Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths


"SPLENDID . . . Eminently sane and patient . . . Essential reading for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike."
—The Washington Post

Venerated for millennia by three faiths, torn by irreconcilable conflict, conquered, rebuilt, and mourned for again and again, Jerusalem is a sacred city whose very sacredness has engendered terrible tragedy. In this fascinating volume, Karen Armstrong, author of the highly praised A History of God, traces the history of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all laid claim to ...

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Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths

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"SPLENDID . . . Eminently sane and patient . . . Essential reading for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike."
—The Washington Post

Venerated for millennia by three faiths, torn by irreconcilable conflict, conquered, rebuilt, and mourned for again and again, Jerusalem is a sacred city whose very sacredness has engendered terrible tragedy. In this fascinating volume, Karen Armstrong, author of the highly praised A History of God, traces the history of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all laid claim to Jerusalem as their holy place, and how three radically different concepts of holiness have shaped and scarred the city for thousands of years.

Armstrong unfolds a complex story of spiritual upheaval and political transformation—from King David's capital to an administrative outpost of the Roman Empire, from the cosmopolitan city sanctified by Christ to the spiritual center conquered and glorified by Muslims, from the gleaming prize of European Crusaders to the bullet-ridden symbol of the present-day Arab-Israeli conflict.

Written with grace and clarity, the product of years of meticulous research, Jerusalem combines the pageant of history with the profundity of searching spiritual analysis. Like Karen Armstrong's A History of God, Jerusalem is a book for the ages.

—The Baltimore Sun

—Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
British religious scholar Armstrong A History of God has written a provocative, splendid historical portrait of Jerusalem that will reward those seeking to fathom a strife-torn city. Her overarching theme, that Jerusalem has been central to the experience and "sacred geography" of Jews, Muslims and Christians and thus has led to deadly struggles for dominance, is a familiar one, yet she brings to her sweeping, profusely illustrated narrative a grasp of sociopolitical conditions seldom found in other books. Armstrong spares none of the three monotheisms in her critique of intolerant policies as she ponders the supreme irony that the Holy City, revered by the faithful as symbol and site of harmony and integration, has been a contentious place where the faiths have fought constantly, not only with one another but within themselves, in bitter factions. Her condemnation of Israel's 1967 annexation of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War "It was impossible for Israelis to see the matter objectively, since at the [Western Wall] they had encountered the Jewish soul", however, pushes too far her theme of sacred geography as the physical embodiment of motivating myths and legends. May
Library Journal
On the 3000th anniversary of David's capture of Jerusalem, Armstrong A History of God, LJ 9/15/93 wrote this book "to find out what a holy city was" and to see how it is holy to the Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Her work is a historical commentary based on contemporary accounts from the earliest mention of Jerusalem to 1995, thus differing from Hershel Shanks's Jerusalem LJ 11/15/95, which focuses on archaeology, and from City of the Great King LJ 2/15/96, which highlights specific aspects of religious attitude as reflected in art and intellectual history. The concepts of replacing God with the sacred, mythology as an ancient form of psychology, and the symbolism of sacred geography, architecture, and rituals as expressing truths about the inner life are all interwoven throughout the text. Though Armstrong overvalues speculation in promoting her own ideas, e.g., she confidently bases her argument that David and Solomon's court and society in Jerusalem was Jebusite on an elaborate sequence of "perhaps," "could also," and "may have been" statements, her narrative is sprightly and interesting. For academic libraries.-Eugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley
Kirkus Reviews
A weighty but not evenly weighted study of monotheism's sacred geography and the inglorious history of Jerusalem's turf wars.

Armstrong (a former Catholic nun and author of the bestselling A History of God, 1993) begins by desanctifying her setting as a Bronze Age high place of paganism called Rushalimum. Even King David's Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is said to be a Jebusite holy city turned Jewish by biblical chroniclers named J, E, D, and P, who were highly subjective and "cavalier" with their sources. While Israelites are dismissed as Canaanite idol worshipers and even Trinitarians (whom Armstrong graces with belief in Christian typologies), early Christians are depicted as rising above Jerusalem's savage and exclusivist Temple "cult." The author's critical tone recedes as she depicts how the apostle John "saw Christ, mysteriously identified with God himself, seated on the heavenly throne" in a New Jerusalem, a celestial city where Christ had taken the place of earthly Jerusalem. Centuries later, Christianity takes a revolutionary turn from the concept of a Heavenly Jerusalem after the Byzantine "discovery" of the tomb of Christ on Golgotha (whose historicity is unchallenged). Armstrong's tone nearly rises to reverential when the bloody Crusaders are displaced by Muslims, who are depicted as Jerusalem's most tolerant, nonviolent, and monotheistic rulers. We learn that inside the Dome of the Rock are Koranic "verses denying the shocking notion that God sired a son," but we're never reminded how aggressively Islam rewrites and coopts Jewish and Christian scripture and history. While both Christians and Muslims used the Temple Mount as a garbage heap, Armstrong closes with concern that today's Jewish state, whose "claim to the city was dubious," not continue its "sterile and deadly struggle for sovereignty" in the Holy City.

