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Michael Haag The Templars The History And The Myth Solomon's Temple To The Freemasons

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  • Michael Haag The Templars The History And The Myth Solomon's Temple To The Freemasons

    Michael Haag The Templars The History And The Myth From Solomon's Temple To The Freemasons

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    The definitive guide to Templars' history, legends and mysteries - and the belief that their hand can be seen in everything from the Cathar heresy to Masonic conspiracies
    This is the first history of the Templars since the Vatican published its sensational records, clearing them of heresy. It investigates the Templars' history, legends and mysteries - and the belief that their hand can be seen in everything from the Cathar heresy to Masonic conspiracies. And it illuminates the background to what is believed to be the setting of Dan Brown's new novel for 2008.An order of warrior monks founded after the First Crusade to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem, the Templars developed into one of the wealthiest and most powerful bodies in the medieval world. Yet two centuries later, the Knights were suddenly arrested and accused of blasphemy, heresy and orgies, their order was abolished, and their leaders burnt at the stake. Their dramatic end shocked their contemporaries and has gripped peoples' imaginations ever since.This new book explains the whole context of Templar history, including, for the first time, the new evidence discovered by the Vatican that the Templars were not guilty of heresy.

    It covers the whole swathe of Templar history, from its origins in the mysteries of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem through to the nineteenth century development of the Freemasons.The book also features a guide to Templar castles and sites, and coverage of the Templars in books, movies and popular culture, from Indiana Jones to the Xbox360 game Assassin's Creed.

    Here at long last is a history of the Knights Templar - and their secrets - that you can believe in -- The Scotsman, 26 July 2008

    Michael Haag, in his well-knit narrative gets through an enormous spread of history ― Daily Telegraph

    An essential guide for anyone who wants a comprehensive guide to the Templars ... a perfect place to begin your quest. ― Good Book Guide

    Admirably comprehensive and balanced ― Birmingham Mail

    An intriguing and revealing work that surprises and entertains ― Nottingham Evening Post

    The true story of the templars, revealed in Haag's book, is even more astonishing than the legends they spawned ― Waterstone's Books Quarterly

    Michael Haag's comprehensive and considered book covers a multitude of topics related to the group... -- Fachtna Kelly ― Sunday Business Post Published On: 2009-07-05

    Part 1: The Contexts

    Chapter 1. The Temple of Solomon

    Chapter 2. The New Christian Empire

    Chapter 3. The Muslim Conquests

    Chapter 4. The First Crusade

    Chapter 5. Origins of the Templars

    Chapter 6. The Second Crusade

    Chapter 7. Crusader Castles

    Chapter 8. Merchant Bankers

    Chapter 9. Medieval Heresy

    Chapter 10. Saladin and the Templars

    Chapter 11. Holding On

    Chapter 12. Exile from the Holy Land

    Chapter 13. The Trial

    Chapter 14. Survivals

    Chapter 15. Conspiracies

    Chapter 16. Outremer

    Chapter 17. Europe


    The Templars were founded in Jerusalem on Christmas Day 1119 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the spot which marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A religious order of fighting knights, their headquarters was on the Temple Mount, that vast platform rising above the city where King Solomon had built his Temple two thousand years before. Surrounded by these potent historical and sacred associations, the Templars assumed their responsibility to protect pilgrims visiting the holy shrines and to defend the Holy Land.

    The Templars soon became a formidable international organisation. Vast donations of properties were made in Europe to maintain this elite taskforce overseas, and special rights and privileges were granted by popes and kings. Dressed in their white tunics emblazoned with a red cross, they became the West’s first uniformed standing army and also pioneered an extensive financial network that reached from London and Paris to the Euphrates and the Nile. As an order they became powerful and wealthy, but as individuals their existence was simple and austere. Their bravery was legendary, their dedication was absolute and their attrition rate was high; at least twenty thousand Templars were killed, either on the battlefield or after being taken captive and refusing to renounce their faith to save their lives.

    Yet in the end the Templars were destroyed not by the Muslims in the East but by their fellow Christians in the West. On Friday 13 October 1307 the Templars were arrested throughout France and soon elsewhere throughout Europe. They were charged with heinous heresies, obscenities, homosexual practises and idol worship; many were tortured and confessed. The end came in 1314 when the Templars’ last Grand Master was burnt alive at the stake.

    The shock and mystery of their downfall has excited interest in the Templars for seven centuries since. Some historians have conjectured that the Templars’ sojourn in the East brought them into contact with Gnosticism, the ancient heresy embraced by the Cathars of France, while the Freemasons have drawn a line of occult knowledge transmitted from the Temple of Solomon via the Templars to themselves.

    Never has speculation about the Templars been more feverish than today. Did the Templars carry out excavations beneath the Temple Mount and find something extraordinary that explains their rise to power and wealth and, according to some, their continued but clandestine existence to this day? Was it some vast treasure? Or the Ark of the Covenant? The Holy Grail? The secret to the life of Christ and his message? And where did this secret travel when the Templars were suppressed? To Scotland, to America?

    What is certainly true is that the rise and fall of the Templars exactly corresponded to the two centuries of the crusading venture in the East, where after a series of outrages against Western pilgrims and Eastern Christians, and in the face of renewed aggression which threatened all of Europe, the First Crusade was launched in 1095 to recover Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine from Muslim occupation. Simultaneously, the struggle was being fought in the Iberian peninsula where the Templars eventually helped liberate Spain and Portugal. But the crusading effort in the East, with the Templars at its heart, was never enough to withstand the overwhelming Muslim forces that could be brought into the field when they were united by the likes of Saladin or the Mamelukes. In 1291 when the Mamelukes drove the last Frankish settlers out of the Holy Land, the Templars lost the main purpose of their existence, and soon they fell victim to the rapacious greed and tyrannical ambitions of the King of France.

    One of the great Templar mysteries has always been the role played by the Papacy in the downfall of the order. The Pope was meant to be their protector and to the Pope alone the Templars owed obedience, yet to judge from the apparently supine acquiescence of the Papacy to the demands of the King of France, the Pope either betrayed the Templars or believed them guilty of terrible crimes. These conjectures took a dramatic turn in 2007, when the Vatican published a facsimile edition of a parchment recording the Templar leaders’ testimony to Papal investigators at Chinon in 1308. This document had been discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives and revealed–seven hundred years too late to save the lives of James of Molay and countless other knights–that the Pope believed the Templars innocent of heresy.

  • #2
    Part 1
    The Contexts

    The Temple of Solomon Three Temples and a Vision
    The story of the Templars must begin with that of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock stands today. For it was here that Solomon’s Temple was built–the legendary, lost temple of the Jews, from which the Templars, as guardians of the Holy Land, took their name, and on whose site they created their military and spiritual headquarters. Sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, no world site has greater resonance; nor, as home of the Ark of the Covenant, such enduring myth.

    Physically, the Temple Mount takes the form of a vast platform, which was constructed over a natural hill by Herod the Great to support his gigantic temple–built around 25–10 BC on the site of Solomon’s original temple of a thousand years earlier. It is Herod’s Temple that is referred to in the Gospel of Mark 13:1–2, when a disciple says to Jesus, ‘Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’, to which Jesus replies, ‘Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ And it was this temple that, duly bearing out the prophecy, was destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in AD 70 in the course of putting down a Jewish rebellion.

    The Temple of Solomon
    Though nothing survives of Herod’s Temple, the exposed western retaining wall of the Temple Mount platform, famously known as the Wailing Wall, has come to symbolise not only the lost Temple of Herod but the first temple built on this same spot three thousand years ago, the Temple of Solomon.

    Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, became King of Israel in about 962 BC and died in about 922 BC. During the forty years of his reign, he expanded trade and political contacts, centralised the authority of the crown against tribal fragmentation, and engaged in an elaborate building programme. His principal building works were the royal palace and the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Almost all that we know about the planning and building of Solomon’s Temple comes from the Old Testament, in particular the books 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. We also know from 2 Kings about the Assyrians’ capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and how they destroyed the city, burnt down Solomon’s Temple, and sent the population into exile at Babylon where their lament is recorded in Psalms 137:1: ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.’

    We are told by the later Book of Ezra that after the Assyrians were overthrown by the Persians, the Persian King Cyrus the Great gave permission for the Jews to return home from their captivity in Babylon and to rebuild their temple. Begun in 520 BC and completed five years later, this Second Temple, also known as the Temple of Zerubbabel, stood on the same spot as the Temple of Solomon and probably followed its plan, but owing to the reduced condition of the Jews at the time it was not possible to reproduce the magnificence of Solomon’s decorations.

    Jerusalem remained part of the Persian Empire for two hundred years. But when Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius III at the battle of Issus in 333 BC the entire Middle East came under the rule and cultural influence of the Greeks. In time the Greeks were superseded by the Romans, though much of Greek culture remained. Palestine, as the Romans called it, became part of the Roman Empire in 63 BC, but it was given complete autonomy under Herod the Great, a Jew who had proved himself loyal to Roman interests and was installed as King of the Jews in 37 BC.

    By Herod’s time the Second Temple had suffered five centuries of wear and decay, but it would have been sacrilege for him to have torn it down. Instead he incorporated the Second Temple in his plans, enlarging and refurbishing it on a grandiose scale; in effect it was a third temple, though it still counted as the second. But in less than a century Herod’s Temple too was destroyed.

    There was yet another temple, and though it never really existed it was described in great detail in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel was among those deported to Babylon where he had a vision that Israel was restored to its former glory and that Solomon’s Temple had risen again from its ruins. Ezekiel’s Temple was the expression of a yearning for the Temple of Solomon, a symbol of a lost ideal. In that sense, and not only for Jews, but for all peoples, the Temple of Solomon has become one of the great legendary buildings of the world, a monument that has inspired imaginations for thousands of years.

    The New Testament adds another dimension to Ezekiel’s symbolism of the Temple. After prophesying the destruction of the Temple, Jesus announces in the Gospel of John 2:16, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’, words which are taken as referring to his own death and resurrection, so that in place of the destroyed earthly Temple, Jesus becomes an everlasting divine Temple. For Christians the resurrection, the cornerstone of their faith, was expressed in this vision of Jesus as the new Temple, and of Paradise as the new Jerusalem.

    The Bible and History
    Everything we know about the First Temple at Jerusalem comes from the Old Testament, and the same applies even to the existence of the Kingdom of David and Solomon. There are no accounts by outsiders, nor is there any material evidence–not helped by present-day religious and political sensitivities about archaeological digs at the Temple Mount. This has led some to argue that there is no historical basis for the ancient kingdom or the original Temple. But there is too much circumstantial evidence–political, economic and cultural–to dismiss the biblical account. For example there are the details of the complex commercial relationships between Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre (also called Huram in some parts of the Bible), who is an independently attested historical figure.

