The Temple of Jerusalem, by Simon Goldhill

The eternal city of warring dreams
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The Independent Culture

"Next year in Jerusalem" is the toast made every Passover by Jews celebrating their escape from Egyptian exile. Although Israel has possessed Jerusalem since the Six Day War, the promise continues. Jewish yearning for the Holy City has always been both a physical and metaphysical impulse. The city of the Holy Temple, the Dome of the Rock, the narrow streets and the souk coexists with the political and religious hotbed, triumphantly siezed in l967.

"Next year in Jerusalem" is the toast made every Passover by Jews celebrating their escape from Egyptian exile. Although Israel has possessed Jerusalem since the Six Day War, the promise continues. Jewish yearning for the Holy City has always been both a physical and metaphysical impulse. The city of the Holy Temple, the Dome of the Rock, the narrow streets and the souk coexists with the political and religious hotbed, triumphantly siezed in l967.

These two Jerusalems live on in the mind of Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists. In this book, Simon Goldhill explores the duality and offers an intriguing insight into the conflicts it raises.

After the success of his book Love, Sex and Tragedy, Goldhill shifts his gaze from ancient Greece and Rome to the wars and myths surrounding Jerusalem's central synagogue. The first Temple was Solomon's, as described in the Book of Kings; the second was built by Herod. Here, the rabbinical Joshua/ Jesus of Nazareth threw out the money exchangers. It was destroyed by Titus. As for the Third Temple, orthodox Jews plan to lay the first bricks when their Messiah arrives.

After the historical perspective, Goldhill gets into a central thesis that reveals "Jerusalem" as a metaphor rather than a physical reality. He presents the many Jerusalems dreamed up by scholars, zealots, architects and artists. At this Temple Mount, Mohammed was supposed to have risen "to heaven, on a ladder of the finest gold". During his night journey, he passed through the seven heavens to the seat of God, and saw Abraham, Moses, Jesus and a company of prophets. Goldhill skilfully allows the reader to understand how the Jerusalem Temple has become a dreamscape for all the Abrahamic faiths.

Even more importantly, he shows how that religious longing has inspired artists to imagine their Jerusalem. In The Marriage of The Virgin, Raphael imagined it as the synagogue where Mary and Joseph marry. William Blake's "Jerusalem" is built in "England's green and pleasant land". Herod's Temple was designed as a Nazi vision by the German archaeologist, Carl Watziner, in l933. As Goldhill notes, Watzinger's Temple could have been designed by Albert Speer.

When I first saw the Western Wall, that last vestige of the Temple, I felt a huge disappointment - not least because the Wall has an unequal divide for men and women. Yes, it is a highly charged structure. Yes, I can feel a danger in the air in this small piece of ground. But, until now, it has never touched me. However, after reading Goldhill's book, I can understand how "Jerusalem" is not merely the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock but also an empty space filled with conflicting myths. When we look at this void, we fill it with our own ideal. And we bring Solomon, David, Jesus and Mohammed with us too.

The reviewer's play, 'Crossing Jerusalem', is published by Oberon Books

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