Friday, September 22, 2017

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore
I came away from this book with three impressions
  1. The sprawling, endless history of this hilltop settlement, its stones and myths endlessly dug up and rebuilt.
  2. The way much of world history --or at least the history of the Abrahamic religions- swirls around this single spot
  3. The beheadings and rapes, generation after generation. My own village has a history going back to the eighth century, but in nearly all that time, sickles were just used for lopping heads of grain, rather than heads of people. Must be something to be said for not being so famous. 
A wonderful book, a work of  an unobtrusive author who sorts through the rubble and presents it to us, scene after boody scene. I learnt a few things. The Jewish people have been given Jerusalem back on odd occasions before the current time. Julian the Apostate, for example, the second after Constantine, returned it to them. 

The crusaders, while an embarrassment to Christians, were no more rapacious and deadly than everyone else. 

King David officially exists, thanks to an insription found in the 1990s and no thanks to the Bible account, despite it being one of the most intimate, many-sided accounts of a famous person in all antiquity. 

It was also fun to find the backstory of the Jewish puppet kings who stroll across the New Testament. All were collaborators with the Romans. Montefiore picks out the day (for example) that Augustus, Herod the Great and Mark Antony strolled out of the Senate together. The photo of that would have been good for a few quid. Or Bernice who not long after hearing Paul in Caeserea -- 'I would you that you were all as I am, but for these chains'--turns up as the lover of Titus as he dismembers Jerusalem in AD70. Josephus was with them that day, and got a few of his Jewish friends taken down from the crosses on which many had been crucified. It goes on.

Some gems of good writing too: Chateaubriand's travelogue 'set the tone of the European attitude to the Orient with its cruel but inept Turks, wailing Jews, and primitive but ferocious Arabs who tended to congregate in pictureseque biblical poses' (p384)