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What's so holy about Jerusalem?


Jerusalem is like Graceland if Elvis, Mozart and Tupac Shakur had all lived there. Pilgrims would visit from around the world. Elvis and Tupac fans would fight, claiming that the other side was playing its music too loud. Mozart fans would bemoan the uncivil behavior of the Elvis and Tupac fans. The Elvis and Tupac fans, in turn, would steal the Mozart fans' PBS tote bags and umbrellas and beat them about their heads. It'd be a huge mess, and only Dick Clark -- or perhaps Carson Daly -- would have the power to enforce the peace.

As a not-even-remotely religious music obsessive, I find music analogies to be a helpful way of understanding all sorts of things. But I'm afraid that my analogy -- in addition to being remarkably silly -- only skims the surface of the endless, lava-, dragon- and razor blade-filled pit of emotion that is Jerusalem. What follows is a list of important holy sites in Jerusalem, and their significance to Jews, Muslims and a group thus far neglected in coverage of the city: atheists.

Temple Mount/Al-Haram Al-Sharif: A 30-ish-acre site in the part of East Jerusalem called the Old City.

Significance to Jews and Muslims: Abraham (whom they're both rather fond of) offered up his son Isaac for sacrifice there. (Before you get all outraged over Abe's lax parenting, remember that he was about 100 years old and had lived a very stressful life -- so cut the guy some slack.) In addition, it's the site of the First and Second Jewish temples, which were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans, respectively. (Funny, nobody's mad at them anymore.) Never mind that the site is holy to Jews as well.

Significance to atheists: A dusty old hill where lots of people wear funny hats and chant cute songs. A short car ride from the beach.

Dome of the Rock

Significance to Muslims: It's a beautiful 7th-century shrine right smack-dab in the middle of the Temple Mount -- the Houston Astrodome of its day. It's built over the rock from which the Prophet Muhammed is said to have ascended to heaven. You may be wondering how it is that Muhammed got from Arabia to Jerusalem. (If not, just humor me.) He got to Jerusalem on a winged horse, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel. Pretty neat, huh?

Significance to atheists: Cool-looking building. A short car ride from the beach.

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Significance to Muslims: Originally built in 705; repaired in 1969 after a Christian tourist set fire to it. Before Muslims prayed facing Mecca, they used to pray facing the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The current uprising against the Israeli occupation is called the Al-Aqsa intifada (intifada is the Arabic word for "we gonna wreck some shit") because it started after Sharon walked by the mosque in September 2000. He didn't actually go inside, though.

Significance to atheists: So the Muslims are pissed off because a Jew walked by their mosque? Get over yourselves, people. Besides, the Dome of the Rock is way prettier.

The Wailing Wall

Significance to Jews: Also called the Western Wall, because it's the western wall of the Second Temple that was destroyed by the Romans. Jews pray there and leave notes for God, tucking them between the stones that comprise the wall. When the Jews aren't looking, God sneaks by and reads them.

Significance to atheists: Now that we're through here, let's go to the beach. *

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