Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem: The Question of the Holy Sites in Early Ottoman Times

Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem: The Question of the Holy Sites in Early Ottoman Times

Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem: The Question of the Holy Sites in Early Ottoman Times

Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem: The Question of the Holy Sites in Early Ottoman Times

Synopsis

A major issue in nineteenth-century world politics, the question of Christianitys holiest shrines in Jerusalem is covered by a large body of literature. Most of this scholarship, however, concentrates on the period when the question of the Holy Sites has already evolved from a domestic Ottoman problem into an all-European issue. Much less is known about this problem in earlier times, when the Ottoman Empire was still a dominant power able to propose solutions free of foreign interference and outside pressures. Based on official Ottoman records found in the registers of the kadis court in Jerusalem as well as the Prime Ministrys Archives in Istanbul, the present study offers a thorough treatment of Ottoman policy with respect to the Holy Sites during the first two centuries of Ottoman rule in Jerusalem. It focuses on three principal issues: (a) The legal status of the Holy Sites under Ottoman rule; (b) The Ottoman state and the inter-church struggle over the Holy Sites; (c) The Holy Sites as a source of income to the Ottoman state. The discussion of these issues sheds new light on one of the most obscure and controversial chapters in the history of Christianity under Islam in Jerusalem.

Excerpt

Christianity, a religion based upon theophanies, or sacred past events, attaches numinous significance to the sites at which these divine miracles are said to have occurred. Many of these sites are found in and near Jerusalem, the scene of the most eminent and fundamental mysteries. Moreover, the most sanctified and revered sites associated with the more significant and constitutive events upon which Christianity is based are situated in and near Jerusalem. These are the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Crucifixion, Sepulchering and Resurrection in Jerusalem. These sites, having been monumentalized by sumptuous basilicas, evolved into the most sacred shrines of the entire Christian world. As such, these sites became an object of desire for Christians everywhere; a goal of visitation as well as aspirations of attachment, possession and control. From the moment that Christianity split into different churches and rites, these aspirations came into conflict. The Holy Sites Question (as this situation has come to be known) is the complex result of the inter-church conflict over these sanctuaries and the political authorities' attempts to handle the issue. Another set of problems associated with the Question and contributing to its complexity is derived from the fact that these sites— Christianity's holiest shrines—have for centuries been under the political rule of non-Christian powers, and in the case discussed here, under Islamic Ottoman rule.

There exists a large body of literature regarding the Holy Sites Question under Ottoman rule. Most of this scholarship, however, concentrates on the period when the Question of the Holy Sites had already evolved from a local Ottoman problem into an international issue, or one of the elements in the diplomatic complexity which came to be known as the “Eastern Question”. The decline of Ottoman strength spurred the European powers into a scramble to become the weakening Empire's heirs. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Holy Sites Question was enfolded into this struggle and became one of its major issues. In the process, this question was gradually displaced from the exclusive care of the Ottoman government, which was forced to accept the dictates of foreign powers. The Question of the Holy Sites now became an all-European problem, whose solutions were generally conceived outside the Ottoman Empire and then . . .

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