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Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World

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“Provocative . . . the book brims with splendid insights.” — Los Angeles Times

Jerusalem: the ancient City on a Hill, a place central to three major religions, a transcendent fantasy that ignites religious fervor unlike anywhere else on earth. James Carroll’s urgent, masterly Jerusalem, Jerusalem uncovers the history of the city and explores how it came to define culture in both the Middle East and America.

Carroll shows how the New World was ...

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“Provocative . . . the book brims with splendid insights.” — Los Angeles Times

Jerusalem: the ancient City on a Hill, a place central to three major religions, a transcendent fantasy that ignites religious fervor unlike anywhere else on earth. James Carroll’s urgent, masterly Jerusalem, Jerusalem uncovers the history of the city and explores how it came to define culture in both the Middle East and America.

Carroll shows how the New World was shaped by obsessions with Jerusalem, from Christopher Columbus’s search for a westward route to the city, to the fascination felt by American presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan. Heavenly Jerusalem defines the American imagination — and always the earthly city smolders. Jerusalem fever, inextricably tied to Christian fervor, is the deadly — unnamed — third party to the Israeli-Palestinian wars. Understanding this fever is the key that unlocks world history, and the diagnosis that gives us our best chance to reimagine peace.

“I dare you to read this book and see Jerusalem, or yourself, the same way.” — Bernard Avishai, author of The Hebrew Republic

"So provocative and illuminating that it should not be overlooked by anyone who cares about the future of Jerusalem." — Jewish Journal

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

More than a dozen American cities have populations larger than Israel's capital, but none of them can match Jerusalem's hold on the religious imagination. Three major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all regard this ancient center as a sacred place. Over millennia, it has sparked holy wars, suicidal terrorism, and acts of nuclear brinksmanship. In Jerusalem, Jerusalem, former Catholic priest and author James Carroll (Constantine's Sword) explores a question that has vexed popes and other spiritual leaders: Why has a city with such a rich history of faith become the ground zero of religious violence?

Publishers Weekly
"Oh, Jerusalem, how often have I wept for you!" laments the psalmist. And well we should weep. For millennia, Jerusalem has been the meeting point of religion and culture, traditionalism and modernity, and the apparently inevitable violence that erupts over a particular faith's exclusive claim to the city. Carroll, author of the critically acclaimed Constantine's Sword, has given us one of the broadest and most balanced accounts in recent years of the city of King David—one centered on the concept of "sacred violence" as a path to redemption, a vision long engendered by Jerusalem and all that it represents. But he has another agenda—to analyze and interpret the intersections of history, theology, philosophy, and popular culture in a way that offers hope of an emerging religion that "celebrate life, not death." Given the long history of violence and death surrounding both the physical Jerusalem and the "imagined" city (e.g., America as a "city on a hill"), is this even possible? The former Catholic priest remains optimistic that humanity will find a way to resolve the conflicts that are so much a part of its story. Conceptually profound, richly detailed, and wonderfully realized, this book brings to life the dynamic story of the divided city. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Convinced that "all recognizably contemporary conflicts have their foundations in the deep past," Carroll (columnist, Boston Globe; Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews) gives an account of the "actual city of Jerusalem" from prehistoric times to the present, revealing the "lethal feedback loop" between the actual city and "the apocalyptic fantasy it inspires" throughout history and changing oppositions. The idea of a heavenly Jerusalem inspired anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and colonialism's general contempt for native peoples. Muslim occupation of Jerusalem as "The Holy" led to the Christian Crusades and more violence. Interspersed with this history is a revealing anthropological treatment of the relationship among violence, religion, and the concept of sacrifice, together with an account of Carroll's own life-changing visit to Jerusalem. His conclusion about good religion vs. "bad" and the necessity of the former to prevent an Armageddon-type nuclear holocaust is enlightening and controversial. VERDICT Carroll is fair-minded in his critique, which politicians, people with religious or political interests, clergy, and proponents of world peace need to read, regardless of their conclusions. Highly recommended.—Carolyn M. Craft, formerly with Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA
From the Publisher
"What a remarkable book. I was blown away by the breadth and depth of it. Another hugely important book from James Carroll, right there with Constantine's Sword." —-Reza Aslan
Library Journal
National Book Award winner Carroll ( traces the history of humankind from ancient times to the present day as well as the history of religion, from the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the "sacred violence" of the 20th century. Audie Award winner Mel Foster does an excellent job with this challenging text, reading at a moderate pace that holds listeners' interest while giving them time to absorb Carroll's ideas (e.g., how the religious have historically responded to violence, both condemning it and instigating it). Recommended for the history collections of public and academic libraries. [The Houghton Harcourt hc received a starred review, LJ 3/1/11.—Ed.]—Ilka Gordon, Siegal Coll. of Judaic Studies Lib., Cleveland
Kirkus Reviews

