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Where would a Third Temple be Built?

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The idea of a rebuilt Jewish Temple is based upon a consistent, literal interpretation of Scripture.
For example, passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2:4 demand a rebuilt Temple, because it is prophesied that Antichrist will take his seat “in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” Since this prophecy has not been fulfilled, it demands the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. The controversy with regard to the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple is a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially as events relate to the city of Jerusalem. Israel gained recognition as a nation in 1948, and even captured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967, but the Israeli government made the detrimental move of allowing the Arabs to retain the Temple Mount. Although the goal of the concession was to encourage peace with the Arabs, this has not been the experience.
Now that the Arabs have control over the Temple Mount, they consider any effort of the Israelis to rebuild their Temple as an act of war against the Islamic faith. The ultimate goal of Islam is to bring the world into complete subjugation to Allah, and then rule the world according to Sharia, or Islamic law. Despite the Middle East peace talks, the military aggression (“holy war”) of Islam will not allow the Jews to rebuild their Temple, since this would be the culminating act of Israeli sovereignty. If the Israelis were to rebuild on the Temple Mount, then, the Arabs would have to admit that the religion of Allah had failed, since the “infidels” were able to demonstrate their sovereignty over the Jewish land and people.

History of the Controversy

Islam invaded the land of Israel in 638 AD. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount have been under the influence of Islam since that time. Both Jews and Muslims claim spiritual precedence over the Temple Mount. Islam refuses to allow Israel to rebuild their Temple, since such an act would demonstrate Israeli sovereignty, and would make it impossible for Muslims to gain control over all the land of Israel.
Islam claimed sacredness over the Temple Mount due to its closeness to Damascus, which was one of the early capitals of the Islamic Empire. Another reason why Islam made a special claim over the Temple Mount, was due to its importance to both Judaism and Christianity. Since Muslims considered Islam to be the final revelation of the two faiths, there were obvious motivations for identifying Islamic beliefs with the Temple Mount. One of the problems for Israel is that the Koran teaches that if Muslims ever occupied a land in the past, then jihad (holy war) must recover it; therefore, the potential for enduring peace in the Middle East is remote.
Not all Jews are interested in seeing the Temple rebuilt. The conservative and reformed Jews do not believe that a rebuilt Temple is necessary, since they would regard the nation as having evolved beyond such archaic institutions. However, there are some Jewish people who believe that there is a fundamental and sequential relationship between the physical return of the people to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the Temple. Some regard the rebuilding of the Temple as a central aspect of being Jewish, and a unifying energy among the people. The hope among some Jewish people today is said to have been in the hearts of the Jews since the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
If there is to be a rebuilt Temple, all scholars agree that it must be built somewhere on the Temple Mount, but one of the most controversial questions today is to find the exact location of the original Temple. Although archaeological research is forbidden on the Temple Mount, there have been widespread excavations along the external boundaries of the area. As a result of those excavations, three possibilities have been offered as the location of the Temple area. The three sites that have received the most attention as possible locations of the Temple are: the northern site, the southern site, and the traditional site.

The Southern Location

Father Bellarmino Bagatti, a Franciscan scholar, published Recherches sur le Site du Temple de Jerusalem in 1979. The publication was the result of Baggati’s research of works of antiquity and personal excavations. Bagatti’s contention was that the Temple must have been located at a southern location, someplace between the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Bagatti’s conclusions were not original, but his research was supported by novel thoughts and new information.
First, he argued that the ancient documents suggested that the topography of the Temple Mount was at a lower elevation than at the supposed highest point, the Dome of the Rock. Furthermore, Bagatti asserted that the original boundary was located further south than its present location; he believed that either the Romans or Arabs had reduced the current boundary line. Second, Bagatti’s measurements of the southern Herodian wall led him to conclude that a junction within the wall was south of the Eastern Gate, which would be excluded from the area of the Temple. Third, he referred to an account of a Jewish pilgrimage in AD 438 to indicate that prayers were given at the Huldah Gate, which was located at the southern location. Fourth, he argued that the Dome of the Rock served no basis for determining the original Temple location.
Additionally, Bagatti argued that the location of many underground reservoirs so near to the Al Aqsa Mosque demonstrated a southern location for the Temple. He also found architectural layouts of Hadrian’s temple complex, which was in the proximity of the Temple, to be located nearby the Al Aqsa Mosque. Although Bagatti’s work did introduce new research in Temple studies, the identification of the southern site for the location of the Temple is not free of errors. For instance, Bagatti’s interpretation of the AD 438 pilgrimage did not take into account the fact that due to ceremonial impurity, the Jews would not have approached the site of the Temple. Since the site was desecrated, the Jews would not have prayed at the location of the Temple, either. The most inaccurate assumption of Bagatti is not regarding the Dome of the Rock as a basis for determining the location of the Temple. Another misleading statement is with regard to the underground reservoirs, since they were also located in the proximity of the Dome of the Rock. It is for these reasons that the southern site is the least likely location of the Temple.

The Northern Location

In the late 1970s, Dr. Asher Kaufman proposed that the Temple was located at the northeastern corner of the Temple Mount. Kaufman’s research of some structural remnants on the Temple Mount caused him to believe that a small Muslim cupola (“Dome of the Spirits”) was originally the northwest corner of the Temple of Priests. The east-west line paralleled the Eastern Gate and Temple with the Mount of Olives. The line also bisected the Muslim cupola, which Kaufman believed was the location of the Holy of Holies. According to Kaufman, this point would have been the highest elevation on the Temple Mount, and therefore, would indicate a northern location of the Temple.
Coupled with an unusual interpretation of Revelation 11:2, some Bible teachers have been fond of using Kaufman’s research to argue that the Temple could be rebuilt today without the Dome of the Rock being destroyed. In Revelation 11:2, the Apostle John was instructed, “the court which is without the temple leave out” in the measurements of a rebuilt, future Temple, “for it is given unto the Gentiles.” Since Kaufman believed that the “Dome of the Spirits” is the location of the Holy of Holies, the Dome of the Rock would not be included in the measurements of the rebuilt Temple since it is within the outer court area.
The problem with interpreting Revelation 11:2 to allow the existence of the Dome of the Rock in the outer court of the rebuilt Temple, is that the very existence of the Muslim holy place defiles the Temple Mount. The organizations that are interested in rebuilding the Temple are quite dogmatic that both the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque must be destroyed before the Temple is rebuilt. Therefore, “the court which is without the temple” does not allow the existence of the Dome of the Rock, but may be a possible reference to God’s hindrance of the rebuilt Temple being destroyed when the “holy city” is “tread under foot forty and two months” by the Gentiles (Rev 11:2).
Although Kaufman’s research is remarkable, there are reasons to discount its validity as the location of the Temple. One such rejection is a rather noteworthy topographical problem. If the “Dome of the Spirits” were the true location of the Holy of Holies, it would require the entire Temple to be constructed in an area beyond the northern valley of the Temple Mount, which is impossible due to the tremendous depth of the valley below the site. Furthermore, there is a moat in the northern area that would result in half the Temple being constructed therein. Kaufman was aware of these topographical problems, but he still believed that there is evidence for the massive structural foundation that the northern location would demand. However, even if he could produce such evidence, the northern location would still be objected to based on Jewish tradition and the fact that the existence of Islamic holy sites defiles the Temple Mount.

The Traditional Location

The traditional view, and majority opinion among religious Jews today, is that the current site of the Dome of the Rock is the location of the Temple. Whereas Jewish religious leaders are emphatic that the Muslim holy sites must be destroyed to build the next Temple, there is disagreement as to whether the Altar of Sacrifice or Holy of Holies would have been located on the Rock. If the Rock were the location of the Holy of Holies, then the Temple would be built somewhat to the east to provide proper space in the back of the Temple. However, if the Rock were the location of the Altar of Sacrifice, then the Holy of Holies would be located to the west. Although there is not agreement on whether the Altar or Holy of Holies was located on the Rock, there is unison agreement that the Dome of the Rock is the location of the Temple.
Religious Jews agree as to the location for the rebuilt Temple, and since the Dome of the Rock is identified as the site, this raises questions as to what will occur in the future for the Islamic shrine. There is the option of moving the Muslim shrines, but according to Islamic law this would not be possible since the Arab conviction is that holy sites can never be surrendered and control transferred into the hands of infidels. Technically, as a result of the Six-Day War, the Temple Mount is in the control of Israel. However, as a consequence of political and religious issues, the Jews have delayed rebuilding the Temple. There is the possibility that climatic changes could occur in the Middle East, which would allow Israel to exercise control over the Temple Mount. The Antichrist may very well be the individual that institutes radical transformation in the Arab-Israeli conflict. His resolution to the conflict would certainly be cause for the world to worship him. In having a greater understanding of the conflict, it is incumbent upon us to “pray for the peace of Jerusulem” (Ps 122:6). Of course, the only enduring peace for Israel is the return of Messiah, and for the nation to “look on Him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10).
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