Where Heav­en and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade

Oleg Grabar and Ben­jamin Z. Kedar, eds.
  • Review
By – October 3, 2011

The south­east­ern cor­ner of Jerusalem’s walled Old City known as The Esplanade is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial pieces of real estate on the plan­et, con­tin­u­ing to arouse pas­sions among Jews, Chris­tians, and Moslems as it has for centuries. 

Now the edi­tors of this ambi­tious vol­ume are pre­sent­ing these joint­ly con­verg­ing and con­flict­ing points of view with the per­son­al views of Men­achem Magi­dor, Pres­i­dent of Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty, Sari Nus­seibeh, Pres­i­dent of Al-Quds Uni­ver­si­ty, and Car­lo Maria Car­di­nal Mar­ti­ni at the École Biblique et Archéologique, Jerusalem. The edi­tors, fur­ther tak­ing pains not to stir up unnec­es­sary con­tro­ver­sies or but­tress any ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tions, allowed each to use his pre­ferred name for this dis­put­ed his­tor­i­cal site, be it The Tem­ple Mount or al-Haram al Sharif. 

The the­mat­ic chap­ters — The Haram al Sharif As a Work of Art,” The Tem­ple Mount in Jew­ish Thought,” Chris­t­ian Mem­o­ries and Visions of Jerusalem in Jew­ish and Islam­ic Con­text” — all give sub­stance to the var­ied per­cep­tions that form the sub­text in the dif­fer­ing reli­gious strands.

In the Epi­logue the author reminds us that his­toric mon­u­ments do not remain sta­t­ic. They are liv­ing spaces that under­go trans­for­ma­tions, some through nat­ur­al inter­ven­tion some man induced and bru­tal. The edi­tors explain that no one term can indef­i­nite­ly delin­eate the space,” as there can only be a suc­ces­sion of atti­tudes, shapes, myths, sym­bols and prac­tices from the web of his­to­ry.” Yet some­thing may well have defined it as an inven­tion as a sanc­tu­ary at the time of the Hebrew monarchy…From then, until now it was a space in which earth­bound man fought or sought to find the divine.” This is why, they explain, they have enti­tled this rich­ly anno­tat­ed, well-con­ceived vol­ume Where Heav­en and Earth Meet. Draw­ings and pho­tos, glos­sary, timeline.

Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

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