Jerusalem, Jerusalem

How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World

by James Carroll

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

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Book Summary

James Carroll traces the evolution of the belief that Jerusalem is the center of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious worlds and argues that this fixation is a main cause of the modern-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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James Carroll first visited Jerusalem in 1973 as a young Catholic priest looking to restore his faith. "I encountered, in ways I hadn't before, the very real, tangible sacramental presence of God," he tells weekends on All Things Considered's Guy Raz. It led Carroll to re-evaluate his faith, and he left the priesthood. But Carroll fell under the spell of the city. He says this has

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Excerpt: Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World


Copyright © 2011 James Carroll
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-547-19561-2


ONE: INTRODUCTION: TWO JERUSALEMS.....................1TWO: DEEP VIOLENCE....................................24THREE: THE BIBLE RESISTS..............................44FOUR: THE CROSS AGAINST ITSELF........................77FIVE: THE ROCK OF ISLAM...............................113SIX: CITY ON A HILL...................................155SEVEN: MESSIAH NATION.................................194EIGHT: JERUSALEM BUILDED HERE.........................231NINE: MILLENNIUM......................................278TEN: CONCLUSION: GOOD RELIGION........................296Notes.................................................319Bibliography..........................................382Acknowledgments.......................................394Index.................................................397

Chapter One

Introduction: Two Jerusalems

1. Heat

This book is about the lethal feedback loop between the actual city of Jerusalem and the apocalyptic fantasy it inspires. It is a book, therefore, about two Jerusalems: the earthly and the heavenly, the mundane and the imagined. That doubleness shows up in the tension between Christian Jerusalem and Jewish Jerusalem, between European Jerusalem and Islamic Jerusalem, between Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem, and between the City on a Hill and the Messiah nation that, beginning with John Winthrop, understands itself in its terms. But all recognizably contemporary conflicts have their buried foundations in the deep past, and this book will excavate them. Always, the story will curve back to the real place: the story of how humans living on the ridge about a third of the way between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean have constantly been undermined by the overheated dreams of pilgrims who, age in and age out, arrive at the legendary gates with love in their hearts, the end of the world in their minds, and weapons in their hands.

It is as if the two Jerusalems rub against each other like stone against flint, generating the spark that ignites fire. There is the literal fire of wars among peoples and nations, taken to be holy because ignited in the holy city, and that will be our subject. There is the fire of the God who first appeared as a burning bush, and then as flames hovering over the heads of chosen ones. That God will be our subject. But Jerusalem also ignites heat in the human breast, a viral fever of zealotry and true belief that lodged in the DNA of Western civilization. That fever lives — an infection but also, as happens with the mind on fire, an inspiration. And like all good metaphors, fever carries implications of its own opposite, for preoccupation with Jerusalem has been a religious and cultural boon, too. "Salvation is from Jerusalem," the Psalms say, but the first meaning of the word "salvation" is health. That the image of fever suggests ecstasy, transcendence, and intoxication is also true to our meditation. "Look," the Lord tells the prophet Zechariah, "I am going to make Jerusalem an intoxicating cup to all the surrounding peoples."

Jerusalem fever consists in the conviction that the fulfillment of history depends on the fateful transformation of the earthly Jerusalem into a screen onto which overpowering millennial fantasies can be projected. This end of history is conceived variously as the arrival of the Messiah, or his return; as the climactic final battle at Armageddon, with the forces of angels vanquishing those of Satan (usually represented by Christians as Jews, Muslims, or other "infidels"). Later, the end of history sheds its religiosity, but Jerusalem remains at least implicitly the backdrop onto which millennial images are thrown by social utopias, whether founded by pilgrims in the New World, by communards in Europe, or by Communists. Ultimately, a continuous twentieth- and twenty-first-century war against evil turns out, surprisingly, to be centered on Jerusalem, a pivot point of both the Cold War and the War on Terror. Having begun as the ancient city of Apocalypse, it became the magnetic pole of Western history, doing more to create the modern world than any other city. Only Jerusalem — not Athens, Rome, or Paris; not Moscow or London; not Istanbul, Damascus, or Cairo; not El Dorado or the New York of immigrants' dreams — only Jerusalem occupies such a transcendent place in the imagination. It is the earthly reflection of heaven — but heaven, it turns out, casts a shadow.

