“There can be only one.“
In the 1986 film “Highlander”, immortal demi-gods roam Earth, interacting with people but caring mostly about other immortals. They live knowing that they must confront others like themselves and battle to the death, because in the end, only a single one can exist.
Monotheistic faiths often behave similarly.
Adherents of Christianity, Islam and Judaism have fought each other for supremacy. Many wars demanded death or conversion. As it related to places, the victor often took over holy sites and either demolished them or changed them to the winner’s religion, demonstrating superiority of their God.
Consider the Hagia Sophia in today’s Istanbul, Turkey. The building was originally built as a church around 537CE. When Ottoman Muslims conquered the city in 1453, they converted the church into a mosque. It remained so until the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, when shortly thereafter, the secular Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum. In the summer of 2020, Islamist Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan converted it back to a mosque, angering much of the western world.
Christianity and Islam battled for superiority in Europe and in the holy land for centuries. From 1095 to 1291 the church waged several crusades. The demand for armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem set the region on fire, with the paltry number of Jews in Europe and holy land left as victims on both sides.
When Christians ultimately failed to take Jerusalem, they turned to purge the Jews and Muslims of Europe. Various edicts preceded and followed the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and in Portugal in 1497. Thereafter, Muslims were effectively routed from the peninsula, virtually completely by early in the 17th century.
Polytheists fought with monotheists as well. When Alexander the Great came to the Jewish holy land, he Hellenized the region. When the Romans came a few hundred years later, they destroyed the Second Jewish Temple and installed pagan gods. They renamed Jerusalem and the region in an attempt to vanquish the monotheist Jews.
Jews however, have uniquely not waged religious wars. While Christians and Muslims have long histories of invading lands and forcing people of different faiths to convert, Jews have no such imperative.
The reason is quite simple and completely misunderstood by non-Jews. While most religions contend that their belief system is supreme and that adherents to other faiths are either an affront to their god(s) and/or are doomed to damnation, Judaism is a particular faith, not a universalistic one. It does not demand that people of other faiths convert or that they are damned. It was always designed to be a local religion in the land of Israel for a specific tribe – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Other faiths are free to worship as they desire.
The notion seems conceited to many and has sometimes led to anti-Semitism.
How can a supreme God produce a bible just for one community? If that were true and others want such relationship with God, they need to become the new Jews. This replacement theology placed Christians as the successors to Jews through Jesus. Islam held much the same, replacing Christians via their prophet Mohammed.
The Jews contend that they didn’t supplant any faith nor have they been supplanted. However, they do object to their religious places of worship being destroyed.
While Christians and Muslims may seek to place the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa Mosque on top of the Jewish Temple Mount to show that their faith is supreme and replaced the old, Jews have no such dogma. There is no desire to “supplant”; just to have their own place of worship once again.
Today, Islamic fanatics shout that “al Aqsa is in danger” to foment a jihad against the Jews. It is based on tenets not found in Judaism but in their monotheistic faith. Jews simply want to pray on the Temple Mount and rebuild their temple, but not to confront or show superiority to Islam.
The sentiment is captured in the Jewish Bible in a section read on the eighth day of Passover, in the book of Isaiah. While Isaiah 11:6 is famous, reading through to ninth sentence captures the fuller message:
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
That “holy mountain” is the Jewish Temple Mount. It can house the monotheistic faiths that believe in peace and coexistence. “The wolf will live with the lamb” will occur when the world’s great religions internalize their common bonds and stop fighting each other for dominance. Together, “they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” enabling the Third Jewish Temple to exist beside the al Aqsa Mosque.
The Islamic false perception that al Aqsa is in danger is rooted in its own conception of religious superiority and how it is manifest. When Muslim leaders internalize that Judaism has no such ethos, hopefully it will welcome the building of the Third Jewish Temple and help realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah.