Two days after Israel and the Arab lands went to war this month, Jews won control of the entire city of Jerusalem for the first time since A.D. 70. They vowed never again to leave it. Military takeover of the “old” city from Jordan raised immediate hope that the Jews, after so many centuries, could rebuild the Temple on its original site.

Also on that site is the Dome of the Rock or Mosque of Omar, oldest existing Muslim monument, which marks the site where Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven. The ancient city once again symbolized the intersection of world religious and political empires in a Middle East rent by ancient animosities. Both Jews and Arabs attached a “holy war” dimension to the new conflict.

The re-entry of the “Holy City” by the Jews was a great moment in world religious history, regardless of the eventual outcome of the war. A rabbi who is a military chaplain to the Israeli army exclaimed, “we are entering the messianic era.”

Jerusalem also contains many Christian shrines, and Pope Paul asked the armies to spare all holy places. His appeal to make Jerusalem “an open and inviolable city” during the war was joined by United Nations Secretary General U Thant.

Except for Lebanon, the warring nations have only tiny Christian minorities; these could do little to affect the religious and ethnic hatreds between Muslims and Jews, who both trace their origins to Abraham. Those Christians whose reactions were reported lined up behind their nations. Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Kyrillos VI of Egypt said he backed “all measures of Arab leaders which might lead to the regaining of the Holy Land from those who killed Christ.” The Anglican Diocese of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon supported Jordan’s policies of opposition ...

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