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Holy Land:
The State of Israel is a sacred site for people of many faiths
By CNN Interactive writer Richard Shumate
Sprawled out over rugged, limestone hills at the edge of a barren desert in a remote part of the world,
Jerusalem would not seem, in and of itself, to be a prize worth fighting over for thousands upon
thousands of years.
But the city has been and remains an object of perpetual tug-of-war between adherents of three of the
world's great religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Together, those religions have more than 3 billion adherents, holding sway over more than half of the
world's population. For each, Jerusalem and environs are an integral part of their faith's history and
And for those who believe, Jerusalem and the Holy Land hold a place in the heart and psyche that can,
and often does, eclipse reason.
The land is the ancient ancestral home of the Jewish people, as recounted in the most sacred Jewish
text, the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses.
The Torah teaches that the land was given by God to the Jews' patriarch, Abraham, and his
descendants as a birthright for his faithfulness. In 1000 B.C., David, the Jewish king, established
Jerusalem as his capital. His son, Solomon, built a temple in the city, for the faithful to worship and
make sacrifices.
Four centuries later, the Jews were conquered and forced into exile in
Babylon, their temple left in ruins. They were allowed to return in 538 B.C.
and built a second temple. But the Holy Land remained under non-Jewish
rule and eventually fell into the orbit of the Roman empire. After a series of
Jewish rebellions, the Romans again destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 A.D.
and forced them into exile.
Jews would not hold sway again in Palestine until the founding of modern
Israel in 1948. During nearly two thousand years of exile, persecution and
genocide, the land of Israel remained the home of their heart. For example,
the hopeful ending to the Seder -- the traditional meal of the Passover
celebration -- is "Next Year in Jerusalem."
It was during the Roman occupation of Palestine that Jesus was born to Jewish parents in Bethlehem
and raised in Nazareth. For Christians, he is the Son of God, the Messiah whose coming was
prophesied in Jewish scripture.
Jesus' ministry through various places throughout the Holy Land is chronicled in the four Gospels of
the Christian New Testament.
Charged with apostasy against the religious order of his day, Jesus was crucified near Jerusalem.
Christians believe he was resurrected from the dead three days later, and tradition holds that the tomb
was located where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is today, completing an atonement for the sins of
the world.
Though the Holy Land gave birth to Christianity and remains central to its
history, the faith went elsewhere, particularly Europe, to take root. Christians
are a minority religion in the Holy Land, and, compared to Jews and
Muslims, have ruled the area for a relatively short amount of time.
After the Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity in 313 A.D., the
Holy Land was subject to Christian rule for three centuries. But in the 7th
century, shortly after the death of Mohammed -- who established Islam and
whom Muslims believe was a prophet of Allah, their name for God -- Muslims conquered Jerusalem.
Except for short periods in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries when Crusaders from Europe
conquered parts of the Holy Land, Muslim forces held power in the area until the Turkish Ottoman
Empire disintegrated after World War I and the British took over administration.
Muslims, though last on the scene, exercised hegemony in the Holy Land for more than 14 centuries.
They, too, claim an inheritance through the patriarch Abraham, though through a different lineage.
And though the life and ministry of Mohammed was centered in the Arabian peninsula, Jerusalem
holds a particular religious significance for Muslims.
Muslim tradition holds that in 622 A.D., 10 years before his death, Mohammed took a journey from
Mecca to Jerusalem, where he then ascended through seven layers of heaven on a winged steed to
converse directly with Allah -- an event called the Miraj. Mohammed then returned to Earth to impart
heavenly wisdom to his followers.
Muslims erected the Qubbat Al-Sakhra, or Dome of the Rock, a shrine built
in 691 A.D., atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is the place from which
Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. It is considered the third
holiest site in Islam, after the Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.
At the base of Temple Mount is the Western Wall, the last remnant of the
Jews' second temple that was sacked by the Romans. It is the holiest site in
Less than a mile away is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which Christian
tradition holds as the site of Christ's burial and resurrection.
The walled Old City of Jerusalem, the part of the city where these sites are
located, is divided into Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian quarters. (The Armenians were the
first to collectively adopt Christianity as a nation, and they claim one of the oldest continuous
presences in the Holy City.)
And yet, the divisions aren't exact. There are churches in the Muslim quarter; synagogues in the
Armenian quarter; mosques in the Christian quarter; and an Armenian church in the Muslim quarter.
Jerusalem, then, serves as an illustration of how Jerusalem and Israel truly remain a mosaic of faiths.
And while each side may not necessarily agree to whom God, or Allah, actually gave this place, they
would agree that the Almighty ordained for it an importance that has left the Holy Land in the spotlight
during eras both ancient and modern.
Name: _______________________________
Period: _______
Holy Land:
The State of Israel is a sacred site for people of many faiths
1. What three religions can lay claim to the city of Jerusalem? How many people believe in these
three religions?
2. What is the name of the most sacred Jewish text? What does the text teach?
3. After the Kingdoms of David and Solomon, what happened to the Jewish people? In what year
were they allowed to return to the Holy Land?
4. Who is the central figure of Christianity? Who do Christians believe he was?
5. Briefly summarize the events at the end of Jesus’ life.
6. Who is the key prophet of Islam? What is the name of God in Islam?
7. What do Muslims believe happened during the Miraj?
8. Each religion discussed in this article lays claim to three religious sites located in Jerusalem.
Identify the three sites and explain their importance to each religion.
a. Islam-
b. Judaism-
c. Christianity-