“For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it as a home. Here shall I rest for evermore, here shall I make my home as I have wished.” (Psalm 132:13-14)
This section seeks to elucidate the status of the earthly Jerusalem in the plan of divine redemption, according to the Holy Scriptures.
For Christianity, the earthly Jerusalem is merely a symbol of past events, as recounted in the OT and the NT, and only the heavenly Jerusalem is relevant for the process of redemption of mankind. For Judaism, however, the union of both cities (the heavenly and the earthly) is a sine qua non condition for the salvation of Israel and of mankind. The difference in this conception subject constitutes an important part of the “dividing wall” (Eph 2:14), which must be toppled through the intermediary of the theological dialogue.
An approach will be presented here, whose objective is to lead both parties to overcome the differences and to share a one and only theological conception on the city of Jerusalem.
In previous works, I endeavored to overcome exclusionary conceptions of both parties, both of possessing the status of G-d’s only people (Verus Israel) and of claiming to possess the only way of salvation for Israel (both Jewish and Christian) and of the world. Here, however, no other alternative exists other than to substantiate the Jewish “version” of the eschatological Jerusalem.
In any case, the approach is placed at the service of the theological dialogue and, therefore, it is open to change, if this type of dialogue produces parameters of understanding that require conceptual transformations.
Jews and Christians share the idea of the heavenly Jerusalem and, in different periods of the history of the Church, they also shared like conceptions on the earthly Jerusalem. An example of this can be found in the Church Fathers who belonged to the Quilianus current, Justin and Irenaeus, among the most well-known. While Christianity (or at least the Catholic Church) cannot but recognize the reality of the earthly Jerusalem, both destroyed and rebuilt, it does not see in it an entity of theological value and, consequently, of eschatological value, unlike the Jews, who consider that the earthly Jerusalem plays a central role in the redemption of Israel and of mankind, and also of both when they are already redeemed.
The current Christian (or at least Catholic) doctrine has two sources of justification: one from the Scriptures, in Gal 4:21-31, and the other doctrinal, based on the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine (the heavenly Jerusalem).
The allegory of Gal 4:26 says that the mother of the believers is the Jerusalem “that is above”, the heavenly and spiritual Jerusalem, as if the Jews who are under the Law of Moses did not have the same heavenly mother, something that is greatly emphasized in Kabbalistic literature.
The reference to the city of Jerusalem (both heavenly and earthly) includes the Temple within it. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes the following:
“What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” St. Augustine, Sermon 267:4. “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members” (Pius XII, “Mystici Corporis” DS 3808). The Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16, cf. 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21). [My emphasis].
More clearly, we find identification of the Church with the heavenly Jerusalem in the following statement:
The Church, further, which is called ‘that Jerusalem which is above’ […].
The Church is “the Temple of the living God”, in that the heavenly Jerusalem is a spiritual entity in itself and constitutes G-d’s dwelling. However, this conception is contrary to the divine will, which seeks the construction of a physical and material dwelling on Earth (for instance: Ex 25:8-9; 1 Kgs 6:1-2; 1 Chr 17:12), like the Tabernacle in the desert (Ex 25:8-9) and the Temple in the earthly Jerusalem, more exactly.
From the Jewish viewpoint, the heavenly Jerusalem can only radiate and penetrate the entire world (places and persons) from the union with the earthly Jerusalem and from the earthly Jerusalem.
In truth there is a source in Jewish tradition that contains a conception similar to the Christian one. However in this case, as in other areas, what is already a reality for Christianity is only a potential for Judaism. This document states:
We have not yet reached the total harmony (shlemut) so that each particular individual attains the level of being the Tabernacle (mishkan) – this is based on Jer 7:4 -, because we have not yet driven out the “evil inclination” […] Because the Tabernacle in itself can only exist through the existence of the individual Tabernacle when the light of the Torah finds a dwelling in all the spaces of our heart (“levavenu”, i.e., in the part where the good inclination is and the part where the evil inclination was in the heart). […] Thus the Jerusalem below is directed towards the Jerusalem which is above or the heavenly Jerusalem.
Yet there is a fundamental difference, since in the Jewish sources cited the Tabernacle that should exist in the heart of each individual is a condition for the existence of the Tabernacle in the midst of the people, in the desert, or of the Temple of the earthly Jerusalem, when Israel is already in its Land. For Christianity however, this correlation does not exist between the individual and spiritual “heart-temple” and the earthly Temple.
It should also be asked whether the OT’s promises to the patriarchs on the inheritance of the Promised Land for the people of Israel are no longer valid. Are these promises transferred, according to Christian doctrine, to a purely spiritual or heavenly Church and land? It should not be forgotten that, as declared by Paul in Rom 11:29, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Furthermore:
[…] For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Rom 9:3-5). [My emphasis].
