Jerusalem: The Biography

Jerusalem: The Biography

by Simon Sebag Montefiore


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307266514
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Pages: 688
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s best-selling books are published in more than thirty-five languages. Potemkin was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Stalin won the History Book of the Year Prize at the 2004 British Book Awards. Young Stalin won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, the Costa Biography Award (U.K.), and le Grand Prix de la biographie politique (France). A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he lives in London.

Read an Excerpt


The Biography
By Simon Sebag Montefiore


Copyright © 2012 Simon Sebag Montefiore
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307280503

Excerpted from the Preface

The history of Jerusalem is the history of the world, but it is also the chronicle of an often penurious provincial town amid the Judaean hills. Jerusalem was once regarded as the centre of the world and today that is more true than ever: the city is the focus of the struggle between the Abrahamic religions, the shrine for increasingly popular Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism, the strategic battlefield of clashing civilizations, the front line between atheism and faith, the cynosure of secular fascination, the object of giddy conspiracism and internet mythmaking, and the illuminated stage for the cameras of the world in the age of twenty-four-hour news. religious, political and media interest feed on each other to make Jerusalem more intensely scrutinized today than ever before.
Jerusalem is the Holy City, yet it has always been a den of superstition, charlatanism and bigotry; the desire and prize of empires, yet of no strategic value; the cosmopolitan home of many sects, each of which believes the city belongs to them alone; a city of many names—yet each tradition is so sectarian it excludes any other. This is a place of such delicacy that it is described in Jewish sacred literature in the feminine— always a sensual, living woman, always a beauty, but sometimes a shameless harlot, sometimes a wounded princess whose lovers have forsaken her. Jerusalem is the house of the one God, the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice—in heaven and on earth: the peerless grace of the terrestrial is as nothing to the glories of the celestial. The very fact that Jerusalem is both terrestrial and celestial means that the city can exist anywhere: new Jerusalems have been founded all over the world and everyone has their own vision of Jerusalem. Prophets and patriarchs, Abraham, David, Jesus and Muhammad are said to have trodden these stones. The Abrahamic religions were born there and the world will also end there on the Day of Judgement. Jerusalem, sacred to the Peoples of the Book, is the city of the Book: the Bible is, in many ways, Jerusalem’s own chronicle and its readers, from the Jews and early Christians via the Muslim conquerors and the Crusaders to today’s American evangelists, have repeatedly altered her history to fulfil biblical prophecy.

When the Bible was translated into Greek then Latin and English, it became the universal book and it made Jerusalem the universal city. Every great king became a David, every special people were the new Israelites and every noble civilization a new Jerusalem, the city that belongs to no one and exists for everyone in their imagination. And this is the city’s tragedy as well as her magic: every dreamer of Jerusalem, every visitor in all ages from Jesus’ Apostles to Saladin’s soldiers, from Victorian pilgrims to today’s tourists and journalists, arrives with a vision of the authentic Jerusalem and then is bitterly disappointed by what they find, an ever-changing city that has thrived and shrunk, been rebuilt and destroyed many times. But since this is Jerusalem, property of all, only their image is the right one; the tainted, synthetic reality must be changed; everyone has the right to impose their “Jerusalem” on Jerusalem—and, with sword and fire, they often have.

Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth-century historian who is both participant and source for some of the events related in this book, noted that history is so “eagerly sought after. The men in the street aspire to know it. Kings and leaders vie for it.” This is especially true for Jerusalem. It is impossible to write a history of this city without acknowledging that Jerusalem is also a theme, a fulcrum, a spine even, of world history. At a time when the power of Internet mythology means that the hi-tech mouse and the curved sword can both be weapons in the same fundamentalist arsenal, the quest for historical facts is even more important now than it was for Ibn Khaldun.

A history of Jerusalem must be a study of the nature of holiness. The phrase “Holy City” is constantly used to describe the reverence for her shrines, but what it really means is that Jerusalem has become the essential place on earth for communication between God and man.

