City of God
Is Jerusalem really the capital of the West’s divine madness?
How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World
by James Carroll
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$28.00 List Price
James Carroll writes that his new book is “about the lethal feedback loop between the actual city of Jerusalem and the apocalyptic fantasy it inspires.” No one who reads the headlines or watches the evening news can possibly doubt that such a Zion-fixated end-time fantasy looms in the minds of many a pistol-packing Jewish settler, Rapture-ready Christian soldier, and aspiring Muslim martyr.
But that may be just the problem with Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Carroll’s scrupulously ecumenical survey of the waves of violence the idea of the ancient city has churned up over the millennia is, in effect, an extended depiction of the same Jerusalem one wearily encounters in the daily paper and at all too regular intervals on CNN. Viewed from on high and in sweeping terms, this is a chronically blood-splattered place, where the human sacrifice of the ancient Canaanites is no more than a Palestinian teenager’s stone’s throw away from the bus bombs of the second intifada, and where King David’s vicious vanquishing of the Jebusites foretells in dramatic fashion Israel’s conquest of various Palestinian neighborhoods and groves.
Lack of ambition, in other words, is not one of Jerusalem, Jerusalem’s flaws. And Carroll—a onetime Paulist priest–turned–religiously engaged antiwar activist, journalist, and best-selling author—is almost to be commended for daring to start his history of sacred violence with an In-the-Beginning return to “thirteen billion years ago,” when “all mass was concentrated into a single point, far smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence.” Grand subjects, he plainly