Without analyzing the different gifts of G-d to Paul’s brothers of his own race, i.e. the Jews, the OT is filled with the promises to Israel on the not heavenly but earthly promised land (cf. Gen 17:7-11; 26:2-5; 27:27-29; 28:3-4; 13-15; 35:12; etc.), and on the restoration (or reconstruction) of Jerusalem and of the Temple within it (Acts 1:6). How is it then possible to uphold the thesis of a purely spiritual existence “disincarnated” from its material or earthly counterpart? The spirituality of an entity in this world consists in the preeminence of the spirit over the matter or over the body containing it. It is impossible to speak of the heavenly Jerusalem “incarnated in the Church”, and through it in the believers, separated from the earthly Jerusalem. While the earthly Jerusalem, separated from its spiritual counterpart, could have been considered a dead city (without spirit), after over two millennia signs are appearing of the beginning of a process of resurrection or restoration (Acts 1:6), i.e. it is already possible to begin to see the descent of a spirit of new life to this city.
Any light or spirit comes from a focus or a source. In heaven, where all reality is spiritual, the light comes from that infinite and inaccessible Being; however in this world which is also material, light will radiate from the earthly Jerusalem when the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to it and, from it. Did the Church perhaps not come from Jerusalem to preach, i.e. to be a light to the entire world? Why does the Church consider the present earthly Jerusalem to be irrelevant? Can the light perhaps continue to illuminate when the focus (which is earthly or physical) is extinguished or when the “source” is disconnected?
The eschatological relevance of the earthly Jerusalem is clear in Isaiah’s prophecy on the end of time:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Is 2:1-3) (Cf. Mi 4:1-3). [My emphasis].
Is this prophecy perhaps not significant for the doctrine of the heavenly Jerusalem?
A Pontifical Bible Commission document states the following about Jerusalem:
In the meantime, Jerusalem continues to play an important role. In the Lukan theology, it is at the center of salvation history; it is there that Christ dies and is raised. Everything converges on this center: the Gospel begins (Lk 1:5-25) and ends (24:52-52) there. Then everything begins from there: it is from there that, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the good news of salvation is spread to the four corners of the inhabited world (Acts 8-28). As regards Paul, although his apostolate did not begin from Jerusalem (Gal 1:17), he considers communion with the Jerusalem Church to be indispensable (2:1-2). Elsewhere, he declares that the mother of Christians is “the Jerusalem above” (4:26). The city becomes the symbol of eschatological fulfillment both in future (Apoc. 21:2-3, 9-11) and in present dimension (Heb 12:22). Thus, aided by a symbolic intensification already well attested in the Old Testament itself, the Church will always recognize the bonds that intimately unite it to the history of Jerusalem and its Temple, as well as to the prayer and cult of the Jewish people. [My emphasis].
If, according to the Pontifical Biblical Commission everything begins from the earthly Jerusalem, including “the good news of salvation” which “is spread to the four corners of the inhabited world” (Acts 8-28), how is it possible to remove this condition of the earthly Jerusalem and make it into a symbol of an antiquated splendor? This is also a conscious or unconscious expression of the doctrine of substitution.
With this statement, we realize that the Catholic Church remains steadfast in its doctrinal position as regards the earthly Jerusalem (of the Jews), that this city is important only as a symbol of the true Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem, and that only for this reason does it continue to “play an important role”. Thus the only bonds that link it to the earthly Jerusalem are the history of this city and its Temple, as well as “the prayer and the Temple worship of the Jewish people”.
Yet in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 2:36-38) there is a positive eschatological appraisal of the earthly Jerusalem: the prophecy of Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher, an eighty-four-year-old widow, when she saw the Baby Jesus:
[…] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” [My emphasis].
This hope of redemption refers to the Jerusalem that was subject to the domination of the Roman Empire. Luke refers here to redemption of the earthly Jerusalem and not of any heavenly Jerusalem.
I shall now analyze what Lucas reveals on Jerusalem:
When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Until now it is a fulfilled prophecy, from here it is still to be fulfilled: “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the turmoil of the ocean and its waves (Is 13:10; Ez 32 Jl 2:31; Apoc. 6:12-13); men fainting away with terror and fear at what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Lk 21:20-22) [My emphasis].
It must be clear that the condition of servitude of the earthly Jerusalem is temporary, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” At this time the city returns to the sovereignty of its legitimate owners, the house of Judah, which is the current situation. This means that, once the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled, not only will it no longer be trampled on (trod underfoot), but the restoration process will begin, as part of the restoration of the kingdom to the people of Israel. This is implicit in the question posed to Jesus by the disciples, already quoted, from Acts 1:6-7: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He (Jesus) said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
Again, Jesus teaches that we are in the presence of a process of restoration and not of replacement or of overrating of one element of the redemption to the detriment of another, as in the case of the theological disqualification of the earthly Jerusalem and the overrating of the heavenly Jerusalem. If this conception is correct, then the preaching of restoration is erroneous, and this would be theologically inconceivable. Before dilemmas of this type, we must reconsider the doctrinal conception and not the biblical text, which cannot be interpreted in this case in any other way. Restoration means to repair (or mend) something that was broken or destroyed. To attempt to transfer the source of the radiation of the divine light to the world to another entity, whether earthly or heavenly, is not restoration and therefore it is a doctrine opposed to the biblical text (Acts 1:6).