A sound, deeply felt study of Jerusalem as the "cockpit of violence" for the three Abrahamic religions.

An American Catholic who has long been "infected with Jerusalem fever," Carroll (Practicing Catholic, 2009, etc.) is fascinated by the role of violence in forging mankind's early spiritual urge. Ritual sacrifice was a component of early religion, an acting out of the "collective effervescence" of the hunt, perhaps, and an antidote to further violence by the use of a scapegoat. The author draws heavily from anthropologist René Girard, but especially from his own deep readings of the Bible, first in showing how the God of Abraham was both the scourge of man and the repudiator of human sacrifice. Jerusalem became the locus of monotheism (a term not coined until the 17th century). For Jews, it was the absence held dear during the Babylonian exile and later the forced diaspora by the Romans (a "remembered" Jerusalem); for Christians, it was the place where Jesus went to cleanse the Temple, where he was scapegoated by the rabble and where the "True Cross" was later discovered by Constantine's mother; for Muslims, it was toward Jerusalem that Mohammed originally faced in prayer. It became a place of "fierce longing," setting up the bloody conflicts of the Crusades and Reformation. Carroll makes an interesting segue into the Puritan separatists' founding of the New World as the New Jerusalem, "an understanding that would serve as a permanent pillar of the American imagination." The author moves more gingerly through the modern era, with the founding of the state of Israel and the perpetuation of violence through politics and war. Carroll ends sagely with some ways "good religion" can push out "bad religion," such as in a celebration of life, not death; a respect for plurality; a concern with revelation over salvation; and a repudiation of coercion and injustice.

Another winner from a skillful writer and thinker of the first rank.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594529224
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/9/2011
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguished scholar-
in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular contributor to the Daily Beast.

His critically admired books include Practicing Catholic , the National Book Award–winning An American Requiem , House of War , which won the first PEN/Galbraith Award, and the New York Times bestseller Constantine’s Sword , now an acclaimed documentary.

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Read an Excerpt

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,1 and then as flames hovering over the heads of chosen ones.2 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,”3 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.”4
 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.”5 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.6 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 swiftsword,” 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, Eu-
ropean 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…

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Table of Contents


One: Introduction: Two Jerusalems • 1

1. Heat 1
2. Jerusalem Today 5
3. Hic 13
4. A Personal Note 17

Two: Deep Violence • 24
1. The Clock of the Past 24
2. Mark Makers 28
3. Enter Jerusalem 32
4. Sacrifi ce 36

Three: The Bible Resists • 44
1. Wartime Literature 44
2. Wars That Did Not Happen 46
3. God’s Ambivalence 50
4. Conceived in Jerusalem,
Born in Exile from Jerusalem 56
5. The Empty Temple 64
6. Abraham’s Kill 70
7. Apocalypse Then 72

Four: The Cross Against Itself • 77
1. Jesus to Jerusalem 77
2. Rome’s War and Its Consequences 81
3. The New Temple 89
4. Scapegoat Mechanism 95
5. The Violence of Christians 99
6. Apocalypse Now 106

Five: The Rock of Islam • 113
1. No god but God 113
2. Al Quds 121
3. The Masterpiece Relic 126
4. Jerusalem Agonistes 132
5. 1099 136
6. Knights Templar 139
7. Christopher the Christ Bearer 151

