Saturday, October 1, 2011

SSM: Jerusalem is the World

The back of the dust jacket of Simon Sebag Montefiore's volume reads: "The Story of Jerusalem is the Story of the World", and his preface tries to explicate Jerusalem's centrality in the minds and histories of peoples - and, importantly, how fungible its facts are.

Here are some key excerpts from the preface to illustrate his basic orientations that shape the approach and content of the volume to follow.
(All typos are mine, and you'll see which words I had to look up!):

- The history of Jerusalem is the history of the world, but it is also the chronicle of an often penurious [BKB: destitute, inadequately supplied] provincial town . . . once regarded as the centre of the world and today that is more true than ever: the city is the focus of the struggle between the Abrahamic religions, the shrine for increasingly popular Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism, the strategic battlefield of clashing civilizations, the front line between atheism and faith, the cynosure [BKB: attracts attention by its brilliance; serving as guidance, direction] of secualr fascination, the object of giddy conspiracism and internet myth-making, and the illuminated stage for the cameras of the world in the age of twenty-four hour news." (xvii)

- Jerusalem is the Holy City, yet it has always been a den of superstition, charlatanism and bigotry; the desire and prize of empires, yet of no strategic value . . . This is a place of such delicacy that it is described in Jewish scared literature in the feminine - always a sensual woman, always a beauty, but sometimes a shameless harlot, sometimes a wounded princess whose lovers have forsaken her . . . she is the only city to live twice - in heaven and on earth. (xvii)

- The Abrahamic religions were born there and the world will also end there on the Day of Judgement . . . Jerusalem, sacred to the Peoples of the Book, is the city of the Book: the Bible is, in many ways, Jerusalem's own chronicle and its readers, from the Jews and early Christians via the Muslim conquerors and the Crusaders to today's American evangelists, have repeatedly altered her history to fulfill biblical prophecy. (xvii-xviii)

- . . . the city that belongs to no one and exists for everyone in their imagination. And this is the city's tragedy as well as her magic: every dreamer of Jerusalem, every visitor in all ages from Jesus' Apostles to Saladin's soldiers, from Victorian pilgrims to today's tourists and journalists, arrives with a vision of the authentic Jerusalem and then is bitterly disappointed by what they find, an ever-changing city that has thrived and shrunk, been rebuilt and destroyed many times. (xviii)

- We must also answer the question: of all the places in the world, why Jerusalem? The site was remote from the trade routes of the Meidterranean coasts; it was short of water, baked in the summer sun, chilled by winter winds; its jagged rocks blistered and inhospitable . . . the sanctity became ever more intense because she had been holy for so long . . . Nothing makes a place holier than the competition of another religion. (xviii-xix).

- There was surely scant prospect that David's little citadel, capital of a small kingdom, would become the world's cyonosure. Ironically it was Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem that created the template for holiness because that catastrophe led the Jews to record and acclaim the glories of Zion. (xx)

- The sanctity of the city grew out of the exceptionalism of the Jews as the Chosen People. Jerusalem became the Chosen City, Palestine the Chosen Land, and this exceptionalism was inherited and embraced by the Christians and the Muslims . . . Since then, the tragic narrative of the Palestinians, with Jerusalem as their lost Holy City, has altered the perception of Israel. (xx)

- There are not just two sides in Jerusalem but many interlinked, overlapping cultures and layered loyalties - a multi-faceted, mutating kaleidoscope of Arab Orthodox, Arab Muslims, Sephardic Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Haredi Jews of legion courts, secular Jews, Armenian Orthodox, Georgians, Serbs, Russians, Copts, Protestants, Ethiopians, Latins and so on. (xx)

- Whenever Jerusalem has seemed most forgotten and irrelevant, it was often the bibliolatry, the devoted study of biblical truth by people in faraway lands - whether in Mecca, Moscow, Massachusetts - who projected their faith back on to Jerusalem. (xxi)

- Jerusalem has a way of disappointing and tormenting both conquerors and visitors. The contrast between the real and heavenly cities is so excruciating that a hundred patients a year are committed to the city's asylum, suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome, a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion. But Jerusalem Syndrome is political too: Jerusalem defies sense, practical politics and strategy, existing in the realm of ravenous passions and invincible emotions, impermeable to reason. (xxi)

- The city's past is often imaginary. Virtually every stone once stood in the long-forgotten temple of another faith, the victory arch of another empire. Most, but not all, conquests have been accompanied by the instinct to expunge the taint of other faiths while commandeering their traditions, stories, sites. There has been much destruction, but more often the conquerors have not destroyed what came before but reused and added to it. (xxi)

- 'In Jerusalem, don't ask me the history of facts,' says the eminent Palestinian historian Dr Nazmi al-Jubeh. 'Take away the fiction and there's nothing left.' Hisotry is so pungently powerful here that it is repeatedly distorted: archaeology is itself a historical force and archaeologists have at times wielded as much power as soldiers, recruited to appropriate the past for the present . . . But there are facts and this book aims to tell them, however unpalatable to one side or the other. (xxii)

- There are centuries of Jerusalem's history when little is known and everything is controversial. Being Jerusalem, the academic and archaeological debates are always venomous and sometimes violent, even leading to riots and fighting. Events in the last half-century are so controversial that there are many versions of them. In the early perod, historians, archaeologists and cranks alike have squeezed, moulded and manhandled the very few sources available to fit every possible theory which they have then advocated with all the confidence of absolute certainty. (xxiii-xxiv)

- Much later . . . [Edward] Said, a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem who became a literary professor at Columbia Univeristy in New York and an original political voice in the world of Palestinian nationalism, argued that the 'subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture', particularly among nineteenth-centruy travellers such as Chateaubriand, Melville and Twain, had diminshed Arab culture and justified imperialism. However, Said's own work inspired some of his acolyties to try to airbrush these Western intruders out of the history: this is absurd. It is true, however, that these visitors saw and understood little of the real life of Arab and Jewish Jerusalem . . . the historian of Jerusalem must show the dominating influence of Western romantic-imperial culture towards the city because it explains why the Middle East so mattered to the Great Powers. (xxiv-xxv)

- To return to where we started, there have always beeen two Jerusalems, the temporal and the celestial, both ruled more by faith and emotion than by reason and facts. And Jerusalem remains the centre of the world. (xxv-xxxvi)

No comments:

Post a Comment