Jerusalem: The Biography

From The Telegraph:

Jerusalem_main_1807562f Sebag Montefiore refers throughout his book to the excruciating effects of the Jerusalem syndrome, “a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion” that sees up to a hundred sufferers confined every year to the city’s asylum – but which over the centuries has affected empires and kingdoms no less than pilgrims. Shimmering impalpably over the rock and dust of the physical Jerusalem, there blazes a second, celestial city. This is the Zion for which the biblical prophets yearned; the new Jerusalem seen by St John descending from heaven; the city to which all Muslims will come on pilgrimage at the end of time. Defining the dimension of the supernatural is beyond the power of even the most gifted historian, and yet Jerusalem is hardly to be understood without it. Here, then, was yet a further challenge for Sebag Montefiore to surmount; and it is perhaps the ultimate measure of his book’s value that he has met it with such aplomb.

Studied empathy with the yearnings of his various subjects is combined with a no less studied show of neutrality. The beliefs of Jews, Christians and Muslims are treated throughout the book as being equally true – or perhaps, depending on the perspective of the reader, as equally bogus. That Sebag Montefiore himself is Jewish is hardly something he would have wished to veil: Sir Moses Montefiore, a key 19th-century sponsor of Jerusalem, is a major presence in the narrative, and there is even room in a proud footnote for a Sebag Montefiore.

More here.