Go down


Post  eddie on Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:19 am

Jerusalem, Jerusalem by James Carroll – review

Jerusalem has excited crusaders through the ages

David Shariatmadari, Friday 5 August 2011 22.54 BST

A Palestinian woman prays before the Dome of the Rock. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

"The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum." Havelock Ellis was musing on Jesus's likely fate had psychiatrists mingled with pharisees in the Holy City, but his words capture a more general insight: Jerusalem seems always to have straddled the border between madness and wisdom. Visitors perceive a peculiar kind of tension, not just the obvious political and ethnic rivalry, but a supercharge of millennial anxiety which makes the air fizz.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem by James Carroll

This piling of fears and hopes on to Jerusalem has, according to James Carroll, made it the defining city of our culture. It has shaped western civilisation, curing it, he argues, in violence.

It's a grand claim and this is at times a grandiose book. Carroll attempts a universal history; it's possible to be sceptical about how deeply he's engaged with such a range of ideas, and it doesn't help that the references he gives are often surveys themselves – Karen Armstrong's A History of God, for example. There's a flakiness in some of the writing, dangerous territory for someone who wants to defend religion against charges of intellectual irrelevance in a scientific world. One wonders how hard he's thought about statements such as "Not since the neolithic revolution . . . did humanity undergo such a massive change as occurred in Europe between 1000 and 1500 CE", or the rather bizarre "Our ancestors may have realised at roughly the same time [as agriculture] that the harvesting of newborn babies was a result of planting too."

With Jerusalem itself, Carroll is on more solid ground. Drawing on the work of philosopher René Girard, he illustrates the link between the importance of ritualised sacrifice and the luminous, magnetic properties of the City on the Hill. The community, in destroying an innocent party – a scapegoat – was able to experience a release from fear, an almost post-coital satisfaction. This was the beginning of organised religion: a structured violence to replace indiscriminate killing which would otherwise threaten the survival of the group. Jerusalem's totemic status, then, derives from its position as an early and pre-eminent centre for sacrifice. He is likewise eloquent on the way Jesus's teachings were twisted by his early followers. Augustine's view that the absence of Jews from Jerusalem was proof that Christ's message had superseded theirs led to the impulse to rid the city of "others" – Jews, and of course, Muslims.

It may have become a cliché of revisionist history, but it is still shocking to realise quite how badly the crusades reflect on Christian civilisation. Whereas Muslim conquerors set about protecting Christian and Jewish rights in the city, the Franks who reached it in 1099 showed no such consideration. They corralled thousands of Muslims on to the Temple Mount, killing them there, and set the main synagogue, filled with Jews, on fire, before going to the Holy Sepulchre to pray. Little wonder that Muslims across the world took umbrage at George W Bush's use of the word crusade to describe his "war on terror" 900 years later. Carroll's point is that it was perfectly natural – to the point of being quite unconscious – for an American president to refer to any kind of righteous struggle this way. A constitutional separation of church and state only serves to disguise the extent to which a religious outlook is embedded in US culture.

The 20th century brought a biblical apocalypse uncomfortably close. First came the first world war, with Jerusalem itself captured by Allenby as a "Christmas present" to a weary people. But it was the cold war that nearly allowed Jerusalem to live up to its doomsday reputation. Golda Meir's apparent readiness to use the nuclear "Temple Weapons" during the Yom Kippur war could have initiated an act of sacrifice to surpass all others.

Carroll concludes that our modern shunning of religion has not led to its disappearance from politics, but rather the masking of what are at root religious motives. He favours a readmission of religion to the public square along more honest lines. Only then can we identify "good religion", he argues, and promote it above the "bad".

This is the key, then, to mitigating the sacred violence of which Jerusalem is the centre. But it doesn't work: Carroll says "bad religion is inevitable" and that "every religion is forever in need of reformation". In other words, we are condemned to repeat the same cycle of violence and reform regardless, as Jerusalem's history makes clear. So why argue for a way out? Don't they say, after all, that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result? © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 62
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Back to top

Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum