Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, by James Carroll ($17.74)

Amazon: James Carroll’s urgent, masterly Jerusalem, Jerusalem uncovers the ways in which the ancient city became, unlike any other in the world—reaching deep into our contemporary lives—an incendiary fantasy of a city.

In Carroll’s provocative reading of the deep past, the Bible’s brutality responded to the violence that threatened Jerusalem from the start. Centuries later, the mounting European fixation on a heavenly Jerusalem sparked both anti-Semitism and racist colonial contempt. The holy wars of the Knights Templar burned apocalyptic mayhem into the Western mind. Carroll’s brilliant and original leap is to show how, as Christopher Columbus carried his own Jerusalemcentric worldview to the West, America too was powerfully shaped by the dream of the City on a Hill—from Governor Winthrop to Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan. The nuclear brinksmanship of the 1973 Yom Kippur War helps prove his point: religion and violence fuel each other, with Jerusalem the ground zero of the heat.

To the standard set by Constantine’s Sword, Jerusalem, Jerusalem is again a “rare book that combines searing passion . . . with a subject that has affected all our lives” (Chicago Tribune).

History Book Club:  “This book is about the lethal feedback loop between the actual city of Jerusalem and the apocalyptic fantasy it inspires,” writes James Carroll in the Introduction to this urgent, masterly exploration of one of earth’s most powerful places. Jerusalem, Jerusalem uncovers the ways in which the ancient city came to represent the dichotomy between the earthly and the divine. It is these “two Jerusalems” that Carroll dissects in a book that charts the city’s extraordinary impact on human history and contemporary conflict.

How did Jerusalem come to inspire such passion in Western civilization’s collective consciousness? In Carroll’s reading of the deep past, the Bible’s brutality responded to the violence that threatened Jerusalem from the start. Centuries later, the mounting European fixation on a heavenly Jerusalem sparked both anti-Semitism and racist colonial contempt. The holy wars of the Knights Templar burned apocalyptic mayhem into the Western mind. Carroll’s brilliant and original leap is to show how, as Christopher Columbus carried his own Jerusalem-centric worldview to the West, America too was powerfully shaped by the dream of the City on a Hill. The nuclear brinksmanship of the 1973 Yom Kippur War helps prove his point: religion and violence fuel each other, with Jerusalem as ground zero.

At the heart of these conflicts, Carroll contends, is the need to transform the earthly Jerusalem into a place where millennial fantasies of the end of history will be played out, whether the coming of the Messiah, the final battle at Armageddon or the 20th- and 21st-century war against terror. These fantasies helped create the actual city—and the actual city, in turn, fuels the fantasies.

Carroll looks at the meaning of Jerusalem for the world’s three major monotheistic faiths. These varying views, while the source of much conflict, also give the city a distinctive religious cosmopolitanism. It is this delicate balance that has enabled the city to survive, but that also makes it vulnerable. Carroll uses the conflicts of the present day to show how the world’s obsession with Jerusalem is not merely mystical—and how the fantasy of Armageddon could become reality in the very place where the idea was born.

In taking us through millennia of sacred and political turmoil, Carroll shows us how Jerusalem is a microcosm of the proverbial “global village.” It is a place where religions and cultures encounter each other in the closest of quarters—and, where they must confront the dichotomy between Jerusalem’s reality and the incendiary fantasies it inspires.

Provocative, colorful and vastly insightful, Jerusalem, Jerusalem is a masterful exploration of an ancient city that has reached deeply into our contemporary lives.

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