restricted access 5. God and Mammon, God and Caesar: Commerce and Politics in the Holy Land
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122 > 123 responding to Marx, posited that European Calvinists had spiritualized the accumulation of wealth. While scholars have produced significant work complicating his theory, they do concur with Weber in a general sense: Christianity and capitalism are not antithetical, and we cannot easily separate the commercial from the religious. Though we may blur this boundary, scholars of lived religious experience can never discard it altogether, since the troubled relationships between faith, money, and commerce speak to a negotiation in Christianity itself between the material world and the transcendent one. As the Gospels tell us, one cannot serve both God and mammon equally; the treasures in heaven come first (Matthew 6:24).2 Because pilgrimage sites have for centuries been meeting grounds that enabled commercial activity, they have posed a continual problem to this dualistic worldview. While reformist Protestants, like Martin Luther, are best known for criticizing and then ending pilgrimage altogether , Catholic officials have also struggled to control what they have seen as nonreligious, even sinful commercial activity at shrine centers, a worry heightened since the nineteenth-century advent of modern forms of representation, mass production, and tourism.3 American pilgrims have inherited these concerns. Yet they pay a fee to travel and may buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of souvenirs.4 Indeed, just as Phil made the quip about mammon, a number of people in our group began to bargain for olive-wood souvenirs and scarves. A major way that American pilgrims cope with this ambivalence during the trip and when they return home is to compartmentalize experiences as either “spiritual” or “commercial/touristic.” The former are prized, the latter downplayed and generally forgotten. Ken, the Catholic pilgrim who earlier described the Via Dolorosa, has gone with his wife, Cindy, on two recent Holy Land trips with Father Joe. He draws a typical distinction between the “touristic” and the “religious ” when he compares his visits to the church in Cana, where many Catholic groups renew their wedding vows. The first year we went it was just very nice and very sweet and at the end the little nun offered us a medallion for two dollars and I wear it to this day. . . . I’ll always remember it. This time we had to wait outside the [church] and two or three other groups came up all of a sudden and 124 > 125 in a crowded Arab place where mainly older women with little travel experience are pitted against male vendors who are self-assured professionals .6 The vendors know this and they too assert a type of power— each time they outwit a tourist who pays many times an item’s actual worth. Occasionally the ambivalence that characterizes this relationship erupts. At one point on Mike’s trip, for example, an Arab teenager blocked our bus door, selling handbags. When our group leader Theresa asked him to move he yelled, “It’s my country! You move or go home!” and then agreed to let us board if we bought his wares. Cowed and upset, many pilgrims acquiesced. Nowhere are commercial encounters more jarring than in sacred places. As described in the previous chapter, a vibrant tourist market lines the Via Dolorosa. Liz Grinder, a Catholic tour organizer, speaks for most pilgrims when she says, “When I was growing up, I never, I don’t know why, pictured the people on it. . . . In photos and also movies there are no marketplaces. [Jesus] is on a dirt road and you’ll see Mary Magdalene or the woman who wiped the face of Jesus or whatever but you don’t see the crowds of people. And I think that’s shocking.” Israeli guides are trained to mitigate the shock by incorporating the vendors into the biblical narrative that pilgrims expect to visualize .7 Anthropologist and Israeli tour guide Jackie Feldman describes his speech to a group of American evangelicals: Look, many of you expect to find a peaceful, devotional path. But more than the sound of prayer, what you’ll be hearing outside is the sound of business. Now imagine what it was like in Jesus’ day. People doing their last-minute shopping for Passover. A group of Roman soldiers comes up the street dragging the bloodied Jesus on his cross. A sheep salesman along the way looks up at the cross and the sign, “Ah, another Galilee rebel.” Then he turns back to his customer [putting on an Arab accent]: “So. How much you pay for the sheep?” . . . Now please stay close...


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