Everybody’s Jerusalem

Jerusalem: The Holy City in the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims, and Prophets from the Days of Abraham to the Beginnings of Modern Times

by F.E. Peters
Princeton University Press, 656 pp., $35.00

Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City

by Martin Gilbert
Viking/Elisabeth Sifton Books, 238 pp., $25.00

These two books have more in common than their subject. Both present Jerusalem through the medium of descriptions by residents, visitors, and pilgrims, and chronologically they complement each other. Professor Peters begins with Abraham and passages from Genesis. He ends with a quotation from Edward Robinson, who first came to Jerusalem in 1838, soon after his appointment to the chair of biblical literature at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. As a witness, he is the last to be called by Peters and the first by Martin Gilbert, whose survey thereafter covers the next six decades. On his last page he discusses the visit of the Kaiser to Jerusalem in 1898, and his meeting there with Theodor Herzl, who only the year before had presided over the first Zionist congress in Basel. The final quotation in the book is from Herzl’s diary.

Although the two works are linked in this way, there are also important differences between them. Gilbert covers sixty years, Peters more than thirty centuries. Both rely on similar material, but they handle it differently. Peters puts quotations from the works of “chroniclers, visitors, pilgrims, and prophets” in the foreground. Such passages are sometimes extensive. The longest covers nearly six pages, and they are so numerous that they fill rather more than half the book. Since they are printed in italics, the reader can easily distinguish them from Peters’s linking commentary and narrative. The learning and perceptiveness of the compiler enables him to provide evidence from an impressive group of witnesses, nearly two hundred in all. In the early part of his book Peters develops a theme of major importance in world history. Over a period of nearly two thousand years Jerusalem became a holy place for three of the world’s greatest religions, between which there are many links. In an earlier book Peters has written of Jews, Christians, and Moslems as “Children of Abraham.” All three faiths worship but one God, and revere a good number of the same patriarchs and prophets. The human Christ was born a Jew, and the Moslems number him among the prophets.

The presence of three faiths in Jerusalem, the long succession of centuries during which they struck roots there, its importance as a place of pilgrimage, supreme for Jews and Christians and second only to Mecca in the eyes of Moslems—such things are made visible in the unforgettable view of the Old City when seen across the valley of the brook Kidron from the slightly higher summit of the Mount of Olives. To the south, just outside the city, is the ridge on which King David established his new capital in about 1000 BC. The ridge rises to a northern summit, now within the city and enclosed within the southeastern angle of its walls. It must have been here that Araunah the Jebusite had his threshing floor, which David bought so that he might raise an altar to the Lord. The narrow site was artificially extended by his son Solomon…

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