A History of God is a hard act to follow, and this lucid but unbalanced sequel on God's hometown may not be popular with many of those readers most eager to make a literary pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345391681
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 298,162
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Armstrong, author, scholar, and journalist, is among the world's foremost commentators on religious history and culture. Her books include the bestselling A History of God and The Battle for God, as well as Buddha and Islam: A Short History.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Diagrams
1 Zion 3
2 Israel 22
3 City of David 37
4 City of Judah 56
5 Exile and Return 79
6 Antioch in Judaea 103
7 Destruction 125
8 Aelia Capitolina 153
9 The New Jerusalem 174
10 Christian Holy City 194
11 Bayt Al-Maqdis 217
12 Al-Quds 245
13 Crusade 271
14 Jihad 295
15 Ottoman City 323
16 Revival 347
17 Israel 371
18 Zion? 398
Notes 429
Bibliography 445
Index 457
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Reading Group Guide

1. Has reading Jerusalem changed the way you view the city or any of the three faiths that claim it as their own? In what way?

2. Given the passion aroused by Jerusalem’s sacred sites, do you think it is possible for a practicing Jew, Christian, or Muslim to view the city objectively? Do you think that Armstrong views it objectively?

3. Have you ever experienced a place as “holy” or “sacred”? If so, what was that experience like? What sort of thoughts and feelings did you have?

4. In the book’s introduction, Armstrong defines mythology as “an ancient form of psychology.” What does she mean by this and do you agree with her definition?

5. Compassion is central to the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and yet has been sadly missing throughout Jerusalem’s history. Why do you think this is so?

6. Since social justice and peace are central to the ideal of a “holy city,” can Jerusalem—given its violent history—truly be regarded as “holy”?

7. After reading Jerusalem, do you think that one faith lays a greater claim to the city than the others? If so, which one and why?

8. “Suffering does not necessarily make us better, nobler people. All too often, quite the reverse,” writes Armstrong. Nonetheless,we have many cultural myths about how suffering has the power to soften the hardest heart. In your opinion, which of these opposed viewpoints is more “true”?

9. For centuries, Jews did not consider the Western Wall to be sacred. Christians did not develop a devotion to the Stations of the Cross until the early 1600s. Only 150 years after the Prophet’s death did Muslims claim that Muhammed ascended to heaven from the Dome of the Rock. In short, these sites were not originally regarded as holy, but only became so later in history through a sort of general consensus of the faithful. Does this surprise you? Does it change the way you view the world’s sacred sites? How?

10. Armstrong believes that there is a deep human need to regard certain sites as holy or sacred, even in the modern era. Do you agree?

11. Throughout Jerusalem’s history, construction was used as an “ideological weapon,” “a means of obliterating the tenancy of the previous owners,” writes Armstrong. Do you think that this has been true in other places as well? When and where?

12. For all of Jerusalem’s dishearteningly violent history, there have also been long periods when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived peacefully side by side. Today, that is decidedly not the case. How much do you think this change has been due to the creation of the state of Israel and how much to the tension among the faiths that has been growing for the last few centuries?

13. In ancient times, pilgrims visited Jerusalem to “see” God in the holy sites. In modern times, pilgrims—and especially Christians—visit Jerusalem to see historical evidence that “proves” their faith. Yet, as Armstrong writes, archeology provides no clear answers. In light of this, can ours truly be called a more rational age or has one set of beliefs simply been replaced by another?

14. “Zionism would be a secular movement, inspired for the most part by Jews who had lost faith in religion,” writes Armstrong. Does this statement surprise you? Do you agree with it?

15. In late 1996, Armstrong wrote: “As of this writing, the prospect of peace looks bleak.” Do you think that Jerusalem’s prospect for peace has improved, deteriorated, or remained more or less the same since then?

16. Have you visited Jerusalem? Are you more or less likely to visit—or return to—the city after reading the book?

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2002

    A good, concise resource

    Ms. Armstrong packs a lot of history into a fairly short and readable book. Several reviewers of her other works have noted a bias toward Islam. I did not find this tilt egregious, though it may annoy those who consider Muslims unworthy stewards of the Holy Land. In any case, Armstrong's scholarship is of a high standard, and the book should satisfy most readers who have a serious interest in the subject.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    All Sides of the Story

