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The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount

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The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, by Gershom Gorenberg

The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, by Gershom Gorenberg

Conflict in the Middle East has resulted in untold death, destruction and suffering. Although many have offered plausible arguments as to the social, political, and economic origins of the various conflicts, inevitably everything keeps coming back to religion: the disagreement and violence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This means that understanding the role of religion in these disagreements is necessary to understanding the violence itself.

Summary

Title: The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount
Author: Gershom Gorenberg
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0195152050

Pro:
• Fascinating stories and explanations of the people and groups involved
• Personal interviews with many of the most important players in the apocalyptic movements

Con:
• None

Description:
• Engaging account of the conflicting religious visions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Jerusalem
• Explains the apocalyptic expectations and beliefs fueling the conflict in the Middle East
• Shows how religious beliefs and religious violence can become intertwined

Book Review

Even those well-versed in Middle Eastern history and affairs can be hard-pressed to explain in understandable and straightforward terms why these conflicts exist, why they are so violent, and why everyone is so unwilling to compromise. Not so with Gershom Gorenberg, a journalist and scholar raised in the United States but now living in Jerusalem and author of the book The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.

It’s a relatively slim volume, but it packs a ton of pertinent, well-researched, and enlightening information which make the conflicts and violence in the Middle East so much more understandable. Perhaps it would be better to say “comprehensible,” because the complex web of theology, politics, and eschatology may only really be “understandable” to those who believe it and live it on a daily basis. Although much of the violence seems to be a matter solely between Jews and Muslims, in fact Christians play a critical role which cannot be ignored.

All three groups are involved in what amounts to a religious drama — God is directing, they are playing the starring role, and Jerusalem is the stage. Unfortunately, they are all following different scripts. The basic plot, however, is basically the same for all three: The End of Days is approaching. God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. The Holiest of places must be protected or expanded, for they are the key to the manifestation of God’s power and dominion. Sadly, the End may not be approaching quite fast enough — what may be required is proactive involvement of the faithful to ensure that the wicked cannot thwart God’s plans for much longer.

The primary locale for all of this is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary), perhaps the most famous and most contested piece of religious real estate in the world. It’s where many believe that Cain murdered Abel (ironically enough, it was in a dispute who would own the location, according to one Jewish tradition). Many Jews believe that Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac here. It’s where many believe that King David first erected an altar to God. It’s where both Solomon and Herod built massive temples. It’s where Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven and where the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites, currently stands.

Primary actors in this drama — or is it a farce? — are the Israelis who are convinced that building the Third Temple, a reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple, will initiate the age of the Jewish Messiah. Gorenberg begins his book with the story of Melody, a calf born in August, 1996. She was born red, a critical issue because a red heifer is necessary for sacrifices to recommence in a Third Temple.

The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, by Gershom Gorenberg

The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, by Gershom Gorenberg

True Believers have gathered together in a variety of Third Temple societies in active preparation, even going so far as to prepare the precise clothing, coinage, and sacrificial implements needed for use in a rebuilt Temple. Although some might be tempted to dismiss them as “kooks,” they are deadly serious in their plans; although their actual numbers are small, they are backed by widespread sympathy and support in Israeli society. The intransigence of Jewish settlers on Palestinian lands is largely explained by their related belief that all of that land was given to the Jews by God and any attempt to give it up amounts to blasphemy.

Most people probably believe that efforts to build the Third Temple, which would require destroying the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, would precipitate a Holy War, but the True Believers say that it “will bring peace, will bring security, will cure all the ills of society!” That is, after all, what the Messiah is supposed to do.

» Next: Christian and Muslim Roles in the End Times

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