Further, at the present historic time, there is no way of not seeing the beginning of the fulfillment of the OT prophecies and those of the NT as they appear in Lk 21:20-24. Obviously, the period of the domination of Jerusalem by the Gentiles has terminated and the sovereignty has returned to Israel, not only of Jerusalem but of the entire Land of Israel, up to the Jordan River and, clearly, the desolation of this city (Lk 21:20) and of this Land is over. Today Jerusalem, capital of the State of Israel, is (for the first time in its 2381 years) a modern, thriving and constantly developing city.
While it is impossible for an impartial observer not to see a process of the restoration of Jerusalem “trampled on by the Gentiles” during 2381 years and of the Land of Israel in general, it must also be taken into account that the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem is a necessary, but insufficient condition for the redemption. Other events must also occur, such as the union of the house of Judah and the house of Israel, already mentioned, i.e. the union or reunion of the separated parts of the people of Israel in the promised land, and the separation of the “sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-46) and “the wheat from the weeds” (Mt 13:24-30).
From another’s perspective, it is very important to consider Cardinal Ratzinger’s conception on the relation of body and spirit at the time of the resurrection of the dead. The current Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2007:
The Council of Toledo of the year 675 declared: “[…] The true resurrection of all the departed will take place after the example of our Head. Not in an ethereal or in any of the widely different flesh, as some assert in their foolishness, will we rise again but, as our faith teaches, in the self-same flesh in which we live, exist and move.”
He further states:
Fifth century Gaul also bequeathed us the Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua which laid down rules for an examination of faith prior to the consecration of a new bishop. The candidate must be asked “whether he believed in the resurrection of the flesh in which we now live, and of no other.”
Finally, let us say: there is no way of imagining the new world. Nor do we have any class of concrete statements that help us to imagine in any way how man will relate to matter in the New World and how the “risen body” will be. We do, however, have the certainty that the dynamics of the cosmos leads to a goal, to a situation in which matter and spirit will intertwine mutually in a new and definitive way. This certainty continues to be also today, and precisely today, the concrete content of the belief in the resurrection of the flesh. [My emphasis].
One last quote to clarify Cardinal Ratzinger’s conception on the relation between body and spirit, or, for our case, between spirit and matter or rather between heavenly and earthly entities or between above and below:
[…] The main certainty had to be maintained that the existence with Christ was not destroyed in death and that this existence would not be full until the arrival of the final “resurrection of the flesh”. [My emphasis].
When the text speaks of the resurrection of the flesh, it refers to the flesh that died and not to another new or different one; otherwise it would be impossible to speak of resurrection.
If the “dynamics of the cosmos” lead to a new union of matter and spirit “in which matter and spirit will intertwine mutually in a new and definitive way” and if “we believe that not in an ethereal or in any of the widely different flesh, as some assert in their foolishness, will we rise again but, as our faith teaches, in the self-same flesh in which we live, exist and move”, this refers to every type of resurrection, whether individual, collective, or of the people. Consequently, the Jerusalem which is below cannot be separated from the Jerusalem which is above. The descent of the heavenly Jerusalem cannot occur in any other part than on the earthly Jerusalem, i.e. “in the self-same flesh”, and from there its light will shine on the entire world and, why not, also on the entire universe.
To these, as already noted, the historic reality is added, which shows that the process of restoration (or resurrection) of the Jerusalem which is below has already begun. This being the case, this is no longer a question of belief in the future for those who wish to believe, but rather a developing reality for those who wish to see.
I will now analyze the “allegory of Sarah and Hagar”, which is one of the main sources used by the Church to empty the earthly Jerusalem doctrinally of any role in the history of the redemption and eschatology.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband. Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Gal 4:22-31) [My emphasis].
Before going any further, let us bring order to this passage.
1) When Paul wrote this Epistle, around the year 56, “the present Jerusalem and its children”, i.e. the Jews, who are under the Covenant of Sinai, the Law of Moses, were in a situation of servitude and “slavery”, like Hagar, figuratively speaking, under the domination of the Roman Empire.
2) It is not the Law of Sinai that makes them slaves, but the Roman domination. The Jews, as part of the people of Israel, were freed with the rest of the people of Israel, by G-d himself, from the slavery and idolatry of Egypt; this freedom is confirmed with the receiving of the Law of Moses at Sinai.
It must be taken into account that the current process of return of the Jews to the Promised Land and to the Jerusalem “below” is being carried out with the Jews who continue under the Covenant of Sinai which, according to Pope John Paul II, “was never revoked”. Hence we conclude also that this part of the people of Israel does not need to enter into any new covenant to fulfill its mission. Moreover, if it had gone over to a new covenant, would it have fulfilled its mission?
Furthermore, did the birth or consolidation of the people of Israel at Sinai occur naturally? Were the people of Israel not liberated from Egypt according to the promise? The Book of Deuteronomy states:
See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them. (Dt 1:8; cf. Dt 30:1-20)
I also maintain, on the basis of the Pauline text, that the Jews of the earthly Jerusalem are really children of the promise, and the persecution of these “children of the promise” was by the Roman Empire. This situation of domination of Jerusalem had begun with the Babylonian Empire, which conquered the city and destroyed the First Temple in the year 586 BCE, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Years after Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians, the Roman administration destroyed the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple (the Second Temple), and expelled its Jewish inhabitants (70 CE).
