cover image Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths

Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths

Karen Armstrong. Alfred A. Knopf, $30 (471pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43596-9

British religious scholar Armstrong (A History of God) has written a provocative, splendid historical portrait of Jerusalem that will reward those seeking to fathom a strife-torn city. Her overarching theme, that Jerusalem has been central to the experience and ""sacred geography"" of Jews, Muslims and Christians and thus has led to deadly struggles for dominance, is a familiar one, yet she brings to her sweeping, profusely illustrated narrative a grasp of sociopolitical conditions seldom found in other books. Armstrong spares none of the three monotheisms in her critique of intolerant policies as she ponders the supreme irony that the Holy City, revered by the faithful as symbol and site of harmony and integration, has been a contentious place where the faiths have fought constantly, not only with one another but within themselves, in bitter factions. Her condemnation of Israel's 1967 annexation of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War (""It was impossible for Israelis to see the matter objectively, since at the [Western Wall] they had encountered the Jewish soul""), however, pushes too far her theme of sacred geography as the physical embodiment of motivating myths and legends. (May)