Thus, across the centuries, the fancied city creates the actual city, and vice versa. "The more exalted the metaphoric status of Jerusalem," as the Jerusalem scholar Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi writes, "the more dwarfed its geopolitical dimensions; the more expansive the boundaries of the Holy City, the less negotiable its municipal borders." Therefore, war. Over the past two millennia, the ruling establishment of Jerusalem has been overturned eleven times, almost always with brute violence, and always in the name of religion. This book will tell the story of those wars — how sacred geography creates battlefields. Even when wars had nothing literally to do with Jerusalem, the city inspired them with the promise of "the glory of the coming of the Lord ... with his terrible swift sword," as put by one battle hymn from far away. Metaphoric boundaries obliterate municipal borders, with disputes about the latter spawning expansions of the former, even to distant reaches of the earth.

Jerusalem fever infects religious groups, certainly the three monotheisms that claim the city. Although mainly a Christian epic, its verses rhyme with what Judeans once did, what Muslims took to, what a secular culture unknowingly pursues, and what parties to the city's contemporary conflict embody. Yet if Jerusalem is the fever's chosen niche, Jerusalem is also its antidote. Religion, likewise, is both a source of trouble and a way of vanquishing it. Religion, one sees in Jerusalem as nowhere else, is both the knife that cuts the vein and the force that keeps the knife from cutting. Each tradition enlivens the paradox uniquely, and that, too, is the story.

For Jews, Jerusalem, after the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians and then the Romans, means that absence is the mode of God's presence. First, the Holy of Holies in the rebuilt Temple of biblical times was deliberately kept vacant — vacancy itself mythologized. Then, after the destruction by Rome, when the Temple was not rebuilt, the holy place was imagined in acts of Torah study and observance of the Law, with a return to Jerusalem constantly felt as coming "next year." Throughout centuries of diaspora, the Jewish fantasy of Jerusalem kept communal cohesion intact, enabled survival of exile and oppression, and ultimately spawned Zionism.

For Christians, the most compelling fact of the faith is that Jesus is gone, present only through the projections of sacramentalism. But in the ecstasies of evangelical fervor, Jesus can still be felt as kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood for "you." So Jerusalem lives as the locus of piety, for "you" can kneel there, too. The ultimate Christian vision of the future — the Book of Revelation — is centered in the city of the Lord's suffering, but now that anguish redeems the very cosmos. Even in the act of salvation, the return of Jesus to Jerusalem is catastrophic.

Muslims came to Jerusalem as occupiers in 637, only five years after the death of Muhammad. That rapidity makes the point. The Prophet's armies, sweeping up out of Arabia in an early manifestation of the cohesion generated by an Islamic feel for the Oneness of God, were also in hot pursuit of Jerusalem. Desert heat this time. The Muslims' visceral grasp of the city's transcendent significance defined their first longing — and their first true military campaign. Islam recognizes God's nearness only in recitation, with chanted sounds of the Qur'an exquisite in their elusiveness and allusiveness both. Yet the Prophet left a footprint in Jerusalem's stone that can be touched to this day — an approximate and singular sacrament. To Muslims, Jerusalem is simply Al Quds, "the Holy."