Idolatry, it must be said, is a form of slavery (for instance, the slavery of the people of Israel in Egypt consisted in the fall into idolatry and not only in the forced labor). Therefore, Paul here is inverting the category of those who are slaves: the reference here is not to the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem subjected to the Roman domination, but to the Romans who are subject to the idolatrous slavery and who must be expelled from Jerusalem. Certainly, the children of the Roman idolatrous slavery will not inherit with the children of the free woman: the Jews and the Galatians converted to the monotheistic faith are like Isaac, children of the promise, i.e. children of the free woman, real and not figurative children.
From another viewpoint, when Paul writes this passage of the Epistle to the Galatians, he refers specifically to the “present” (and not to the “earthly”) Jerusalem, which was subject to the domination of the Roman Empire and is figuratively, like Hagar, “mother of slaves”. Paul does not say that the earthly Jerusalem is a slave, as if it were a characteristic or inherent and perpetual condition, but quite the contrary: the “present” Jerusalem (of his time) is a slave of the Roman Empire, and this slavery would last under the different empires “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk 21:24) and then it will be free. Therefore there is no contradiction between Gal 4:25 and Lk 21:24. When Paul speaks of the present Jerusalem, he is referring to a temporary historic situation and not to a “permanent theological status”. If he had wished to express such a situation he would have used the term “Jerusalem which is below” or “earthly Jerusalem”, which is the term extensively used in Judaism, to differentiate it from the “Jerusalem which is above” or “heavenly Jerusalem”. For this reason it is impossible to make an antinomian comparison between the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem, but only a circumstantial and temporary comparison. Certainly Paul was acquainted with the prophecies in Jewish tradition on the two Jerusalems, and, therefore, the preaching of the Jewish sacred texts and probably those of the NT, like the prophecy cited in Lk 21:24.
What must be emphasized is that in this allegory the slavery of Jerusalem is due to the domination of the Roman Empire and is temporary, and it is not due to the Law of Moses. In fact, does not G-d called the people of Israel that received the Law at Sinai “Israel, my firstborn son” (Ex 4:22)? Is the receiving of the Law (Torah) at Sinai perhaps a natural event? Indeed, Christianity calls this event Theophany.
However, not only the Jews (the house of Judah) are children of the promise, but also, I insist, the house of Israel, together with the Gentiles who join it. I have already also explained that Paul preaches to the Gentiles and to the house of Israel a way of salvation differing from that of the house of Judah (the Jews).
It is very difficult to understand this allegory within the Pauline conception if we give it exclusively an ethical content, in the sense that it is good to be redeemed by the belief in Jesus Christ and it is bad to be redeemed, as slaves, obeying the law and without need to believe in Jesus’ redeeming mission.
In this context, it should be remembered that Zechariah prophesies on the pilgrimage of the nations to the earthly Jerusalem, when the Kingdom is restored to Israel (Acts 1:6):
Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles (Booths). If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles (Booths). This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. (Zec 14:16-19). [My emphasis]
The prophecy of Hosea (6:1-2) applied to the restoration of Jerusalem
I consider it relevant to analyze the Hosea’s prophecy from the perspective of the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem. It should be recalled that according to Jewish tradition the Torah (the Pentateuch) and, by extension, the entire OT, has “seventy faces” i.e. seventy ways or aspects of interpretation. Therefore, Hosea’s prophecy can also apply to the subject of Jerusalem, and adds a further parameter to the two prophecies previously analyzed, Lk 21:20-24 and Gal 4:22-31. The prophet writes:
Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. (Hos 6:1-2) [My emphasis]
To complete the reflection, we should recall the affirmation in Psalm 90:
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4) (Cf. 2 Pt 3:8).
This being the case, it could be thought that if one day of G-d equals 1000 human years, G-d will revive the city of Jerusalem after two days, i.e. after two thousand human years, starting from the third millennium. According to this, Jerusalem was trampled on (it will be recalled that this is the figurative term used by Luke 21:20-24 to express a situation of domination and submission foreign to the city) by the Gentiles for 2381 years, i.e. since the year 586 BCE, when it was conquered by the Babylonian Empire; the First Temple was destroyed there, and then it passed to the domination of the subsequent empires, until its liberation in the “Six-Day War”, in 1967 (year in which the sovereignty was recovered over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount by part of the people of Israel, by the Jews), as already explained. Today, the “times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24) over this city have been completed and its “revival”, i.e. its restoration, on the third day has begun.
If Hosea’s prophecy is clearly being fulfilled, it should be taken into account that, for the third day which we are currently living, the prophet (6:2) distinguishes two stages: the first when “after two days he will revive us (or give us life)”, and the second, when “on the third day” he will restore us so that we live in the presence of G-d.
I repeat, earthly Jerusalem was subjected for over two millennia to foreign domination, but, in fulfillment of the declarations of both Testaments, this situation has come to an end. Clearly the first stage of the prophecy has been fulfilled, although the second stage is still in progress.
It should be noted that Hosea’s prophecy is supported by Daniel’s vision (8:8-14):
The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land.
It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.
It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down.
Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?
He said to me, It will take two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.
As already seen above, these “evenings and mornings”, i.e. days, are in reality years. Therefore, this vision of Daniel coincides with Hosea’s prophecy that Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles, after 2000 years.
