During the pagan Greco-Roman Empire, the city of Jerusalem and its Temple (Beit HaMikdosh) were well known, and the Kaaba, the House of God (Baitullah) in Macca was unknown by name at all. The first Roman reference to the Baitullah is from Diodorus Siculus, a first century BCE Roman historian who wrote that in Arabia there was an (unnamed pagan) temple greatly revered by the Arabs.
According to G. E. Von Grunebaum, who I studied with at UCLA in 1959-60, Macca was also mentioned by Ptolemy, a second century Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer: “The name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary.” (G. E. Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600–1258, p. 19)
Yet both of these cities and their sanctuaries, one almost unknown by the Romans, and the other totally destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE; were destined, just a few centuries after Rome itself was looted and sacked; to become very widely known throughout a world much larger than that of the Roman Empire.
During the many centuries from the Middle Ages to the present, hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations faced Jerusalem or Macca while praying because they thought that one of these two cities was central to their religious connection to the One God of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.
To this very day Jerusalem and Mecca remain much smaller than the capitals of the great Empires of the ancient past (Rome and Constantinople) and the recent past (London and Paris). Yet the spirit that continues to rush forth from those two geographically tiny places, provides inspiration to billions of Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout the world.
These two physical places now function like a breathtaking pair of lungs recycling the words and the spirit of the Abrahamic Prophets who walked their streets so many centuries ago.
Also, much of the ancient folklore about these two holy places is very similar; as the following fable illustrates, and shows how today these two holy places can be seen as a pair of lungs spreading the spirit of monotheistic holiness throughout the world.
This narration, which was transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries, and finally written down in several slightly different versions in the 19th century; explains how the inspiring paired lungs came to be. Some say this happened in the time of Adam or Noah; others say in the generation when Abraham lived.
Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father, divided the land in half so each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meager. This was at the beginning of a long term draught that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought. “My brother has a wife and four children to feed and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.”
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home, feeling pleased with himself.
The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I’ll take more.” That same morning, the older brother standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts.
After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake – I’ll take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance. When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened.
Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced.
Only God can make a place holy and since God loved the two brothers for their exemplary love and concern for each other; God’s prophets made their descendants worthy to worship in a holy House rebuilt in that valley; and a holy House later built on that hill.
When all those, both near and far, who revere this place of spirit lungs as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then God will do as Abraham requested, and “Make this (place) a land of Peace, and provide its people with the produce of of the land”. (Qur’an 2:126).
Then will the children of Adam and Abraham live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Christians and Jews believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Macca.
I believe that both are correct.
But Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions all teach that their own holy sanctuary is at the center of the world. How then can the world possibly have more than one religious center?
Because religious centers are not the same as geometric centers. All astronomers know that the Sun is the center of our entire solar system, but the center of each planet’s individual orbit is a slightly different point within the Sun called the barycenter, which lies close to the Sun’s core.
If you have only a limited human view of the surface of our planet as a two dimensional plane like a circle; there can be only one center. But if you share God’s view of the surface of Planet Earth as a three dimensional sphere; then more than one barycenter are not just possible: they are inevitable.