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September 14th, 2013
01:06 PM ET

What makes Jerusalem so sacred?

World-renowned chef, best-selling author and Emmy-winning television personality Anthony Bourdain returns for the second season of CNN's showcase for coverage of food and travel. "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" is shot entirely on location and premieres Sept 15 at 9pm ET/PT. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook. Bourdain's first stop: Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Opinion by Richard Hect, special to CNN

JERUSALEM (CNN) - Perhaps the most repeated observation about Jerusalem is that it's a sacred city for the three monotheistic faiths of the west, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Hundreds of tour guides tell it to the busloads of tourists brought to the city each day. Journalists who have to file stories from and about Jerusalem will use this description in their leads.

But what does that observation really mean? What does it mean to call a place, a city sacred?

Of course, this immediately refers to sites and buildings which contain and make concrete the sacred or the holy. In Jerusalem, there are literally hundreds of these containers, some better known than others.

One can immediately think of the Western Wall for the Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb for Christians, or the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque for Islam.

These containers are only the hardware of a sacred place. A more fundamental question is what are the dynamics or the software that make a place holy?

In each case the containers “mark” the breakthrough of the divine and transcendent world into the mundane, immanent world of humans.

This is the rock where God ordered Abraham to bind his son Isaac for sacrifice, and where later David and Solomon would build the central ritual structure of Judaism, the twice-destroyed temple that many Jews dream will be rebuilt in a messianic future when the dead are revived.

These are the streets and stones touched by Jesus, the son of God, the place where the central ritual of Christianity was revealed, which identified bread and wine with the sacrificial body and blood of the savior, and the place where the End Times will be orchestrated.

This is the place where God brought his Prophet Muhammad in a miraculous night journey.

From the very same rock, chosen by God, Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Jesus was crucified and Muhammad ascended into paradise to receive the order of daily prayer for Islam. It's also where the Day of Judgment will begin, where the righteous and the wicked will receive their rewards and punishments.

MORE FROM CNN: Exploring Jerusalem's Old City 

A sacred place pivots the heavenly world and the human world; it's the meeting point between the two.

This means, of course, human behavior must be more disciplined and guarded than if one where just visiting another place like Los Angeles or Miami.

Rituals are required to maintain the presence of the sacred. Pilgrims and residents dress differently and speak differently, and often become nervous, tense and even violent when they think others are not behaving appropriately.

Time in sacred places is heavier than in other places. The present is soaked with the past and the future.

Memory is both individual (my mother and father owned a bakery there on that corner) and collective or national (my people began here) and is present in every action and in every encounter.

Your existential history is here, who you really are, and every event of consequence happened in this place.

In a place like Jerusalem, religion is politics and politics is religion. These human activities are seamlessly bound together.

Holy cities are not just divided by religion and politics, but, as the distinguished Israeli urbanist and former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti noted, are polarized by religion and politics.

READ MORE: 10 things to know before visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza

The sacredness of places like Jerusalem is never static. It always is changing, another layer of meaning and symbolism is built on those before, and others will be built in the future.

Richard Hect is professor of religious studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara and co-author of the book “To Rule Jerusalem.” The views expressed in this column are Hecht's. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown • Belief • Christianity • End times • Faith • Houses of worship • Islam • Israel • Israel • Judaism • Middle East • Religious violence • Sacred Spaces

soundoff (113 Responses)
  1. okay

    In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
    He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • okay

      Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD...

      guaranteed.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
      • okay

        Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

        You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

        'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD

        the key

        the key to finding god

        the evidence he is

        is born from the all out pursuit (the "reckless abandon" of the football player) of him.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
        • okay

          glory

          human language has not found the words to express the pleasure, the joy, the surprising awakening to another world, that god exists, that he lives and loves me, the missing part, the answer to all questions with one touch, to see life as it is and as it should be, and to do nothing to have entered into this dimension except to ask, to beg, to plead with all one's strength- merely to know him, if he is there.

          glory

          September 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  2. Meredith S.