    The existence of Israel as a people and a place was already mentioned by the ancient Egyptians as early as c1209 BC, during the reign of Merneptah, son of Ramses II. And within a century of Solomon’s reign (c962–c922 BC), events and figures in the Bible find corroboration in Assyrian inscriptions, and thereafter in contemporary Persian, Greek and Roman texts.

    But it is also true that the books of the Old Testament were often written much later than the events they describe. For example four centuries had elapsed before an account of the construction of the First Temple was given in 1 Kings, and indeed by then it had already been destroyed and its most sacred object, the Ark of the Covenant, had long since disappeared. When 1 Kings was written, the Jews were a broken and oppressed people who seemed to have somehow lost the favour of God, and at least part of its purpose was to remind them of a time when they had been powerful and united in the presence of God, who had dwelt among them in the splendour of the Temple. More than a historical account, 1 Kings was a book of desire and hope, an injunction to return to pious ways to restore what had been lost.

    Here are the dates of composition, as generally agreed by biblical scholars, of those Old Testament books which describe the reigns of David and Solomon and the period of the First Temple.
    2 Samuel: written during the Babylonian exile, sixth century BC, but working with earlier sources.

    1 and 2 Kings: as 2 Samuel.

    1 and 2 Chronicles: written in the latter half of the fourth century BC, ie 350–300 BC.

    Ezra himself arrived in Jerusalem in 397 BC, but the book was written a half century later by the same authors or compilers as Chronicles.

    though ascribed to David by tradition, in fact they were composed and collected over six centuries, with some in their original form perhaps dating to the First Temple period and all of them collected after the Babylonian exile.

    Ezekiel went to Babylon in 597 BC, and he may have written all or part of his book while there, but it is also possible that it is a third century pseudepigrapha, that is a fake written to look three hundred years older.

    The books of the New Testament: Often written long after the event, these likewise have purposes beyond the historical. For example, the Gospel of Mark was written in tumultuous times, during or immediately after a Jewish rebellion against Rome which was put down by the Emperor Titus in AD 70 when he also razed the Second Temple to the ground, and so the words ascribed to Jesus probably owe less to prophecy than to hindsight. The same is true of the words uttered by Jesus in the Gospel of John 2:16, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ These are taken as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which occurred in about AD 30, whereas John’s Gospel was written no earlier than AD 85.


    • #3
      Sacred Origins of Jerusalem
      Long before there was a Temple, and before Jerusalem, there was the Ophel hill. Tombs dating to 3200 BC have been found on the Ophel hill, which was to become David’s city, but no traces of habitations have been discovered, no signs of urban life. To the west the land of Canaan fell away to the Mediterranean coastal plain, an avenue of trade, and to the east was the Jordan river valley, where even then stood Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world. But few people lived in these highlands of Judah in the region of the Ophel hill. Jerusalem, which was to assume such significance for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds, began as a remote mountain site off the beaten track.

      Nevertheless, some settlers were attracted to the Ophel hill for the natural protection that it offered and because of the Gihon Spring, which flowed from its eastern flank, so that by the end of the nineteenth century BC the hill was encircled by a defensive wall, a fortress was constructed at its northern end, and houses built on artificial terraces climbing up the slopes of the citadel. By now the Egyptians knew of its existence; among the names of nineteen Canaanite cities which have been found inscribed on Twelfth Dynasty potsherds is one called Rushalimum, meaning ‘founded by Shalem’. Hills and mountains in the ancient Middle East were associated with the divine because they reached into the sky, and Shalem, who was a Syrian god identified with the setting sun or with the evening star, had chosen to manifest himself on the Ophel hill. From the moment of its foundation, Jerusalem was a sacred place.

      Six hundred years later, in about 1200 BC, Jerusalem was in the hands of the Jebusites, a people who had recently settled in Canaan. These were turbulent times, marked by dramatic climate change and the vast migration of the Sea Peoples who originated somewhere beyond the Black Sea and irrupted southwards through Asia Minor, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and even as far as the shores of Libya and Egypt. In the course of the Sea People’s disruptive wanderings entire civilisations were overthrown, including the Mycenaeans of Greece and the Hittites, whose empire had extended over Asia Minor and most of Syria. The Jebusites were probably remnants of the Hittite empire who sought refuge in the highlands of Judah, even as the Philistines, who were probably Sea Peoples beaten back from Egypt, settled along the coastal lowlands of Canaan. But at the same time another people were establishing themselves in the highlands of Canaan: the Israelites, whose tribes soon encircled Jebusite Jerusalem.

      The Promised Land
      According to the Bible, the Israelites came from Mesopotamia and for a time settled in Canaan. But then in about 1750 BC famine drove the twelve tribes of Israel to Egypt where they were reduced to slavery. Their famous Exodus from Egypt began in about 1250 BC when under the leadership of Moses they escaped into the wilderness of Sinai, from where they were directed by their god Yahweh to the fertile lands of Canaan. Moses did not live to see his people enter the Promised Land, an event dated to about 1200 BC; instead under Joshua, his successor, the tribes of Israel stormed into Canaan, taking the entire country by the sword, all except the walled hill city of the Jebusites, Jerusalem.

      But modern scholarship is sceptical about the biblical account of the Exodus. In a stele dating to the reign of the Nineteenth Dynasty pharaoh Ramses II, mention is made of a people called the Apiru who are employed as labourers in the building of his new capital, Pi-Ramesse. There used to be speculation that Apiru (or Habiru/Hapiru) referred to the Hebrews whom the Old Testament describes as engaged in building works immediately before the Exodus. The scholarly view nowadays, however, is that Apiru does not describe an ethnic group but was a term used in both Syria and Mesopotamia to describe mercenaries, raiders, bandits, outcasts and the like, while in Egypt the term Apiru, from the verb hpr, meaning ‘to bind’ or ‘to make captive’, probably referred to the Asiatic prisoners employed in state building and quarrying projects.

      In a stele dating to 1209 BC during the reign of Ramses’ son Merneptah, there is a brief entry reading, ‘Israel is laid waste, his seed is not’. This is the only non-biblical reference to Israel at this time and refers to Merneptah’s successful campaign against the allied tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh and Gilead, collectively known as Israel, in the hill country north of Jerusalem. Nothing in these Egyptian records supports the story of an Exodus, which in any case was only written down sometime between the ninth and fifth centuries BC. Indeed, except for a few scholars of a generally fundamentalist kind, the broadly accepted view is that there was no Exodus from Egypt, though a few Israelites who were also Apiru may have escaped to Canaan where their account added drama to a more pedestrian reality–namely that the Israelites were a disruptive outsider caste of mercenaries, bandits or whatever, already living in the mountainous parts of Canaan, who gradually took over the whole of what they called their Promised Land.

      King David’s City
      At a later date, around 1020 BC, the biblical figure of Saul became the first king of the loosely organised group of northern tribes called Israel. After Saul’s death, in about 1000 BC, the elders of Israel went to David, who had first served under Saul but then later rebelled against him. David, born the son of a Bethlehem farmer, had since established his own kingship over the tribes of Judah to the south, and the elders of Israel now asked him to be their king also. Entirely encircled by the united Kingdom of Israel and Judah was the alien Jebusite enclave of Jerusalem.

      The capital of the Kingdom of Judah was at Hebron, twenty miles south of Jerusalem. Hebron had powerful associations as it was believed to be the burial place of Abraham and other ancestors of the Israelites. David was thirty when the elders came to him at Hebron and made him king of both Judah and Israel, and for seven years he remained there before conquering Jerusalem. For all the symbolism of Hebron, David made Jerusalem his new capital, from where he ruled over ‘all Israel’, as the Bible puts it, for another thirty-three years.

      If Jerusalem’s citadel and walls, and its sacred origins, played some part in David’s decision to make the city the capital of his united kingdom, it is likely that the overriding reason was that it belonged to neither Judah nor Israel, and that none of the twelve Israelite tribes had any historical or religious claims on the city. In fact Jerusalem after the conquest was a mixed city; instead of expelling the original Canaanite and Hittite inhabitants, the Israelites dwelled among them. Jerusalem was the perfect choice for an independent capital from where the king could bring the tribes of Israel and Judah under his central control.

      The Ark of the Covenant
      God had told Moses on the mountain in Sinai that the Israelites must build an Ark, a covered chest of acacia wood overlaid with gold, to serve as a mobile container for the Ten Commandments. Carried by the Israelites throughout their wanderings in the desert and over the river Jordan into the Promised Land, the Ark was the most sacred embodiment of their beliefs and represented the presence of God. When at rest, the Ark was housed in an elaborate tent, the Tabernacle, which served as a gathering place for worship. Now that David had conquered Jerusalem, he thought that the Ark of the Covenant should be brought into the city and given a permanent home.

      Not only would Jerusalem be the centre of David’s political authority; he would also make it the centre of his people’s religious life. And so dressed in the linen loincloth of a priest and ‘leaping and dancing before the Lord’ (2 Samuel 6:14), David led the Ark of the Covenant to the Gihon Spring just outside the walls of Jerusalem where it was placed within a tent-like shrine and received the allegiance of all the tribes.

      But David’s proposal that the Ark should have a permanent home within the walls met with an unexpected rejection when the prophet Nathan announced that God had not needed a temple when the tribes were wandering in the desert and he did not want one now. Instead of David building a house to God, continued Nathan, God would establish a house of David, that is a dynasty, from which the Messiah would come. In any case God’s refusal was only temporary; David was not a suitable person to build the Temple because he was a warrior king with blood on his hands, but he was permitted to choose the Temple site, to collect the materials and to draw up the plans, while the honour of building the Temple would go to Solomon, his son.


      • #4
        The Threshing Floor of Zion
        Just north of David’s city, which stood on the Ophel hill, there was a yet higher summit named Zion where a Jebusite called Araunah had his estate (2 Samuel 24:15–25; 1 Chronicles 21:15–28). When a plague struck David’s kingdom, killing seventy thousand people in three days, an angel appeared to him; it was standing on the threshing floor of Araunah at the summit of the mount. There, decided David, he must build an altar and sacrifice to God to avert the plague. Araunah, who may have been Jerusalem’s last Jebusite king, offered to give up the threshing floor for nothing, but David insisted on making payment. And when Araunah wanted to give the oxen for the first burnt sacrifice, David paid for them as well. It is likely that David recognised the sacredness of the site, for as well as separating the chaff from the wheat, the Jebusites used their threshing floors for prophetic divination and for the fertility cult of their storm god Baal. But by paying Araunah for his land and oxen, David was ensuring that the sacrifice would be made without obligation to anyone but Yahweh, his god.