The three monotheisms of Jerusalem are thus nested in a perennial present, a temporal zone in which the past is never quite the past and the future is always threatening to break in. The linear order of time keeps getting lost in Jerusalem, just as the spatial realm, by being spiritualized, keeps evaporating — except for those who actually live there. For the broader culture, interrupted time means that both psychological wounds and theological insights are transmitted here less by tradition than by a kind of repetition compulsion. These transcendent manifestations of hurt and suspicion and hostility — and ultimately fanaticism — can be overcome only by understanding their very human sources. But a procession of historical vignettes, beginning here and falling into place like pieces of a puzzle, can also make clear that Jerusalem is home to a spacious religious cosmopolitanism that no amount of overheated warping can ruin. Jerusalem, in its worldly history and its symbolic hovering, forces a large-spirited reckoning with religion and politics both — how they work, how they go wrong, how they can be cooled and calmed.

The cults of Jerusalem make plain that each tradition of the Book depends on a revelation of indirection, a knowing what is unknowable, which is why each tradition can miss the truth as well as hit it, sponsoring intolerance as much as neighborliness, discord as much as peace. This book is a pilgrimage through the ways of sacred violence, most of which lead, in the West, either from or to this same city. On medieval maps it marks the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Armies have swarmed out of all three continents to meet here — and now, in the twenty-first century, they arrive from a fourth continent, too. But Jerusalem's geopolitical implications, however much ignited by religion, have been equally transformative of secular forces, for better and worse. Wars can be holy without invoking the name of God. That also gives us our theme. The point here is that for Europe, and for its legacy culture in America, the fever's virus found a succession of hosts in ancient Roman assaults, medieval Crusades, Reformation wars, European colonialism, New World adventures, and the total wars of modernity — all fixed, if variously, upon Jerusalem. The place and the idea of the place mix like combustible chemicals to become a much too holy land, an explosive combination of madness and sanctity, violence and peace, the will of God and the will to power, fueling conflict up to the present day.

Fuel indeed. The Holy Land has come to overlap the most contested geology on the planet: the oil fields of the Middle East. Oil now trumps every great power strategic concern. Its concentration there — the liquid crescent stretching from Iran and Iraq to the Arabian Peninsula — means the broad obsession with dead-centered Jerusalem is not merely mystical. Nor is the threat merely mystical. For the first time in human history, the apocalyptic fantasy of Armageddon could become actual, sparked in the very place where Armageddon began.

2. Jerusalem Today

The gates are still there, punctuating the medieval wall, which is made, like everything, of Jerusalem stone that gleams in the sun. Desert sun. Ancient custom and modern law require that all buildings be uniformly constructed with the off -white limestone, carrying pink highlights, that has been quarried in the highlands of Judea since the time of Solomon. "Jerusalem all of gold," goes a modern psalm, "Jerusalem, bronze and light. Within my heart, I shall treasure your song and sight." The very light of the air surrounding Jerusalem has been described by mystics as "the outer garment of God."

When you approach from almost any direction, the walled city looms dramatically on its pedestal hilltop, above twin valleys that gouge away to the south like the angled shears of a plow, digging deep. One hillside of those valleys, immediately outside the medieval wall and spilling down from it, is terraced with homes of Arab families — Silwan, from which Arabs are now routinely evicted by Jerusalem's municipal authorities. A far hillside, scaling the Mount of Olives, is strewn with Jewish gravestones that, though now reordered, were desecrated, two thousand years apart, by Romans and Jordanian Arabs. Sacred city, eviction city, desecration city, such is the story "the stony hills recall."

