Geographically, anthropologically, archaeologically, historically, politically, and above all religiously, the city of Jerusalem is a fascinating city. In Jerusalem: The Eternal City, David Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew Skinner provide an overview of the city, focusing on the many different aspects of Jerusalem’s past, its present, and the potential for the future, specifically from the perspective of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
Jerusalem: The Eternal City, then, has a very specific audience. It is not a universal book about Jerusalem, and its limited audience does give the book some flaws. When I read this book ten years ago, prior to my own experience in Jerusalem, I was in love with everything to do with the city and its history, and this book got me more than a little excited to walk the streets of Jerusalem myself. Despite the flaws, I still enjoyed rereading Jerusalem: The Eternal City, and it reminded me of my time there.
Some of the flaws might be considered strengths. The ancient sections about the city rely almost exclusively on Biblical histories, and for those who want a scriptural overview of Jerusalem’s history, Jerusalem: The Eternal City amply provides that. The sections on modern political situations and possible solutions, while very interesting and seemingly balanced, did seem immature from my own immature political perspective. Of course, because the book is now 15 years old, such political perspectives may simply outdated. Each of the later chapters focused on a different part of recent history (political, religious, etc.) and were therefore repetitive about some historic events.
Finally, as a religious person myself, I did enjoy the religious perspectives of the book, but found myself hoping for more anthropological and archeological history in addition to the religious details. I think anyone approaching this book needs to understand that it’s a religious history and discussion before anything else. It’s not meant to balanced.
For me, the most interesting sections were those on Jerusalem at the Meridian of time (how the city was during the life of Christ) and the subsequent history of Jerusalem during the nearly two millennia that followed. (It started feeling repetitive during the discussions of the 1800s and after.) It was fascinating to see how three different dominant religions found the land and that specific city central to their faith. The later chapters, about possible religious futures for the city were, from a religious perspective, very interesting, and I liked reading the collection of scriptures about the city, all in one place.
Finally, because I had the opportunity to stay in the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, I was fascinated to read how such a center came about. I also have a separate book about the Center (Grafting In: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Holy Land by Steven W. Baldridge), and I liked how Jerusalem: The Eternal City had the Center’s history condensed into one chapter. What I enjoyed about this history is how the Center was built into the land, and that the entire purpose to the center is historical and religious education (for college-aged American Christians) and unification of people and personality. It is right on the border between the West Bank and the city of Jerusalem, and when I lived there, the Center employed both Arabs and Jews, as well as Christians, a highly unusual arrangement. I am not sure that my 19-year-old self realized how unusual it was to have Arabs and Jews working side by side in the cafeteria in a West Bank educational center.
Since I read Jerusalem: The Eternal City as a reminder of my six to eight weeks living in Jerusalem (we also spent some time in Galilee, Jordan, and Egypt, although Jerusalem was our base), I think it might be appropriate to share some of my photos of the most beautiful city on earth. (A rabbi said that whoever has not seen Jerusalem in all its splendor has never seen a beautiful city in his life, quoted on page 2).
I used a dozen rolls of film when I was there. In retrospect I wish it had been the age of digital photography, since then I’d have taken more than twice as many photographs!
(Note: Click on a picture to see it larger. I scanned these pictures from the prints I have; they are out a bit fuzzy and somewhat out of focus. I was not a photographer and my camera was not an impressive one.)
I read Jerusalem: The Eternal City in May and the first half of June as my project book.