Any viewer of CNN or Fox can’t help but be familiar with the location known simply as the Temple Mount. Unlike most addresses it requires no city or country name to further identify it. Therefore it is quite striking to read a book on this topic, which never explicitly mentions the current conflict over this sacred precinct. The word explicit is necessary, because for Eliav, reality is never simply reality, but a construction built of words, memories and perspectives.
The book actually ends its survey before the Muslim conquest, and so its boundaries are the Jewish Temples and later Roman and Byzantine structures. In his book, Eliav uses numerous analytic tools, from archaeology to deconstructionism, to reenvision the site through the eyes of the Christian Fathers and the Rabbis. In fact, a key argument is the suggestion that the very term Har Ha- Bayit—which is the source for the English phrase — is actually a First Temple/Biblical expression recaptured across the millennia by the Rabbis of the early Common Era to endow the ruined platform with a holiness of its own. Heady stuff.
A scholarly work, and closely argued, the book does offer new ideas. Most interestingly, Eliav proposes a convincing plan for Aelia Capitolina, Hadrian’s judenrein reconstruction of the ruined Jerusalem. However, his intensely scholastic focus obscures his vision in two important ways. First, it occasionally forces him to make more of an insight than is warranted by its importance. The fact that the later Rabbis may have changed some early baraitot to refer to the Temple Mount, instead of the Temple, may be explained simply by the fact of the Temple’s contemporary absence, not by a new way of looking at the site.
Second, the prejudices of the academy find a way to slip in. Eliav finds it compelling to state with little argument that Hadrian didn’t necessarily desecrate Jerusalem or exile Jews, or that later Christian theology didn’t need to call attention to the destruction of the Jewish Temple by neglecting the site. And it strikes this reader as strange to read of the “Christian Quarter” of Jerusalem, followed by references to the “so-called Jewish Quarter.” Sadly, the conflict over the Temple Mount continues. Illustrations, maps.
Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a little and talks quite a bit. He is a media executive and expert in digital media.