    In books concerning hot conflicts like the Middle East, it is commonplace to cover only part of the story or to concentrate on one set of events more so than others. This is understandable of course since most people with adequate interest in a topic typically have made up their minds and favor one of the conflicting sides. Not so with this book. I read this book with a critical eye, begging to find any evidence that the author is partial to anyone anyone, but in all of the 430 pages I could not find a single biased reference nor any significant omissions. By writing this wonderful comprehensive and well-researched history of Jerusalem, Karen Armstrong has done all of us concerned about the city a great favor. Throughout the 5000-year history of the city, this book describes in an unbiased tone the enormously interesting history of this hotly contested city. Many remarkable and little-known facts are can be found here. For example, I was surprised to learn that the history of Jerusalem extended for 2000 years before King David, its purported ¿founder¿. The book covers all the different eras of the city: the Canaanite, Egyptian, Israelite, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Muslim, and Crusader eras. The last two chapters focus on the 20th century history of the city. Though the author was a former catholic nun, she displays no bias whatsoever towards Christianity. The book displays the history of the city equally from the points of view of all three religious groups that care about it: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thus the book dwells in detail about the extreme agony of the Jews for their loss of the city and their being forbidden to enter it during Byzantine Roman rule. The book also illustrates the relative tolerance of early Islam and how Jews for the first time were allowed to return to Jerusalem under Islamic rule and coexist in peace with Christians and Muslims. If the author displays a bias against anyone, it is against extremists from all religions who are today fanning the flames of conflict and threatening the peace of the city. The book is a definite page-turner, packed full of information, and well worth a read if you cared about understanding the ¿whys¿ and the ¿how comes¿ behind the daily headlines.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2008

    Alternative views can they be anything but enriching?

    It's amazing how a book that offers an alternative point of view from that which the Jewish readers are used to can be deceiving and poor. The Jews have suffered all their lives from rejection because of the misconceptions about their religious and cultural norms. And finally, in the 21 century, they could offer an alternative point of view which made people accept them, except when they are connected to the unlawful occupation of the Palestinian. Alternative views are always enriching and cultivating. The readers are left to decide which one they favor the most. This is what writing and reading is all about. People who don¿t like new researches about an established fact, have the same mentality as those who refused to even argue that the earth was not flat, and those who refused to believe that sailing through the Atlantic could lead to India. Don¿t be too smart, don¿t direct people to read only what you think is correct. Leave the people to think for themselves, and if you have a good case people will judge so. All an all the book is very well researched and written. Ms. Armstrong has, one more time, amazed me with her open mind and tolerance in approaching issues that are related to religion. Well done and I highly recommend the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2004

    Written by a HUMAN, can never be unbias!

    No matter how many books she has written or read, does not change one simple fact she is human who can make many mistakes, and this is one of them. She is writing accroding to her understanding, biased and one sided is the usual result. When I read one statement identifying Muhammad the Prophet as a Great man, made me question her total unbias understanding of all three religions, and their rules in Jerusalem. Good man he may be, but not great. She may have been a Nun, but from her writing I question when did she change her believes?

    2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2002


    Karen Armstrong, a British ex-nun, calls herself a "freelance monotheist" and clearly has detailed knowledge of religious history. But she effusively promotes Islam and colors her narrative with pervasive negative characterizations of Judaism -- and to a lesser extent Christianity. She describes the "inclusive notion of holiness" in Islam, the humane attitudes of the Qur'an and the benign expansion of the religion, but deplores the so-called "separations and exclusions" of Judaism, as exemplified by dietary laws, Shabbat and regulations that controlled who could enter the ancient Temple. She neglects to compare this with the total exclusion--even now--of all non-Muslims from Islam's holiest city of Mecca. Nor does she note the unique Jewish attachment to Jerusalem--including mention in the millennia-old daily and holiday prayers recited by religious Jews, Jewish holidays revering Jerusalem and more than 650 references to the city in the Jewish Old Testament. Popular with anti-Israel Arab-American groups like The Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles, Armstrong believes Jerusalem "cannot be holy if it is not ruled with justice." She portrays Israeli presence in the city as a reign of inequity which "cannot be justified in Jewish tradition by the overriding sanctity of Jerusalem, because holiness is also and inescapably a moral imperative to justice.¿ She forgets that Jerusalem Arabs even now are clamoring for Israeli citizenship. And she broaches no Arab disrespect for Judaism. She forgets that during the illegal Jordanian Arab occupation of East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, 100,000 Jews were evicted or murdered, all 58 Jerusalem synagogues destroyed and the headstones from the ancient Mount of Olives Cemetery used as to line roads and latrines. This memory was evoked by the October 2000 destruction of both Joseph's tomb, and Israel's oldest synagogue-and the on-going destruction of the remains of the Second Temple under the Temple Mount, all also unmentioned here. Nor does Armstrong tell readers that Israeli rule has opened all previously closed religious sites, with the exception of the Temple Mount, which the Palestinian Authority's Muslim Waqf has barred to all non-Muslims. Armstrong¿s history is polemical and false. Read O Jerusalem instead. Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre, also non-Jewish, non-Israeli authors, prove honest reporters with important access to those who made Jerusalem's recent history. You won't be disappointed. --Alyssa A. Lappen

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2001

    Jerusalem and Aberham

    This book is much better then her 'History of God,' book. And to be quite frank, this wasn't all that good either. Although I did like the way she connects Aberham with all three religions. She improved between l994 and l997. I read the book ' Jerusalem...' when it first came out. It was interesting. But that is all.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 1, 2011

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    Posted July 30, 2009

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    Posted February 15, 2012

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