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Temple Mount in Jerusalem remains potential flash point

JERUSALEM (BP)–While the collapse of an interior wall at the Temple Mount sparked fears of violence in Jerusalem this fall, tensions remained high in other parts of the historic city and the Holy Land over the ongoing strife between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli military.

However, two Southern Baptist seminary professors say the tense situation at the sacred site continues to have major implications for world peace and Christ’s second coming.

International news organizations reported that a section of wall that is part of the Islamic Museum collapsed in late September, leaving a gaping hole of dirt measuring about 120 square feet.

The hole is visible from the Western Wall plaza, according to Forward, a Jewish newspaper based in New York.

“In the minds of some critics, a major catastrophe that could damage the Islamic holy sites is bound to occur, for which Muslims would blame Israel,” the newspaper reported Oct. 10. “The repercussions could be deadly, with riots across the Muslim world, a wave of violence in Europe or even a full-blown Arab-Israeli war.”

The damage follows a report in August 2002 of a bulge in another wall at the Temple Mount blamed on excavations related to a third mosque being built in the area. Conservationists have warned the entire structure is in danger of collapsing.

“That could be an indication of what is to come,” said Steve Andrews, professor of Old Testament and archeology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. “The collapse of that wall indicates a further collapse of the structure.

“Christians need to be concerned. This is the Temple Mount where Jesus Himself worshiped in the temple. Baptists recognize it as a special place, so we ought to respect it. We need to watch [the situation] because it also has a great part to play in the prophecies of God and the second coming of Christ.”

Samuel Shahid, professor of Islamic studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the Temple Mount has long been a source of contention between Muslims and Jews.

As the location of the Dome of the Rock mosque, Muslims regard it as one of their holiest sites. According to the Koran, Mohammed’s horse touched down there the night the founder of the Islamic religion is said to have ascended to heaven, Shahid said.

Jews venerate it as the location of the temple built by Solomon and a second built by Zerubbabel and later expanded by King Herod.

Orthodox Jews think God will miraculously destroy the mosques by earthquakes or other means, leading to the building of a third temple, Shahid said.

“Some Christians believe as soon as the temple is built, that’s a sign that the second coming is soon,” Shahid said. “For Christians who interpret [biblical] prophecies in a certain way, they believe the temple is definitely going to be built and there is no force or power that is going to prevent that.”

Located in the heart of the historic city, the Temple Mount has been at the center of controversy for more than three years.

A visit in September 2000 by Likud Party leader (and now Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon sparked a riot. The clash came between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops who fired tear gas and bullets into the crowd. At the time, Cable News Network reported other clashes erupted in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

After that, the Temple Mount remained off-limits to all non-Muslims. But in early September Jerusalem police began allowing Jewish and Christian tourists back onto the site, according to a report by the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Jerusalem police spokesman Gil Kleiman told CBN the city is holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims, but called it “unacceptable” that certain areas don’t have access to other religions.

“Christians and Muslims can go to Jewish sites, Muslims and Jews can go to Christian sites, but Christians and Jews can’t go to Muslim sites,” Kleiman said. “We felt that was wrong and what we’ve done is we changed it.”

There has been one attempt by the United States to forestall further excavations in the area. The Temple Mount Preservation Act was introduced by Rep. Eric Cantor, R.-Va., two years ago. However, H.R. 2566 — which would bar aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops excavations there — has languished in the House of Representatives’ international relations committee.

A press spokesman for Cantor said while the congressman still hopes to see it passed, last January he left the committee to join the Ways and Means Committee. The delay has partly been caused by a number of competing ideas about the Mideast peace process, the spokesman added.

However, Shahid wonders if any attempts to cut funding will succeed because of what he sees as fading U.S. influence in the region.

Shahid referred to the border dividing Israel and the West Bank, where he said construction of a fence has continued despite a U.S. threat to cut off aid.

“If it’s a matter of money, they [the Palestinians] can get money from Saudi Arabia or other oil-producing nations,” Shahid said. “Israel didn’t care; they continued to build the fence. That’s an indication the U.S. is losing credibility among both sides.”

Whether or not the United States can exert any influence on the Temple Mount situation, Shahid said it and the rest of the region continues to be a potential powder keg. He said that holds true despite the lack of a major outcry after the latest collapse.

“Every time you think there may be a chance of peace, the next day you hear about something happening,” the Islamic studies expert said. “There are people on both sides who are peace-loving and want to come to an agreement, but there are radicals who think there is no compromise.”

Andrews, commenting on the potential for violence at the Temple Mount, said, “I would be concerned to see if God is moving in this case, but I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions.” Nor does Andrews advise rushing to interpret the latest news as unfolding evidence of prophecies in Revelation and other biblical sources.

“I hope calmer heads will prevail and we can pray for the peace of Jerusalem and we can preserve traditional archeological sites,” the Midwestern professor said. “I would like to see archeological sites preserved for us and for future generations.

“We have to say we don’t know,” Andrews said of predictions about the future. “But we have to be prayerfully watchful. We need to continue to watch and pray, and pray for the second coming of Christ.”

Shahid also is wary of trying to forecast events based on what happens at the Temple Mount.

While saying he believes in the Bible “from A to Z,” Shahid noted the multiple, conflicting interpretations of end-times prophecies.

“This will be done according to God’s interpretation rather than human interpretation,” Shahid said. “How, when and what is going to happen, I don’t know. My main concern is to fulfill the Great Commission. If Jesus comes when I’m still alive, I must be ready. If He comes after I die, I must be ready.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CALM DESPITE THE COLLAPSE.

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  • Ken Walker