        From the moment of David’s sacrifice the future site of the Temple was marked out. Scholars debate the exact plan and position of the Temple, but Orthodox Jews place the holy of holies, the innermost sanctum of the Temple, on that great rock which can still be seen today behind the grille in the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, the spot where Muslims say Mohammed ascended on his Night Journey to Paradise, and where once the Jebusites had likely made sacrifices to their own gods. As if to bind the place more closely to Jewish tradition, it was also identified in something of a biblical afterthought as the Mount Moriah where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac (2 Chronicles 3:1). But for the time being the Ark of the Covenant remained where David had left it when he brought it to the city, just outside the walls, down by the Gihon Spring.

        The Empire of David and Solomon
        While David was bringing the Ark into Jerusalem and acquiring the future site of the Temple atop Mount Zion, he was also creating a small empire. Already the combined kingdoms of Judah and Israel were greater in extent than the state of Israel today, for they covered both banks of the river Jordan and extended northwards well beyond the Golan Heights. At about the time that he conquered Jerusalem, David defeated the Philistines who lived on the coast in the region round Gaza and became his vassals. In his later years he subdued the kingdoms of Edom and Moab in the east, while in the north he brought Damascus under his control, so that what is today western Jordan, southern Lebanon and central Syria were all part of David’s empire.

        The main threat to David’s empire came from within. As David lay dying, his son Adonijah, backed by disgruntled senior military and religious figures from Hebron who wanted to assert Judah’s dominance within the united kingdom, had himself crowned just outside Jerusalem. But in one of his last acts, David gave his support to a faction led by Bathsheba, his Jebusite wife, and by Nathan the prophet and Zadok the high priest. They led Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba, down to the Gihon Spring where in the potent presence of the Ark of the Covenant he was crowned king, and Adonijah’s attempted usurpation immediately collapsed.

        During Solomon’s reign the empire of the Israelites reached its apogee of power and wealth. He continued David’s centralising policy of weakening the old tribal ties and further assimilating the Canaanite population. He equipped his powerful army with a corps of chariots and cavalry that operated out of chariot cities in the realm, and he established a fleet at Ezion-geber at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba which ventured throughout the Red Sea. He traded horses with Egypt and Cilicia, obtained timber from Lebanon, and his ships sailed in search of spices, metals and precious stones as far as Yemen, home of the Queen of Sheba, who visited Jerusalem and lavished gifts upon the city and the King. And so eager were the Egyptians to seal an alliance with Solomon that he was granted the rare favour of marriage to the pharaoh’s daughter (I Kings 9:16).

        Solomon: Wise Man, Mystic and Magician
        When Solomon, whose name means peace, was raised to the throne of Israel and Judah, he was asked by God what he desired, and Solomon answered, ‘Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad’. God was pleased that Solomon had asked for understanding and not for riches nor for a long life, and he answered him saying, ‘Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou has not asked, both riches and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days’ (1 Kings 3:5–14). Indeed, according to the Bible, Solomon’s reign was marked by prosperity and prestige, and his wisdom was said to excel even all the wisdom of Egypt (1 Kings 4:30), and he has come down to us as the wise man par excellence.

        In Islam Solomon is also the paragon of wisdom; he is the author of the saying that ‘the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God’, and he is also accounted wise for his knowledge of the unseen. As Suleiman and as a Muslim he is portrayed in the Koran as being in communion with the natural world and speaks ‘the language of the birds’ (Koran 27:17). God has also given him dominion over the spirit world: ‘We subjected the wind to him, so that it blew softly at his bidding wherever he directed it; and the devils, too, among whom were builders and divers and others bound with chains’ (Koran 38:35–36). Among those builders were the jinn, or spirits, whom Solomon commanded to build the Temple for him.

        Solomon is also the epitome of the mystical love of women as in the Songs of Solomon in the Old Testament. In Islam this mystical love is expressed in the story of Belkis, the Queen of Sheba, who was converted from paganism by Solomon. He taught her the difference between illusion and the One Reality as expressed in the shahadah, ‘there is no God but God’, and thus became his consort. The Queen of Sheba was the expression of cosmic infinitude complementing Solomon who was the expression of wisdom or self.

        In both Jewish and the Islamic traditons, Solomon is associated with stories of the marvellous. He became the subject of rabbinic and kabbalistic lore in which he is portrayed as a fabulous figure, a master magician possessing occult powers. In one kabbalistic legend Solomon orders a demon to convey Hiram, the King of Tyre, down to the seven compartments of hell so that on his return he can reveal to Solomon all he has seen in the underworld. Solomon also appears in The Thousand and One Nights, where in the Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinn he has used his seal-ring to imprison an evil spirit in a jar for 1800 years.

        The Seal of Solomon, the device adorning his seal-ring, is said to have come down to Solomon from heaven. The design consisted of two interlaced or intersecting triangles, one pointing up, the other down, and these were placed within two concentric circles between which was engraved the words ‘the most greatest name of God’. In alchemy the upward-and downward-pointing triangles represent fire and water, and they symbolise the combination of opposites and hence transmutation. There are some who see a sexual symbolism in these triangles, and indeed in Egyptian hieroglyphs the V-shape does seem to be taken from the shape of the female pubis, while if the upward-pointing triangle is taken to be a phallus, then the fusion of the two can symbolise harmony in the universe and between the sexes. Be that as it may, the device has been a frequent motif used on coins in the Islamic world and as a decoration. Also known as the Star of David, it is the six-pointed star on the flag of the modern state of Israel.


        • #5
          Solomon Builds the Temple
          Solomon doubled the size of Jerusalem by extending the city northwards from the Ophel hill to include Mount Zion where he embarked on an ambitious construction programme on Araunah’s old estate. He built a vast palace complex (1 Kings 7–8) which included a massive palace for himself complete with a huge harem for the 700 princesses and 300 concubines who were the gifts of foreign rulers, and he built a grand palace for his Egyptian wife. He also built a cedar-panelled armoury called the House of the Forest of Lebanon, a treasury, a judgement hall containing his magnificent ivory throne, and on the ancient threshing floor he built the Temple.

          Building the Temple was a fantastic undertaking, according to the Bible (1 Kings 5–8). It tells of Solomon raising a levy of 30,000 Israelites who were divided into groups of 10,000, each group working in shifts, cutting wood in Lebanon for a month then working for two months in Jerusalem. Additionally 80,000 men were sent into the mountains to quarry stone for the foundations of the Temple and another 70,000 porters carried it down to Jerusalem, with 3300 supervisors overseeing operations. There is no need to take these numbers literally; they are meant to express the magnificence of Solomon and his works.

          Construction of the Temple began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and took seven years and five months in all, that is from the spring of about 958 BC to the autumn of about 951 BC before the rainy season set in. We are told in the Book of Kings that in plan the Temple was a rectangle oriented east and west and measuring 60 cubits in length, 20 cubits in width, and 30 cubits in height (2 Chronicles 3:4 says it was 120 cubits high, but that is an impossible figure probably indicating a corrupt text). A cubit is the length of a man’s arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, which is generally taken to be about half a yard or half a metre, so the Temple of Solomon was about 30 yards long, 10 yards wide and 15 yards high.

          The purpose of temples in the ancient world was to provide a dwelling place for the god, and so just like all other temples in the East the architectural plan of Solomon’s Temple was based on that of an ordinary house. The Temple was divided into three chambers which became more private, more intimate, more holy the farther inwards one progressed. The outermost chamber was the ulam or the porch, an entrance hall rather like the porch or narthex of a church. Beyond this was the hekal where cult objects were kept, including a gold altar, ten candelabra, various lamps, goblets, cups, knives, basins and braziers. The hekal led directly into the debir, a windowless chamber 20 cubits long, wide and high, that is a perfect cube. This was the Holy of Holies, closed by folding doors, where Yahweh, who had declared that he would ‘dwell in the thick darkness’ (1 Kings 8:12) was symbolised by the Ark of the Covenant. Flanked by two huge statues of golden cherubim, the Ark resided at this spot untouched by human hands for over three hundred years, as contact with such a powerfully sacred object without taking the proper precautions caused immediate death (1 Chronicles 13:10).

          Yet for such a celebrated building the Temple was hardly of any size at all, being only about a third as long and half as wide as the Parthenon built atop the Acropolis in Athens five hundred years later. Indeed Solomon’s own palace, at 100 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, was four times the size of the Temple and took a good deal longer to build. But then what was most impressive about the Temple, apart from its sanctity, were its costly and finely worked materials and decorations, and for these Solomon relied on his friend and ally King Hiram of Tyre.

          King Hiram of Tyre
          Tyre on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon was already a very ancient place, its origins going back to the early centuries of the third millennium BC. From about 1500 BC it came into the sphere of influence of New Kingdom Egypt with which it carried on a lucrative trade. But its moment of greatest prosperity and power coincided with the rule of King Hiram I, a contemporary of Kings David and Solomon.

          By Hiram’s time, at the beginning of the first millennium, the powerful centralised authority of the New Kingdom had broken down, and Egypt was divided between rule by the high priests of Amun in the south of the country at Thebes and by the pharaohs of the Twenty-First Dynasty in the north at Tanis in the Delta. Asserting Tyre’s economic independence against a weakened Egypt, Hiram developed Tyre’s harbours, created a formidable merchant marine, established commercial colonies in Sicily and North Africa, and in cooperation with Solomon sent a combined trading fleet to Arabia and East Africa. But the lifeblood of Tanis was also maritime trade, and though Egypt had long ago lost its influence to Lebanon, the pharaoh Siamun (c978–c959) was at least able to engage in limited military actions against his commercial rivals the Canaanites and to consolidate his position in the region by marrying off one of his daughters to Hiram’s friend King Solomon at Jerusalem.

          Though King David had been prevented from building the Temple himself, he had amassed a great amount of treasure to pay for its construction, he had collected materials, and he had given Solomon detailed plans to follow (1 Chronicles 22:2–5, 28:11–19). What is more, when building his own palace, David had received help from Hiram, and now Solomon turned to Hiram too (1 Kings 5; 9:11; 10:11; 2 Chronicles 2). The highlands of Solomon’s kingdom were barely forested, but the slopes of the mountains of Lebanon were covered with pine, juniper and cedar, all tall trees valuable in construction. Similarly Egypt was a treeless country, and it was the forests of Lebanon that had made that country so attractive to the Egyptians for the last two thousand years. Indeed the Pyramids of Giza were built with the aid of cedar beams from Lebanon, and the pharaoh Cheops’ magnificent solar boats buried at the base of his Great Pyramid were also made of Lebanese timber. Now Hiram provided Solomon with the cedar for his Temple, and he also provided the craftsmen who panelled the interior of the Temple with cedar, lined the Holy of Holies with pure gold, and then overlaid the entire exterior with more gold.


