JERUSALEM, Israel – Jerusalem Dateline's Julie Stahl recently spoke with Liz Healy, an American who has spent years studying the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.
In the following interview, Healy talks about the significance of the contested site to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Stahl: We're here on the Mount of Olives with lots of tourists and we're overlooking the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. What's the significance of the Temple Mount to Muslims?
Healy: For Muslims, it's the third holiest site in their religion, but interestingly enough, it's not the Dome of the Rock that's the most prominent site. It's the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Stahl: What's the significance of the Temple Mount to Jewish people?
Healy: In Jewish tradition, this is where Adam was created. It was also the place after the flood that Noah brought an offering to the Lord. We know this is the place that Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed. Also, [it's] the place where David bought the threshing floor [and] where he said he wouldn't make an offering to God that cost him nothing. And it's the site of the first and second [Jewish] temples. It was believed by most, also, the place for the third temple where it will be built.
Stahl: It's such a holy site to so many people. Why is it so controversial?
Healy: I think that's the exact purpose. Because it's so holy and all the monotheistic religions – Christians, Jews and Muslims – all feel like this is their place of worship and so it's very controversial as to who's going to actually end up on this mount.
Stahl: Do you think the three religions could share the Temple Mount?
Healy: Personally, I don't, but there is a huge movement about coexisting on the Temple Mount and even recently, within the last two weeks, I know about a meeting between Christians and Muslims and Jews who all are talking about what are the possibilities and how could they establish both a temple and a mosque on the Temple Mount.
Stahl: What kinds of plans are being made to build a third temple?
Healy: There are actually quite a few and depending on the group you talk to, different architectural designs have been made. So one group is doing a design more like Herod's Temple and it would be on the Temple Mount and I don't believe they would have a mosque that would be there.
There are other groups that are more focused on the design that's given in Ezekiel, chapters 40 through 48, which is the next structure in scripture that God said to build – a temple in this way. And then, even some archaeological research has been done recently that would say that the Holy of Holies is not under the Dome of the Rock, which is the most common assumption, but a little bit to the north and that's why, kind of, the coexistence movement is moving forward…because it's possible they could be right next to each other on the Temple Mount.
Stahl: Where in the Bible does it talk about building a temple -- a third temple?
Healy: There's several references and it somewhat depends on interpretation, but we would begin in the Book of Daniel where it talks about the Abomination of Desolation and we know that's happened once, but it talks of a future time where the sacrifices will again be taken away so a temple would have to exist for the sacrifices to be done.
We also see it listed in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 [and] in II Thessalonians. They all make a reference to a false messiah setting himself up in a temple and declaring himself as God or removing the sacrifices. We also see in the Book of Revelation, John is told to measure the temple measurements and so there has to be a physical temple for him to be able to measure it.
Stahl: So what preparations are actually being made right now to build the third temple?
Healy: There are actually quite a few and it just shows that God is giving the Jewish people kind of signs or an expectation that it's time for the soon-coming messiah. But there is a group specifically that has re-established the Levitical priesthood. They started a school a few months ago and they have a registry for those who are from the Levitical line that they could come and be trained and be ready to do the service in the temple.
They've also started a red heifer farm. The Temple Institute did [this] with an Israeli farmer and that was again with ritual purity – that they need to have a red heifer that meets Jewish law and has been supervised and doesn't have any white hairs, able to be completely burned and the ashes mixed with running water and then used to make everybody ritually pure to be able to go into the temple.
Stahl: I mean, right now, Jewish people just going on the Temple Mount can create a riot sometimes. So can you envision a scenario where they would allow the temple to be built?
Healy: No. A lot of the scholars I've spoken to talk about how the building of this next temple is really going to bring peace to Israel and bring safety from all of her enemies. And so in that way, I can see that any, maybe, leader that would be raised up or somebody that would be able to bring the nations together, especially those who might align with Israel that there might be some agreement that a temple could exist there and this person could be set up in the temple.
What we know is that's probably going to be a false messiah because as we read in the Book of Daniel there's a false messiah that's going to make a peace agreement and so the potential is that something would be built before the false messiah set himself up.