The Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden?


Since the 1967 war, Jerusalem and the Jewish holy places have acquired a new centrality even in the traditionally secular Labor Zionist vision. After noting a parallel shift toward religiosity among the early Christians following the excavation of the Holy Sepulchre, the author discusses the connection between sacred relics and identity as well as the impulse to demolish rival artifacts and claims. Drawing numerous examples from history and scripture to illustrate her points, the author traces the city's changing importance to the three faiths over the centuries, correlating the intensity of feeling with perceptions of threat or loss. Finally, she examines the differing concepts of holiness, contrasting the traditionally pluralist Muslim vision of holiness with Judaism's and Christianity's more exclusivist cult of the city's sanctity. The article ends with a discussion of David's conquest of Jerusalem, which leaves scope for greater inclusiveness than is generally assumed.


Karen Armstrong, a leading British commentator on religious affairs, teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and Teachers. She is the Author of many books, including Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, and the best-selling A History of God.