The Foundation Stone of the Jewish Temple, within the Dome of the Rock, via Wikimedia Commons
The Foundation Stone of the Jewish Temple, now within the Dome of the Rock, via Wikimedia Commons

© 2017 D. Catherine

I’ve recently been thinking about the “Dome of the Rock” (Arabic qubbat as-ṣakhra)—the rock reportedly being the Foundation Stone, upon which was situated the Jewish “Holy of Holies” (Hebrew qodesh ha-qodāshîm), of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ancient Jewish traditions consider the rock and the inner sanctuary as the spiritual junction of heaven and earth, as well as (at least symbolically) “the initial point—the starting-point—of Creation, the original Centre around which the earth developed concentrically.” (Henry Corbin)

What interests me is how—during the time of the Herodian-installed ‘Sadducee’ priesthood and the Roman political occupation in the early first century CE—the Jewish Nazarenes (notsrim, Qumran notsrei brito “Keepers of His Covenant” as per 1QS v.2ff) and their priesthood had “separated” from the Temple (1QS viii.13-14) and “the Land of Judah, to dwell in the Land of Damascus” (CD iv.2-4, vi.5) [which included Perea and the trans-Jordan wilderness], where they were to establish “the New Covenant in the Land of Damascus” (CD vi.19). But more than that—and considering the destruction of the temple and the eventual ‘fall’ of Jerusalem—there is the subsequent and inevitable shift towards the communal body itself as ‘temple/church’, with the Holy of Holies and therefore also the Shekhinah “divine dwelling” considered as dwelling within the revered Zaddik (Tsaddiq) as “Righteous” Pillar and “Foundation of the World” (compare the Shīʿī Imām and the Sufi Qutb).

Two particular references come to mind: firstly to Peter (Greek petros, the masculine form of petra ‘rock’) also called Cephas (Aramaic kepha ‘rock’) in Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Secondly, in view of the foundation stone and holy of holies considered as the spiritual junction of heaven and earth, recall the Gospel of Thomas (Logion 12) mentioning the faithful community as being directed to “James-the-Zaddik, for whose sake Heaven and Earth came into being.” (Emphasis added). As noted by Henry Corbin,[1] “the heart is the homologue of the Throne, of the pole [qutb] which is the threshold of the beyond.”

The rock—in a more developed, esoteric or symbolic sense—can probably also be identified in the “throne” references, such as we read in Epiphanius (Panarion 78.7.7): “[James] was the first to whom the Lord entrusted his throne upon earth.” Both by name and reputation it can be surmised that James was the presiding Jewish Zaddik as “the Foundation of the World… the Pillar that upholds the World” (Proverbs 10:25) by virtue of being the “Perfect copy of the heavenly Ideal” (Zohar 1.59b—the pre-existent “heavenly Ideal/Pattern” is ontologically homologous to the Image of God”). Recall also that James, as Opposition High Priest, was closely associated with the Holy of Holies.[2]

On this subject in general, see also Henry Corbin’s exposition in Temple and Contemplation:

At the summit of the first Sinai, the Shaykh al-ishraq [Persian philosopher, Suhrawardi] situates the Great Rock which some Shiite traditions also describe as the “Green Emerald”… This great “rock” is designated by the Arabic term sakhrah, and it is so essentially allied to the Imago Templi and to the tradition of the Temple that, as we shall see, it is at the origin of the denomination of the Knights of the Order of the Temple. It has given its name to the building constructed on the site of the Temple and which is still called, even today, Qubbat al-Sakhrah, the “Dome of the Rock”. Thus the Imago Templi, in Suhravardi also, is rooted in the deepest traditions concerning the Temple. Very ancient Jewish traditions tell us that this holy rock was the initial point—the starting-point—of Creation, the original Centre around which the earth developed concentrically. Jacob rested his head on it while he slept and dreamed of the ladder linking Heaven and Earth, which the Angels ascended and descended (Gen. 28). It corresponds to the position of the Holy of Holies in the ancient Temple. This is why the place marked by the rock is seen as the entrance to the higher world or, rather, as already part of it. It is through the holy rock as the foundation stone that Heaven and Earth exist and communicate with each other.

— Henry Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, Series of five lectures delivered at the Eranos Conferences in Ascona, Switzerland. Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, pp.281-282.

The Qumran Community, having to confront the henceforth tarnished and desecrated second Temple from which it had cut itself off, was aware that it constituted, symbolically, the new Temple as a spiritual Temple. Miqdash adam: the translation ‘human temple’ is already eloquent. The translation suggested by B. Gartner is more accurate: a ‘temple of men’, that is to say, a temple ‘consisting of men’. The Community, as the ‘house of God’, bears the seal of eternity: the eternal Temple is henceforth in the process of realization within the Community. The sacrifices offered up in this ‘temple’ which is constituted by the members of the Community are purely spiritual in nature, consisting in the strict observance of, and deepening penetration into, the hidden meaning of the Torah. It is, indeed, a symbolic Temple, by contrast with the ‘material temple’ which the high priest Onias IV attempted to build at Leontopolis. At Qumran, it is the spiritual Community itself which sees itself as the ‘place’ or ideal of the Temple. The Imago Templi is being actively realized; the Community, therefore, as a spiritual or theological temple, is the ‘new Temple’.

Ibid., pp.314-315.


[1] Henry Corbin (transl. Nancy Pearson), The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, New Lebanon NY: Omega Publications Inc., 1994, p.78
[2] According to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.23.5-6), “[James] alone was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, for he did not wear wool, but linen, and he used to enter the Temple alone [presumably as Opposition/Tsaddiq High Priest], and was often found upon his bended knees, interceding for the forgiveness of the people.” According to Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 2), James “alone enjoyed the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since, indeed, he did not wear woolen, but only linen clothes, and went into the Temple alone and prayed on behalf of the people, so that his knees were reputed to have acquired the callousness of a camel’s knees.” In Jerome’s Commentary on Galatians 1:19 (396), he adds: “So holy was James that the people zealously tried to touch the fringes of his garment.” According to Epiphanius (Panarion 29.4.2-4), “[James] functioned as High Priest according to the ancient priesthood. For this reason he was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, as Scripture says the Law directed the High Priests to do.” Later Epiphanius reiterates: “To James alone it was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, because he was a Nazirite and connected to the priesthood… James was a distinguished member of the priesthood… James also wore a diadem [sacerdotal plate] upon his head.” (Panarion 78.13.5-8).

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