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Was the Dome on the Rock originally built for the Jews?

Is the Dome of the Rock supposed to be a Jewish prayer site? Image: Chadica | Foter | CC BY

Is the Dome of the Rock supposed to be a Jewish prayer site? Image: Chadica | Foter | CC BY

The Dome of the Rock has dominated the Jerusalem landscape for centuries. The Muslims use the Dome, built on the Temple mount between 689 – 691 AD, as a mosque. However, at the time of its construction, it was actually patterned off Byzantine churches in the area and evidence suggests it was originally intended as a Jewish building, not a Muslim one.

The Dome, which is maintained by the Jordan government, is probably the most recognizable building in Jerusalem. Though Muslims allow limited visits to the Dome, they do not allow any type of religious expression to take place, other than Islam. As a result,  Jews have taken to praying at the wall.

In recent months, the Dome has been the site of Muslim violence against the Jews. Most recently a Palestinian drove his van into a group of Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount, killing one. There was also an assassination attempt on Jewish Rabbi Yehuda Glick who has been calling for more Jewish access at the site.  A Palestinian gunman shot Glick in the chest on October 29, 2014. Though Glick survived, the Palestinian responsible for the attack was later killed by police in a shoot out.

Located in old Jerusalem, the Temple Mount on which the Dome sits was the site of the Jewish temple the Romans destroyed in 70 AD.

Some Muslims believe the Dome marks the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is also believed to be the place where the angel Gabriel took Muhammad to pray with Jesus, Abraham and Moses. It is the Muslim equivalent of the Mount of transfiguration recorded in the Bible (Matthew 17:1-9) where Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah.

But Muslims are not unanimous on this. Others believe Muhammad ascended to heaven at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also located on the Temple Mount, but at its outer edge — outside what would have been the Jewish Temple’s original walls.

In contrast, the Dome is at the center of the Jewish Temple area.

Yes, there are two Muslim buildings on the Temple mount.

The question remains why would Muslims build two religious buildings basically side-by-side. The obvious answer is they wouldn’t and they didn’t.

In his book, The Temple Mount, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren says Al-Aqsa Mosque was built for the Muslims and faces towards Mecca as Muslim buildings traditionally do. The Dome on the Rock does not do that and Goren says that was because it was constructed as a prayer room for the Jews and actually served as that until around the 1700s.

In his article on Arutz Sheva (an Israeli news site), Hillel Fendel discusses Goren’s theory. Fendel cites the earliest quote on the Dome’s construction from 635 BC by Theophanes, a Byzantine historian. The quote which discusses the preparation of the area for construction clearly shows the Dome’s original intent was Jewish.

Theophanes wrote:

“In this year [635 C.E.], Omar began to restore the Temple at Jerusalem, for the building, in truth, no longer then stood firmly founded, but had fallen to ruin. Now when Omar inquired the cause, the Jews answered saying, ‘Unless thou throw down the Cross, which stands on the Mt. of Olives, the building of the Temple will never be firmly founded.’ Thereupon Omar threw down the Cross at that place, in order that the building (of the Temple) might be made firm…”

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