Jerusalem: Three millennia of drama, blood feuds and spirituality

Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld And Nicolson, RRP $50

"Jerusalem is the holy city," writes Simon Sebag Montefiore, "yet it has always been a den of superstition, charlatanism and bigotry . . . the cosmopolitan home of many sects, each of which believes the city belongs to them alone."

Jew, Christian and Muslim alike feel compelled to rewrite its history to sustain their own myths. "A hundred patients a year," Montefiore notes, "are committed to the city's asylum suffering from the Jerusalem syndrome, a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion."

The 3000-year conflict provides a terrible story, which he tells surpassingly well, and although not his purpose, one that is likely to confirm atheist prejudices.

Montefiore takes the history of the old city from its beginnings as a fortified village through every conquest or occupation. Rival places of worship were destroyed and new ones constructed with the stones of earlier buildings, thus making Jerusalem the most complicated archaeological site in the world.

Populations were slaughtered or sold into slavery, then later replaced by new waves of immigration.

Montefiore's book, packed with fascinating and often grisly detail, is a gripping account of war, betrayal, looting, rape, massacre, sadistic torture, fanaticism, feuds, persecution, corruption, hypocrisy and spirituality.

- Antony Beevor

FULL REVIEW Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore – review (The Guardian)

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