- Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel
At least three millennia of history, probably more, its stones often marred by the blood of those certain that their beliefs were given by God and strengthened by the vicissitudes of history. This is the story of Jerusalem, a city sacred to three monotheistic religions and a place often resembling a ship beaten by winds and waves in a perilous sea. Eric Cline, the author of an interesting book on the battles of Armageddon, now gives us a fascinating account of the history of the city from the beginning to the present. The heart of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. For the Jews it is the place where Abraham took his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, where David placed the ark of the covenant, and nearby where the Temple of King Solomon and later Herod's Temple stood. For the Muslims it is the place where the Dome of the Rock, the third most sacred location of the Muslim religion, stands and from where the Prophet of God, Mohammed, ascended to heaven. The place, like the rest of the city, also has vestiges and memories of the Christian religion. No surprise then that wars have been waged for centuries for possession of the Rock and of the city as a whole.
Neither the wealth of the surroundings, which is minimal, nor the strategical location of the city, which is also relative, explain the depth of the attachment to the city and the ferocity of the different believers. Its importance is grounded on religion and the myths and symbols stemming from the beliefs in a God, theoretically identical to all, but enemy to those who worship Him according to different historical traditions.
Cline handles skillfully, and sometimes fascinatingly, the intricacies of the subject, although his book, like all books, has its pitfalls. His persistent tendency to read the present into the past is distracting and not always convincing, as for instance when he compares the Apostle Paul's visit in 58 A.D. to the Temple Mount to Ariel Sharon's visit about two thousand years later (p. 111). Although a topic like Jerusalem is inextricably mixed with the present, [End Page 216] it would have been much more effective to take up the comparison with the past when dealing with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Also, the flow of the narrative is broken by too many details in places, especially in the account from the Roman times to the nineteenth century. Matters would have been simplified by paraphrasing the too frequent quotations.
These are minor criticisms for a book which is always interesting even if Cline clearly looks at the topic from the Jewish viewpoint. Still, he tries to remain impartial and candidly admits that after the Jews' expulsion in the seventh century, Moslems took over soon after and governed the city for the next 1,300 years, except for a brief period at the time of the Crusades. In spite of all that, I doubt that Cline's account will satisfy Muslims or anybody else for, as he states, "the histories of Jews, Christians, and Moslems in Jerusalem are inextricably intertwined, and no one of them can be dented without doing violence to the whole nexus" (pp. 162-63).
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