In March 2002, a red heifer was born in Israel that some Jewish traditionalists, as well as Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, believe could bring about the end of the world in 2005. According to ancient Jewish teachings, it was only the ashes of a flawless red heifer that could purify worshippers who went into the Temple in Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E.; the Romans demolished the Second Temple in 70C.E. Without a flawless red heifer to sacrifice to purify the Temple Mount, the Third Temple could not be rebuilt and the Messiah could not come.
Fundamentalist Christians shared the excitement of the birth because they believe that after Jesus Christ (c. 6 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.) has returned and defeated the forces of evil at the battle of Armageddon, he will begin his millennial reign from the Third Temple— which could not be rebuilt until the Temple Mount had been purified by the ashes of the red heifer.
The genetically engineered red heifer born in 1996 created a great deal of tension in Jerusalem, for Muslim leaders were concerned that fundamentalist Jews and Christians might use the sign of the calf's arrival as a signal to take over the Temple Mount, which the Muslims have occupied since 1967. Muslims revere the Temple Mount as the place where Muhammad (c. 570–632) ascended into heaven; and in 685, followers of the Prophet began constructing the 35-acre site known as the Noble Sanctuary, which today includes the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa mosque.
Once again, traditional rabbinical scholars insist that the three-year waiting period be observed, which means in their religious belief, that if no hairs of any other color have appeared in the heifer, it is of divine origin and may be sacrificed to purify the Temple Mount and construction on the Third Temple may begin. As Rod Dreher writing in the National Review Online put it: "You don't have to believe that a rust-colored calf could bring about the end of the world…but there are many people who do, and are prepared to act on that belief."
Dreher, Rod. "Red-Heifer Days." National Review Online, April 11, 2002. [Online] http://www.nationalreview.com/script/printpage.asp?ref'dreher/dreher041102.asp.
Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.