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The Crescent on the Temple

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Eventually the Even ha-Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone, became al-Sakhra, the Rock, in Arabic. For the Moslems, too, the Rock was the “last remaining vestige of the Holy of Holies in the ruined temple.”

Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah, opening page, northern Italy 1457-65. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah, opening page, northern Italy 1457-65.
Courtesy Sotheby’s

Dr. Berger relates that when the invading Moslem forces captured Jerusalem in 638 CE, their arrival was seen as a great deliverance for the Jews who were again allowed to walk freely into the city and to live and pray on the Temple Mount. The Moslems built a rudimentary mosque on the southern part of the Temple Mount – later to be called al-Aqsa. In 691/692 CE, a Moslem caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock, a wooden, octagonal shrine, and it is documented that the Jews became servants there; keeping the place clean, making glass vessels for the lights and kindling them (reminiscent of the rituals in ancient times). Even a synagogue may have existed on the esplanade.

Dr. Berger maintains that by the 9th century the Dome of the Rock had already merged with the ancient Temple in the popular imagination and from then on the Jewish Temple was seen in imagery as polygonal or circular covered by a dome; even though the Christians and Jews knew that the Bible had described the Temple as rectangular.  Evidentially the physical reality of the building in that place simply supplanted the ancient demolished historical reality.

When the Crusaders entered Jerusalem in 1099 CE, they wiped out nearly the entire Jewish population along with the Moslems.  They also identified the site of the Dome of the Rock as that of the Temple, calling it “Templum Domini” and the nearby al-Aksa mosque was associated with the Temple of Solomon. After Saladin expelled the Crusaders in 1187 CE, the Jews returned to Jerusalem.  The visual tradition remained the same in Byzantine, Western and Islamic Art with the circular, or polygonal domed building used as the image for the Temple.

The earliest surviving depiction of the Temple as the Dome of the Rock in Jewish art is in Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, Sefer Avodah (the eighth of the fourteen books), northern Italy, 1457-65. This manuscript, previously owned by Michael and Judy Steinhardt, New York, was recently bought jointly (Sotheby’s May 2013) by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, for approximately 5.5 million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a Judaic item!

Reflecting amicable Jewish/Islamic relations, 15th century Rabbi Meshullam ben Menachem of Volterra observes that on Tisha B’Av the servants at the Dome of the Rock made sure to extinguish the candles, exhibiting an affinity between the practices of Jews and Moslems. Dr. Berger observes that from the texts that Tisha B’Av was actually commemorated by Moslems too! The Jews did not suffer any type of persecution by the Moslems in this period.

By the mid 16th century, this polygonal domed image

Sefer Zevach Pesach, commentary on the Haggadah by Don Yitzhak Abravanel, with Temple in the image of the Dome of the Rock, as Hebrew book Printer’s mark. Giustiniani, Venice, 1545

Sefer Zevach Pesach, commentary on the Haggadah by Don Yitzhak Abravanel, with Temple in the image of the Dome of the Rock, as Hebrew book Printer’s mark. Giustiniani, Venice, 1545

appeared widely in Jewish books, especially as a Hebrew Printer’s mark, such as on Sha’ar Blette (title pages) in the books of Marco Antonio Giustiniani, Venice 1545-52. Though Giustiniani was a gentile, he worked for Jews, since the Jews of Venice were forbidden to own Hebrew presses at that time.

In Jewish art of the 16th century the Dome of the Rock symbolically stands for the Temple at the end of days, seen in the final page of the Venice Haggadah, 1609; showing the walled-Jerusalem with an octagonal domed Temple building and depicting the Messiah riding a donkey lead by the prophet Elijah towards the Gate of Jerusalem.  The 18th century Washington Megillat Esther (Library of Congress), continues this tradition with images of the Temple alluding to the Jews’ desire for redemption; showing dancers rejoicing and the Messiah at the End of Days approaching Jerusalem with the domed Temple building.

In descriptive views of Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock as the Temple was found in many different motifs including Shabbat tablecloths, ketubot, many textiles as well as Christian, Moslem and Jewish decorative maps, placing the holy sites around a centralized Jerusalem. A 19th century Italian textile shows the Dome of the Rock as the Temple in the triadic image of Midrash Shlomo, Beit HaMikdash and the Kotel MaaraviMidrash Shlomo was the name given to the Al-Aksa mosque as the site of Solomon’s Temple and is thus depicted next to the “Beit haMikdash“.

About the Author: Joy Schonberg is an art historian. Formerly head of the Judaica Dept. of Christie’s Int’l, she is presently an appraiser of fine arts, lecturer and President of Joy Schonberg Galleries a gallery dealing with Antique Judaica, paintings, silver artifacts, and archaeology. She can be reached at JoySchonberg@aol.com or at www.joyschonberg.com


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More Articles from Joy Schonberg
Schonberg-101113-Crescent

The Dome of the Rock, often represented with an Islamic crescent on top, became the image for the Temple in Jewish, Christian and Moslem art for over 500 years. How and why this historical anomaly persisted is the subject of a fascinating in-depth study of Jewish, Christian and Moslem imagery and its interpretation spanning more than 2,000 years of biblical & later history by Dr. Pamela Berger, professor of Medieval Art at Boston College, Boston, MA.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/the-crescent-on-the-temple/2013/10/11/

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