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Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World Hardcover – March 9, 2011

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A Q & A With Author James Carroll

Q: How did you become so personally invested in Jerusalem?

A: When I was young, I was a Catholic priest. After the turmoil of the Sixties, as I began to lose my grip on the priesthood, I needed to retreat to a place of spiritual and emotional sustenance. I spent a summer in a monastery on the edge of Jerusalem, overlooking the hills of the Judean desert. In my time there, and especially during endless forays in the city itself, I encountered a new depth of faith. Jerusalem’s ancient resonance steadied me - not so much its traditional shrines, but its character as a place in which humans had transcended themselves age in and age out. It may seem odd to say so, but I came of age in Jerusalem. The figure of Jesus was quite real to me. I was able both to make the momentous decision to leave the priesthood, and to claim my Catholic faith in a new way. Of course, I was shocked by the contentions of Jerusalem, but those too were to the point. Where better for a young man in turmoil to find himself than in a place that is and has always been defined by turmoil?

Q: How did your work on anti-Semitism in Constantine’s Sword influence your perceptions of Jerusalem?

A: The Israelis and the Palestinians are trapped in a corner - but it’s not a corner of their own making. One of its walls is the long history of anti-Semitism that took root in Western civilization. Christian theology almost from the start assumes that Jews are to be exiled from the Jewish homeland. Christians take that exile - the so-called wandering Jew - as a proof of the claims that Jews reject. The collective, if unconscious, psyche of European culture is stamped with this denigration of Jews, tied to Jewish absence from Jerusalem. This accounts for much of the ambivalence about the Jewish return to Israel in 1948 (The Vatican, for example, did not recognize the state until 1994). It also accounts for a broad readiness to hold the State of Israel to higher standards of human rights than other states. Criticism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians is not anti-Semitism, but Israel’s continuing vulnerability is at least in part explained by a widespread visceral uneasiness with Jews at home in Jerusalem.

Q: What is the second wall of the corner trapping Israelis and Palestinians?

A: Well, of course, it is colonialism. Just as Jews are still somehow at the mercy of deep history, so are Arabs. In their case, it is the history of racist, European contempt for colonized people. It is wrong to equate Zionism with colonialism, but Palestinians have every reason to regard their situation as an unjust consequence of 19th and 20th century imperial intrusions. The British method of colonial domination depended on stirring up local conflicts, whether in Ireland, India, or Palestine. That method still casts a shadow over Jerusalem, where seeds of Jewish-Arab conflict were so efficiently planted by the colonizers. In fact, the British decimated Palestinian civic and cultural institutions well before Israelis came to power. European anti-Semitism and colonialism have left a crippling legacy that amounts to a third party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - but that third party is unacknowledged and unidentified. No one who shares in Western civilization has the right to condescend to the Jews and Arabs who are locked in this combat. I wrote this book to name that third party because only then can its power be undone.

Q:But how is the rest of the world tied to Jerusalem and its problems?

A: TQuite profoundly, although mostly unconsciously. It is not too much to say that the Western imagination - not just Europe now, but also America - took root and flowered in Jerusalem, more even than in Athens, Rome, or any other place. This begins, of course, with the Bible, and with the story of Jesus - Jerusalem is ground zero of Jewish and Christian religion. But across the centuries, the city remained pivotal. At the Crusades, Christendom "lost" Jerusalem to the Muslims, and the Biblical idea of a heavenly Jerusalem took on new force. Jerusalem as fantasy and as dream shaped Europe’s idea of itself - and also its adventures and, ultimately, explorations. Christopher Columbus was driven by the idea of reclaiming Jerusalem, but so were the Puritans who came to New England. America understood itself from the start as a new Jerusalem, the "city on a hill." That vision influenced everyone from John Winthrop and Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin. Today, a new American Christian nationalism takes its energy from apocalyptic fantasies fixed upon Jerusalem - which plays out even in the ways U.S. foreign policy treats Israel.




From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "Oh, Jerusalem, how often have I wept for you!" laments the psalmist. And well we should weep. For millennia, Jerusalem has been the meeting point of religion and culture, traditionalism and modernity, and the apparently inevitable violence that erupts over a particular faith's exclusive claim to the city. Carroll, author of the critically acclaimed Constantine's Sword, has given us one of the broadest and most balanced accounts in recent years of the city of King David—one centered on the concept of "sacred violence" as a path to redemption, a vision long engendered by Jerusalem and all that it represents. But he has another agenda—to analyze and interpret the intersections of history, theology, philosophy, and popular culture in a way that offers hope of an emerging religion that "celebrate life, not death." Given the long history of violence and death surrounding both the physical Jerusalem and the "imagined" city (e.g., America as a "city on a hill"), is this even possible? The former Catholic priest remains optimistic that humanity will find a way to resolve the conflicts that are so much a part of its story. Conceptually profound, richly detailed, and wonderfully realized, this book brings to life the dynamic story of the divided city. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547195613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547195612
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguishedscholar-in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular contributor to the Daily Beast.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Brett Farrell VINE VOICE on February 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is no mere rehashing of the history of Jerusalem. It dives into the very souls of all those who have possessed it. It is an intensely deep read; every paragraph leaves you with something to think about. This book is not for casual enjoyment. Some may question their own beliefs afterwards, others may have a light turn on, but for the truly intelligent this book will answer questions with more questions. This book has become a prize possession for me and I will not likely lend it lightly. It is not for the closed minded or the willfully blind.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Robert A. Grossman VINE VOICE on June 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I expected a dry history of Jerusalem. What I got exceeded my expectations. I am reminded of my favorite college history professor who lectured without notes, weaving a tapestry of the interconnected influences in Western Civilization. This author weaves a history of the idea of Jerusalem - what it has meant to Jews, Christians and Moslems - and how that idea influenced the world as we know it today with all its violence.