While Daniel’s vision confirms Hosea’s prophecy (6:1-2), it cannot be a simple repetition of it. Besides complementing Hosea, Daniel adds an extremely important dimension. In this vision Daniel is referring to the heavenly sanctuary and by extension to the heavenly Jerusalem and to the host of the heavens, and not of the earth. In Hosea, it is the earthly Jerusalem that is trampled and Daniel refers to the sanctuary-Jerusalem and heavenly host that are trampled.
The number of years deduced from the prophecies (the vision is a form of prophecy: Maimonides) is 2300, which is a minimum number, i.e., after this period the prophesied event can occur. In Hosea his prophecy was fulfilled after 2381 years, i.e. 381 years after the minimum date prophesied, while according to Daniel’s vision only 81 years have elapsed since the date given by his vision.
In the historic reality in which we are living currently, while the earthly Jerusalem is no longer trampled by the Gentiles and has passed to the sovereignty of the house of Judah, the earthly sanctuary has not yet been reconstructed and the earthly host and supposedly also the heavenly host are still fighting against their earthly and heavenly enemies.
I consider that this topic cannot be closed without consideration of the prophecy of the Book of the Apocalypse.
“Then I was given a long cane like a measuring rod, and I was told, ‘Get up and measure God’s temple, and the altar, and the people who worship there; Exclude the outer court and do not measure it, because it has been handed over to gentiles – they will trample on the holy city for forty-two months.” And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth (Apoc. 11:1-4) [My emphasis].
Forty-two months or three years and six months; this temporal division recalls the division of the book of Daniel 7:25 and 12:7:
He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time. (Dn 7:25) [My emphasis].
Both this division of time and that of the Apocalypse 11:2 have negative connotations and are harbingers of disasters and sufferings. However, in Daniel 12:6-9, we read a divine response which opens the possibility of a less alarming future, taking into account that the misfortunes and tribulations of the Holocaust have already occurred:
One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time; When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.” (Dn 12:6-9)
Here two observations are called for: the first is that the exact time of the final redemption is hidden. This is also noted in the Acts of the Apostles:
He (Jesus) said to them (the disciples): “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. (Acts 1:7) [My emphasis]
It must also be clarified that the hiding of the moment of the final restoration of the kingdom to Israel can be extended to Jesus himself, since this date is only by the Father’s authority. (Acts 1:7)
The second observation is based on the Jewish tradition that the positive prophecies will be completely fulfilled. The negative prophecies, however, could be suspended. For instance, according to an interpretation of the Alshich, of blessed memory, author of Torat Moshe on the Torah (the Pentateuch), on the passage in Numbers 23:19-22, he writes:
[…] Reply of the prophet Jeremiah to Hananiah son of Azzur, who prophesied on peace (Shalom): “The prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true”, since the Holy One Blessed Be He Only repents of his evil decrees for the people (as prophesied by Jeremiah), but never of his good decrees.” Explanation: if the evil or negative prophecies are not fulfilled, it is not proof that the prophet (like Jeremiah) is not a true prophet, since G-d may repent of his evil decrees (Vayenachem al hara). However, if the good prophecies are not fulfilled, it is a proof that they were made by a false prophet, since G-d does not repent of his good decrees and these must be fulfilled inexorably.
Political theology or theological politics
In an excellent article called “Jerusalem en el cristianismo antiguo y medieval de occidente” Edoardo Arborio Mella, of the Bose Community of Jerusalem, describes the theological vicissitudes in relation to the “earthly” Jerusalem, as compared with the “heavenly” Jerusalem in Christian theology.
I will cite some passages from this work below.
Here attention should be paid in particular to a passage from the Epistle to the Galatians 4:21-31, in which the apostle, naming the sons of Abraham, states that the son of the slave woman, i.e. Ishmael, is an important figure of the Hebrew people, while the son of the free woman, namely Isaac, is an important figure of those who believe in Christ. There is a (…) reason (…) why this Pauline passage is important in our context: it culminates in a Jerusalem theology. Indeed, in verses 25-26, Paul opposes the present, historic and geographical Jerusalem, which lives in the slavery of Judaism, to the true Jerusalem, which for the believers in Christ can only be heavenly, which is the free Jerusalem. This comparison, or more frequently a deliberate theological disinterest in the city of stone, became classic in all subsequent Western Christian literature.
The paragraph is extremely clear. However, the author explains:
[…] In early Christian literature, in truth, this was not generalized. The ancient theological current, which has not yet been called into doubt but rather has been reinforced thanks to some great names of the nascent theology, gives real, not symbolical, importance to biblical geography.
Apart from this ancient theology, which was suspended soon after having been circulated by the Church and which, on the other hand, places the value of Jerusalem in the distant future after the return of Christ, there is practically no place for earthly Jerusalem in Christian thought.