    It is not sacred, any more than everywhere else. Not even close to the lives dwelling in moms.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • More of the Monty Please

      As that great song says, every sperm is sacred...
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUspLVStPbk&w=640&h=360]

      September 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  3. julieejulia

    my neighbor's mother makes $75 hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her check was $17185 just working on the internet for a few hours. more tips here.....http://x.co/2MvnS

    September 17, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  4. julieejulia

    my neighbor's mother makes $75 hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her check was $17185 just working on the internet for a few hours. more tips here.....http://x.co/2MvmX

    September 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  5. lol??

    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    "............A sacred place pivots the heavenly world and the human world; it's the meeting point between the two.............." No it doesn't. Now replace those divots!

    September 17, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  6. Levi

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT4hCs-iMgQ&w=640&h=360]

    September 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  7. Treena

    Wow, great introduction, very fair and very mature. I loved this episode with Anthony.Sadly, it made me feel like I knew something he didn't.
    Huge, huge fan of Anthony Bourdain,

    September 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • niknak

      I don't know anything about him personally, but he comes off as very arrogant.

      September 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  8. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Jerusalem is so sacred because we have all of these delusional idiots out there talking to imaginary friends who think that it is a special place only to their “one, true” religion. Ridiculous!

    September 16, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • fred

      I am certain you have a special place. Most special places in peoples lives are that because of an emotional attachment related to that place. In the Bible those who experienced God called that place special.
      You do not know God nor have you had an experience with God so you cannot comment on that anymore than I can comment on your special place.

      September 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        Yes, I do not know god. This is true becasue there is no god except as a concept in many delusional minds.

        And please dont talk about my "special place", only my priest is allowed to touch me there.

        September 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
        • fred

          Your special place is certainly not special to those who have not experienced it is my point. That does not make it delusional. Based on your sense of touch and smell you believe it to be real.
          I have not touched or smelled yours yet I believe it to be real. I do not have any proof but it is not delusional because based on my experience it is real.

          September 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  9. Religion is unhealthy for mankind

    Education changes things.

    September 16, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  10. judea reconquista

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXxDAVshjgU&w=640&h=360]

    September 16, 2013 at 1:57 am |
  11. P.Norton

    A mountain is not made Holy, it becomes Holy after years of worship. This same effect can refer to your automobile or anything you idolize and worship. While in a shopping mall someone keys your automobile or breaks into your home and takes what you idolize and worship. How do you feel? Violated by materialism, greed? These things are not made Holy but become Holy by worship. Action causes reaction. Seriously, who has the problem; the person who keys your automobile, the person who broke into your home, or YOU?

    September 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • Lawrence of Arabia

      And that's why we have the 2nd Commandment. Not only are we to NOT revere things, places, or buildings, but we are even forbidden to worship God in the wrong way, as Nadab and Abihu learned in Leviticus 10:1.

      In the Old Covenant, God gave the people of Israel specific places and dates to perform their worship, but never were they to be revered in such a way as to mean that the object itself became worshipped. Rather, the object was "set aside for special use." Similar to your mother having special china dishes that she brought out whenever important company came to visit, Israel had special places and special dates for special purposes.

      September 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  12. Bribarian

    israel = apartheid

    September 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • judea reconquista

      islam=world wide terror !

      September 16, 2013 at 1:51 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Israel is not that at all. I suggest you visit and meet the Druze that have full citizenship and do not have to serve the military (like most everyone else) because of their faith. Go meet the Arab citizens of Israel that have full citizenship.
      No Brib, Israel is not apartheid.

      September 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  13. Answer

    The word "sacred" is of no significance. It is only a word that is slapped onto an item to give "claim" of value. Only the religious freaks use and exploit this word for material gain and power.

    September 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  14. Alex

    Muhammad claimed to reach jerusalem, no proof whatsoever. Come on night journey on a heavenly horse and no one saw him lol.sounds like a fairy tale.