Six: City on a Hill • 155
1. Reformation Wars 155
2. Separatists 166
3. The God of Peace 173
4. Return to Jerusalem 181
5. Temple Roots 185
6. Jerusalem Marchers 189

Seven: Messiah Nation • 194
1. Jerusalem and Exile 194
2. The Printing Press and Ottoman Jerusalem 199
3. The Peaceful Crusade 205
4. Restorationism 209
5. Abraham’s Altar 211
6. God’s Right Arm 221
7. Apostolic Succession 225

Eight: Jerusalem Builded Here • 231
1. The Last Crusader 231
2. Diaspora’s End 240
3. Waiting to Baptize You 243
4. Grand Muft i 248
5. Eichmann in Jerusalem 255
6. Nakba 262
7. Soap 267
8. Twins in Trauma 275

Nine: Millennium • 278
1. The Temple Weapons 278
2. Sacrifi ce Operatives 286
3. Crusade 292

Ten: Conclusion: Good Religion • 296
1. Neither Secular Nor Sacred 296
2. Not God’s Way, But Man’s 301
3. Learning from History 307

Notes • 319

Bibliography • 382

Acknowledgments • 394

Index • 397

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Customer Reviews

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( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 25, 2011

    One of the best books I've read in recent years

    This very well written and researched book works on several levels at once.

    As a history, this is a story of one city's growth and of its many inhabitants, from ancient times to the present. The history of Europe, and the development of American culture and values, is traced directly to the history of Jerusalem.

    Sociologically, the book explains how each group of city inhabitants, and successive sets of conquerors, put their stamp on not only the city, but the greater world.

    The book also tracks the growth of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim religions as they emanate out from their core founding in Jerusalem, and then interacted with each other so as to reflect back, rarely in a positive manner, on the founding city.

    Most profoundly, Jerusalem Jerusalem shows how today's Middle East came to be shaped through well-meaning but short-sighted policies. Over two millenia, multiple complex issues were created, which our current and future generations must address and resolve. Carroll tells is that there is no easy fix, nor even a willingness to resolve centuries of misunderstanding, mistrust and mistakes.

    The book, if read with an open mind rather than with narrow vision, is compelling. It provides plausible answers to many questions that not enough of us care to ask about the role and history of religion in world affairs, politics and interpersonal relations. Jerusalem Jerusalem is one of the best books I've read in recent years.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2012

    Mistitled Mess

    I bought this hoping to read about the history of Jerusalem and the 3 religions that claim it as the spirtual center of the faiths. One would think from the title and subhead that the author would indeed deliver on this promise. Not so.

    Instead we get this sprawling mess of a recitation of the author's point of view on Judaism, Catholicism and Islam. It might not be so bad if he wasn't just rambling on about trying to prove his personal pov on what the bible is REALLY trying to tell us.

    Although the author claims to be a Catholic (as a former priest) he sure doesn't seem to belive any of its dogmas. Mostly he seems to want to talk about how violent all the religions are and continue to be.

    Plowing through his meandering text just got more and more difficult to do. Before you buy read the NYT book review for a much better summary of the crap put forth by this book.

    Thanks B&N for such a LOUSY sample. Could have saved myself the expense of buying this drivel.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2014


    This book is a little textbooky in breadth and depth of subject. However it is well worth reading. It is so full of well documented information and gives the reader a great background to understand our western culture. James Carroll clarifies the religious and the political movements that shape the reality that we are living with.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    This is a best light to see what is happening in all Middle East

    James Carroll had done a superb job in bringing the events of this book up to date. As well it should. He wrote this book in a way that not only make the reading interesting but also as gripping as a Tom Clancy novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Thought provoking

    A most interesting concept to explain the hatred, bigotry and violence in today's world

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Mini-Course on Middle East Crisis

    If you are a thoughtful person who cares about world history, this is a fine choice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2011

    Ruminations of the author's own imagination and unsubstantiated. A few qotes to make it sound scolarly, but does not even follow known facts. Misrepresents scripture, unreliable.

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted August 7, 2011

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    Posted October 27, 2011

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    Posted March 15, 2011

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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    Posted May 28, 2011

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    Posted May 31, 2011

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