“Beneath Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City” 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 every 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, managed to cohesively summarize the venerable city’s complicated history while detailing the countless attempts by archaeologists to provide physical evidence to support the sacred texts. of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. His book provides a framework for Jerusalem’s chaotic and violent three millennia of existence.
Jerusalem was originally built by King David of Judea. His son, King Solomon, erected a mighty temple on 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 70 AD.
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The Muslims erected the current Dome of the Rock on the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Empress Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had already identified and marked the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial cave in 327 AD. All of these revered structures are found in the area known as the Noble Sanctuary in the “Old City” section of Jerusalem. .
Jerusalem was ruled by the Templars of the medieval Crusades and the Ottoman Turks before falling to British forces in World War I. After the Allied victory in World War II, in response to the Zionist movement, the land of Israel was created as a permanent territory. homeland of the Jews. Originally divided between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Muslims, the wars of the 20th century led to 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 American Civil War. Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln both wanted to visit the historic sites of the city, but only Twain had the opportunity.
The book details the exploits of a colorful mix of French, British and Israeli explorers from the lower regions below the surface for 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 construction materials are non-existent in the region, the new constructions of each century have been built on the debris of the previous century. Thus, the ground beneath present-day Jerusalem is a model of the past. Unfortunately, any excavation risks disrupting the structures and people living above, as the exploration was carried out surreptitiously.
Disputes between Jews and orthodox and more secular Muslims over the vast domed spaces, stairways and edifices beneath 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 dogma, nationalist fervor and commercial interests to uncover the nuggets of truth that surround the Jerusalem of today. 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 believers with sincere faith should not need physical evidence of truth.