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Whose Holy City? Whose Holy City?
Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Colin Chapman
ISBN 0745951341 (9780745951348)
Lion Hudson, 2004

Category: Israel & Palestine

This book follows on from Colin Chapman's previous book, Whose Promised Land? (also from Lion, ISBN 0745951112, available from or, which sets the wider context for this volume. Assuming at least some familiarity with the current Middle Eastern conflict, however, you don't need to have read that book to benefit from this one — and if you've ever visited Jerusalem or attended a Passover with its cry of "Next year in Jerusalem!" you'll have no trouble appreciating the emotions that this ancient city evokes.

It's the city Jesus wept over but refused to turn away from, and where he met his death; "Jerusalem the golden" as the hymnwriter Bernard of Cluny put it, the city at the centre of our faith. But not just of ours: of Islam and Judaism too — the city that calls us together only to see us driven apart as each faith group tries to lay claim to exclusive rights.

In this book Chapman takes us on a historical journey across the centuries and millennia of strife, from the city's origins hidden in the mists of time into its present day reality torn apart by terrorism and flagrant human rights abuses. There's a powerful formula any writer or speaker can use to get their message across: say what you're going to say, say it, say what you've said. That's Chapman's approach here: an introduction that outlines where the book's going, a detailed expansion of those ideas over ten chapters, and a concise summary to bring it all together in the epilogue. The chapter headings are worth listing:

1. Jerusalem in the Old Testament: A fortress and a pagan shrine become part of a bigger story
2. Jerusalem in the New Testament: Jesus of Nazareth challenges and transforms ideas about 'the holy city'
3. 'Christian' Jerusalem: Triumphant Christianity supersedes Judaism and Roman paganism
4. Jerusalem in Judaism: The forbidden city lives on in the hopes and prayers of a scattered people
5. 'Islamic' Jerusalem: Triumphant Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity
6. Jerusalem in Christian Zionism: A dream of victory for some turns into a nightmare for others
7. Jerusalem and Zionism up to 1967: A pious dream is turned into a reality
8. Jerusalem since 1967: An unexpected conquest encourages dreams of 'the Greater Israel'
9. Jerusalem in recent negotiations: Jewish sovereignty becomes 'non-negotiable'
10. 'The things that make for peace': A peaceful solution has pre-conditions

Chapman writes unashamedly as a Christian but seeks a neutral path. For Christians he acknowledges the historical interest, the disaster of the Crusades and the importance of pilgrimage but points out that in Christian theology Jesus fulfills the Temple's role (chapter 2) — it's the heavenly Jerusalem, not this earthly Jerusalem, that our faith ultimately points us towards. The way forward here on earth, however, has to be through each faith group giving up its claims to exclusivity, recognising the others' claims and being willing to share.

By the end of the book, with Chapman, you'll find yourself echoing the words of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem: "If only you knew today the things that make for peace!" (Luke 19:41-42). Pray, then, for the peace of Jerusalem.

Phil Groom, December 2004

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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