Friday, March 18, 2011
Jerusalem - The Biography
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2010
I must admit that I would not have believed it possible to cover the history of Jerusalem in one volume. Enormous amounts of scholarly work abound for the serious student, but for the general reader interested in understanding the importance - and sometimes the furore- which surrounds this great city, there has never really been a book which adequately covers its immense and complex religious, historical, sociological and political history until now.
Simon Sebag Montefiore comes from a prominent literary Jewish family, and it seems very appropriate that has undertaken this vast project. His lyrical and poetical introductory chapter gives a surprisingly intimate and personal glimpse of the meaning of the city to him before he launches into a more detached and impersonal manner of writing to compress thousands of years of history into one book.
This 647 page volume was a pleasure to read from the first page to the last, covering the massive span of the city's history and its personages, both humble and prominent. It is succinct and well-written, although the chapters covering early Christian history tend to support the modernist Protestant party line relating to theological issues rather than the more traditional Orthodox and Catholic viewpoints, especially on the perpetual virginity of Mary.
That aside, for anyone interested in the Biblical history of the city, it is a treasure trove of information, sometimes too much so.......the brutalities of the sacking of the city by the Romans were described bluntly and without gratuitous detail, but nevertheless were really quite stomach-turning and reminded me vividly of Sir Steven Runciman's devastatingly heart-breaking depiction of the sack of Constantinople a millennium later.
I learnt an enormous amount from this book, and I suspect it will take me much longer to digest and assimilate the information than it took to actually read it, and for anyone interested in this amazing city, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, this book will be a must-read.