Review: A Journey Under Jerusalem |
âUnder Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested Cityâ by Andrew Lawler, Doubleday, 426 pages, $ 32.50.
Jerusalem is considered a holy city by Christians, Jews and Muslims. Millions of pilgrims visit the city each year to see the areas described in the Bible, Torah and Quran and celebrated on the holy days of each religion.
Andrew Lawler’s “Under Jerusalem” provides a meticulously researched record of archaeological activity, attempting to document the historical events that occurred in the ancient city. Lawler, who has written for National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Archeology magazines, has managed to cohesively summarize the venerable city’s complicated history while detailing the countless attempts by archaeologists to provide physical evidence supporting the sacred texts of Christianity, of Judaism and Islam. His book provides a framework for Jerusalem’s three millennia of chaotic and violent existence.
Jerusalem was originally built by King David of Judea. Her son, King Solomon, erected a mighty temple at the site which was destroyed by a Babylonian army six centuries before Christ was born. The city was then conquered by the Persians, Greeks and Romans before another king of Judea, Herod, rebuilt the magnificent temple, which was again destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.
The Muslims erected the present Dome of the Rock on the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Empress Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had previously identified and marked the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial cave in AD 327. .
Jerusalem was ruled by the Templars of the medieval Crusades and the Ottoman Turks before it fell to British forces in World War I. After the Allied victory in WWII, in response to the Zionist movement, the country of Israel was established as the homeland of the Jews. Originally shared between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Muslims, the wars of the twentieth century resulted in the return of the entire city of Jerusalem to the modern state of Israel.
Archaeological exploration of the porous limestone beneath the city began during the Civil War. Both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln wanted to visit the city’s historic sites, but only Twain got the chance.
The book details the exploits of a colorful mix of French, British and Israeli explorers from the lower regions below the surface to the relics of the City of David, the hidden riches of King Solomon and the missing Ark of the Covenant sought by Indiana Jones.
As wooden building materials are non-existent in the region, new constructions in each century have been built on the debris of the previous century. So the ground beneath present-day Jerusalem is a model of the past. Unfortunately, any excavation risks disturbing the structures and people living above it, so much of the exploration was carried out surreptitiously.
Conflicts between Orthodox and more secular Jews and Muslims over the vast domed spaces, stairways and buildings under the city led to bloody clashes and nearly derailed the peace accords overseen by President Clinton in 2000.
Author Lawler sifted through the confusion of religious dogmas, nationalist fervor, and commercial interests to uncover the nuggets of truth surrounding today’s Jerusalem. Readers who choose to accompany him in his research will be rewarded for their perseverance.
J. Kemper Campbell MD is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who believes that believers with genuine faith should not need physical proof of the truth.