The Foundation Stone captures our curiosity. Centered under the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, this stone has many traditions surrounding it. Moslems claim it is the site of Mohammed’s Night Journey described in the Koran. Christians point to depressions in the stone as the marks left by Jesus when he upsets the tables of the money changers. Jews see it as the place of the Holy of Holies of the Temple. This one stone is credited with the Binding of Isaac, Jacob’s Ladder, Noah’s sacrifice, Cain and Abel’s sacrifices, and the entry to the Garden of Eden, and it is no surprise that this stone is considered by Jews to be the Foundation Stone, from which the entire world was created.
While I understand the philosophical significance behind naming a stone as the Foundation Stone, marking the seminal event which serves as a basis for a religious belief, I wondered when the foundation stone became known as such in documents. The Bible does not mention this stone explicitly. Solomon is not reported as building the Holy of Holies upon the Foundation Stone, but rather on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Nor is the Foundation Stone mentioned in reference to any of the other biblical stories attributed to it – not in the binding of Isaac, nor in Jacob’s Ladder, nor in the sacrifices of Noah or Cain and Abel.
The Gemara, however, does attribute this stone with being the foundation of the world. In the Yerushalmi,
Rabbi Yohanan said: “Why is the stone called the Foundation Stone, because from it the world was created.”
The Mishna besides stating the above explanation, projects backwards to the time of David and Samuel who placed the Ark of the Covenant on the Foundation Stone. (Mishna Yoma 5,2)
One idea for the emergence of the Foundation Stone in Judaic thought links it to Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century B.C.E. Josiah destroys not only the cultic centers around Israel dedicated to pagan gods, but also bans scattered altars used for worship of God. Josiah sees the Jewish people becoming scattered. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, has mostly been lost to exile; and as people are more mobile, there is a fear that Jewish peoplehood will be lost. A strong central institution like the Temple and Jerusalem as the center of Jewish life can help to ensure the future of the Jewish people and work against assimilation. As part of his move to reestablish the centrality of Jerusalem, he emphasizes the Foundation Stone as the focal point of the Temple. What had simply been the foundation of the Holy of Holies, now gets additional significance as being known as the Foundation Stone, and associated with other important scenes from the biblical text.
Later, during the times of the Mishna and the Gemara, the Foundation Stone as a uniquely Jewish place, remains after the destruction of the Temple. In essence, the marking of the Foundation Stone by the post-destruction Rabbis, sends a message that while the Romans can destroy the Temple, they can’t destroy its foundation.
Whether or not we believe that this exact stone is the Foundation Stone, the ideas represented within it are eternal. Whether or not the stone marks the exact spot where man connected to God, man showed his unshakable belief in God, or the entire world came into being; it does represent an eternal symbol of those themes and a focus for the Jewish world until today.