Book Report: Jerusalem Histories

Dear friends,

As I mentioned in a previous post, St. George’s College sent a long reading list for me to tackle in preparation for the course I’ll be taking there, The Palestine of Jesus. It’s divided into several sections, but I started out with the section on the history of Israel and Jerusalem. The first book I read was Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Montefiore

It may seem strange to have a biography of a city, but if any city deserves it, it’s Jerusalem. I really enjoyed this book as it is very well written and fun to read – sort of a galloping romp through history. Montefiore loves to make the historical characters come to life, and no group escapes his somewhat caustic wit. However, it is also a lot to take in as it covers everything from King David’s bringing the Ark to the city (then a small village, of course) to the Six Day War in 1967.

I was surprised by just how bloody the history of Jerusalem is. Just in the Roman era, there was wholesale slaughter of a large part of the population at least half a dozen times. And it hasn’t stopped since. In the whole scheme of things, today’s era seems relatively peaceful, believe it or not. I can’t think of any other city that has been conquered, razed, ransacked, sieged, and embattled so many, many times in it history.  The other surprising thing is that Jerusalem was a fairly small city until the modern era. For most of the middle ages up until the late 1800’s, it was smaller than Lexington in population (ranging from 8,000-30,000). But one thing has always been true about Jerusalem: the tourist trade to religious pilgrims has been a key part of the economic engine for many, many hundreds of years. So I guess I’m in good company. There’s a pretty good summary of the history of Jerusalem here:

Reading Jerusalem: The Biography made me realize I don’t know as much as I should about the modern history of Israel (from 1948 on). A great book that was not on the St. George’s reading list, but that several Redeemer members recommended to me, is The Lemon Tree. This is a true story of two families that lived in the same house, one Palestinian and one Jewish. The Palestinian family built the house, but were forcibly removed from it in 1948 when the state of Israel was established. The Jewish family, who are Holocaust survivors, then moved into the house. Each family is deeply involved in the politics and work of their respective people, but they become friendly with one another because of their shared home. The author is very respectful of both sides of the conflict and you can really see where both are coming from. It’s a bit sad, though, because even though the two families respect and like one another, they never manage to agree on a solution to the conflict. It doesn’t give a lot of hope for the future. But it did give me a real picture of what it’s like to live in Israel for both Palestinians and Jews.




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