The entire Temple Precinct is called the Haram es-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) by Moslems. They claim that the site has been identified with Islam since the religion’s beginning. The Al-Aksa (also El-Aqsa or el-Aksa) mosque is especially important because it is to this place that the Prophet Mohammad came on his night journey.
Our first photo shows the exterior of the mosque. Instead of being built on bedrock like the Dome of the Rock, this building sits on the substructure built by Herod the Great beginning in about 20 B.C. The Royal Stoa of Herod’s temple ran across the southern section of the platform at that time.
Murphy-O’Connor describes the impression when one first enters the building.
The first impression on entering is of a forest of glacial marble columns (donated by Mussolini) and a garish painted ceiling (a gift of King Farouk); they belong to the last restoration (1938-42). Virtually nothing (except perhaps the general proportions) remains of the first mosque built by the caliph al-Walid (AD 709-15), and twice destroyed by earthquakes in the first 60 years of its existence. As restored by the caliph al-Mahdi in 780 it had fifteen aisles, but these were reduced to the present seven when the caliph az-Zahir rebuilt it after the earthquake of 1033. (The Holy Land, 4th ed., 94)
A special section of the Mosque is reserved for the Hashemite family of Jordan. Before the Six-Day war of 1967 their visits from Amman to Jerusalem must have been much more frequent. The Hashemite family claims descent from Mohammad, the name being derived from the name of the Prophet’s great-grandfather. The family is guardian of the Moslem holy places in Jerusalem.
Next, is a view looking west.
King Abdullah I was assassinated while entering the mosque in 1951. All of the sources I have read say this happened at the “entrance” to the mosque. Our guide moved aside a stack of books so we could see what he claimed was where one of the bullets lodged. I have placed the arrow to indicate the spot. This column is the first row as one enters the building. I have to leave the story there.
At the south end of the Mosque we were able to look down on the recently excavated steps that led to the Double Gate. This was one of the entrances to the Temple in the time of Jesus.
Below is our aerial photo of the Ophel excavations. The dome of the Al-Aksa Mosque is visible in the upper left. Notice the arrow-shaped shadow. Below the point we see what Benjamin Mazar called,
… a gigantic stairway which led from the Lower City (Ophel) to the [Hulda] gates. It is two hundred and fifteen feet wide; the foundation steps were cut into the natural bedrock on the slopes of the Temple Mount. The stairs were constructed of wide, trimmed and smoothed stone paving blocks, fitted together snugly. The stairway comprised thirty steps set alternately in wide and narrow rows. It ascended twenty-two feet to the upper road, also paved with large stones, immediately facing the Hulda Gates. South of it and below lay the wide plaza.” (The Mountain of the Lord, 1975, p. 143)
The window from which our previous photo was made can be seen in the wall, level with the top of the shadow arrow.
And, here is a closer view of the stairway. In this photo the window in the south wall of the Al-Aksa Mosque is visible at the top of the photo. At the time of Herod’s temple, worshipers ascended the steps, then entered through the double gates, taking more steps up to the Temple Mount platform.
There is good reason to believe that both Jesus and the Apostles used this entry to the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Acts 3:1).
It would take 10 years to visit and take in everything of historical significance in Jerusalem. Sadly, I was there for a day and a half. Some day I would really appreciate getting to listen to a cleric talk in a mosque like that.
Thanks to each of you for stimulating my study of this matter, and for providing helpful leads. I have elevated these comments to a new post.
Thank you for finding the reference, Joseph. To enter “towards the right” would be to enter the triple gates. The double gates are on the left.
I’ve wondered if there could be a way to enact such a ritual in churches as an unspoken way for someone to declare that they were mourning.
Mishnah Middot 1:3 states in part that “the two Huldah Gates in the south were used for entering and exiting.” Mishnah Middot 2:2 states in part that “All those entering the Temple Mount enter towards the right and circle and exit toward the left, except for one to whom something [adverse] occurred, for he would circle toward the left.” Circling toward the left would indicate to the others that he was a mourner or had been excommunicated.
Thank you for sharing the shots from within the Al-Aqsa Mosque! I’ve never had the opportunity to go in there. Very interesting!
One question: I was under the impression that the typical pilgrim in Jesus’ time would enter by the triple gates to the right (east) and exit by the double gates to which you draw attention. Do you know if this is correct?
I’m trying to locate the rabbinic reference, but I believe that people who entered by the double gates were mourning or grieving, and by walking up the steps through the double gates, others were made aware of their sorrow.