Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Boy’s Discovery Rebuts Temple Mount Revisionism

Palestinians deny Jewish roots at the holy site, but a newly unearthed artifact confirms historical truths.


A 10-year-old Russian boy, Matvei Tcepliaev, recently made an extraordinary discovery in Jerusalem. Working as a volunteer in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, he found a 3,000-year-old seal—engraved limestone about the size of a thimble, with a hole at one end so it could be hung from a string—from the time of King David.

The artifact was nestled in the hundreds of tons of earth and rock that had been illegally excavated from below the Temple Mount in the late 1990s by the Muslim Waqf, a trust that retains authority over the contested site. The Temple Mount is sacred ground for Jews, Muslims and Christians, but Jewish historical claims are denied by many Muslims.

The sifting project in Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem, started in 2005 and has uncovered several historically significant objects, but the seal may be the most important. Dating from the era of King David’s conquest of Jerusalem and the building of the Jewish First Temple by his son and successor, Solomon, the seal confirms the ancient Jewish presence in Jerusalem—more than a millennium before the Muslim Dome of the Rock was built above the ruins of the ancient temples.

If it is ironic that the Muslim excavation, undertaken to build an underground mosque, ultimately confirmed Jews’ historical claims, it is no less ironic than the fact that the Waqf came to rule the site at Israel’s instigation.

Following Israel’s extraordinary victory over its Arab foes in the Six-Day War in June 1967, which included capturing the entire city of Jerusalem, Israeli Col. Motta Gur proclaimed: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Joyous Israeli soldiers gathered at the Western Wall below and sang Hatikva, the national anthem. Shlomo Goren, a brigadier general and future chief rabbi of Israel, exultantly blew his shofar.
But Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had other ideas about Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount. A secular Israeli, he relied on a rabbinical consensus that Jews were forbidden to set foot on the Mount lest they risk desecrating the unknown site of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Jewish temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant.

After declaring that “we have reunited the city, the capital of Israel, never to part it again,” Dayan met with Muslim leaders inside the Dome of the Rock. An agreement was reached: The Waqf ban on Jews visiting the Temple Mount would be ended—even if many preferred to continue to observe the rabbinical prohibition—but Jews wouldn’t be allowed to pray there.

Shakespeare, not the Bible or Quran, proclaimed: “What’s past is prologue.” Dayan’s concession prepared the way for conflict on the Temple Mount that continues today. The Palestinians’ Second Intifada erupted in September 2000 after Likud leader Ariel Sharonvisited the Temple Mount—not to pray but to assert the legitimacy of a Jewish presence at the most ancient Jewish holy site. He was widely castigated for asserting a historical truth.

A similarly tragic scenario is now unfolding in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel, as Palestinians attack Jews with bullets, knives and rocks. Although Secretary of State John Kerry absurdly attributed the bloody rampage to Palestinians’ frustration with Israeli settlement-building, informed observers note that the outbreak of violence has been stoked by false rumors that Israel is on the verge of rewriting the Temple Mount rules, including allowing Jews to pray there.

This may or may not be a prelude to a third intifada. What is clear is that for years the Muslim Waqf has continued to oversee excavations below the surface of the Temple Mount, with callous disregard for what archaeologists could learn about the Mount’s Jewish history in antiquity.

That policy is of a piece with Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud Abbas’s dismissal of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. “Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet,” Mr. Abbas told activists at an Oct. 14 meeting in his Ramallah office, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Not that Jews ever doubted their religious roots at Temple Mount, but now they have a 10-year-old boy to thank for providing them with a three-millennia-old artifact that refutes modern propaganda designed to rewrite history. Just as the seal was used long ago as evidence of authority, so today it puts a stamp of approval on Jewish claims to their history at the holiest site in Jerusalem.

Mr. Auerbach is a professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.