    September 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Kat

      A senior archaeologist at Tel Aviv University has cast doubt on the alleged Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. Israel Finkelstein's claims have been made in the face of official Israeli and biblical claims to the occupied city.

      Professor Finkelstein, who is known as "the father of biblical archaeology", told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish archaeologists have found no historical or archaeological evidence to back the biblical narrative on the Exodus, the Jews' wandering in Sinai or Joshua's conquest of Canaan. On the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed.

      According to Finkelstein's university colleague, archaeology lecturer Rafi Greenberg, Israel is supposed to find something if it digs for a period of six weeks. But, Greenberg told the Jerusalem Post, Israelis have been excavating the so-called City of David in the occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan for two years to no avail.

      Professor Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist who has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed with Israel Finkelstein. He said that the right-wing Elad Association has not found anything "saying welcome to David's palace" although that was taken for granted by Elad, as if the group depended on scriptural texts to guide them in their work.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
      • DeFraginator

        Say what? He questions the City of David site, north of the Temple Mount and outside the Old City, but not Jerusalem.
        “Contrary to Palestinian claims, there is a scholarly consensus that the Temple Mount was indeed the location of the two Temples.”
        And regarding the City of David:
        “This, however, does not diminish the tremendous importance of the City of David ridge. Scholars agree that starting in the late 8th century BCE, it was part of the enlarged city of Jerusalem. Illustrious biblical figures, such as Kings Hezekiah and Josiah and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, probably strolled here at that time. Monuments unearthed here include impressive fortifications from the Bronze Age, the Kingdom of Judah and the period of the Hasmoneans, as well as water installations associated with the nearby Gihon Spring, ancient Jerusalem’s main water source.”

        http://forward.com/articles/137273/in-the-eye-of-jerusalem-s-archaeological-storm/

        Nice try bigot.

        September 15, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Kat

      A 1400 years old history of a continuous Muslim presence in Jerusalem and Muslims pilgrimage to the city from all corners of earth, their many sacrifices in blood & money to defend and liberate it from the Crusades, Napoleon, the British, and Zionazis is more than enough to claim their rights to the city, regardless if you believe that prophet Muhammad visited the city. After all European settlers have been in America for 400 years but Muslims have been in Palestine for 1400 years.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • shangubi

      ....have you read all about that journey? You know only half the facts, and start talking nonsense.
      You do not have proof that God Almighty exists, no one has seen Him and will never ever see Him, that is including Jesus and Moses (who asked to see Him). Muhammad did meet travelers on his way back journey who confessed to have seen him that night at a place far away from Makkah and nearer to Jerusalem. Before attacking others, check your gears!? Thanks Cousin.

      September 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
      • simplyput

        @Shangubi
        Speaking of attacking others, and since you implied my faith could get me charged with insanity, are you saying the bible is insane? No one is born a Christian. One has to be born again ...one time with water from the womb and again with the spirit. You must be born again according to Jesus and John 3:15. Check those gears again.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:25 am |
  15. Kat

    A senior archaeologist at Tel Aviv University has cast doubt on the alleged Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. Israel Finkelstein's claims have been made in the face of official Israeli and biblical claims to the occupied city.

    Professor Finkelstein, who is known as "the father of biblical archaeology", told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish archaeologists have found no historical or archaeological evidence to back the biblical narrative on the Exodus, the Jews' wandering in Sinai or Joshua's conquest of Canaan. On the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed.

    According to Finkelstein's university colleague, archaeology lecturer Rafi Greenberg, Israel is supposed to find something if it digs for a period of six weeks. But, Greenberg told the Jerusalem Post, Israelis have been excavating the so-called City of David in the occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan for two years to no avail.

    Professor Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist who has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed with Israel Finkelstein. He said that the right-wing Elad Association has not found anything "saying welcome to David's palace" although that was taken for granted by Elad, as if the group depended on scriptural texts to guide them in their work.

