Jerusalem is the site of some of the most famous religious monuments in the world, from the Dome of the Rock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Western Wall of the Temple. Since the nineteenth century, the city has been a premier tourist destination, not least because of the countless religious pilgrims from the three Abrahamic faiths.
But Jerusalem is more than a tourist site--it is a city where every square mile is layered with historical significance, religious intensity, and extraordinary stories. It is a city rebuilt by each ruling Empire in its own way: the Jews, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims, and for the past sixty years, the modern Israelis. What makes Jerusalem so unique is the heady mix, in one place, of centuries of passion and scandal, kingdom-threatening wars and petty squabbles, architectural magnificence and bizarre relics, spiritual longing and political cruelty. It is a history marked by three great forces: religion, war, and monumentality.
In this book, Simon Goldhill takes on this peculiar archaeology of human imagination, hope, and disaster to provide a tour through the history of this most image-filled and ideology-laden city--from the bedrock of the Old City to the towering roofs of the Holy Sepulchre. Along the way, we discover through layers of buried and exposed memories--the long history, the forgotten stories, and the lesser-known aspects of contemporary politics that continue to make Jerusalem one of the most embattled cities in the world.
Goldhill, professor of Greek at Cambridge (The Temple of Jerusalem), provides an illuminating archeological, architectural and historical guide to Jerusalem's most important holy and secular sites from biblical times to the present. He loves the city, but doesn't romanticize either its past or its present, and a theme throughout is that the city of peace has always been a place of contention. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all vie for supremacy in the city, but many claims to authenticity are false, says Goldhill. He debunks, for example, Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar's claim to have discovered King David's palace. Ironies abound in a city where the Abrahamic faiths are not only embattled but also intermingled; the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has long been held by a Muslim family. As Goldhill explores Jerusalem during the Victorian period, which he claims laid the groundwork for much of the modern city, the impact of British mandatory rule, and the city today, he faces head-on the difficulty of telling the history of a place where every fact is contested by conflicting nationalist narratives. This is a highly knowledgeable and beautifully written look at both the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalem. (May)
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Harvard University Press
October 29, 2009
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