Ways of Knowing through Iconography: The Temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock

Boisi event image

Pamela Berger
Boston College

Date: April 8, 2009


The Dome of the Rock figured as a model for the Temple of Solomon in some works of art. However, the depth and complexity of the connection has not been explored, nor has the meaning of that domed structure in Jewish art been illuminated. Pamela Berger's research shows how the site of the rock retained its holiness as it was re-consecrated first by Muslims, then by Christians, then by Muslims again. The way Berger views the material is completely new for the field, especially the idea that the Muslims built upon a site holy to Jews and recognized its importance for their common ancestors, David and Solomon. This perspective points to links that have been ignored in modern scholarship, especially since the mid-twentieth century. The material Berger presents will encourage people to look at the history of this site in a new way, not as a monument with an importance for one group only, but as a shrine which, at different times in its history, was viewed as a sacred place by the three Abrahamic faiths.

Speaker Bio

Pamela Berger

Pamela Berger is a filmmaker who has written, produced and/or directed three feature films.  “Sorceress” is about a medieval woman who is accused of being a heretic but is actually a healer.  It was shot in both English and French. Both versions are now available on DVD.

The second film, which she wrote, produced and directed is “The Imported Bridegroom.”  It’s a comedy set in Boston in 1900 about a father who tries to find, back in the Old Country, a perfect bridegroom for his Americanized daughter.  She takes one look at the boy he brings back and is appalled.  This film is also in DVD. 

The third film, “Kilian’s Chronicle: The Magic Stone” is about an Irish slave who escapes from a Viking ship and is rescued by Native Americans five hundred years before the arrival of Columbus.

Professor Berger teaches medieval art, from 300 to 1425 CE.  Her special interest is iconography, i.e. the meaning of the image in the context of its time, and most of her research deals with iconographic interpretation.

Event Recap

During her April 8 presentation at the Boisi Center, Pamela Berger, Professor of Fine Arts, explored the iconographic relationship between the Temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock. Berger’s interest in this topic arose when she noticed that in medieval art the Temple was often depicted as circular, even though it is known to have been rectilinear both when built by Solomon and when rebuilt by Herod.

Even after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews, who were expelled from Jerusalem, would return to the city and conduct furtive ceremonies at the site of a pierced stone where they believed the Holy of Holies had stood. Under Christian rule the land eventually became part of a garbage dump and was defiled. When Muslim armies captured the city in 636 CE, their leader, Umar, sought out the holy rock. By now it had been legendarily connected to Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac (according to Jews and Christians) or Ishmael (according to Muslims), Jacob’s pillow and the site where David prayed asking for God’s mercy while his first child with Bathsheba was dying.

The Dome of the Rock was erected as a large circular building on the site, and Muslims tolerated Jewish worship there. Berger showed examples of how this round Muslim building was iconographically conflated by Christian crusaders, as well as Jews, with the Temple of Jerusalem. She hopes this art historical conversation will encourage greater interreligious dialogue.

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Further Reading

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