WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- Israeli intellectuals seemed perplexed by a survey showing that 53 percent of their fellow countrymen want to see the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt.
"This is utter bs," fumed a noted archaeologist when contacted Monday. "I don't know anybody entertaining such mad desires that would invite the destruction of our country," said the scholar, who begged to remain anonymous.
"It's dangerous to speak on this subject."
Several Hebrew University professors in Jerusalem agreed, "This is the last thing we need -- animal sacrifices in Israel!"
And Robert Younis, the Maryland-based spokesman for Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, a Palestinian aid group, sounded extremely concerned, "This would be a declaration of war against all Muslim countries, and once again we Christian Arabs would be caught in the middle."
The problem is that where "a small sect of Pharisees," said Younis, supported by some evangelical groups, wants to rebuild the temple that was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, one of Islam's holiest places now stands -- the Al Aqsa mosque.
Some Muslims, especially the Jews for Allah sect, say that this house of prayer built in 647 A.D. is already the reconstructed temple. On the other hand, neither Jews nor Christians are allowed to pray, sing, carry Bibles or talk about their faith at this edifice.
Some scholars, such as the archaeologist, questioned the accuracy of the poll of a sample group of 775 people that was published by the Jerusalem Post newspaper. But it was the work of the reputable Dahaf Institute.
The findings may to some extent reflect the current apocalyptic mood among many Israelis, especially the young, according to David Parsons, who heads the International Christian Embassy, an evangelical support organization in Jerusalem.
Depending on what prophesy -- or what exegesis of Scripture -- you read, the reconstruction of the temple is linked to end-time expectations. The prophet Joel wrote:
"The Lord will also roar from Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the Lord will be a shelter for his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am the Lord, your God, dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through here again" (Joel 3:16-17).
It is not clear who will rebuild the temple, according to Jewish tradition. The great Jewish sage Maimonides said it would be the Messiah, which would somehow square with the view of some evangelicals who connect it to the Second Coming of Christ.
Then again, Christ stated that he himself was that temple (Matthew 26: 61 and 27:40 and John 2:19-22).
Other exegetes suggest that God will personally send the new temple down from heaven. Others still are convinced that the people of Israel will build it and God will then dwell in it among his people forever.
The survey had been commissioned for Tisha Be'av, the Jewish fast commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples. King Solomon is believed to have erected the first edifice in 960 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylonia, had it razed in 586 B.C.
The second temple was consecrated in 515 B.C., rebuilt by Herod in 20 B.C. and destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in 70 A.D. Ever since, observant Jews pleaded with God four times per week, "Renew our days as they once were."
The remarkable aspect of the Dahaf Institute's findings was not so much that 87 percent of the religious respondents came out in favor the temple's reconstruction.
More spectacular still was that 63 percent of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union want the temple, even though most had not been brought up in their ancestral faith. Equally stunning was the response by young Israelis of Western origin -- again, 63 percent favored the temple.
Only older Jews of Western descent reject the reconstruction of this holy place -- but by a slim margin of a mere 53 percent.
The Christian Embassy's David Parsons sees these results in the light of what he calls an increased interest among Israelis in the apocalyptical texts of the Bible -- "not just the Hebrew Bible but also the New Testament."
He said he and his colleagues are more and more queried about the meaning of the Book of Revelation, for example.
What particularly worries an increasing number of Israelis, including secularized Israelis, is the prospect that the ultimate conflict over the ownership of Jerusalem will center on Temple Mount -- and that the Muslims have had a good head start.
This arguably holiest place of real estate anywhere in the world, measuring the equivalent of eight football fields, is fully under control of the Islamic Waqf (trust).
"This trust is busy building the world's largest mosque, rivaling Mecca," explained Parsons. It will be a huge complex linking the silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome of the Rock with a new underground sanctuary for 10,000 women.
The Israelis had conquered Temple Mount in the Six Day War of June 1967. But Gen. Moshe Dayan gallantly ceded these grounds to the Waqf, thus precluding any construction of place of prayer for Jews on their most sacred ground.
Some tried to rebuild at least a synagogue that stood there until the 16th century. But the Islamic leadership refused permission.
"All the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are an Islamic trust," said Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine. "These buildings have direct openings, doors and windows to the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and therefore their status is similar to that of Al-Aqsa in terms of blessing and holiness.
"Therefore, according to Islamic law, it is impossible to plunder any of these buildings and turn it into a synagogue for the Jews."
If that sounded harsh in Jewish and Christian believers' ears, Israeli scholars are even more concerned what the Islamic trust's underground digging is doing to ancient archaeological treasures.
"Hundreds of hundreds of tons of valuable debris are being trashed," complained the archaeologist. "They intend to destroy all evidence of this place's Jewish past. It's a crime against the entire world's civilization."