We must also answer the question: Of all the places in the world, why Jerusalem? The site was remote from the trade routes of the Mediterranean coast; it was short of water, baked in the summer sun, chilled by winter winds, its jagged rocks blistered and inhospitable. But the selection of Jerusalem as the Temple city was partly decisive and personal, partly organic and evolutionary: the sanctity became ever more intense because she had been holy for so long. Holiness requires not just spirituality and faith but also legitimacy and tradition. A radical prophet presenting a new vision must explain the centuries that have gone before and justify his own revelation in the accepted language and geography of holiness—the prophecies of earlier revelations and the sites already long revered. Nothing makes a place holier than the competition of another religion.
Many atheistic visitors are repelled by this holiness, seeing it as infectious superstition in a city suffering a pandemic of righteous bigotry. But that is to deny the profound human need for religion without which it is impossible to understand Jerusalem. Religions must explain the fragile joys and perpetual anxieties that mystify and frighten humanity: we need to sense a greater force than ourselves. We respect death and long to find meaning in it. As the meeting-place of God and man, Jerusalem is where these questions are settled at the Apocalypse—the End of Days, when there will be war, a battle between Christ and anti-Christ, when the Kaaba will come from Mecca to Jerusalem, when there will be judgment, resurrection of the dead and the reign of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. All three Abrahamic religions believe in the Apocalypse, but the details vary by faith and sect. Secularists may regard all this as antique gobbledegook, but, on the contrary, such ideas are all too current. In this age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, the Apocalypse is a dynamic force in the world’s febrile politics.
Death is our constant companion: pilgrims have long come to Jerusalem to die and be buried around the Temple Mount to be ready to rise again in the Apocalypse, and they continue to come. The city is surrounded by and founded upon cemeteries; the wizened body-parts of ancient saints are revered—the desiccated blackened right hand of Mary Magdalene is still displayed in the Greek Orthodox Superior’s Room in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Many shrines, even many private houses, are built around tombs. The darkness of this city of the dead stems not just from a sort of necrophilia, but also from necromancy: the dead here are almost alive, even as they await resurrection. The unending struggle for Jerusalem—massacres, mayhem, wars, terrorism, sieges and catastrophes—have made this place into a battlefield, in Aldous Huxley’s words the “slaughterhouse of the religions,” in Flaubert’s a “charnel-house.” Melville called the city a “skull” besieged by “armies of the dead”; while Edward Said remembered that his father had hated Jerusalem because it “reminded him of death.”


Excerpted from Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore Copyright © 2012 by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xiii