The author also refers to the theological importance of the Temple and of the city of Jerusalem in its entirety, during the period of the Crusades. However, this work will not go into these aspects. Finally, Arborio Mella concludes:
This renewed importance of Jerusalem was short-lived. Perhaps, it could not have lasted long either, just as the belief in the millennium of the early Christian era did not last long. Other historical and theological realities carried weight, now as in previous centuries and, after the fall of the Crusader kingdom, centuries of the renewed Moslem domination again made the city a theological place to be remembered ceaselessly, seeking to make it mysteriously present in daily life, or rather like a geographical place of Christian redemption to be visited devoutly. For true reflection on earthly Jerusalem to recommence, a new political trauma was necessary: the creation of the State of Israel. When the Jews could express in visible relations the unique value that they attributed to Jerusalem, the Christians felt contested and responded firstly in political terms (from the Vatican project for Jerusalem as an international city to the challenging of the third millennium celebrations of the city), then in theological terms with a reflection that is certainly barely at its beginning. The day will come when the bipolarity which I have attempted to show here will converge in a synthesis, but in this operation tradition can never be evaded.” [My emphasis].
I believe that I have succeeded in explaining, in some way, within the limits of this small work, the “symbiotic” relationship between the Jerusalem “that is above” and the Jerusalem “that is below” a subject about which there should not be different concepts or conceptions between Judaism and Christianity.
The Transfiguration on the Holy Mount
The object of this section is to determine, based on the information given in the New Testament, the site of the Transfiguration, since the versions of this event vary from one tradition to another.
Aharon Liron, an expert on Christian holy sites, in his summary of this subject, writes:
The ancient tradition of the Orthodox Christians and the Catholics identifies Mount Tabor as the site of the Transfiguration […] Since in the three Synoptic Gospels the account of the Transfiguration appears immediately after the account of Christ’s meeting with his disciples in Caesaria Philippi (today Banias), at the foot of Mount Hermon, the Protestants and some Catholic scholars identify Mount Hermon as the site of the Transfiguration.
According to Liron, while an ancient tradition, based on a sequence in the account of the Synoptic Gospels, citing Mount Tabor as the site of Jesus’ Transfiguration, is widely accepted there is no absolute agreement in this respect, since there is another possibility other than that established by this tradition: Mt. Hermon.
Another source states:
The location of the Transfiguration fluctuated in the early Byzantine period. Eusebius (d. 340) hesitated between Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon, while the Bordeaux pilgrimage (333) placed it on the Mount of Olives. In 348, Cyril of Jerusalem decided on Mount Tabor, and the support of Epiphanius and Jerome firmly established this tradition.
Mount Tabor is not mentioned in the New Testament and there was speculation also about other possibilities, such as Mount Hermon or the Mount of Olives, east of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, until the fourth century. At this time it was determined that the event occurred on Mount Tabor.
This position was subsequently abandoned by the Protestants, who supported the hypothesis in favor of Mount Hermon, also supported by one sector of Catholic scholars.
I will propose here the premise in support of a third site, based not so much on geographic and literary arguments taken from the NT, but mainly on the theological perspective.
The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Mark merely indicate that the Transfiguration took place on a “high mountain”, without giving more details in this respect. Luke, however, states:
Now about eight days after this had been said, he (Jesus) took with him Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. (Lk 9:28)
In turn, when relating his experience of the act of the Transfiguration, the apostle Peter, in his second Epistle, writes:
[…] This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. We ourselves heard this voice from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain (Har HaKodesh) [cf. Mt 17:1-5; Mk 9:2-7; Lk 9:28-35]. (2 Pt 1: 17-18)
In this Epistle, Peter clarifies that the Transfiguration occurred “on the holy mountain” and, according to the Scriptures, this name corresponds exclusively to a mountain of Jerusalem and not of Galilee; more explicitly it refers to the Temple Mount, the Holy Mount, on which G-d was worshiped and on which G-d will again be worshiped.
For example, in the book of Isaiah, we read:
[…] It shall happen in that day, that a great trumpet shall be blown; and they shall come who were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and those who were outcasts in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Is 27:13)
Likewise, we find in the Book of Zechariah:
Thus says the Lord: “I have returned to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called ‘The City of Truth [in Hebrew, ir HaEmet],’ and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts, ‘The Holy Mountain.’ (Zech 8:3)
It should be noted that Peter attests that the Transfiguration occurred on the “holy mountain”, i.e., at the specific site known as such and not at a place which was sanctified because the phenomenon of the Transfiguration occurred there. Again, the only place called and known as “Holy Mountain” (Har Ha-Kodesh) is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
If the Transfiguration had occurred on a mountain other than the Temple Mount, Peter, a Jewish man, closely identified with Jewish tradition, would never have said that it took place “on the holy mountain”, without specifying the exact place to which he was referring. Or, from another perspective, if Peter had wished to innovate, referring to a new “holy mountain” that was not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, certainly he would have mentioned the name of the site, which he does not.
Since, for the Jews, the Holy Mountain and the Temple Mount are synonymous expressions and refer to the same place, it can be affirmed, all things considered, and without abstract speculations, that a Jew like Peter could not have conceived or spoken of the Holy Mountain, without giving more details, in the case of a place totally distinct from the Temple Mount.
