In Ezek. v. 5 we read, "I have set Jerusalem in the midst of the
nations and countries that are round about her." On the literal
interpretation of these words it was asserted that Jerusalem was
the very centre of the world, or, as Jerome quaintly called it,
"the navel of the earth." In the Talmud we find a beautiful
metaphor in illustration of this view. It is in the last six
lines of the ninth chapter of Derech Eretz Zuta, which read
thus: "Issi ben Yochanan, in the name of Shemuel Hakaton, says,
'The world is like the eyeball of man; the white is the ocean
which surrounds the world, the black is the world itself, the
pupil is Jerusalem, and the image in the pupil is the Temple.
May it be built in our own days, and in the days of all Israel!
Amen!'" The memory of this conceit is kept alive to this day
among the Greek Christians, who still show the sacred stone in
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This notion is
not confined to Jewry. Classic readers will at once call to mind
the appellation Omphalos or navel applied to the temple at
Delphi (Pindar, Pyth., iv. 131, vi. 3; Eurip. Ion., 461; AEsch.
Choeph., 1034; Eum. 40, 167; Strabo, etc.).
Two sparks issued from between the two cherubim and destroyed the
serpents and scorpions and burned the thorns in the wilderness. The
smoke thereof, rising and spreading, perfumed the world, so that the
nations said (Cant. iii. 6), "Who is this that cometh out of the
wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed," etc.
THE MIDRASHIM, _Ibid., Vayakhel._