Lists of Family Trees and Maps xix

Preface xxi

Notes on Names, Transliterations and Titles xxxi

Prologue 3

Part 1 Judaism

1 The World of David 17

2 The Rise of David 23

3 The Kingdom and the Temple 26

4 The Kings of Judah 35

5 The Whore of Babylon 45

6 The Persians 52

7 The Macedonians 58

8 The Maccabees 70

9 The Romans Arrive 76

10 The Herods 83

11 Jesus Christ 100

12 The Last of the Herods 116

13 Jewish Wars: The Death of Jerusalem 128

Part 2 Paganism

14 Aelia Capitolina 135

Part 3 Christianity

15 The Apogee of Byzantium 151

16 Sunset of the Byzantines: Persian Invasion 166

Part 4 Islam

17 The Arab Conquest 177

18 The Umayyads: The Temple Restored 187

19 The Abbasids: Distant Masters 197

20 The Fatimids: Tolerance and Lunacy 202

Part 5 Crusade

21 The Slaughter 217

22 The Rise of Outremer 226

23 The Golden Age of Outremer 231

24 Stalemate 243

25 The Leper-King 252

26 Saladin 258

27 The Third Crusade: Saladin and Richard 268

28 The Saladin Dynasty 274

Part 6 Mamluk

29 Slave to Sultan 287

30 Decline of the Mamluks 295

Part 7 Ottoman

31 The Magnificence of Suleiman 303

32 Mystics and Messiahs 306

33 The Families 320

Part 8 Empire

34 Napoleon in the Holy Land 329

35 The New Romantics: Chateaubriand and Disraeli 334

36 The Albanian Conquest 342

37 The Evangelists 347

38 The New City 366

39 The New Religion 370

40 Arab City, Imperial City 376

41 Russians 384

Part 9 Zionism

42 The Kaiser 391

43 The Oud-Player of Jerusalem 400

44 World War 412

45 Arab Revolt, Balfour Declaration 420

46 The Christmas Present 435

47 The Victors and the Spoils 447

48 The British Mandate 455

49 The Arab Revolt 468

50 The Dirty War 481

51 Jewish Independence, Arab Catastrophe 496

52 Divided 504

53 Six Days 511

Epilogue 521

Family Trees 545

Maps 553

Acknowledgements 565

Notes 569

Bibliography 609

Index 629

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Jerusalem 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a blood filled page turner! It tells the the history of the holy city in all it's graphic, gory, reality.Prepare to read about historical figures without heavenly gloss about them. It is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is hard to put down, highly recomended!
Ron007 More than 1 year ago
The book is so dense that I have to write the review in stages. Its scope is majestic; the detail almost incredulous, the contents bloody, carnal and with unbelievable horrors, (perhaps with some unwitting) bias and interesting psychological insights. To illustrate: on page 66 he writes ‘Young Jews... somehow... managed to reverse their circumcision... surely a triumph of fashion over comfort’ (bias?). On page 114, ‘(The) Resurrection... is the defining moment of Christian faith... Archaeologists tend to believe that the body (of Christ) was simply removed and buried by friends...’ (bias?). ‘No one knows why (Constantine) embraced Christianity... though, like many brutally confident men, he adored his mother, Helena...’ (psychological)(p.152). Two pages later, ‘Crispus would not have been the first young man to have an affair with his stepmother nor the last to want one.’ (psychological). ‘Theodora died of cancer’ (around 540) (Was cancer understood then?) ‘Zangi... divorced one of his wives and then had her gang-raped by his grooms in the stables...’ (p.233). What has all this to do with Jerusalem? Everything! It is the crucible of all these antics, driven by power-struggle upon power-struggle; conquest upon conquest; construction then destruction; more construction and destruction. As he moves to more modern times (post French Revolution), he slips into errors that irk parts of Britain. ‘France was at war with England’ (p.324). No it wasn’t. England (and indeed, Wales) ceded sovereignty to Great Britain with the Union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707. Their Crowns were united in 1603 when Elizabeth I died without an heir; James VI of Scotland then becoming James I (p.313) of England as well. France was at war with Great Britain (and significantly, also Prussia). It seems churlish to highlight such things (given his sweep of history) but for small countries (Scotland in this case) it remains a correction that is much needed. In turn, I wonder how the Armenians must feel, having been significant players in the shaping of the community of Jerusalem; Armenia now a shadow of its former self (the confiscation of territory, including Mount Ararat by Lenin, as a gift to Turkey for example – but I digress). As more contemporary times enter the story, British names emerge as key players; Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Balfour, with his famous (some argue, infamous) Declaration for example. It is almost poignant, as a Briton, to read about the British Mandate and the country’s obvious exhaustion to maintain it, which, along with the Suez debacle (with Israeli support), marked the end of Great Britain as a world power. The story ends with Israel’s incredible victory in the 6 Day War. For me, the maps and city plans at the end of the book are fascinating. Yet it’s the density of detail that proves, ultimately, to be so rivetting.
B-2 More than 1 year ago
Absolutely exceptional book. It is just what the name describes: meticulously researched , detailed, compassionate and well thought-through history of Jerusalem on all levels , from the streets to entire planet( somehow the City is affected by anything anywhere in the world and via versa). It is written in clear easy beautiful language ( no history PhD required to enjoy) and in my opinion equal to Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" in its majesty. It is of course impossible to write anything about Jerusalem without ruffing someones political or religious feathers, but the author strives for a balanced, objective story and achived this goal as far as any human can. I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is absolutely BK.
dwellNC More than 1 year ago
An engaging history of a troubled city that is the center of the three Abrahamic religions. After reading this it seems that the city belongs to no-one and everyone. Filled with murder and violence conquest and hope, its hard to imaging peace ever coming to the city. Reading Jerusalem will definitely reward you with a good history of the city while at the same time leave you wondering why, for so long, people have been killing each other in the name of their God.
freelancer_frank on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is a book about endurance and tolerance as demonstrated by Jerusalem's turbulent history. Montefiore begins begins at the beginning and continues right up to 2000 and beyond. The book is well structured chronologically with no particular bias being given to one historical period over another. Each period is well illuminated by Montefiore's ability with story, character and details. The book as a whole is compelling and absorbing. There is a lot to be learned but nothing is opaque. Given the subject matter, there is always going to be criticism about the perspective (rational, religious, etc...) but Montefiore navigates the issue with great skill.
4bonasa on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Excellent history of the most famous City on this planet, if not the Universe. A must read for the religious and irreligious alike.
Dabble58 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Got this out of the library and feel I must buy it in my next book-buying frenzy. I need more time with it than I got. Fascinating and quick flowing. Want to know more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The worst of humanity told in tje context the major city from which it all started, all based on superstition and myth produced by crazy people and leaders. If they had psychiatry and asylums back then history might have been a lot better. The book left me with little hope for mankind if so much sorrow could be produced over a big pile of rocks tjat should be leveled once and for all and forgotten. Religion poisons everything and this great bio of the holy city provides more proof.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pb123 More than 1 year ago
It's got a lot of interesting information, but it's pretty dense and boring at times. So and so was king, and then he died, and then so and so became king. He fought X, and died, then Y became king....A lot of that, which made me skip some of it. But I did enjoy a lot of it, and it made me want to visit the city, so on the whole it was worth it, just not a page turner.
OldDeadGuys More than 1 year ago
Montefiore does a great job telling the story of this amazing city. Covering such a breadth of time and intrigue in a straightforward and entertaining way. At points it reads as a mystery more than a history. He also does a great job remaining 'above the ray' when it comes to taking sides in the many challenging debates in this entirely complex city that has its very own life.
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The history is fascinating, as a Catholic I find some of it questionable and this has prompted me to look into other history of the time. I would highly recommend this book to any serious reader interested in the history of this remarkable city.
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