The argument put forward by Catholics and the Orthodox to identify the site of the Transfiguration with Mount Tabor, and used by the Protestants and some Catholic scholars to determine that it was Mount Hermon, is based on one hand on the fact that the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration appears immediately after the account of his meeting with his disciples in Caesaria Philippi and, on the other, on the proximity of these mountains to the said locality. Nonetheless, the time that elapsed between the Gospel account – prior to the Transfiguration in the Synoptic Gospels – and this last event should be taken into account: according to Matthew (17:1-5) and Mark (9:2-7), at least six days elapse from the last account in which Jesus meets with his disciples in Caesaria Philippi; according to Luke (9:28-35), eight days elapse. Whatever the case, the Evangelists highlight the fact that Jesus and his disciples have sufficient time to go to Jerusalem, from Caesaria Philippi.
In a recent Vatican document on the reading of the Jewish Sacred Scriptures, published by the Pontifical Bible Commission, the vital importance of the Jewish interpretation of the OT for understanding of the NT is emphasized:
The document is divided into three chapters. The first, fundamental, states that the NT recognizes the authority of the OT as divine revelation and cannot be understood without the close relationship with it and with the Jewish tradition that transmitted it. [My emphasis].
Bearing this document in mind, the accounts of Matthew and Mark that the Transfiguration took place on a “high mountain” do not contradict the Jewish tradition that maintains that this phenomenon occurred on the Temple Mount, rather they reinforce it. Rashi (11th century), one of the great pillars of Jewish tradition, interpreting the term marom harim (the highest of the mountains), appearing in 2 Kings 19:23 and in Is 37:24, teaches that this concept refers, exclusively, to the Temple Mount.
Until here, we can affirm that the arguments for identifying the site of the Transfiguration with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are stronger than those accepted until now, relating to Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon, in the Galilee.
I will now consider, according to the Synoptic Gospels, the sequence of events following the Transfiguration (Mt 17:2-13; Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36), in order to ascertain Jesus’ location at that time. This fact assumes great relevance, since it could weaken or strengthen the thesis that the Transfiguration took place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Immediately after the Transfiguration, Jesus heals a demented boy (Mt 17:14-21); then Matthew says that when “they” (Jesus and his disciples) were “in Galilee” (Mt 17:22-24), Jesus announced the death and resurrection of the Son of Man on the third day, and subsequently he recounts that, when they arrived in Capernaum, those who collected the half-shekel came to Peter:
“When they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of man is going to be delivered into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised up again.’ And a great sadness came over them. When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel came to Peter [payment of the Temple tax (Ex. 30:13; 38:26)] […]. (Mt 17:22-24)
If Jesus really anticipates his death in the Galilee region, it is strange that Matthew does not specify the precise place of the announcement of such an important event, but does emphasize the exact place (Capernaum, in the Galilee region) where a rather trivial episode occurs, consisting in the collection of the half-shekel. On this point, I will endeavor to show that Matthew indeed states exactly the site of Christ’s announcement of his death and resurrection. To do so, I will attempt to prove that there exists another point in the geography of the Land of Israel whose name is Galilee, according to the NT on one hand, and a Christian tradition on the other.
According to the Gospel of Luke, the place where Christ healed the boy (demented, according to Matthew and demon-possessed, according to Luke) seems to be the same place where Jesus announced his death. This place, in turn, was near the place of the Transfiguration. Since I have already shown that the site of the Transfiguration is located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, then, the announcement of the Passion must have occurred near this mountain, according to Luke, and in a place called Galilee, in accordance with Matthew and Mark.
The question that can be asked in this case is: What could this site be? Luke, again, gives the key when he relates Christ’s ascent to Jerusalem:
Now it happened that on the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was traveling in the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten men suffering from a virulent skin-disease came to meet him. (Lk 17:11-12)
Since Galilee is to the north of Samaria and Jerusalem to the south, it is impossible to go first through Samaria and then through Galilee to finally arrive in Jerusalem. However, since the text cannot be erroneous and since Luke was well aware of what he was writing, it can be asserted that the Galilee in this account does not refer to the northern region of Israel. If we take into account the route taken by Jesus, according to Luke, the last place that he passed before approaching Jerusalem was Galilee and, more exactly, a village there, although the most probable could be that this village was called Galilee.
What Luke relates is that Jesus came to Jerusalem (from some place in the Galilee region, or most probably, from Caesaria Philippi), through Samaria and Galilee, and not by another route, for example, through Jericho and Galilee or through Jaffa, from the West.
The route of a traveler was indicated by villages or by names of roads (the “Via Maris”, for instance) and not by large geographical regions. The phrase “through Samaria and Galilee” is referring to the city of Samaria (Sebastia) and not to its homonym, i.e. the large geographical region.
What locality situated between the cities of Samaria and Jerusalem could be identified, fairly precisely, as Galilee? According to a Christian tradition, this Galilee constitutes a village located on the Mount of Olives. Thus, for instance, a Jerusalem Franciscan source notes:
How this place (on the Mount of Olives) came to be called Viri Galilaei is not easily determined. Apparently this place was originally called Galilee.
As noted above, in the year 333 the members of the Bordeaux pilgrimage located the mount of the Transfiguration in Galilee, on the Mount of Olives; after almost 1,700 years, they seem to be the closest to the reality. If we accept the thesis that the Transfiguration occurred on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jesus’ announcement of his death and resurrection could have been made, without any problem, on the Mount of Olives, in an area or village called Galilee, i.e., located opposite, very near to the place of the Transfiguration. Therefore, the Mount of Olives is not only the place of Christ’s Passion, but also that of his announcement of his death.
