Shared prophetic teachings a factor in Middle East conflict?

International affairs analysts have overlooked important religious factors in the current situation in the Middle East that may prevent them from grasping its complex nature, writes Paul Marshall on the website Religion Unplugged (November 13). These factors hinge on Islamic, Jewish, and evangelical prophetic concepts and teachings. Marshall writes that Muslim concerns that Israel is planning to destroy the site of the Al-Aqsa complex in Jerusalem, which includes the Muslim holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, may have led them to extreme actions. Some fear that the military campaign against Palestinians after the October 7 attack by Hamas is part of a project by Israel to clear these buildings from the Temple Mount in order to build the Third Temple. Marshall adds that a more esoteric component of this conspiracy theory involves efforts by Jewish groups to breed a flawless red heifer. This is in reference to passages in the Old Testament where God requires Israelites to sacrifice a red heifer. A passage in the Koran also alludes to a red heifer that is essential for the ritual purification that is is a precondition for building the temple. Evangelical Christian and Jewish groups in Israel, such as the Temple Institute, have been training priests for a rebuilt temple and announced the birth of a suitable heifer in September. (There have been several candidates over the years, supplied by evangelical ranchers.)

Source: Boubakar | Pixabay.

While these groups do not have wide support in Israel, Marshall reports that “influential people, including in Hamas and Hezbollah, maintain that Israelis are actively pursuing this project and that the Israeli government is deeply involved in this scheme. Hamas has repeatedly described its war on Israel not in secular Western categories, such as resistance to colonialism, but as an attempt to defend Al-Aqsa, which Muslim tradition holds was the site of its Prophet Mohamed’s night journey.” Hezbollah and Hamas leaders also have viewed their actions as rescuing an Islamic holy site from desecration by infidels (with Hamas calling its October 7 assault on Israel the “Al-Aqsa Wave”). Similarly, the red heifer birth announcement was greeted by the Islamist-oriented Middle East Monitor with the headline, “Israel’s red cow will blow up the region.” A senior Palestinian source in touch with the political leadership of Hamas said the “trigger for the 7 October attack was Hamas’s concern that far-right Jews intended to sacrifice an animal at the site of al-Aqsa Mosque, thus laying the ground for the demolition of the Dome on the Rock shrine and the building of the Third Temple.” Marshall writes that while it is unclear whether these leaders sincerely hold such beliefs or are catering to other’s religious fears, “what is clear is that these claims are widely believed and resonate with many Muslims worldwide. We would be wise not to discount them…In the Middle East and much of the world, religion is a fundamental human motive and is correctly seen as such. It is arguable that America’s neglect of this in relation to Iran has helped lead to the present terrible conflagrations.”

(Religion Unplugged,