Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel

By Hallote, Rachel | Shofar, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel


Hallote, Rachel, Shofar


Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, by Eric H. Cline. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. 400 pp. $29.95.

Jerusalem is a major source of contention in the Middle East today. In some ways, the conflict over the political control of Jerusalem, as well as its cultural character, is as old as the city itself. This is essentially the thesis of Eric Cline's new book, Jerusalem Besieged. Cline uses military conflicts over control of the city as a lens for looking at the larger picture-the political history of Jerusalem. The fact that his historical examination is limited to just Jerusalem, as opposed to the more common focus on the entire land of Israel, is refreshing, since Jerusalem itself was the goal of all the armies that headed to the Holy Land since antiquity.

Cline, who teaches ancient history and archaeology at George Washington University, has produced a well researched and intricately footnoted volume. Although published by a university press, Jerusalem Besieged is intended for both academics and lay readers. Cline organizes the book historically, taking the reader from most ancient times to up-to-the-minute discussions of the current religious and political conflicts over Jerusalem.

One of the best features of this volume is the way Cline intersperses modern political "uses" of ancient history with the ancient history itself. He shows how history has been taken out of context and misused for political reasons by people of many nationalities. For instance, in 2001 Saddam Hussein formed a "Jerusalem Army" to free Jerusalem from Israel, and in so doing cited Nebuchadrezzar, a king in ancient Iraq who captured Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. Hussein stated that the ancient history proved that Iraq still had the responsibility to "liberate" Jerusalem.

Cline similarly demonstrates how early Zionist leaders including Theodor Herzl identified the new Zionist Jews with the Hasmonian rebels of the 2nd century BCE, and shows that other Zionist leaders used the Bar Kochba rebels similarly, making the point that like their ancestors, the Jews were battle ready, and able to fight for their cause once more. Later in the volume, Cline points out that President Truman, when credited with playing a major role in establishing the State of Israel, compared himself to the 6th-century BCE leader of Persia who had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Truman apparently exclaimed, "I am Cyrus, I am Cyrus!"

As an ancient historian, Cline has excellent command of the early material. For instance, his description of the original topography of Jerusalem and the reasons it was originally settled-natural protection on the three sides-is comprehensive, and his descriptions of the complexities of Herodian Jerusalem, another very difficult archaeological topic, are logical and clearly stated.

For the several hundred years of the Roman period, which is filled with battles for Jerusalem as well as for the rest of the Holy Land, Cline peppers his narrative with long quotes from Josephus and other classical primary sources. However, the sections on both the Byzantine and early Arab periods are quite short. …

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