The ancient citadel, the Tower of David, has protected Jerusalem for thousands of years. From the most beautiful observation point in Jerusalem, located at the top of the Citadel’s Phasael Tower, you can look into the secrets and ancient stories that have made this city holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each religion has its own ancient Jerusalem story and every story starts at exactly the same place. So, where did it all begin?
Jewish Origin Story
In order to return to the Jewish beginning, we turn back 5780 years from today, back to the time of creation. According to Jewish tradition, the beginning of creation was the Foundation Stone from which the entire world was created. The stone is located on the Temple Mount, inside the building known to us today as the Dome of the Rock; but when the world was created it wasn’t a mosque, church, or synagogue - it was void and without form. At the top of Mt. Moriah a small rock stood out, and from this stone, according to Jewish tradition, the world was created.
Another very important tradition in Judaism is the binding of Isaac. Abraham and Isaac made their way on a 3-day journey from Be’er Sheva to the land of Moriah, to Mt. Moriah. At the top of Mt. Moriah, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to prove his faith in God. He bound Isaac to a stone, and not just any stone, but to the same exact stone - the Foundation Stone. He raised his knife, and at the last minute an angel interfered and told Abraham, “Don’t lay your hand on the lad.” Isaac was saved and a ram, which was unfortunately roaming exactly in that area, was sacrificed instead of Isaac (by the way, this is the reason that on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur Jews sound the shofar - in order to remember this pivotal moment).
These two traditions are so basic in Jewish tradition that they form the basis for the Jewish people’s eternal connection to Jerusalem. When King David arrived in the city, he established his palace on the slope of the Temple Mount. Afterwards, King Solomon, King David’s son, built the First Temple on the Foundation Stone itself where the Dome of the Rock stands today. The First Temple was destroyed, and the Second Temple was built in the same exact spot. Herod renovated and expanded the existing building and created one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. In the year 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Temple and from then until today Jews say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” in relation to this exact spot.
Christian Origin Story
The most famous pilgrim in the world, Jesus of Nazareth, came to Jerusalem in 33 CE. He arrived from the Judean desert, climbed the Mount of Olives, looked over the Second Temple and prophesied the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, saying, “Not one stone will be left here upon another.” The Passion week that Jesus experienced ended in a building known to us today as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. During Jesus’s time, the building didn’t exist but there, in the open air, Jesus was brought to be crucified, buried, and according to Christian tradition, also rose from the dead.
The pinnacle of Christian tradition as recorded in the New Testament, happened in the alleyways of ancient Jerusalem.
Muslim Origin Story
Today, the central sites of the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque, are prominent and point to a significant story in the Muslim tradition. In Sura 17, the Koran tells of Muhammad’s Night Journey from the holy mosque in Mecca, the Kaaba, to the farthest mosque, al-Aqsa. The tradition tells that the journey happened on the back of a winged creature named al-Buraq allowing Muhammad to travel in one night from Mecca to the Temple Mount. On that same night Mohammed climbed the Western Wall, and arrived at the great courtyard, which had stood in ruin for 600 years since the destruction of the Second Temple; and he found in the courtyard one particular stone - the Foundation Stone. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad climbed on top of the rock and ascended into the 7th level of heaven. In heaven, Allah met Mohammed who gave him 50 daily prayers for himself and for his disciples. Mohammed bargained with Allah resulting in a lessening of the number, finally settling on the 5 daily prayers that, until today, are incumbent on every Muslim in every place in the world and connect them to Jerusalem.
So, each origin story happened in Jerusalem, but that isn’t all. To the east of the Old City is the Mount of Olives range and it serves as the reboot button, the restart, of the world. Each religion - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - stages its own story about the end of times on the Mount of Olives.
The End of Days according to Judaism
At the base of the Mount of Olives is an ancient Jewish cemetery containing more than 100,000 graves from different periods. When the Jewish messiah comes, the Mount of Olives will split in two, reminiscent of the splitting of the Reed Sea during the Exodus from Egypt; and then, according to Jewish tradition, the dead will rise from their graves and will walk straight to the Foundation Stone. When they arrive, the cycle of the first creation will close and a kind of second creation will occur, bringing a better reality to the world.
The End of Days according to Christianity
At the top of the Mount of Olives sits a church in the shape of a pencil, the Russian Church of the Ascension. According to Christian tradition, after Jesus rose from the dead in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he walked around for 40 days for his last days on earth. After he met his mother, the apostles, Mary Magdalene and others, he again climbed the Mount of Olives, and from there ascended into heaven, from the Church of the Ascension. According to Christian tradition, this is also the place where Jesus, the Messiah, will return to earth.
The End of Days according to Islam
On the top of the Mount of Olives there is a pinkish building with 7 arches. According to Muslim tradition, at the end of days, on the day of judgement, a very narrow bridge, no more than the width of a hair and supported by 7 arches, will stretch from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount. The righteous will successfully cross the bridge to the Temple Mount, to the place of the ascension of Muhammad into heaven, and the sinners will fall to their deaths enveloped in flames into the Kidron Valley.
When we look to the past, we see Jerusalem; when we look to the future, to the unknown, we also see Jerusalem. It’s no surprise that Jerusalem became holy to 3 religions. Jerusalem is a place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims from around the world tell stories about themselves. Jerusalem, therefore, is much more than a place; Jerusalem is an experience.
Watch this clip by Tour Guide Eli Ilan, taken from the observation point on top of Phasael Tower: