Encased behind heavy glass, a five-foot menorah lampstand made of 24 karat gold stands in a courtyard overlooking the Western Wall and the site of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. The lampstand is ready for use in a theoretical Third Temple on a part of the Temple Mount (or “Noble Sanctuary”) where Dome of the Rock shrine now stands.
The First Temple, built by Solomon, was destroyed by Babylonian armies in 586BC. Ezra and other returned exiles built the Second Temple a few generations later, and Herod the Great fabulously enhanced the structure at the time of Jesus. That magnificent temple lay in ruins after the fall of Jerusalem to Roman legions at the end of the Jewish Revolt (AD 66–70).
Both temples had a seven-branch lampstand crafted from pure gold: “The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work . . . and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it” (Exod. 25:31-32).
Armies of Babylon carried First Temple lampstands into captivity (Jer. 52:19), but those possibly came back to Jerusalem when Jewish exiles returned (Ezra 1:7–11). Roman soldiers took the Second Temple menorah to Italy. The ancient Arch of Titus in Rome today still depicts that lampstand being displayed in triumphal procession.
The modern menorah at Jerusalem is beautiful—and troubling. Muslims treasure Dome of the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount (or “Noble Sanctuary”) because it covers exposed bedrock from which Muhammed ascended to heaven. That same rock probably was within the temples of Solomon and Ezra. Building a Third Temple likely would involve destroying Dome of the Rock shrine, one of the holiest sites of Islam.
I am fascinated by utensils for the temple that modern craftsmen build to Torah specifications. But as a follower of the light of the world, I cannot support any project that would destroy the holy site of another faith. Nor do I accept the belief of some Christians that the Jerusalem temple must be rebuilt before Christ can return.
When Jesus was at Jacob’s well and discussed the importance of worship location, he said, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23, 24). Light that Jesus brings includes respect for people of other cultures and religions. True worship includes justice.
© 2016 J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************