JERUSALEM by Karen Armstrong


One City, Three Faiths
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 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. (60 illustrations, 37 maps; color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 19th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-43596-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996


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