Was the White House ever in Washington, D.C.? Can we ever really know for sure? Not unless we dig under the existing structure and find indisputable archaeological evidence of the original structure, which British general Robert Ross is said—by some sources—to have torched in August, 1814.
If you find everything about the previous paragraph patently ridiculous, you are clearly not a reporter or an editor for The New York Times. This morning, the paper of record published a piece about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, questioning whether or not it was the site of, you know, the Jewish Temple. “Historical Certainty,” the article’s headline reads, “Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place.” Capping the piece is a quote from Jane Cahill, who the paper notes is not only an archaeologist but also a practicing lawyer and therefore, presumably, an expert on incontrovertible evidence. Did the ancient Jewish temple stand where the Dome of the Rock now stands? “The answer might be ‘yes,’ if the standard of proof is merely a preponderance of the evidence,” Cahill is quoted as saying, “but ‘no’ if the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.”
It’s hard to begin to dissect the Times’ potent blend of ignorance and malice. There’s reporter Rick Gladstone’s repulsive bad faith in continually moving back and forth in his text between the narrow question he seems to have asked Cahill and other scholars: did the Temples stand precisely on the exact spot on the Temple Mount where Aksa was built, or might they have stood, say 50 feet over? This, in addition to the idea, which Gladstone weaves in and out of the piece, that there is even the slightest credibility to the idea that “Jewish Temples” were, you know, the products of some kind of religious fever-dream that Zionists then appropriated for their own aggressive purposes.
To be fair, Gladstone’s ignorance is all-embracing. If you know anything about religious history—not Jewish, mind you, but Muslim—you know that the Dome of the Rock was built in its current spot by the Umayyad Caliphate in 692 C.E. precisely because it was sacred space and because it was the former spot of the Jewish temple, just like the Kaaba in Mecca became a shrine because of the belief (stated explicitly in chapter 2, verse 127 of the Koran) that it was built by Abraham.
But hey, never mind any of that. Never mind the physical existence of the Western Wall, which the Times mentions in passing in the fourth-to-last paragraph, even though the existence of an enormous external supporting wall directly below the site where the temple is said to have stood should sort of answer the question. Never mind plentiful Roman historical accounts of the structure built by Herod that was widely regarded as one of the wonders of the ancient world. And never mind the fact that among scholars who actually study this stuff, there is no controversy whatsoever about the existence of Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, anymore than any controversy that exists between Judaism and Islam on this point, or the fact that there is no contradiction between Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Roman or pagan sources. Don’t bother the Times with any of these facts: Just as long as it is possible to make any Jewish claim on Judaism’s holiest site seem like yet another irrational piece of fiction invented by feverish religious Jews, Zionists, and other troublemakers who are very unlike the good and logical and educated and clean Jews who read and write for the Times.
And so, because the paper of record won’t put it clearly, permit me the pleasure: Denying that a Jewish temple stood on the Temple Mount is not a form of historical argument. It is akin to denying that the earth is not flat. Or denying that global warming is real. Or that the evidence of human evolution is widely accepted by scholars. As far as history goes, it’s the equivalent of blowing up statues of the Buddha, or blowing up churches, or denying that the Holocaust ever happened. It’s a form of denialism, which seeks to obliterate evidence and basic standards of evidence in the service of some higher truth, which is rarely anything that the future is ever thankful for. It’s ugly. Paying lip-service to standards of historical proof while wildly mis-characterizing the views of scholars in the service of historical denialism turns the Times’ basic ignorance here into something much uglier.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.