          • #6
            Mystery of the Lost Art
            During the nearly four centuries following the construction of the First Temple, the Ark remained untouched in the Holy of Holies. Yet these were often times of trouble and crisis, when the kings at Jerusalem were obliged to reach into their storehouse of treasures in order to meet the exactions of foreign conquerors–the pharaoh Sheshonk I (Shishak in the Bible) who ruled from Tanis in the Egyptian Delta (1 Kings 14:26); Ben-hadad, King of Damascus (1 Kings 15:18); and Tiglathpileser the Assyrian (2 Kings 16:8). Nevertheless, and though covered in valuable gold, the Ark survived these depredations and is mentioned in the Bible (2 Chronicles 35:3) on the occasion of the reform of Yahweh worship during the reign of Josiah (640–609 BC). That is its last appearance; there is no mention of the Ark at the sack of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:13–15), though the view generally taken by historians is that the Ark was probably destroyed at this time.

            But according to 2 Maccabees 2:4–8, which is consigned to the Apocrypha by the Hebrew and Protestant Bibles though included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, the Ark was saved by the prophet Jeremiah on a signal from God. Jeremiah went to the top of Mount Nebo, from which Moses glimpsed the Promised Land, and placed the Ark, the Tabernacle and an incense altar within a dwelling–cave, then blocked up the entrance, refusing to mark the spot. ‘The place shall remain unknown until God finally gathers his people together and shows mercy to them. Then the Lord will bring these things to light again, and the glory of the Lord will appear with the cloud, as it was seen both in the time of Moses and when Solomon prayed that the shrine might be worthily consecrated.’ If something like this did happen, it is not impossible that the Ark still survives, for recent archaeological discoveries in the Judaean desert have provided remarkable evidence of how perishable materials thousands of years old may be preserved in certain conditions.

            The belief that the Ark was hidden before the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians gains support from other sources. Among these is the Mishnah, ancient oral traditions set down in writing by rabbis around 200 BC, which mentions the Ark and other items from the First Temple being hidden by Jeremiah but not stating where. This is given support and amplification by the discovery in 1952 of the Copper Scroll among the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran. Etched on the Copper Scroll is what is thought to be an inventory of treasures from the First Temple which are described as having been hidden in a desolate valley, under a hill on its east side, forty stones deep.

            This ‘desolate valley’ has been identified by some as the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, a theory that allows the identification of the Ark of the Covenant and other objects from the Temple with treasures discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun. (Another fanciful version of this Egyptian theme was presented in the hugely popular 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first of the Indiana Jones series, directed by Steven Spielberg.) But for those still looking, the most persistent belief is that the Ark of the Covenant lies somewhere within the Temple Mount.

            According to one rabbinic legend Solomon foresaw the destruction of his Temple by the Babylonians and so had an underground chamber built below the Temple in which the Ark was eventually hidden. This is supported by some rabbis today who believe on the basis of midrash, an esoteric interpretation of biblical texts, that the Ark was hidden directly below its original position in the Holy of Holies. Indeed the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in Israel objected to excavations at the Mount in the late 1960s because he feared that the archaeologists might actually uncover the Ark–with dangerous results, because neither they nor anyone else would be able to handle it with safety as only the long-dead priests of the vanished Temple possessed the ritual purity to touch the Ark and not defile it nor be destroyed by the contact.

            The Widow’s Son
            The most remarkable of all the work done at Solomon’s Temple was the casting of the enormous basin known as the Sea of Bronze and both of the huge bronze pillars known as Jachin and Boaz. This large-scale casting was difficult and technologically advanced, and the man sent by King Hiram to undertake the work is singled out in the Bible by name. A man ‘filled with wisdom and understanding’, he too was called Hiram, and he is described as ‘a widow’s son’ (1 Kings 7:13–14).

            The Sea of Bronze, an ablutions basin used by the priests, rested on twelve bronze oxen and stood near the southeast corner of the Temple. At 10 cubits in diameter and 5 cubits high, it held 10,000 gallons of water, sufficient for over 2000 baths. The oxen were in groups of three and faced the cardinal points; possibly they suggested fertility, as they did in the Canaanite and Egyptian worlds, and the basin was meant to suggest the sacred lakes of Egyptian temples.

            The two hollow bronze pillars, each 18 cubits (nine yards) high, were placed on either side of the entrance porch. The pillars were free-standing and supported nothing, but they were surmounted with capitals five cubits high and of elaborate design, opening out into lotus or lily forms adorned with garlands of pomegranates. Hiram the widow’s son gave them each a name, calling the one on the south side of the porch Jachin, meaning ‘He shall establish’, and the one on the north side Boaz, ‘In it is strength’. Most likely the names were meant to be read together, as something like ‘He (Yahweh) shall establish (the Temple) in its strength’, or perhaps the message was that both God and David’s dynasty would endure, ‘Yahweh will establish his throne forever. Let the king rejoice in the strength of Yahweh’. The pillars themselves may have served as incense burners or torch holders; or they may have been symbolic, pointing godwards like the Egyptian obelisks raised to the sun god, or representing the tree of life.

            These gigantic bronze objects were cast in the Jordan river valley where there was suitable earth to make the moulds, water in abundance and wind to operate the draught of the furnaces. Then with great difficulty they had to be transported to Jerusalem. These things we know about Hiram the widow’s son, but with the completion of the Temple the Bible lets him quietly leave the scene and tells us nothing more–though the widow’s son and Jachin and Boaz would capture imaginations and appear in legends for thousands of years to come.

            A House for the Name of God
            When the Temple was finished it was dedicated by Solomon, who said he had ‘built the house for the name of the Lord God’ (2 Chronicles 6:10). The Temple did not contain God, for God was without bodily form; he was everywhere and could not be contained. For the same reason the God of the Jews could have no image, and so the Temple possessed no image of God. This was unheard of in the ancient world, where every shrine contained an image to be worshipped. But at Jerusalem the only thing residing in the Temple was the name of God.

            At first the presence of God was symbolised by the Ark, which was kept in the Temple’s innermost and holiest recess, but by the time the Assyrians destroyed the First Temple in 586 BC the Ark had disappeared, therefore the Second Temple, begun in 520 BC and later vastly enlarged by Herod, was entirely empty. Instead it had become the house of a completely spiritualised deity, a God beyond all form and description, a place where God’s presence was perceived and acknowledged only through the utterance of his name.

            The End of the Temple
            The Second Temple was destroyed during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans, which broke out in AD 66. When Titus, the Roman emperor, finally put down the insurrection in AD 70, the Temple was accidentally destroyed by fire, and the prayers and sacrifices practised there came to an end.

            During the Second Jewish Revolt the rebels occupied Jerusalem in AD 132 and intended to rebuild the Temple, even striking coins bearing its image. But the Romans returned in force and crushed the revolt completely. Jerusalem became a pagan city, Colonia Aelia Capitolina. All traces of the Temple were obliterated in AD 135 and statues of Hadrian the conqueror and of Jupiter were erected on the site. This was the final end of Yahweh’s Temple. Thereafter Jews were forbidden by official Roman decree to enter Jerusalem, though from time to time tacit permission was given for them to enter the precincts of the former Temple. Nothing remained, only the desolate rock, and here the Jews poured libations of oil, offered their prayers, and tore their clothes in lamentation.


            • #7
              The New Christian Empire
              East and West
              By the onset of the first century AD the Roman Empire included all the lands around the Mediterranean. Throughout this territory, whether in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East, early Christians endured terrible persecutions for their faith until in 313, during the reign of the emperor Constantine, the Edict of Toleration made Christian worship legal throughout the empire. By the end of the century Christianity had become the almost universal religion of the Roman world.

              The word ‘catholic’ means universal and all-embracing and was the word used to describe the original Christian Church. It was a universal Church, and the faithful travelled freely from one end of Christendom to the other. Tens of thousands of pilgrims travelled to the East to visit the holy sites and to obtain the blessings of monks and other holy ascetics there. ‘Not only do the inhabitants of our part of the world flock together’, wrote the Syrian monk Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393–466) in his Religious History, ‘but also Ishmaelites, Persians, Armenians subject to them, Iberians, Homerites, and men even more distant than these; and there came many inhabitants of the extreme west, Spaniards, Britons, and the Gauls who live between them. Of Italy it is superfluous to speak.’

              In what had already been the universal Roman Empire, Christianity added a new dimension of unity between the diversity of local cultures. Christian ideas and images were shared from the Thames to the Euphrates, from the Rhone to the Nile. Nor was the past forgotten; memories of the pagan gods still haunted the temples turned into churches, and the tombs and other places of pilgrimage often preserved, in Christian form, the immemorial beliefs and practises of a region. In those early days the only hint of a breach between the East and the West came in the arguments over the divine nature of Jesus Christ.

              Pilgrimages to the Holy Land
              Pilgrimages are practised among all the world’s religions, yet in Christianity there has always been an undercurrent of criticism against the idea of attaching faith to any place or thing. This was expressed by Jesus himself to the woman of Samaria who wanted to know where she should pray: ‘The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem worship the Father…. God is a spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth’ (John 4: 19–24). Moreover, during its first three centuries Christianity was a persecuted faith, and it was not safe or practical to go on a pilgrimage.

              Yet despite the danger to their lives, Christians did go on pilgrimages from an early date. Already by the early second century a ‘cave of the Nativity’ was being shown in the Holy Land; people wanted to see sites associated with the life and death of Jesus. There was something like this in Judaism where heroes and holy people had their memorials. But a peculiarity of Christians was their interest in graves and corpses, unclean to Jews but to Christians the focus of hope, for the dead were merely sleeping until the resurrection. Meanwhile there was good reason to treasure the bones or dust of martyrs who had died for their faith and were already in heaven. When Saint Polycarp was burnt alive at Smyrna in 155 his relics were eagerly sought, and the last sight seen by Saint Cyprian at Carthage in 258 would have been a shower of rags thrown at him by the faithful to soak up his martyr’s blood the moment he was decapitated.

              The era of pilgrimages really got under way with the end of persecutions following Constantine’s Edict of Toleration in 313. The pace was set by the Emperor’s own mother, the empress Helena, who visited the Holy Land in 326–8. That she was a woman was typical of pilgrimages, for the truth about women in pagan societies was that their worth was judged almost exclusively on their success as sexual and reproductive beings, whereas Christianity, once it had been legitimised by Constantine, was liberating for women in numerous ways, not least in providing them with an excuse for going on long journeys away from home.

              As his mother travelled from site to site, Constantine ordered and financed the construction of churches to celebrate the central events of Christian belief. In Bethlehem Constantine built the Church of the Nativity, and in Jerusalem he built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the spot, discovered by Helena herself, where Jesus was entombed and then rose again on the third day.

              But neither Constantine nor Helena, nor the pilgrims who followed, took any interest in the Jewish monuments of Jerusalem, none of which were restored. In 333, after Helena’s visit, a pilgrim noted that two statues of the Emperor Hadrian stood in the Temple area, and not far away was a stone where Jews came to pray. But the Temple Mount had little significance for Christians, and though a chapel or church was built at the southern end of the platform, the Mount was not densely built up during Christian times.

              The Search for Relics: from the Holy Prepuce to the Holy Grail
              For the collector of relics, Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary were disappointing; unlike burnt or beheaded saints, they had both bodily ascended to heaven, leaving nothing behind. Though not quite. Neither milk expressed from Mary’s breasts nor bodily hair that had come loose had joined her in the ascent, and soon these were identified and enshrined as relics. Also it was discovered that Jesus had ascended without his foreskin. According to Jewish practise he had been circumcised when he was eight days old, and somehow the foreskin had found its way into the hands of Mary Magdalene, who gave it to John the Baptist. To cut a long story short, the foreskin, or Holy Prepuce, is now in the possession of the Vatican, or at one of seventeen churches around Europe which make the same claim.

              But if there has been a scarcity of bodily parts left behind by Jesus, the gap has been filled by relics which are said to have had an association with him. Once again it was the empress Helena who got in there first when she turned up the True Cross on which Jesus had been crucified. Other relics include the Holy Lance which pierced the side of Jesus while he hung on the Cross, the Turin Shroud in which his body was wrapped when he was taken down from the Cross, and the Holy Chalice from which he drank at the Last Supper and which is sometimes referred to as the Holy Grail.


              • #8
                Constantine and Arianism
                The great size and diversity of the Roman Empire, and the separate military threats it faced across the Rhine-Danube frontier in the West and the Euphrates in the East, made its governance unwieldy. Constantine’s solution was to establish a new imperial capital at the ancient city of Byzantium on the Bosphorus, the strategic meeting point of Europe and Asia. Beautifying the city and enlarging the circuit of its walls, in 330 he dedicated Nova Roma, as he called Byzantium, to Jesus Christ–though it quickly became known as the city of Constantine, Constantinople.

                In 395 a more radical step was taken, and the Roman Empire was formally divided into a western empire ruled from Rome and an eastern empire ruled from Constantinople. Greek culture and language increasingly reasserted themselves in the East Roman Empire, which, taken together with its Christian foundations, has led modern-day historians to give it a different name, the Byzantine Empire. But long after Rome fell to the barbarians in 476, and throughout its struggle in the Middle Ages against Islam, and indeed right up to the last when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the emperors and their subjects in the East called themselves Romans and spoke of their empire as the Roman Empire.

                It is to Constantine, too, that the Christian empires owed their sense of orthodoxy. For no sooner was Christianity tolerated than it was threatened by doctrinal splits. The arguments were not over whether Jesus was divine–his divinity was almost universally agreed. Rather they concerned the nature of that divinity. And during Constantine’s reign, the first great heresy emerged–Arianism, so named after a priest of Alexandria.

                Arius argued that as Jesus was the Son of God, then surely he was younger than God: an appealing notion that brought Jesus closer to mankind and emphasised his human nature. But another Alexandrian, a bishop called Athanasius, saw a danger. If Jesus was younger than God, so there must have been a time when Jesus was not. This challenged the unity of the godhead–the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit–and opened the way to regarding the nature of Jesus as being not of the same substance as God’s. Indeed in time Jesus might be seen merely as a good man, as Unitarians and Muslims see him today, while God would become less accessible and more remote. The counter-argument of Athanasius was that no distinction could be made between Christ and God, for they were of the same substance.

                Seeing the Christians within his empire divided between the arguments of Arius and Athanasius, in 325 Constantine summoned the First General Council of the Church at Nicaea, not far from his future capital of Nova Roma. Two hundred and twenty bishops were in attendance, from Egypt and Syria in the East to Italy and Spain in the West. The divine nature of Jesus Christ was argued from both the Arian and Athanasian points of view, and when the bishops balloted on the issue, it was decided in favour of Athanasius by 218 votes to two. This Nicene Creed became the official position of the universal Church and remains the creed of both the Roman and Orthodox Churches to this day.

                The Nicene Creed
                Here is the text of the Creed as originally passed by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The final paragraph is specifically directed against the Arians.

                We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, both visible and invisible.

                And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father God of God and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten and not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, made man, suffered and rose again on the third day, went up into the heavens and is to come again to judge the quick and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

                But the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematises those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, and that he was not before he was begotten, and that he was made from that which did not exist; or who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, or is susceptible of change.

                Byzantines, Persians and Jihad
                It was during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610–41) that the pivotal event of Islamic history took place–when a former caravan merchant called Mohammed took refuge in Medina after being driven out of Mecca. The event is called the Hegiraor migration and its date, 622 AD, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. But Heraclius was distracted by what seemed far greater matters. During the first ten years of his reign the Persians had made frightening advances against his empire.

                The Persian state religion was Zoroastrianism and wherever it spread, Christianity was persecuted. Antioch fell to the Persians in 611, Damascus in 613, Jerusalem in 614 and Alexandria in 619. Moreover, after slaughtering Jerusalem’s 67,000 Christian inhabitants the Persians made off with the True Cross, Christendom’s holiest relic–and it was this which turned Heraclius’ 622 campaign against the Persians into something new, as it included a crusading zeal. In 627 as Heraclius advanced deep into Persia, its king was overthrown by revolution and his successor sued for peace. Byzantium’s eastern provinces were restored to the empire and the True Cross was returned to Jerusalem.

                But the Byzantines in their victory and the Persians in defeat both lay exhausted when the sounds of war were heard again. This time it was the army of Umar–Arab followers of the new religion of Islam–who in 633 declared a jihad, a holy Islamic war, against the Byzantine Empire. Mohammed had died the previous year, and the Byzantines, to the extent that they knew anything about Islam at all, mistook it for a revival of Arianism, a familiar Christian heresy which depreciated the divinity of Jesus, and did not feel greatly threatened, failing to recognise the approaching Bedouins as a significant military force.


                • #9
                  The Muslim Conquests
                  The Arab Occupation of Jerusalem
                  In AD 636 the Arabs invaded Palestine, and by the summer of the following year their army was encamped outside the walls of Jerusalem. The defence of the city was organised by its Patriarch Sophronius with the help of the Byzantine garrison, but in February 638 after a seven-month siege the Christians were forced to surrender to caliph Umar, the Muslim commander, though not before the True Cross was safely removed to Constantinople. According to a traditional account, Sophronius rode out to escort Umar back through the gates of the city, but instead the caliph humbly dismounted from his camel and entered Jerusalem on foot. This was Umar’s homage to the city which the Muslims called al-Quds, ‘the Holy’, from al-bayt al-muqaddas, ‘the Holy House’–that is the Temple of Solomon.
                  Once inside Jerusalem, Umar asked Sophronius to take him to the Temple Mount, called the Haram al-Sharif by the Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary, where his purpose was to search for relics, among them what he called the mihrab, or prayer niche, of David, of which Umar had heard the Prophet Mohammed speak. As Jesus had foreseen, not a stone was left standing on the Temple Mount, and now it was covered with refuse. The caliph ordered it cleared and was the first to carry away a load of debris in the fold of his cloak. Umar also had a temporary mosque built at the southern end of the Mount, on the spot where the al-Aqsa mosque, begun sixty years later, stands today.
                  Al-Aqsa means ‘the farthest’ and was originally applied to the entire Temple Mount, as though it marked the horizon of Muslim ambition, for Mohammed had had a vision of ascending into Paradise from this spot (Koran 17:1). But by the time the al-Aqsa mosque was completed in 715 the Arab armies had established a vast Islamic empire extending five thousand miles from east to west, from the borders of China to the Atlantic coast of Spain, and Christendom had lost more than half its territory.

                  From Revelation to Jihad
                  This story of conquest, one of the most far-reaching and rapid in history, had its beginnings in Arabia in 622 when Mohammed began to unite the Arab tribes into a powerful fighting force through his preaching of a single god–though his activities went entirely unnoticed by the Byzantine and Persian empires, the great powers of the time.
                  Arabia, despite being largely barren and uninhabited, occupied an important position between Egypt, Abyssinia, Persia, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia, whose trade with one another relied to some considerable extent on the Arab caravans that carried their goods across the perilous wastes. Mecca stood at an important crossroads of this desert trade, and the authority of the Arab nomadic tribal sheikhs was in some measure supplanted at Mecca by a kind of oligarchy of ruling commercial families whose religious beliefs and practises transcended narrow tribal allegiances.
                  The Meccans ensured that their rock-shrine, the Kaaba, contained not one but several venerated tribal stones, each symbolising a local god, so that tribesmen visiting the market fairs could worship their favourite deity during their stay in the city. The Meccans also worshipped Manat, Uzza and Allat, goddesses of fertility and fate, who in turn were subordinate to a yet higher god called Allah.
                  Such material as we have about the early days of Islam comes mainly from the Koran and from the hadith, the oral traditions relating to the actions of Mohammed. Born in about 570, Mohammed was the son of a poor merchant of Mecca who was nevertheless a member of the powerful Quraysh tribe, the hereditary guardians of the Kaaba. While working as a trader he was exposed not only to the flow of foreign goods but to the currents of Jewish and Christian ideas. In particular, through conversing with Jews and Christians he met in Mecca and elsewhere in Arabia, Mohammed had become acquainted with the stories of the Old and New Testaments, with the main elements of Jewish and Christian popular custom and belief, and above all with the concept of monotheism. Drawn into a life of religious contemplation, in about 610 he began to receive revelations via the angel Gabriel of the word of Allah, who announced himself to Mohammed as the one and only God. Other gods were mere inventions, announced the revelation, and their idols at the Kaaba were to be destroyed.

                  This message provoked a great deal of antagonism among the Meccans, but slowly Mohammed began making some converts among pilgrims from Yathrib, an agricultural community about 250 miles to the north which had a mixed population of Arabs, Jews and Judaised Arabs and was therefore already familiar with monotheism and other features of his teaching. In 622 the hostility of the pagan Meccans towards Mohammed reached such a pitch that he and his small band of followers accepted an invitation to settle in Yathrib. This migration, or Hegira, marked the beginning of the Muslim era, and in time Yathrib was renamed Medinat al-Nabi–‘City of the Prophet’–or Medina for short.
                  Mohammed’s understanding of Jewish and Christian concepts led him to believe that they were basically identical to the revelations, known as the Koran, that he had received, and therefore he expected that Jews and Christians would agree with his teaching and recognise him as a prophet standing in the line of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and others. But whereas remnants of the heresy known as Arianism may have allowed Mohammed to believe that Christianity could dispense with the divinity of Jesus, the Jews were uncompromising: they told him that his revelations were a distortion and a misunderstanding of their tradition, and they drew attention to the numerous contradictions in his revelations on Old Testament themes.

                  Mohammed’s answer was to turn against the Jews, saying they had deliberately falsified their traditions, while he presented himself as the restorer of the religion of Abraham, whom he said was the founder of the Kaaba and its cult. He abandoned the Muslim fast corresponding to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the one day of the year when the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem entered the Holy of Holies where he made atonement for all the Jews in the world. In place of a day of fasting, Mohammed instituted the month-long fast of Ramadan. And at the same time, according to tradition, he instructed Muslims to pray towards the Kaaba in Mecca; until then Muslims had prayed towards Jerusalem.
                  But Mohammed’s most important act during his early years in Medina was to set down the revelation giving permission to his followers to go to war against those identified as their enemies. ‘Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked, because they have been wronged. God has power to grant them victory: those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is God”’ (Koran 22:39–40).

                  According to Muslim scholars this concept of jihad, or holy war, can legitimately be applied against injustice and oppression, or against the rejectors of the truth, that is the truth of Islam, after it has been made evident to them. In the immediate circumstances it was used against the Meccans. After provoking several clashes with the Meccans, including raids on their caravans which provided the Muslims with considerable booty, Mohammed conquered Mecca in 629. Extending his wars against the Bedouin tribes, Mohammed gained control over the whole of Arabia the following year.
                  By the time of Mohammed’s death in 632 he had unified the Arabs under the banner of Islam, at once a religion, a social, legal and political institution, and a justification in the name of Allah for war and conquest–or as one historian has put it, arguing that Arab expansion was due to excessive population and lack of resources in Arabia, to free themselves ‘from the hot prison of the desert’. The first forays were in Mesopotamia (Iraq), to which the raiding Arabs were attracted by booty, ransom and abundant pasturage, and over the next ten years Mohammed’s successors, known as caliphs (from Khalifat rasul-Allah, Successor to the Apostle of God), destroyed Persia’s Sassanian empire, and in their jihad against the Byzantine Empire overran Syria, Palestine and Egypt.


                  • #10
                    Problems with Islamic History
                    From the point of view of Western scholarship there are serious problems with Muslim history. For example, there are no contemporary Muslim sources for Umar’s conquest of Jerusalem. The account of Umar being shocked at the rubbish on the Temple Mount and making a start at clearing it away comes from Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali towards the end of the fifteenth century, more than 800 years after the events he describes. In fact the earliest Muslim histories appeared only 150 years or so after the death of Mohammed, and according to the oldest history relating the conquest of Jerusalem, the caliph Umar was not there at the surrender at all. Though the Temple Mount had little significance for Christians, it is unlikely that in so well-organised and prosperous a city it was left in a ruinous state. The acts of Constantine and the visit of his mother had the effect of magnifying the importance of Jerusalem and promoting its reconstruction, while sometime no later than the mid-fifth century Jews were again permitted to live within the city. An ancient map, and the testimony of a pilgrim, suggest that at the very least there was a church or chapel on the Temple Mount, probably at the southeast corner adjacent to where the al-Aqsa mosque stands today.
                    Until about 800 there is an almost total lack of contemporary Islamic sources. Islamic history appears to have been transmitted primarily orally until that date, when Muslim scholars began collecting, editing and recording the traditions, their aim to create a coherent scriptural basis for Islam and to provide an historical underpinning for their now sophisticated world empire.
                    In fact the earliest date for a written Islamic source is 692: it is the founder’s inscription which appears in gold mosaic along the arcade inside the Dome of the Rock. It corresponds to Sura 4:171 in the Koran and is an emphatic warning to the Christians: ‘People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle and His Word which he cast to Mary: a spirit from Him. So believe in God and his apostles and do not say: “Three”. Forebear, and it shall be better for you. God is but one God. God forbid that he should have a son! His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. God is the all-sufficient protector.’
                    The traditional view is that the Koran consists of passages associated with (or revealed to) Mohammed in Mecca and Medina in the early decades of the seventh century, that it had been committed to writing by about 650, and that it was the most important element in Islam from the time of Mohammed onwards. But a discovery made in 1972 of a cache of ancient Korans in the Great Mosque at Sanaa in Yemen seems to show that even as the Dome of the Rock was being built, Islam was still in flux. The Sanaa cache of Korans have been dated to the early part of the eighth century, and examination of the manuscripts reveals that there are two versions of the text, one written over the other, suggesting that the Koran, and therefore Islam itself, was evolving for at least a century following the death of Mohammed.

                    By applying the same approaches to the Koran as have long been applied to the Old and New Testaments, various Western scholars based at such institutions as Oxford, Princeton and London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have arrived at the view that the Koran, in the form that it survives, was compiled, if not written, decades after the lifetime of Mohammed, probably by converts to Islam in the Middle East, who introduced elements from Christianity and Judaism, and that it was elevated to the position of Islam’s definitive scripture only towards the end of the eighth century.
                    Some support for this view has come from archaeology. According to Muslim tradition, Mohammed changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca in the earliest years of Islam, after he fell out with the Jews when he was building his community of the faithful in Arabia. But new archaeological evidence shows that in mosques built as late as the eighth century the prayer niches point towards Jerusalem and not towards Mecca.
                    These scholars conclude that Islam’s own accounts of its origins are religiously inspired interpretations of history rather than objective records of events. They say that Islam’s history of that period, including accounts of Mohammed and the formation of the Koran, is in fact a back-projection of views that were formed as the culture and religion of Islam emerged in an atmosphere of intense debate between different groups of monotheists influenced by rabbinical Judaism and heretical Christianity.


                    • #11
                      The Night Journey
                      Jerusalem is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina. In fact the Temple Mount was the original direction for Muslim prayer. The holiness of Jerusalem derives from its association with the Old Testament prophets whom Mohammed also made the prophets of Islam, and from Jesus whom Mohammed also regarded as a prophet but not the son of God. But above all the sacred nature of Jerusalem is confirmed for Muslims by the story in the Koran (17:1) of the Night Journey in which the angel Gabriel brings Mohammed to the Temple Mount from where they ascend heavenwards for a brief glimpse of Paradise.
                      Nothing in the Koran directly identifies the Farthest Mosque with the Temple Mount; nor is there any mention of Jerusalem: ‘Glory be to him who made his servant go by night from the Sacred Temple to the farther Temple whose surroundings we have blessed.’ In the view of non-Muslim scholars, and some Muslims too, the identification with the site of Solomon’s Temple was a later interpretation, probably made generations after the death of Mohammed, some arguing that ‘the farther Temple’ really refers to Medina and that the Night Journey was Mohammed’s Hegira to that city. Islam had already appropriated the prophets of Judaism and Christianity, but by means of reinterpreting the Koran it could be made to appropriate their sacred places as well.
                      The Dome of the Rock illustrates that appropriation. Built on the site of Solomon’s Temple, decorated inside and out with inscriptions composed of all the Koranic references to Jesus, and marking the spot where Mohammed was given a glimpse of Paradise awaiting all true believers, the triple associations of the Dome of the Rock confirm the ascendancy of Islam.

                      Islamic Imperialism and Flourishing Christian Heresies
                      Though the rapidly expanding Muslim empire was first ruled from Medina in Arabia, from 661 it was governed from Damascus in Syria by caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty. But after a violent transfer of power to the Abbasid dynasty in 750, the caliphate was moved to Baghdad in Iraq.
                      Throughout these changes, however, Arab policy remained the same, namely to extract the maximum revenue from its conquered territories and its subject peoples. Proud and independent in attitude and nomadic by background, the occupying Arabs were disinclined to become farmers; instead the Muslim Arab warrior caste lived off the poll tax (jizyah) and the land tax (kharaj), which was paid by the conquered peoples in return for the protection of their lives and property and for the right to practise their own religion.
                      Because the jizyah could be imposed only on non-Muslims, there was little interest in making converts to Islam, and for centuries longer Syria, Palestine and Egypt would remain overwhelmingly Christian. Indeed during its first century under Muslim rule Syria gave the world five Popes. Nor did Arabisation come quickly. Only towards the end of the seventh century was Greek replaced by Arabic as the official language of administration in Aramaic-speaking Syria and Coptic-speaking Egypt.
                      Nevertheless, the Muslim conquerors imposed restrictions on their subjects to keep them firmly in place. The building of new churches and synagogues was prohibited, the ringing of church bells was forbidden, and festivals and public expressions of faith were curtailed. Further, Christians and Jews stood outside the community; they were not allowed to carry weapons, nor bear witness against Muslims in courts of law, nor marry Muslim women. Also Jews and Christians had to distinguish themselves by their clothing from Muslims, they could not ride horses, only asses, and any who attempted to convert Muslims to their own religion paid with the death penalty, as did any Muslim who apostasised.
                      If the triumph of Islam had been enabled by the Byzantine Empire’s long and exhausting conflict with Persia, it had also been helped by the fierce theological disputes that for hundreds of years had torn apart the unity of the Christian world. And so it is fitting if ironic that an effect of the Muslim conquests was to protect and preserve a considerable variety of Christian heresies. To the Muslims these controversies were of little account; Islam was the revealed and perfected faith, and as for the Christians, and also the Jews, as long as they submitted to Muslim rule and paid their taxes they were permitted to conduct their own affairs according to their own laws, customs and beliefs.
                      Christian heresy flourished in the Middle East under Muslim rule, or rather what was regarded as heresy by the authorities in Constantinople and by the Popes in Rome. But here in the Middle East all Christian sects were treated alike, so that heterodox and heretic Christians were now freed from persecution by rival Christians or the state. For example, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 a majority decided that Jesus had two natures, the human and the divine, adding that these were unmixed and unchangeable but at the same time indistinguishable and inseparable.
                      This is the view of almost all Christian churches to this day, but members of the Syrian Church, known as the Jacobites, and of the Egyptian Church, known as the Copts, while not denying the two natures, put emphasis on their unity at the Incarnation. For this the Syrians and Egyptians were called monophysites (monophysis, Greek for single nature), and were charged with the heretical belief that Jesus’ human nature had been entirely absorbed in the divine.
                      What exactly the parties to these disputes meant when they talked of the nature of Jesus Christ was affected by shades of language and culture, but certainly they had a divisive effect within the Byzantine Empire and helped prepare the way for the coming of Islam. As one figure of the Jacobite Church said of the Muslim conquest: ‘The God of vengeance delivered us out of the hands of the Romans by means of the Arabs. It profited us not a little to be saved from the cruelty of the Romans and their bitter hatred towards us.’


