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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

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


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.