Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths

by Karen Armstrong

Hardcover, 2005




New York : Ballantine Books, 2005


"SPLENDID . . . Eminently sane and patient . . . Essential reading for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike." --The Washington Post Venerated for millennia by three faiths, torn by irreconcilable conflict, conquered, rebuilt, and mourned for again and again, Jerusalem is a sacred city whose very sacredness has engendered terrible tragedy. In this fascinating volume, Karen Armstrong, author of the highly praised A History of God, traces the history of how Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all laid claim to Jerusalem as their holy place, and how three radically different concepts of holiness have shaped and scarred the city for thousands of years. Armstrong unfolds a complex story of spiritual upheaval and political transformation--from King David's capital to an administrative outpost of the Roman Empire, from the cosmopolitan city sanctified by Christ to the spiritual center conquered and glorified by Muslims, from the gleaming prize of European Crusaders to the bullet-ridden symbol of the present-day Arab-Israeli conflict. Written with grace and clarity, the product of years of meticulous research, Jerusalem combines the pageant of history with the profundity of searching spiritual analysis. Like Karen Armstrong's A History of God, Jerusalem is a book for the ages. "THE BEST SERIOUS, ACCESSIBLE HISTORY OF THE MOST SPIRITUALLY IMPORTANT CITY IN THE WORLD." --The Baltimore Sun "A WORK OF IMPRESSIVE SWEEP AND GRANDEUR." --Los Angeles Times Book Review… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member AuntieClio
What a fantastic history, focusing solely on the development of Jerusalem from ~2300 BCE to 1996 CE (when the book was published), Armstrong puts into context the physical, geographical, spiritual, religious and emotional reactions towards Jerusalem.

My overly simplistic view of history is that it's
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all about the land grab and the completely arrogant view that "I" am perfectly in the right and "you" are completely in the wrong and should be punished for that. The history of Jerusalem reads a lot like that.

It's interesting to me how all three religions have turned away from the founding compassionate tenets of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity and are bent on the others' destruction. I now have a better understanding of the issues (and the history), and also a better understanding of why finding peace in the Middle East is so fraught with peril.
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LibraryThing member FPdC
The portuguese translation of Jerusalem: One City - Three faiths, this is an extraordinarly informative and well organized book. In about four hundred pages it take us through the rich history of that city and its inhabitants since its incontrovertible first archeological remains in the begining of
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the second millenium B.C. until the present day. It take us from the jebusite city to the hebrew conquest by David; from Solomon and the first jewish temple to the Babilonian conquest and exile; from the Asmonean rule, the second temple and its destruction in the aftermath of the rebellion against Rome. The rebirth of the city as Elia Capitolina and its transformation into the christian city; the muslim conquest by Omar in 638, the crusaders onslaught in 1099 and their final eviction by Saladin in 1187. Proceeding to the mameluc and otoman periods, it concludes with three chapters on the 19th and 20th centuries, briefly describing the renewed interest in the city by the European powers, the rise of Zionism, and the conflict it originated between the local arab population and the newly arrived zionist immigrants, culminating in the establishment of the state of Israel and the ensuing conflicts. Although more detailed information about the 20th century history must be looked up somewhere else (eg in Benvenisti's excellent City of Stone,) the present study is certainly an indispensable work to everyone who wants an unbiased understanding of the history of the city at the centre of one of the most intractable conflicts of modern times.
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LibraryThing member wamser
Thoughtful use of the history of Jerusulem to illuminate the faiths that have called that city holy.
LibraryThing member DubiousDisciple
One city. Three faiths. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all lay claim to the Holy City. Armstrong’s treatment is impartial as usual, more interested in promoting understanding than any one belief system. She leads us through 4,000 years of history, as this turbulent landmark in the middle of
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nowhere grew from a tribal village into a cultural and religious phenomenon.

The book of Revelation, about Jerusalem: “The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed.” Is this a prophetic inevitability, or is there hope for peace? I’m one of the many with a placard hanging on my wall, requesting that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I read Armstrong’s book as research for my own book about Revelation, because Jerusalem, both the Old and the New, is the focal point of John’s Apocalypse.

Karen’s topic is extremely important for today’s world of religious unease, and it’s an absolutely fascinating topic. Unfortunately, I found the writing to be a bit more dry than usual for Armstrong. I think the book could have been condensed to about 2/3rd its size. But by the time you finish—if you’re able—you’ll have a better grasp of the bitterness and misunderstanding, and why all three religions claim Jerusalem as their own.
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LibraryThing member Muscogulus
The world needs more books like this one. Professional historians will be able to pick nits, but this remains an honest narrative of perhaps the world's most remarkable city, told in a spirit of humanity and respect for all three faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The book provides
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invaluable historical perspective on the struggle in our own time over the State of Israel. However it is not a polemic, and only the most diehard partisans will take issue with Karen Armstrong's well founded perspective.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
When judging someone's ideas, I usually try my hardest to consider the circumstances from which they're writing. I'm usually biased towards vaguely socialist types, but I'm aware that a socialist-like idea will mean two very different things, depending on whether it's written by someone in
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Stalinist Russia, or by someone in Reagan's America. This approach is, I think, morally preferable, inasmuch as I'm less likely to jump to outrageous judgments on people (I'm otherwise very likely to do so). It's also intellectually preferable: for instance, if you read Hobbes without thinking about the people and situation to which he was responding, you'll probably end up thinking he was arguing for a kind of divine right theory of politics. In fact, he was arguing against it.

This long prologue is necessary because I have tried, and failed, to apply this principle to Armstrong's very detailed but wildly biased book about the history of Jerusalem. Her context is very clear: she wants to oppose the silliness of late 20th century Islamophobia and militant Zionism, as well as the 'conservative' (though they're not very into conserving things) appropriation of religion. In order to do this, she writes as if the great prophets (Jesus, Mohammed) and religious thinkers (early Rabbis) were more or less interested *only* in 'social justice,' and that their thought then got perverted by a bunch of, well, conservatives. Sadly none of that is true, and her repeated claims to the contrary make this book almost unreadable and often highly misleading: for instance, she concludes that "the Muslims got their city back because the Crusaders became trapped in a dream of hatred and intolerance." Actually, the 'Muslims' got 'their' city back because 'the Crusaders' split up into a bunch of squabbling little princedoms, and eventually their on and off treaties with a wide variety of Islamic neighbors (intolerance?) were a bad defense. Far from hatred and intolerance being 'the crusaders'' downfall, it was tolerance and friendliness. But that doesn't make for quite the same story.

The focus on 'social justice' also sits very uncomfortably with the general impression that if everyone was only mystical about their religious experience like the sufis, everything would be fine. It's only when you try to go out into the world and do something on the basis of your convictions that the problems start. How to reconcile that with the presumably activist principles of religious social justice is very unclear.

Also, the first few chapters are far, far, far, far too long and I can only assume just as misleading as the middle chapters.

This is a shame, because the idea for the book is a good one, and if you can filter out the nonsense, it's not particularly biased in any one direction. The bits on sacred place are nice, though obviously contribute, too, to much silliness (e.g., if only we all got back to worshiping places, religion would stop being the source of division... erm, no).
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