Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore
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's review
May 30, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: librarybooks
Read from May 30 to June 10, 2012

‘In Jerusalem, the truth is often much less important that the myth.’

Simon Sebag Montefiore writes the history of Jerusalem from its beginnings as a fortified village through successive conquests or occupations: Canaanite, Israelite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, Ummayad, Abassid, Fatimid, Seljuk, Crusader, Saracen, Tartar, Mamluk, Ottoman, British, Jordanian and finally Israeli. As different religious groups occupied Jerusalem, earlier (and rival) places of worship were destroyed or taken apart and rebuilt into new places of worship. From an archaeological perspective, this makes Jerusalem a very complicated site. And what happened to the people through these successive conquests or occupations? Some populations were slaughtered, others were sold into slavery, and each dispossessed population was replaced by new waves of immigration.

‘The story of Jerusalem is the story of the world.’

Jerusalem’s story involves accounts of massacre, rape and war; of persecution, fanaticism and feuds; of corruption, betrayal and hypocrisy; and of spirituality. Trying to make sense of it all is difficult; although reading a chronological account of events makes it easier to understand the significance and ongoing importance of this city to the three monotheistic religions that hold it sacred.

‘It is only by chronological narrative that one avoids the temptation to see the past through the obsessions of the present.’

There’s a lot of history covered in this book: Jerusalem was exclusively Jewish for 1,000 years, Christian for about 400 years and Islamic for 1,300 years: ‘not one of the three faiths ever gained Jerusalem without the sword, the mangonel or the howitzer.’

I found the detailed history fascinating and sad - fascinating because of its complexity, sad because inclusive agreement seems so difficult to either achieve or to sustain when it is achieved. I learned quite a lot about the Jewish and Islamic claims and perspectives, and was reminded of Christian claims. Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote:
‘If this book has any mission, I passionately hope that it might encourage each side to recognize and respect the ancient heritage of the other:..’

I hope so as well. Differences need not be mutually exclusive.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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