Whose city?

As everything about J'lem leads to dispute, Simon Goldhill tries to be equally insulting to all parties.

Jerusalem old city 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem old city 88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem: City of Longing By Simon Goldhill Belknap Press 344 Pages; $27.95 My personal collection of books about Jerusalem comprises 116 titles. This is a small portion of the many books that deal with the Holy City, or, what the subtitle of this latest addition calls the "City of Longing." Why a new book on Jerusalem? No one will raise that question after reading this magnificent history and guide. Typical of Simon Goldhill's sprightly language is his introductory acknowledgment that practically everything one says about Jerusalem leads to disagreement. Accordingly, he has "tried to be equally insulting to all parties." The book contains seven chapters so that the diligent tourist can spend one week touring Jerusalem. However, there is so much detailed material for each of the seven subjects as to make it unlikely that a week will be sufficient to view everything that Goldhill discusses. The initial three chapters are devoted to Christian Jerusalem, Jewish Jerusalem and Muslim Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity's holiest sites, is examined first. In addition to describing each part of the church, Goldhill explains the fierce disputes among the different Christian orders about ownership of various sectors. The history of these conflicts is carefully and thoroughly set forth, including its impact on such agreements as always maintaining a ladder on the second-floor balcony. The thorough inspection of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is followed by an equally itemized presentation of the story of the Temple, including Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple built by Herod. This is a condensed version of Goldhill's 2006 book, The Temple of Jerusalem (Harvard University Press), in which he conveyed the full impact of the Temple on religious, artistic, political and scholarly developments. In the present book, he recounts the history of the Western Wall, including what happened when the Israelis captured all of Jerusalem in 1967; the subsequent excavations of the tunnels that run from it; and the ensuing disputes between Muslims and Jews. Goldhill's third chapter focuses on the Muslims in Jerusalem, particularly on what the Jews call the Temple Mount and what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. Although every place on the Mount is fully explored, Goldhill pays particular attention to the Dome of the Rock and Aksa Mosque. He records the history, theology and folklore of these two structures and walks the visitor through them step by step. The Dome of the Rock is called "the most beautiful building in Jerusalem" and is identified as a shrine rather than a mosque. Muslim Haram and the Jewish Western Wall are linked, not only by their physical proximity, but also by stories, myths, claims and counterclaims. The walled Old City is the subject of the book's fourth chapter, opening with the two-mile walk on its ramparts. The seven gates and four quarters are fully described, especially the rarely visited Armenian Quarter. A chapter is then devoted to "The Oldest City," emphasizing the work of biblical archeologists and their findings. This leads to a thorough chapter on "The Victorian City" that tells about the Russian Compound, the American Colony and the German Colony as well as the first Jewish settlements outside the walled city: Mishkenot Sha'ananim and Mea She'arim. The book's final chapter on "The Modern City" discusses Jerusalem from the time of the British Mandate in 1919. Among the places pictured and evaluated are the Church of All Nations, King David Hotel, YMCA, Knesset, Supreme Court and Yad Vashem, with its 2005 addition by architect Moshe Safdie that Goldhill found "too strident." Goldhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at Cambridge University, asserts that he has tried to tell the story of Jerusalem in a neutral fashion, but he acknowledges that this is a virtually impossible task. He has published a number of books in his field. His impressive command of the English language and his extensive knowledge about Jerusalem make this book a joy to read and re-read. The writer is the founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and dean emeritus, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.