The city of Jerusalem is, since the beginning of civilization, the capital of the three main religions of the world. It was the trophy every king wanted to possess, and it was the place every faith wanted to build a monumental temple on. And it has remained so until today. Jerusalem is so politically and spiritually charged, that it has been contested since its birth, and it hasn’t been left to rest for a single moment in history. Montefiore’s Jerusalem masterfully tells the whole trajectory, a biography really, of the holy city.
Several other authors wrote books with the same intent. Montefiore, however, was able to blend together an unequal level of detail and dynamism in a history book, especially one that covers three thousand plus years of history.
Jerusalem, although a lengthy book, reads very quickly. The book is divided in a way that each part tells the story of a different colonizer or conqueror, if we may call them that. When reading the book you feel Montefiore was able to cover all main characters and stories that shaped the holy city as we know it today: the Hebrew/Jewish kingdom and King David´s and Salomon´s histories; the appearance of notorious names such as Alexander the Great; civilizations like the Babylonians; the birth of Mohammed and Jesus and their respective religions; the fall of Saladin and the rise of the Crusades; from the Mamluks, to yesterday’s Ottomans and today’s Zionism.
You may think you know Jerusalem, but after reading this biography, you’ll see there is so much more than meets the eye. The history contained in this book gives us the reason why Jerusalem is what it is. Being a believer or not, it is impossible to reject the place and importance of Jerusalem throughout history.
Interestingly, books about Jerusalem or the Holy Land are infused with the author’s bias towards one people or another. They usually contain excerpts from either the Old Testament or the New Testament. But it is not the case for Montefiore’s Jerusalem. The book brings facts and history, picking neither side or portraying all sides at once. Thankfully, for our enjoyment, the author does get carried away many times and illustrates historic events, such as massacres or wars, with a level of detail that can only be speculation, which is great to none the wiser. Montefiore can separate History from Jewish History, Muslim History, or whatever History you can think of.
Another major positive aspect of Jerusalem is that Montefiore is able to write lightly, easily, and to fill in the pages with interesting stories. Many times you feel as if you’re reading a novel, portraying wars full of blood and crazy generals, going through famines, only to find peace and wealth in the next chapter. Although Jerusalem’s history seems unbelievable, it is very real and true, and Montefiore is able to deliver this paradox to the reader.
The holy city is neither ancient history nor it is a piece of archeology that enables you to glimpse the past. It is much more than that. The city is history itself, it is still living, you can feel it by watching the news, by stepping on the Esplanade or by observing the movement of Christians, Jews and Muslims coming from or going to services to pray for this city at all times of the day. Only not to end here, Jerusalem will continue to shape history in the future. Be sure of it.