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.