If Jerusalem is the text, the state of Israel is the context. It is a country about the size of Massachusetts, with a population of about seven million. It has its New York, which is the urbane, bustling seaside city of Tel Aviv. Jerusalem stands to Tel Aviv as Delphi does to Athens, or Kyoto to Tokyo — or Dresden to Berlin. Yes, destruction is central to the story, and so is a wild diversity. A million Israelis speak Arabic as their first language, and another million speak Russian. But the capital of the Hebrew Republic is Jerusalem. Half a mile above the level of the Mediterranean Sea, which lies almost forty miles to the west, and higher above the planetary low point of the below-sea-level Dead Sea, which lies about twenty miles to the east, Jerusalem's elevation is said to have kept it dry during the Great Flood of Noah — as if the city existed then, as if the Flood were real. Even in the twenty-first century, atop geological and civilizational strata of the ages, layer upon layer of shale, ash, and the crushed rubble of fifty centuries, the trek to Jerusalem is an ascent, an aliyah in Hebrew. "The mountain of the House of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills." The "going up" to Jerusalem made it the original and quintessential City on a Hill, which would be the mythic point of reference for America — Jerusalem as an idea as much as a place. But from ancient times the going-up made aliyah the word for every Jew's approach to the actual Jerusalem, whether for the first time or upon return. Jewish hearts were first to lift, and they still do.

Today the city is well known for its contentions, with its goldenness defined first by the gold of the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine that superseded the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple that the Romans destroyed within decades of the death of Jesus. The seventh-century Islamic monument has the magnificence of the sixteenth-century St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the architecture of which it is said to have inspired. The Dome stands atop the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, a thirty-five-acre tree-lined esplanade of gardens, porticoes, fountains, and shrines, an area about one-third the size, say, of Vatican City. The golden Dome of the Rock was established with geometrical precision as the organizing center of the area by eight freestanding archways that surround it, a masterly articulation of sacred space. It is balanced at the southern edge of the platform by the massive Al Aqsa Mosque, which is an architectural chronicler of its own history, from Herodian foundations, to Gothic arches erected by Crusaders, to rotund interior pillars that Mussolini donated, to "a kitsch ceiling commissioned by one of the great kitsch kings of our time, Farouk I of Egypt." But the entire esplanade is regarded as an open-air mosque, and admission of non-Muslims is strictly regulated.

The Noble Sanctuary, anchoring Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter (a phrase Muslims themselves never use, since to them the whole city is Muslim), looms above the Western Wall, the huge retaining embankment, made of massive hewn stones, that alone remains of Herod's Temple. Indeed, Jews refer to the Haram as the Temple Mount, though they rarely ascend it. Instead, with many in earlocks and beards, they daven in the shadow of the Western Wall, or Kotel, which is both the border and the heart of the Jewish Quarter. As the surviving remnant of the otherwise obliterated Temple, the wall is believed by the Orthodox never to have been abandoned by the Shekhinah, the presence of God, which was first recognized as dwelling in this place by David, or perhaps by Abraham, three thousand years ago. At all hours, devout Jews, some in fur hats and some in jeans and T-shirts, can be seen at the Kotel offering prayers. Together, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall overshadow the dull gray but still striking dome of the thousand-year-old Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a few hundred meters to the west, approached through the winding alleys of the Via Dolorosa, where the fourteen traumas of Christ's torture are enumerated and memorialized. Under the dome of the Holy Sepulcher itself are the sites of Christ's prison, the pillar where he was whipped, the hill of Calvary, the stone slab on which his corpse was anointed, the tomb in which he was buried, and the place where, once risen, he encountered Mary of Magdala. Also inside the Holy Sepulcher are the center of the earth and the tomb of Adam.

Other holy places punctuate the crowded enclave of the Old City: the Ethiopian Monastery, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and the Latin Patriarchate in the Christian Quarter; the Cathedral of St. James, the Cenacle (remembered as the place where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper), and King David's Tomb in the Armenian Quarter. That there are such rigidly defined districts tells the story — Jerusalem as the seat of conflict not only between religious groups, but within them. The city is home to thirty religious denominations and fifteen language groups which use seven different alphabets. In the past one hundred years, more than sixty political solutions to the city's conflicts have been proposed by various national and international entities, yet conflict remains. Still, Jerusalem lives. The balance is delicate, which is why, despite its astonishing survival, the city seems forever vulnerable. "Jerusalem is a golden basin," a tenth-century Islamic geographer wrote, then added that it is "filled with scorpions."


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