Christian voices wanted

By Nathan Jeffay, December 17, 2010
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The Western Wall is not, and never has been, Jewish. So says the western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Last month, the Palestinian Ministry of Information published an Arabic-language document on its website supposedly proving that Jewish attachment to the Western Wall is a new phenomenon, that the site is owned by a Muslim family, and that it is actually part of the Al-Aksa Mosque.

Denial of the Wall's Jewish heritage by PA leaders is part of a broader undermining of Jerusalem's Jewish history. The Wall is the last remnant of the complex of the Second Temple. Ever since Yasser Arafat insisted during the 2000 Camp David Summit that the Temple had never existed, it has become commonplace for PA leaders to echo this.

In releasing its new document, however, the PA for the first time employed purportedly "scientific" research to promote the so-called Temple denial. Its report claims to be based upon proper academic research and the author has significant clout. He is Al-Mutawakel Taha, the PA's Deputy Minister of Information and also a popular poet. He has headed the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Scholars for two stints totalling 15 years, and is a respected intellectual.

The latest PA Temple denial cites 'scientific' research

The furious response of Israel and numerous Jewish organisations around the world is well-founded. Apart from the disingenuous nature of the claims made, there are quite enough obstacles on the road to peace, and Palestinians ramping up denial of Jewish history can only hold back the process.

Israel asked America to condemn the document which it duly did. State Department spokesman P J Crowley told journalists that the US deems the claims "factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative". Shortly after this declaration, the document was removed from the PA's website - only to resurface later on the portal of its news agency Wafa.

But why is it only Israel and its allies in the Jewish world and the White House who are speaking out on this?

In virtually every discussion about Jerusalem, the same mantra is heard - it is a holy city to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is clear that Temple denial is a reflection of contemporary political struggles over Jerusalem in which attempts are being made to erase the most important element of the city's Jewish history. Less than 100 years ago, the Supreme Muslim Council included in a guidebook to Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary - the Muslim name for Temple Mount - that "its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute".

Yet Temple denial also erases Jerusalem's Christian history. Large parts of the New Testament narrative focus on Jesus's activities around the Jerusalem Temple, which he is said to have called "My Father's house." It was there that he supposedly sat without his parents studying for days as a 12-year-old boy, and later overturned the tables of moneychangers and taught his followers. The Book of Acts indicates that the formation of the Church actually began in the Temple, where Jesus's followers met in the period after his death.

Denying the Temple's existence is not simply a rejection of Christian dogma; it is to claim that the very world in which the New Testament is set and in which Christian history is anchored never existed. This is a far bigger affront on Christian tradition than denying such doctrinal details as the Virgin Birth or Resurrection. Rejecting such details makes you a heretic in Christian eyes, but Temple denial renders the whole setting of the New Testament as artificial as the elaborate world created by J R R Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.

Much is said about the shared "Judeo-Christian" heritage - a lot of it based on tenuous connections between the faiths. But the Jerusalem Temple is a central part of our shared heritage, and Temple denial is a way of wiping both faiths' histories from Jerusalem in one fell swoop. It transforms Jerusalem, the city of three religions in to the city of just one - Islam. Why should Jews fight it alone?

Christian leaders worldwide, including the Pope, who visited the Western Wall last year, and Christian Palestinians, should condemn the PA's recent Western Wall document and the Temple denial phenomenon of which it is part. They owe this not just to their Jewish brethren; they owe it to themselves.

Nathan Jeffay is a Israel-based journalist and has a masters degree in Christian theology

    Last updated: 11:04am, December 17 2010