Lecture 3 – (1.2) Jerusalem as Sacred Space

In this second lecture, we continued our investigation of “sacred space” (cf. Eliade 1959). We continued with the idea of founding a sacred space, which basically involves the building up of the idea that a place actually has experienced and represents a “break” in the cosmic planes and thus communication with the heavens. Jerusalem has been founded by the very fact that it became known as the place where Jacob saw angels ascending and descending on their ladders and other stories emphasizing this break in the “profane” existence of men previously. In addition, the founding involved the construction of a temple, whose history we ran over once again. We examined how various stories concerning Mesopotamian Temples, stories from the Primeval Bible (Hebrew Bible), and even stories from the New Testament all have the recurring theme of God giving specific plans to build a house of worship. This is of prime importance, as it stresses the fact that it is not man’s work to build passages to heaven, but rather work for God…it thus makes sense that while it must be carried out physically by man, it is imagined and commanded by Him. Next, we moved onto the concept of consecrating a sacred space. To consecrate or sanctify a space is to ritually render it sacred, which often involves thinking of a place as a site of creation itself or otherwise by recreating the creation event in this space [often on a microcosmic scale] (as one might do in inhabiting a new home by planting a new tree or some other ritual event to represent the birth of a new world that is now one’s new home). Through stories such as the Garden of Eden (creation event itself, which mentions Gihon Spring) and the Binding of Isaac, we begin to see how Jerusalem was consecrated in the minds of the people. Next we looked into the concept of sacred time and I thought the idea of changing views on why the Sabbath is kept was fascinating (see expansion of my thoughts on this in next paragraph). Finally, we talked about the idea of Jerusalem as an axis mundi – a place that at once connects earth and the heavens – which it is depicted as in many parts of the Hebrew Bible.  The idea of Mt. Moriah as a “cosmic mountain” and the depths of the Hinnon Valley representing “hell” build upon this image of Jerusalem. Lastly, we looked into the various microcosmic “sacred spaces” within the larger sacred area that is Jerusalem. For Judaism, this includes the temple mount and the holiest site of all for Jews, the Western Wall. For Christianity, we looked at the Holy Sepulcher, which is believed to house the tomb of Adam beneath. For Islam, we looked into the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

I found the recurring theme of a “divine” plan as a good “reason” (more of a good excuse if you ask me) to construct a temple or altar to the Gods an interesting theme. While in some ways I think this represents a simple way various ancient peoples and rulers used to avoid actual dialogue concerning what is best to build (as divine plan trumps all, haha), I think it also kind of represents the religious side to the term “epiphany”, where rather than attributing an idea for such as plan to their own brilliance and mind they attribute it to God.

I also found it fascinating that so many stories, of creation specifically, have been brought to relate to or are rooted in the concept of Jerusalem. The fact that the reference to the Gihon Spring means many believe Jerusalem was actually a part of the Garden plus the fact that many Christians believe Adam’s skull to be buried beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchur is mind-blowing to think about in terms of my previous conceptions of the Creation story – I never thought people rooted such stories so much into our current world reality.

As promised, I also want to discuss more on sacred time and what was discussed in terms of the Sabbath. I thought it was definitely a good point Cargill brought up that this concept of sacred time seemed to appear “conveniently”, which although might be thought of as an atheist viewpoint, is hard to deny. It seems clear that as Judaism and other faiths spread beyond Jerusalem, and thus not everyone could physically inhabit the city, it became necessary to create an alternative to actually inhabiting the sacred space in the form of sacred time. People create their own sacred worlds in which they dress, eat, celebrate, and pray in certain ways. While they may not always be in the temple or in their believed axis mundi, these sacred aspects they could integrate into their daily lives represented a way to modernize religion. It provided a means to continue living your life outside of the holy axis that is Jerusalem, without feeling like you were living outside of it. Sacred time, in a way, replaced sacred space in a growing world.

I also found it very intriguing that our view of the reason behind the Sabbath has changed. It seems that this “day of rest” was originally attributed to the Creation story, in which we all rest because the 7th day was the day He rested after creating the world (Genesis and Exodus). However, in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, keeping the Sabbath is attributed to the days of slavery in the land of Egypt (Story of Passover). Here, the conception is that Sabbath is a day to remember those hard times as slaves and to recall that He was the one who saved us on this day. It is a time to allow everyone to rest and reflect upon a day where God was not resting, but was actively saving our people. It has become, in the Jewish tradition, a day to be thankful for God –as He constantly works behind the scenes – and reflect upon where we have come from and how we can use this knowledge to move our world forward.

I also wanted to talk about a heartwarming story Dr. Cargill brought up in lecture, but I think I’ll save it for it’s own blog entry. So yeah, that’s all for now. I think I’m writing way more than I need to, but I think it’s good now that my focus has shifted more to stressing the interesting bits more than just reciting everything. We’ll see how things change as I go.

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~ by Andru on January 12, 2011.

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