BOB ABERNETHY: A year ago, some conservative Christians were predicting that chaos created by the Y2K computer bug could be one of the signs that global collapse and the apocalypse were at hand. Many of those predictions were scaled back after engineers made computers and computer systems Y2K compliant. But millennial apocalyptic fascination lingers. In the last of our series of special millennial reports from the Holy Land, Kim Lawton looks at how apocalyptic fervor is escalating ongoing religious tensions.
KIM LAWTON: In Jerusalem, the year 2000 was ushered in with modest -- some might say anticlimactic -- celebrations. A few Christians gathered, anticipating the end of the world. Some 12,000 Israeli security officials were on high alert, anticipating chaos and possible violence from apocalyptic extremists or terrorists. In the end, only the sound of bells pierced the midnight sky. Still, experts say it's too soon to breathe a sigh of millennial relief.
Dr. RICHARD LANDES (Center for Millennial Studies): Christian interest in the millennium is certainly not restricted to December 31. In fact, Easter, Passover, Pentecost, and the High Holidays in 2000 can all be expected to be -- you know, what the French would call "temps forts," strong times of what we might call millennial enthusiasm.
LAWTON: Few religious believers actually assert the world will come to an end in the year 2000, but many do think we're now in the end times. And there's something about all those zeroes that has fueled apocalyptic imaginations.
Nowhere has the focus been stronger than in Jerusalem, sacred city to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And in a place where politics and religion are already an explosive mix, the addition of apocalyptic fervor makes for a tinderbox.
Dr. BRENDA BRASHER (Center for Millennial Studies): It's extremely volatile. I don't think that could be understated. You're talking about millions and millions of people for whom Jerusalem holds a religious meaning above and beyond any other city in the world.
LAWTON: The importance centers in Jerusalem's Old City and specifically, here on the site that dominates the skyline. Jews and most Christians call it the Temple Mount. Muslims call it Haram el-Sharif, the noble sanctuary. Christians and Jews believe it's the site of King Solomon's temple, built over the rock of Mt. Moriah. After the Babylonians destroyed that temple in 586 B.C., a second rebuilt temple stood in the same place until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The holiest place in Judaism is that temple's only exposed remnant, the Western Wall. The site is also the third-holiest in Islam. Muslims build the Dome of the Rock here 1,300 years ago, after they conquered Jerusalem. They believe the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven from here. The adjacent Al Aqsa Mosque was built roughly two decades later. But scholars say it's not just the past that has religious significance.
Dr. LANDES: Historically speaking, Jerusalem is ground zero for Islam, for Christianity, for Judaism. It's the place where the apocalyptic events occur.
LAWTON: Within all three religions, some believers teach that in the last days of the Earth, a messiah, or divinely appointed ruler, will reign. Christians who interpret the Bible literally believe Jesus will return after the successful Battle of Armageddon, which is to take place in this valley, Tel Megiddo, 60 miles away from Jerusalem. Jewish prophecy says the Messiah will come after the temple is rebuilt, and some activists believe Israeli control of Jerusalem has cleared the way for that to happen.
Mr. GERSHON SALOMON (Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful): This is the will of God, and I would say that the rebirth of Israel as a nation and a state in the year 1948 opened what the prophets call the era of the last days.
LAWTON: Gershon Salomon is the controversial founder of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful movement. He has commissioned an architectural model for the third temple and is making liturgical vessels and instruments. He's also collecting gold jewelry that can be melted down for temple implements.