After making this announcement, Jesus and his disciples could have returned to Capernaum to await the appointed time and to make the preparations to go up to Jerusalem again. What must be taken into account is that Jesus went up to Jerusalem one more time in addition to what was supposed until now.
To sum up:
1) It was in the fourth century that Mount Tabor was definitively fixed as the place of the Transfiguration. Until this date, there was no consensus on the site of this event. Nor is there any consensus today.
2) According to Peter (2P 1:17-18), this phenomenon occurred on the Holy Mountain (Har HaKodesh).
3) For the Jews (including Jesus and his disciples), the only Holy Mountain (Har HaKodesh) that exists is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Har HaBayit).
4) Considering that the redactors of the NT do not specify another Holy Mountain for the purposes of the Transfiguration, there is no other alternative than to identify the Temple Mount as the place of the Transfiguration.
5) The argument that indicates that the account of the Transfiguration is an immediate continuation of the news that Jesus was with his disciples in Caesaria Philippi (Banias, today), near Mount Hermon, is irrelevant, since there was sufficient time to go up (or perhaps, make a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Matthew and Mark (Mt 17:1-5; Mk 9:2-7), six days elapse and, according to Luke (9:28), eight.
6) The evangelists Matthew (17:14-21) and Luke (17:11-12) refer to Galilee as a specific area on the Mount of Olives and not as the northern region of Israel.
The Temple Mount in Christian Eschatology. A New Perspective
The phenomenon of the Transfiguration described in the NT belongs to the past and, despite the new importance that must be granted to the site of this event, it would not transcend the limits of being a historic place, if the NT did not teach us that it will play its ancient role again in the future.
The Temple Mount was always, by definition, the site of the location of the Temple; to try and ascertain the role of this site at the end of days, in accordance with the NT, consists in trying to understand the position of this text in relation to a future reconstruction.
The Book of the Apocalypse, in relation to the heavenly Jerusalem, states:
I could not see any temple in the city since the Lord G-d Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple, And the city did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of God, and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it. (Apoc. 21:22-23)
According to this quotation, the “heavenly city” or “Jerusalem which is above”, has the Temple made up of the Lord himself and the Lamb.
Again, I repeat, it must always be borne in mind that the heavenly realities are all spiritual realities and, in no way, physical or material. Therefore, when we read in sacred texts about objects (for instance, the Throne of God) or forms and measurements, among other aspects, they must be understood as symbolic expressions.
Other passages of the text of the Apocalypse also attest to the existence of the heavenly temple:
That is why they are standing in front of G-d’s throne and serving him day and night in his Temple; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. (Apoc. 7:15)
In chapter 11 we find:
Then I was given a long cane like a measuring rod, and I was told, ‘Get up and measure God’s temple, and the altar, and the people who worship there; Exclude the outer court and do not measure it, because it has been handed over to gentiles – they will trample on the holy city for forty-two months.” […] Then the temple of G-d in heaven opened, and the Ark of the Covenant could be seen inside it […] (Apoc 11:1-2; 19)
Finally, in chapter 15 we read:
After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened […] (Apoc. 15:5-6)
It is clear, also, in the NT that the heavenly Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth and that this “settling” or descent will be effected, according to the conclusions of our analysis, in the area of the earthly Jerusalem:
In the spirit, he carried me to the top of a very high mountain, and showed me Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from G-d. (Apoc. 21:10)
A parallel is usually drawn between this quotation and the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, who says of the Temple of Jerusalem:
[…] God took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. (Ez 40:2)
However, there is no place for such a parallel, since the OT vision is that of the earthly Temple, like “a large city”, whereas the NT narrative, partly, refers to the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Thus, on one hand, the vision of the prophet Ezekiel speaks about the physical Temple in the “Jerusalem which is below” and, on the other, the Book of the Apocalypse refers to the heavenly Temple or the “Jerusalem which is above”. Yet a physical Temple, like that described by Ezekiel, would have no sense without its spiritual counterpart. The prophet Ezekiel also writes about the Divine Presence in his extensive description of the Temple:
He said to me, Son of man, this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. The house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name. (Ez 43:7).
What would be natural would be to understand that the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, according to Apocalypse 21:10, will occur on the Jerusalem which is below, as recounted in the OT in Ezekiel’s prophecy (43:7). However, this understanding is clouded by the Christian doctrine, which considers the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem to the Church (spiritual entity, in turn) and to the heart of the believers (a symbolic object and, why not, also spiritual) and in no way to the earthly Jerusalem.
Despite this doctrine, again, we can see how the accounts of both Testaments are complementary. This fact considerably increases the theological value that the Temple Mount should have for Christianity, since the NT emphasizes the importance of this site, not as the obsolete center of the Divine Presence in the world, but, on the contrary, confirming this place as the sole point of contact between the heavenly and earthly world. Therefore, the earthly Jerusalem should provide for Christianity a historical, theological and eschatological revaluation of this city and this Mount, in order to grant them their due transcendence in the process of redemption of mankind.