    September 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Costa

      Recent discoveries in Jerusalem made Finkelstein slowly chew and eat his hat, http://new.huji.ac.il/en/article/18251
      but somehow you will not hear about it from mr Finkelstein.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • swej kcuf

        They overlooked :made in Italy"
        Manufacturing history is a trait for those who never belong.

        September 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
      • tallulah13

        I fail to see how a seventh century CE byzantine artifacts with Jewish symbols prove anything except that there was a jewish presence in seventh century CE Jerusalem.

        September 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
        • Uncouth Swain

          "There is a stream in the research that says that David and Solomon were not historical figures, that they are a legend. I don't think so. There is an inscription from Tel Dan from the ninth century BCE that mentions the southern kingdom by the name of `the house of David.' So it stands to reason that they existed, but the question is whether they ruled a large empire, and about that there is not the slightest hint. All the evidence is against it."
          ~Finkelstein

          September 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  16. samoosaur

    When you speak a lie often enough you tend to believe that the lie is now the truth.The Bible is being used to justify a lie.The Bible was written by a Jew for the Goime .Israel is an illegal apartheid rouge state stolen from the Palestinians.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • judea reconquista

      "The yellow badge (or yellow patch)"

      was first introduced in ISLAMIC countries

      to segregate jews,copts,hindus,Assyrians,Berber from the invading ISLAMIC population long before the NAZIS.

      60% of the jews in israel ("mizrahi jews")are refugees from ISLAMIC countries.

      google:

      "yellow badge"

      "Hitler&The Mufti Of Jerusalem"

      "islamic unit of the Waffen-SS"

      "Operation ATLAS"

      "Hurva Synagogue"

      "Jewish exodus from Arab lands"

      "Hebron pogrom 1517"

      "plunder of Safed 1834"

      "Farhud"

      "Dhimmi"

      "tiberias massacre"

      "Antisemitism in Turkey"

      "1945 Tripoli pogrom"

      "granada massacre 1066"

      "Damascus affair"

      "1934 Thrace Pogroms"

      "Shiraz blood libel 1910"

      "Aleppo pogroms 1853,1875,1947"

      "Jaffa riots 1921"

      "Allahdad incident"

      "1929 Hebron massacre"

      "Conversion of non-Muslim places of worship into mosques"

      jews("old yishuv") were ethnically cleansed from gaza,hebron,Judea&Samaria, leaving behind their homes,shops E.T.C...(their grave stones desecrated, used as pavements and latrines)in many cases the new muslim occupiers didn't even bother to erase the david star marks engraved by the former jewish owners on the stone gates and they are still visible today to the naked eye.

      youtube.."watch ! 92 years old arab woman gloats about hebron massacre"

      September 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • swej kcuf

        Hasbara of evil Hebrews as usual.

        tell us more about jews in Hitler's army and how did they help to secure stealing a land under the pretense of holo

        HOAX

        September 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
        • judea reconquista

          [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9yZBb1J3Ms&w=640&h=360]

          September 16, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  17. Erasmus

    Mat 23:37
    """¶O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
    Mat 23:38
    Behold, your house is left unto you DESOLATE. """

    Since when did DESOLATE mean HOLY?

    Theres only one word for (earthly) Jerusalem: *****ICHABOD*****

    And a THIRD TEMPLE? what a money making joke! Christ has already built us a city above, why on God's green earth would you think he needs us to build a temple below? Foolishness. Christ dwells in hearts!!!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • swej kcuf

      What temple?

      That demonic hekhal of evil HaShem exists only as a mirage. I know that happens after about 4 minutes in the desert.

      Imagine of you spent 40 desert years no less following a G_D who kept you only for sick purpose.

      September 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • judea reconquista

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3-GBsGmE54&w=640&h=360]

      September 16, 2013 at 2:00 am |
  18. asaf

    The eternal capital of Israel!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.