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Simon Godhill. Jerusalem: City of Longing.

Simon Godhill. Jerusalem: City of Longing. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008, 356 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

IN HIS VERY RECENT BOOK titled Jerusalem-City of Longing, Simon Godhill, a professor of Greek literature and culture at the University of Cambridge, travels through the history of the city from its earliest days to the present day. It is not just another history of Jerusalem; rather it helps us understand the history of the city through its buildings, as well as its buildings through its history. The author ably and wonderfully blends historiography with archeology. His attempt is valiant and the outcome is quite satisfactory. I credit Godhill with his laborious attempt to be a detached narrator, in as much as the highly divisive nature of the matter allows.

He writes; "This book will uncover the physical cityscape of Jerusalem, but it will always be setting these buildings in the web of words, the personal and local spinning of tales, that makes the buildings alive in the imagination of so many. This is the memory of Jerusalem, a history of generations of longing: longing for a touch of divine, longing for a better world, longing for a lost home, longing to find an answer, here in this place, only here" (6).

The book is designed in a way that resolves the intense political and historical disagreements between Christian, Muslin and Jewish population. The collection of historical narratives appear in the first three parts of the book in which he describes Jerusalem as the center of the Christian world, the center of Jewish Jerusalem and the center of Muslim Jerusalem in separate chapters. Then, to capture the architectural aspects as well as an exploration of its archaeology, the chapters that followed were the old city, the oldest city, the Victorian city, and the modern city consecutively. This order of these chapters captures the author's ability to deconstruct intense historical moments to unravel a history of change and continuity.

I do appreciate the depth, richness and variety of contents of this book. In fact it provides the reader with a wealth of information about historical places and monuments, many of which the majority of us are not aware of. Let me here exemplify. I am a citizen of Jerusalem and have lived in it continuously for the best part of three quarters a century. Yet I admit that quite a great number of places covered in this book, I never visited, never heard of, and was never introduced to.

In commenting on this remarkable book, I feel I must venture the following: First, the author states that one of the phrases one hears in Jerusalem is (ani yodea)--I know, in Hebrew, when asking a passerby for direction. This somehow implies that Jerusalem inhabitants are solely Jewish. This implication flies in the face of truth, simply because a great number of Jerusalemites are Arab.

Second, the author quotes Conte Folke Bernadotte as saying in 1948, that there is no such country ruled by the Arabs called Palestine. I personally doubt there is no such country ruled by the Arabs called Palestine. I personally doubt the veracity of this statement, as well as the authority of the mediator to make it. I assume that this statement, even if it is true, is no more than obiter dicta.

Third, the author assumes that the cultural and national identity of the Palestinians was strengthened as a result of the creation of Israel. The assumption, I must say, is glaringly dubious and extravagant.

Fourth, Godhill maintains that the Palestinians remain to this day socially, institutionally and politically, a divided collective. In my opinion the said statement is utterly trendy and self-motivated.

In sum, and in spite of the four observations raised above, each of which detracts in some degree from the professed evenhandedness of the writer, his book remains the product of laborious research, and full to the brim with grave historical data. Godhill's admirable work commends itself, in my view, as a reliable source, and is really worth careful perusal. I had the pleasure and privilege of reading it and writing a review of it.

Giries el-Khuri is the former Chairman, Jordan Bar Association, Jerusalem, Palestine.
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Author:Khuri, Giries el-
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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