                      • #12
                        Heretics, the Antichrist and the Last Days
                        For a long time the Byzantines viewed Islam as a kind of Arianism, the fourth–century Christian heresy which opened the way to regarding the nature of Jesus as being not of the same substance as God’s and even being inferior to God’s. Taken to its extreme extent, Arianism could amount to denying entirely the divinity of Jesus and reducing him to merely a good man. Even someone who saw things from up close, such as John of Damascus (c676–749), a Syrian Christian theologian who lived entirely under Muslim rule and served as counsellor in the court of the Umayyad caliphs, did not regard Islam as a new religion but considered it a deviation from orthodox Christianity similar to other early heresies.
                        Likewise medieval Western Europe conceived of Islam in the same way, as a version of Arianism, and mistook it for just one more aberrant Christian sect. If Islam was still evolving at this time, as some modern scholars believe, then this may have been a reasonable enough estimation of the situation. Or it may be that observers in both the Byzantine Empire and the West could see Islam only through the lens of Christian history and were unable to recognise it as something completely new. Certainly it is remarkable that even in the late Middle Ages Dante (1265–1321) in his Inferno (XXVIII, 31–36) should have considered Mohammed as a heretic and placed him in the ninth circle of hell for being ‘a sower of schism and discord’.
                        But the coming of Islam also found its way into Christian prophetic literature, which after the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers was the most influential body of writing circulating in Europe during the Middle Ages. Uncanonical, unorthodox and infinitely adaptable to the preoccupations of the moment, these concoctions followed a common theme derived from the New Testament’s Book of Revelation–that of the divine warrior who will come and save the world. An early candidate for this role was the Emperor Constantine, who had legalised Christianity and was then expected to bring about the Second Coming. In prophecy after prophecy that role passed from one emperor or king or prince to another while the story took on fantastical dimensions in relating the final triumph of Christianity.
                        One famous example that would reverberate throughout the Middle Ages was the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. It was written in the seventh century but made to look as though it had been written in the fourth century as a prediction of the Muslim invasion of the Middle East by Bishop Methodius of Patara, who was martyred in 311 at Tyre in Lebanon during the Roman persecutions. It relates how the Ishmaelites, that is the Arabs, emerge from the desert and ravage the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Christians are punished for their sins by being subjected for a time to the Ishmaelites, who kill Christian priests, desecrate the holy places, take the Christians’ land and force or seduce many Christians from the true faith.
                        But just when all seems lost a mighty emperor, whom many had thought long dead, rises up and defeats the Ishmaelites, lays waste their lands with fire and sword, and rages against those Christians who had denied Jesus as their lord. Now under this great emperor a golden age begins, a time of peace and joy, when the world flourishes as never before.
                        This is shattered, however, when fearsome peoples known collectively as Gog and Magog, whom Alexander the Great had imprisoned in the far north, break out and bring universal terror and destruction until God sends a captain of the heavenly host who destroys them in a flash. The emperor journeys to Jerusalem where he hands over Christendom to the care of God by going to Golgotha and placing his crown upon the Cross, which soars up to heaven. But the emperor dies and the Antichrist appears, installing himself in the Temple in Jerusalem where he inaugurates a reign of trials and tribulations, deceiving people with his miracles and persecuting those he cannot deceive. However, before long the Cross reappears in the heavens and Jesus Christ himself comes on clouds in power and glory to kill the Antichrist with the breath of his mouth and to carry out the Last Judgement.
                        For medieval people, especially the poor, the oppressed, the disoriented and the unbalanced, the tremendous drama of the Last Days was not a fantasy about some remote and indefinite future but a prophecy which was infallible and which at almost any given moment was felt to be on the point of fulfilment. The coming of the Last Emperor followed by the reign of the Antichrist were tensely awaited, as the lawless chaos of the age was seen as the expected prelude to the universal salvation of the Second Coming.


                        • #13
                          The First Crusade
                          Counterstrokes in the West and the East
                          Though the First Crusade was proclaimed in 1095, Muslim historians think of the Crusades as beginning ten years earlier with the fall of Toledo in Spain. In fact the reaction against Arab imperialism had begun long before that; just as Muslim armies had occupied the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, so the Christian counterattack was on several fronts.

                          In the West the Arabs had overrun Spain and struck deep into France, to within a hundred and fifty miles of the English Channel, before they were beaten back by Charles Martel between Poitiers and Tours in 732, though that did not prevent the Muslims from holding positions on the coasts of Languedoc and Provence for several decades to come. Throughout the eleventh century Pisa, Genoa and Catalonia fought campaigns in the Western Mediterranean to free Sicily, Sardinia and Majorca from Arab rule. In 1063 Pope Alexander II gave his Papal blessing to Iberian Christians in their wars against the Muslims, granting a remission of sins to those who were killed in battle. The recovery of Toledo from the Arabs in 1085 was a major victory; the northern third of Spain was now back in Christian hands, though not until the fall of Granada in 1492 would the Reconquista succeed in driving the Muslims out of the Iberian peninsula altogether.

                          In the East the Byzantines were scoring victories in the Eastern Mediterranean already in the tenth century, recapturing Crete from the Muslims in 961 and Cyprus four years later. The Byzantines also recovered great swathes of territory in the Middle East. In 969 they captured Antioch, and shortly afterwards they took Aleppo and Latakia along with a coastal strip extending clear down through Syria nearly to Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The Muslim inhabitants were left undisturbed and the local Muslim leaders were made vassals of the Byzantine Empire, but now they were made to pay taxes from which the Christians were exempted, while destroyed churches were rebuilt and the freedom to convert from Islam to Christianity or vice versa was guaranteed.

                          In 975, under the Emperor John Tzimiskes, the Byzantines launched a crusade with the intention of recovering Jerusalem, which was still an overwhelmingly Christian city. Marching out with his army from Antioch, Tzimiskes took Damascus, then advanced into Palestine where Nazareth and Caesarea opened their gates to him and the Muslim authorities at Jerusalem pleaded for terms. But first the Emperor turned towards the Mediterranean to clear the enemy from coastal castles–only to die suddenly in 976 before he could return his attention to Jerusalem. For the next century the Byzantines remained in control of northern Syria but got no closer to the Holy Land.

                          Arab Divisions and Decline
                          Until the middle of the eighth century Damascus, the seat of the Umayyad dynasty, had been the capital of a vast and complex empire which stretched from the Atlantic to Central Asia. It was an empire largely administered by Syrians, Christians as well as Muslims. The Arabs were the ruling class, but in turn the Umayyads were deeply influenced by the Graeco-Aramaic civilisation they found in Syria with its many links, intellectual, cultural and mercantile, to the Mediterranean world. The replacement of the Umayyad by the Abbasid caliphs and the shift from Damascus to Baghdad marked a rejection of these influences.

                          The advance of Christian forces against the Muslim empire from both the West and the East came as evidence of the decay and division in the Arab world. The empire had become a rapacious tax-gathering machine run by provincial governors who paid kickbacks to Baghdad but otherwise offered the caliph no more than the barest homage and granted their subjects even less than that. With the triumph of an authoritarian and incurious religious dogma, with the failure to develop resources or technological advances, and with civil administrations replaced by local military autocrats, the empire of the Arabs fell into intellectual, political and economic decline.

                          There were uprisings against the Arabs throughout their empire. In Egypt, where the population had been three million at the time of the Arab conquest, the mismanagement of the country’s resources was so appalling that there were not many more than one and a half million Egyptians by AD 1000. Muslim discrimination and oppressive taxation stoked up resentment among the Copts, that is the native Egyptians. Their national pride was already wounded by the coming of the Arabs and the continuing infiltration of Egypt by nomadic tribes and led to repeated Coptic revolts, which were only suppressed with much bloodshed. Many Copts converted to Islam after the ferocious repression of 832; being unable to meet taxation demands, partly because the irrigation system was falling into further disrepair, they migrated into the towns, leaving large areas of land uncultivated. Even so, not until the eleventh century, four hundred years after the Arab occupation, did the majority of Egyptians finally adopt Islam.

                          Similarly the prosperity of Syria declined along with its population. Marginalised and oppressed by their new rulers in Baghdad the Syrians more than once rose up in revolt. Yet under the Abbasids the Arabic language became virtually universal in Syria, and Islam became the religion of the majority of its inhabitants–partly because of fresh immigration from Arabia, and partly from persecutions, pressures and inducements. Many Christians moved to the safety of the Lebanese mountains, among them the Maronites, who established themselves there in the ninth century.

                          Apart from the tensions between the Arab elite and their eventually Arabised subjects, Islam itself was split between the orthodox Sunni, who controlled the Baghdad caliphate, and the Shia, that is the partisans of Ali, so that religious dissensions added to the original cultural, ethnic and political differences. The Fatimids, who were Arabs originally from Syria but had settled in North Africa, returned eastwards to Egypt where they established a Shiite caliphate in 969, and by the end of the century they had extended their empire over Palestine and southern Syria.

                          Islam Divided: Shia versus Sunni
                          In 656 after insurgent Arab troops murdered Uthman, the third caliph, who was a member of the powerful Umayyad family of Mecca, Ali put himself forward as the natural inheritor of the caliphate, basing his claim on his marriage to Mohammed’s daughter Fatima, as well as on his considerable religious learning. But Ali was opposed by Aisha, who had been Mohammed’s favourite wife, along with her Umayyad family and many of Mohammed’s surviving companions. He took to arms and won his first battle, but later saw his authority dissolve when rebels advanced on his army with copies of the Koran fixed to the points of their spears and his troops refused to fight.

                          Ali was assassinated and the Umayyads were installed once again in the caliphate. But the real wound to Islam occurred when Hussein, Ali’s son by Fatima, and therefore of Mohammed’s blood, led a revolt against the Umayyads and after a fanatical struggle was killed with all his men. In a sense the Prophet’s own blood had been shed, so that for the partisans, or Shia, of Ali, Hussein’s death was a martyrdom and also a stain on the Sunni, that is on orthodox Muslims who then as now constituted the greater part of Islam.

                          From then on the Shia refused to accept as caliph any but Ali’s descendants, while the Sunni barred the caliphate to the Prophet’s descendants for all time. Shiism took hold in Persia and in much of Iraq, but also, almost three centuries after the death of Ali, his followers in the form of the Fatimids would invade Egypt with the intention of using it as a base from where to oppose the Sunni Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad and to impose Shia dominance throughout the entire Islamic world.


                          • #14
                            Perilous Pilgrimages
                            Initially the Muslim presence in Syria and Palestine interfered little with pilgrimage to Christian holy sites, nor did it affect the security of monasteries and Christian communities there. The Muslims were no strangers to the concept of pilgrimage, for they themselves had made the pilgrimage to Mecca one of the pillars of their faith; moreover the Christian pilgrims were a considerable source of revenue to Muslims at Jerusalem and other holy sites. For Christians, the Holy Land was unique in providing a tangible link with the life and death of Jesus, and throughout the Muslim occupation the numbers of pilgrims continued to grow.

