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

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

3.4 17
by James Carroll

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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


“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

Editorial Reviews

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
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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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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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
 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
 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
 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…

What People are Saying About This

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

Meet the Author

James Carroll is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular contributor to the Daily Beast. A bestselling author, his many publications include Crusade, House of War, Secret Father, and An American Requiem, which won the National Book Award.

Mel Foster, an audiobook narrator since 2002, won an Audie Award for Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey. He has also won several AudioFile Earphones Awards. Best known for mysteries, Mel has also narrated classic authors such as Thoreau, Nabokov, and Whitman.

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Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
ZenMasterJ More than 1 year ago
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.
jnt21 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are a thoughtful person who cares about world history, this is a fine choice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
richardcolonel More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A most interesting concept to explain the hatred, bigotry and violence in today's world
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