may be heard roaring. Another belief of the Jews held it as the centre and one of the foundations of the world. Of Jesus it is said that He discovered upon the Rock the great and unspeakable name of God (Shem), and was thereby enabled to work his miracles.
But the Moslem soars into fairy-land when he comes in the neighborhood of this ancient relic. To him the Rock hangs suspended in mid-air, and would have followed Mohammed to heaven if the Angel Gabriel had not held fast to it. We saw the prints of Gabriel's fingers, which were about the size and formation of a two-inch auger. Another Moslem fancy is that the rock rests on a palm watered by a river of Paradise.
In the hollow beneath the Rock (probably an artificial grotto) there is believed to be a well, the Well of Souls, where spirits of the deceased assemble twice
a week to pray. They regard it as also the mouth of hell, which I don't think can be true, or the souls would not come there--not if they could help it—not as often as twice a week, I mean.
A print of Mohammed's head is also shown in the roof of the grotto, and I believe in that, because, being a tall man, when I raised up suddenly I made another just like it. But I am descending into trivialities, and the Rock is not trivial by any means. It has been there since the beginning, and it is likely to remain there until all religions are forgotten, and the world is dead, and all the stars are dark.
In front of the Dome of the Rock the sun was bright, and looking across the approach one gets a characteristic view of Jerusalem-its bubble-roofed houses and domes, its cypress and olive trees. I made a photograph of Laura, age fourteen, and a friend of hers, against that background, but they would have looked more “in the picture" in Syrian dress. I am not sure, however; some of our party have had themselves photographed in Syrian dress, which seemed to belong to most of them about as much as a baseball uniform might belong to a Bedouin—or a camel.
We crossed over to the ancient mosque El-Aksa, also within the temple area, but it was only mildly interesting after the Dome of the Rock. Still, there were things worth noting. There were the two pillars, for instance, which stand so close together that only slender people could squeeze between them. Yet in an earlier time every pilgrim had to try, and those who succeeded were certain of Paradise. This