                            To reach the river Jordan was a special aim of pilgrims, for there they could re-enact the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:16–17). The afflicted were particularly attracted, for they recalled that one of Jesus’ grievances against the Temple priests in Jerusalem was their rejection of the lame, blind, deformed and sick as imperfect and unworthy, for the belief was that outer illness signified a corruption of the soul. Reacting against the Temple priests, Jesus performed baptisms at which everyone was welcome, for the core of his preaching was that salvation was for all. Pilgrims to the Holy Land sought baptism in the waters of the Jordan in order to undergo a spiritual cleansing, and among them were many afflicted people for whom the purification of their souls might also bring about a physical cure.

                            But the most popular object of pilgrimage was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built on the traditional sites of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels place the hill of Calvary, or Golgotha, and the tomb offered for the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, outside the walls of Jerusalem, yet the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands within the very heart of the city. In fact the city was enlarged and rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian, and in 135 he had a temple of Venus built upon the spot where the tomb was said to be.

                            Still, the old tradition remained strong enough to justify the Emperor Constantine in pulling down the temple in 326 in order to search for the tomb reputed to be beneath it. A rock-cut tomb was duly found and pronounced to be that of Jesus, and the outcrop of Golgotha was identified nearby. Constantine immediately ordered the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in fact a vast complex consisting of two elements, the Basilica or Martyrium at the site of Golgotha, which was dedicated in 335, and the Church of the Anastasis, meaning ‘resurrection’, built in the form of a rotunda and surmounted by a great dome over the tomb of Jesus and dedicated in 340. Circulating within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which enclosed the most sacred sites in Christendom, pilgrims vividly relived the drama of that first Easter when Jesus died upon the Cross and rose again on the third day.

                            Following the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638 the city’s largely Christian population enjoyed a long period of good relations with the Muslims. But by the tenth century the Muslims had become more aggressive, and in 938 they attacked Jerusalem’s Christians during the Palm Sunday procession, set fire to the Martyrium and badly damaged the Anastasis church. In 966 a Muslim mob again attacked the Anastasis and set alight the roof of the Martyrium. The Patriarch who had hidden in a vat of oil was set alight and burnt alive. The Muslims set their seal on these acts by seizing part of the east entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where they constructed a new mosque.

                            Worse was to come. Starting in 1004 the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, who ruled over Egypt, North Africa, Palestine and southern Syria, launched a campaign of anti-Christian fanaticism. Christians suffered persecution and had ordinances passed against them; church property was confiscated, crosses were seized and burnt, little mosques were built on church roofs, and finally the churches themselves were set ablaze. By 1014 over thirty thousand churches had been destroyed, and many Christians had been forced to convert to Islam, at least outwardly, to save their lives, while others fled into Byzantine territory. But the critical turning point in Western attitudes towards the Muslim East came in 1009, for in that year al-Hakim ordered the complete destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was carried out with such violence that even the tomb of Jesus, though cut deep into the bedrock, was demolished with pickaxes and all but obliterated.

                            After the death of al-Hakim in 1021 his successor permitted the Byzantine emperor, under stringent conditions and at his own expense, to rebuild the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrimage, too, was again permitted, though sojourns in the Holy Land proved unpredictable and often dangerous. For a while during 1056 the Muslims forbade pilgrims entry to Jerusalem and expelled three hundred from the city. In 1064 a large German pilgrimage led by Gunther, bishop of Bamberg, came under Muslim attack; the party was plundered and hundreds were massacred within sight of Jerusalem. Muslim pirates operated against pilgrims at sea, either attacking them outright or exacting charges, bargains and gifts. Pilgrims were obliged to pay protection money, known as khafara, along the roads. Also the sensibilities and prejudices of the Muslims had to be borne in mind: pilgrims could not enter mosques, they could not enter towns or cities except on foot, they could not dress in certain ways, they should not look at Muslim women, and they should not make merry or laugh lest the Muslims thought the Christians’ behaviour was directed at them.

                            Pilgrimage depended on the Muslim authorities maintaining orderly conditions so that the defenceless Christian traveller could move about and worship in safety, but the Middle East was wracked by misgovernment, division, exploitation, fanaticism and aggression, which undermined that guarantee. And now in the last third of the eleventh century a new threat arose–not only to pilgrims but to Byzantium and the Arabs–in the form of a Turkish invasion from the East.


                            • #15
                              The Turkish Invasion: Byzantium Appeals to the West
                              Migrating tribes of Turks known as Seljuks began arriving from the East in the territories of the Abbasid caliphate in about 970. They were soon converted to Sunni Islam and became invaluable to the Arabs for their martial qualities, especially for their mounted bowmen and the nomadic speed of their cavalry. But the caliphate was no longer a unified entity. Spain, Africa and Egypt had long since led a political life independent of the caliph in Baghdad. Indeed the enfeebled state of Arab rule stood as an open invitation, and in 1055 the Seljuks took Baghdad and established their hegemony over the caliphate. Under the Seljuks there was an immediate resurgence in the fortunes of Sunni Islam in Iran, Iraq and Syria. In 1071 the Seljuks defeated the Byzantine army at Manzikert in eastern Anatolia, opening the whole of Asia Minor to conquest by the Turks and threatening Constantinople itself. In that same year the Seljuks also turned south, taking northern Syria from the Byzantines and Jerusalem from the Fatimids.

                              With Byzantium suddenly reduced to hardly more than its capital, Constantinople, and the adjacent regions, in 1074 the Byzantine emperor Michael VII appealed to Pope Gregory VII for help, his desperation all the more evident in his willingness to overlook the Great Schism of 1054, which was the culmination of centuries of often violent doctrinal differences between the Latin and Orthodox Churches. Despite the schism, the appeal fell on ready ears, for already in 1063 the Papacy had given its blessing to a crusade against the Muslims in Spain and it might have done the same now. But this was not the moment when Gregory could call upon the secular powers of Europe to head eastwards on a crusade, as he was embroiled in the Investiture Controversy with many of those same secular authorities over whether it was they or the Church who had the right to appoint high church officials and thereby control the great wealth and powers such officials could command.

                              Meanwhile the Seljuks tightened their grip on Syria and Palestine. In 1076 they took Damascus from the Fatimids, and when the Fatimids briefly regained Jerusalem that year, the Seljuks recaptured the city after a siege of several months and massacred the entire Muslim population, about three thousand, as well as a large number of Jews who had supported the Fatimids, though the Christians were spared.

                              Throughout these convulsive events the pilgrim traffic had never entirely ceased, but the journey was now far more difficult than it had been before. Not only was there fighting between Turks and Egyptians in Palestine and Syria, but Asia Minor, which had offered secure passage when it was in the hands of the Byzantine Empire, could no longer be traversed without an armed escort owing to marauding Turkish tribesmen, and even then it was not safe. Everywhere throughout Anatolia and the Middle East there were brigands on the roads, and at every small town along the way the local petty headman tried to extort money from passers-by. The pilgrims who succeeded in overcoming all these harassments and dangers returned impoverished and weary to the West with tales to tell of the appalling conditions in the East.

                              The Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus began the fightback against the Seljuks, reclaiming territory along the Black Sea and round the shores of the Sea of Marmara during the 1080s. But in order to press harder against the Turks he sought mercenaries from the West, and in March 1095 he sent an appeal to Pope Urban II. In response Alexius got something wholly unexpected and astonishing. Alexius’ daughter, the historian Anna Comnena, described how a multitude from the West approached Constantinople in 1096 on their way to the East: ‘They assembled from all parts, one after another, with arms and horses and all the other equipment for war. Full of enthusiasm and ardour they thronged every highway, and with these warriors came a host of civilians, outnumbering the sand of the seashore or the stars of heaven, carrying palms and bearing crosses on their shoulders. There were women and children, too, who had left their own countries. Like tributaries joining a river from all directions they streamed towards us in full force.’

                              Pope Urban’s Call
                              The Council of Clermont in central France was convened by Pope Urban II during the second half of November 1095. It was largely concerned with the Truce of God, the device by which the Church had for half a century been trying to limit feudal warfare, which was having a devastating effect upon the land. Population growth, shortage of land and petty civil wars had contributed to a feeling of insecurity and desperation at all levels of society. There had been floods and plague in 1094, followed by drought and famine in 1095. A shower of meteorites in April 1095 presaged a great movement of peoples, it was said, and lent an apocalyptic note to the social and economic problems.

                              Meanwhile Pope Urban had been formulating a policy in response to the appeal from the Emperor Alexius Comnenus. Urban’s aim was to provide the Byzantine Empire with the reinforcements it needed in order to drive the Seljuk Turks from Asia Minor, for he hoped that in return the Orthodox Church would acknowledge the supremacy of Rome and that the unity of Christendom would be restored. He was also concerned to give the aggressive nobility, especially that of his native France, an alternative outlet for their martial energies. The Papacy had gained strength through the Investiture Controversy, and not only had it established its authority over Church appointments, but in marshalling public opinion it had also intensified popular piety, so it seemed a propitious moment to inaugurate a new era of religious energy in the West and also to win the prize of Jerusalem. Urban let it be known that in response to the appeal from Eastern Christendom for help, he would make a speech on the penultimate day of the council, Tuesday 27 November. He expected that in addition to churchmen his audience would comprise members of the French nobility, for he envisioned the expedition to the East as an armed pilgrimage of knights.

                              Three hundred clerics had been attending the council within the cathedral at Clermont, but the crowds, both clerical and lay, that assembled on that Tuesday were huge, and so the Papal throne was set up on a platform in an open field outside the eastern gate of the city, and there, when the multitudes were gathered, Urban rose to address them. The reports of four contemporary chroniclers survive, but all were written years later, were coloured by subsequent events, and differ greatly from one another, so that we can have only a very approximate idea of what Urban actually said.

                              He began, it seems, by telling his listeners that the Seljuks were advancing into the heart of Christian lands, maltreating the population and desecrating their shrines and churches. The Emperor of Byzantium had called for help, and it was the duty of the West to respond. But he spoke not only about recovering Byzantine territory. He emphasised the special holiness of Jerusalem and told how pilgrims had suffered on their journeys there. Then he made his great appeal. Let the West go to the rescue of the East. The nobility should stop fighting one another and instead fight a righteous war. For those who died in battle there would be remission of sins. Let this armed pilgrimage (the word ‘crusade’ did not come into use until the thirteenth century when the Crusades were over) set out in the summer, at the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August, after the harvest had been gathered; and the armies should assemble at Constantinople.

                              Cries of Deus le volt!–God wills it!–interrupted Pope Urban’s speech and filled the air again when it was over. Adhemar, the bishop of Le Puy, immediately knelt before the throne and begged permission to join the holy expedition. This apparently spontaneous gesture was probably prearranged, as Urban had stayed at Le Puy in August. Yet the enthusiasm was greater than Urban had expected. Knights and peasants, rich and poor, pressed forward to follow the bishop’s example. Many burst into tears and many were seized with convulsive trembling. Everyone who listened was swept with emotions of overwhelming power.