The Holy City, Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions


Jerusalem is an essential place for Jews. It was the city of their great prophets, as well as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel under King David and his son Solomon, one of the most peaceful moments in their history. Jerusalem also housed the First and Second Temple, in which religious ritual was carried out until their destruction, respectively at 587 B.C. by the Babylonians, and 70 A.D. by the Romans.

Both destructions resulted in the diaspora of the Jewish people. Since then, Judaism always evokes a return to Jerusalem. In fact, the Babylonian captivity had already led to their first return. They built so the Second Temple there. After the destruction of the latter, the Jews became more attached to Jerusalem. For example, the "Daughter of Zion," a personification of Jerusalem and its people according to the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, is passed down from generation to generation. As well as the Kotel or Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall, becomes a place of prayers and pilgrimages for Jews.

James TISSOT (1836-1902), Reconstruction of the Temple of Herod Southeast Corner, 1886-1894, Opaque watercolor on graphite on gray wove paper, ⓒBrooklyn Museum
Nicolas POUSSIN (1594-1665), The Destruction and Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1625-26, Oil on canvas, ⓒIsrael Museum

Jerusalem, according to the religious texts of the Jews, it is there that the Jews await their Messiah, a descendant of King David, who will anoint with holy anointing oil as King of Israel, and who will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem. At the time of his arrival, he will gather all the Israeli tribes, solve the problems according to Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah), and finally rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem based on the patterns of the book of Ezekiel. Today, some groups of Judaism try to push ahead with the potential reconstruction of the Third Temple, perhaps the New Jerusalem. However, other groups protest against this idea, since the construction of the Temple is in connection with the question of the arrival of Messiah.


Jerusalem is a unique city in the world for Christians. On the one hand, all the paths of Jesus are intimately continuous with the city, from his rise to the Temple to his crucifixion and to his resurrection. Jerusalem is the scene of the Passion of Christ: He took his last meal in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was crucified and buried on Golgotha, and finally, he reappeared there to his disciples. On the other hand, it is in Jerusalem that Jesus ascended into heaven and that Christians await his return to the day of the Last Judgment. It is Constantine the great, first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, who recognized the city as a holy place. Jerusalem, since then, became a pilgrimage city for both Christians and Jews. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders strengthened the city’s significance to Christians.

Jerusalem, Mount of Olives and Gethsemane (top) Jerusalem, Gethsemane garden (bottom), P.Z. (Photochrome Zurich), Circa 1895, Photochrome, Vintage, 22,5 cm x 16,5 cm, © Private Collection

New Jerusalem according to the book of Revelation

Francisco de ZUBARAN (1598-1664), Saint Peter Nolasco’s Vison of Saint Peter the Apostle, 1629, Oil on canvas (top), The Vision of Saint Peter Nolasco, 1629, Oil on canvas (botton), ⓒ Museo Nacional del Prado, Dist. RMN-GP

For Christians, today’s Jerusalem is not New Jerusalem as what some Jews claim these days, because their New Jerusalem is in heaven. They are still waiting for the New Jerusalem that will come at the end of the world. The last two chapters of the Book of Revelation deal with New Jerusalem. It would be about the holy city, the dwelling place of God, or the spiritual place where the sons and daughters of God will live in eternity.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation, 21: 1-4)

It is a place where we free ourselves from sin because the servants of God who have the divinity in themselves will be with us. The text indicates that we must be pure and without fault to stay there.

“And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation, 22: 3-5)

Description of the New Jerusalem according to the Revelation

“This is an idealized Jerusalem, with a perfect geometry in which all measurements are calculated in multiples of twelve. [2]” Jean-Pierre PRÉVOST, expert of the Book of the Revelation

Saint John described in detail this place. It is a square and pure city covered with gold. A huge and high wall in jasper surrounds the city with twelve gold gates. Each group of three gates was facing every four cardinal directions. Namely, it is an enclosed place. Each gate is accompanied by an angel. Additionally, every twelve gate’s name comes from twelve Israeli tribes. The number 12 is crucial for Jews and Christians. The 12 is considered as a perfect number. It is the square root of 144 (perfect square). Also, the number represents 12 Israeli tribes and 12 apostles of Jesus.

“And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation, 21: 12-14)

“And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” (Revelation, 21: 16)

“And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald.” (Revelation, 21: 18-19)

For Christians, their Lord will fully replace the Temple. According to Saint John, the true Temple is Jesus.

“And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Revelation, 21: 22-23)


Jerusalem is the third holy city of Islam after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is called in Arabic al-Quds which originally means "the Saint". Jerusalem is a place where the prophet Muhammad went through a mysterious experience: his Night Journey (Isra), and his ascent into heaven (Mi’raj).

Muhammad traveled on the back of Bouraq (a supernatural creature) during a single night from Mecca to Jerusalem, guided by the angel Gabrielle. After visiting the Western Wall, he ascended into the Seven Heavens from the Temple Mount. He met Adam in the first heaven, Jesus and John the Baptist in the second, Joseph Jacob’s son in the third, Enoch the fourth, Aaron in the fifth, Moses in the sixth, and finally, Abraham in the seventh. Since then, he reached, without Gabriel, a place where God remains. Muhammad discussed with God the number of prayers a day.

Sultan Muhammad (1470-1555), The ascent of Muhammad to heaven, 1539-1543, Opaque watercolor and ink on paper, ⓒBritish Library

The Qur’an does not explicitly mention this mystical journey, but the all Muslim tradition provides a foundation for its attachment to Jerusalem.

“Glory to Him Who carried His beloved by night from the Sacred Masjid to the Furthest Masjid, whose precincts We have blessed, to show him of Our wonders! He it is Who is All-Hearing, All-Seeing!” (Quran 17:1)

Although Jerusalem lost its religious priority after Mecca and Medina, its importance remained attached to Muslims. It was in 638 that the conquest in Jerusalem by the Caliph Umar kindled the heart of Muslims on this holy city. During the Middle Age, all Islamic literature glorified Jerusalem: "the holy house of Islam", "the royal residence of Allah". "Come to the city of the Sanctuary, pray for it, because it is the place of the Resurrection", etc.

To mark the holiness of Mount Temple, the Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik, built in 691 the Dome of the Rock. Because the Mount Temple was the point where Muhammad had ascended to the seven heavens and met God during his Isra. According to Al-Bakri, an Andalusian Arab historian and geographer of the Muslim West in the eleventh century, when the Caliph Umar arrived in Jerusalem in 638, the ruins of the Temple had been used as a rubbish dump by Christians following the prophecy of Jesus: the destruction of the Temple. The caliph ordered the cleaning of this place and prayed for it. The early Muslims considered this mosque as their heavenly temple, a kind of New Jerusalem.

Photochrome Zurich, The Dome of the Rock, Circa 1890, ⓒPrivate collection