One may not agree with Carroll's thesis of sacred violence, but his presentation of evidence is compelling and thought-provoking. I admired the author's frankness about his own Christian point of view, yet he fiercely follows the logic of his thesis regardless. This book is dense with far-reaching ideas in every paragraph and one that you will want to read more than once. The author's explorations are wide-ranging, including the three monotheisms, world politics, psychology, nuclear weapons, not to mention the future of the planet itself. I highly recommend.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sally K. Severino on May 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Carroll is his remarkable best with this sobering, yet hopeful, book about how violence becomes interwoven in religion and politics. He uses the city of Jerusalem - the origin of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - to trace both literally and symbolically the flow of violence in the world even today.

He draws upon the insights of two men who have enriched our understanding of violence - Rene Girard and Gil Bailie. In particular, these two men have clarified the role of sacrificial killing and the role of the victim in recurring violence.

The sobering aspect of "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" brings home the reality that violence is escaping our control and threatening our human existence. The hopeful aspect of "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" is its call to wake up and change before it is too late.

The first step in waking up is to understand how heavenly Jerusalem defines our twenty-first century imagination. An understanding of James Carroll's insights provides this for its readers.

The book is not for the faint of heart!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kerry O. Burns on July 19, 2011
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I was fascinated by the history of Jerusalem in James Carrol's book and how he draws comparisons between the different faiths who call Jerusalem their Holy Land. This is not an easy book to get through, definately not light reading that one takes to the beach. But with a rich ancient history and Mr Carrol gets to the soul of the city. His book allowed me to understand more completely why this city is the source of such contention.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on May 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James Carroll explores the past, present and future of the city of Jerusalem from the perspectives of religion and violence. He ties together ideas in a manner that few authors could match. His depth and breadth of knowledge is astonishing. This is a well researched book with multiple footnotes in each chapter that clarify and support the deep thoughts conveyed. Through serendipity, fate, or God's plan, all the major religions have a claim to the prime real estate in this Holy City. In ancient and present times, Jews, Muslims and Christians each had control over the city. James Carroll provides insights into how religion, sacrifice and violence are related. He starts from the beginning: from the hypothesis that life began from an explosion: the explosion of an atom, from a single point the universe has been expanding outward into infinity ever since, notice that this initial event itself is rather violent.

The paradox of violence is, that it is often used to justify and and explain its use to bring about peace. The author expands on this concept in myriads of ways pertaining to Jerusalem. Carrol tells us, ancient man went from finding food, to gathering, and then hunting and eventually killing both animals and each other. Human sacrifice became an acceptable ritual in religous rites, and then how animals became the substitute for human sacrifice and lastly, to the Christian concept that one human being, Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to save all of mankind. John Carroll provides unique insights into human behavior, religion and the historical changes that have occured during different eras in the city of Jerusalem.
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47 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Farrell on March 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Before I bought a copy of James Carroll's new book JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM: HOW THE ANCIENT CITY IGNITED OUR MODERN WORLD (2011), I had read the customer review about it by K. Franklin of Minnesota. She is impatient with Carroll's critical views of religion. As a result, she characterizes him as a secularist humanist like Richard Dawkins. But Carroll is not a secular humanist. On the contrary, he is a theistic humanist. He claims to be a practicing Catholic and has even published a book titled PRACTICING CATHOLIC (2009).

In his new book Carroll discusses the history of the three monotheistic religions. The chapters are organized in roughly chronological order from ancient times down to the present time. As the title of the book suggests, he centers much of his discussion on the geographic place known as Jerusalem, on the one hand, and, on the other, on the idealization of Jerusalem. The idealization of Jerusalem can be found in ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic tradition about the end of the world as we know it. The idealization of Jerusalem can also be found in John Winthrop's famous expression about a city on a hill. As Carroll points out, Winthrop was echoing the Gospel of Matthew 5:14, where Jesus is portrayed as saying, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." As Carroll shows, the apocalyptic thought-world was alive and well in the Cold War.

Carroll interweaves memories and reflections about his own personal life-story into the larger narrative that he constructs. In other books Carroll has also interwoven autobiographical material into the larger narrative that he constructs, most notably in CONSTANTINE'S SWORD (2001) and HOUSE OF WAR (2006).
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