I have discovered a new favorite professor / tour guide / guru : Ali Qleibo. Through al-Quds University, I got a chance to take a tour of the Noble Sanctuary with Professor Qleibo. A polymath, he shifted between artistic observations, historical narrative, and anthropological insights. Dr. Qleibo is a painter, a photographer, and an anthropologist, among other roles. He began at the beginning, pointing out that at the heart of the holy places of the Noble Sanctuary, the Cave of the Patriarchs, the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity are all caves with holes in the roof on top of hills. (By the way, Dr. Qleibo writes about slightly different caves, caves as homes ever since the arrival of humans in Palestine up to the 20th century, here). The hilltop caves were perfect for threshing and storing wheat – it was windy on the hilltop, so the chaff blew away, and then one just swept the kernels into the cave through the roof hole. The caves kept the wheat dry – so these spots became central to the life of the people. The Jebusites worshipped at these high places before the coming of the Israelites, and such hilltop cave sites are now holy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
There is no way for me to summarize all that Dr. Qleibo taught. A few highlights:
On the building of huge buildings over and around the ancient worship spots, including the amazing massive platform that is the Noble Sanctuary: “Classical religion disguises evidence of nature religions.”
“The Noble Sanctuary is dynamic art. One can only experience it by walking on it, around it, and in it.”
After showing us the building where his grandfather worked and the one where Huda Imam’s family lived, “The history of Jerusalem is the history of families.” (I had no idea that the Temple Mount complex contained so much housing, and that at one time wealthy families lived here!
“You always know a mosque from the presence of the well and the washing point. You can go to Granada, to Isfahan, and you will always have water to purify you.”
“Seventh Century Arabia was having an existential crisis. Islam arose in the context of the Judeo-Christian metaphors.”
“In some ways Islam revived the Semitic roots of the Semitic religions, which had become Hellenized.”
On the replacing of the old rugs of the Dome of the Rock with wall-to-wall carpet: “I grew up with an elegant old building. Now it looks like a five-star hotel lobby.”
“To picture this, you must turn it into a painting. Imagine it as a painting with a romantic Arab in robes in the corner.”