‘Remembering Jerusalem’ and the politics of scholarship

8 Nov

Over the last two days, scholars from all over the world have met in London to take part in the conference ‘Remembering Jerusalem’; the conference was held in the beautiful surroundings of King’s College London and organised by the Imagining Jerusalem project. I heard fascinating and innovative papers on a very wide variety of topics.

Three examples will demonstrate the diversity of materials discussed: Nabil Matar (Minnesota) gave a subtle and detailed account, in his plenary lecture, of Islamic traditions concerning the Cradle of Jesus and Oratory of Mary at the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif); he repudiated the use of the word ‘Crusade’, preferring instead the term ‘Frankish invasion.’ Malka Greenberg Raanan (Hebrew University) presented her important, and timely work, tracking the routes women take through contemporary Jerusalem; using interviews, maps, and GPS, Greenberg Raanan was able to show how women from across Jerusalem are both corralled by, and sometimes able to subvert, their complex and segregated urban landscape. Shimrit Shriki (Hebrew University) gave a highly insightful paper about the post-World War Two secularisation of Calvary monuments in Austria, including one in which Lenin appeared as one of Christ’s persecutors.

I was honoured to have been invited to give one of three plenary lectures (for those interested, my PowerPoint presentation can be viewed here). However, in the days before the conference, when I sat down to compose my thoughts, I found it hard to concentrate, because of a piece of exceptionally distressing news: the East Jerusalem home of one delegate to the conference, Dr Mutasem Adileh (Al Quds University), had been demolished on 29 September, as part of a programme of house demolitions in the area. Dr Adileh had therefore been forced to withdraw from the conference.

The demolition of the home of the home of Dr Mutasem Adileh, Abu Dis

The demolition of the home of the home of Dr Mutasem Adileh, Abu Dis, East Jerusalem.

The horror of having one’s home arbitrarily demolished, without due process, is hard to conceive. The Israeli policy and programme of house demolitions is unjust, cruel, short-sighted, probably illegal, and certainly unethical. The hugely informative website of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions gives a lot more information in this regard; an article today in the London Daily Telegraph puts the demolition of houses in East Jerusalem into its wider national and political contexts; the issue of house demolitions in Jerusalem is the subject of an even-handed piece in The Economist last week, warning that Israel’s actions are feeding the ‘resentful segregation’ of Jerusalem’s inhabitants.

These are large questions, and outside my academic expertise. Yet this is the second time this year that Palestinian speakers at conferences I have attended have been unable to present their work due to the actions of the State of Israel: at a conference in Jerusalem in July, delegates from around the world were able to gather, but, due to roadblocks and curfews, a respected Palestinian historian from East Jerusalem was not able to travel a couple of kilometres to give a plenary lecture about his own city. The dire situation in Jerusalem thus has a significant bearing on the academic community and the ability of Palestinian scholars to participate in their scholarly world. Despite much heated talk about academic boycotts of Israel, the scholars who seem to be losing out are not Israelis, but Palestinians.

The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar-Ilan University is an Israeli anti-boycott organisation; its website contains various noble statements, for instance:

As required from any academic institution, Universities should not be subject to government interference. The university system must be based upon the premise of academic freedom, research and critical thinking, in which staff and students enjoy a platform that not only enables, but systematically encourages freedom of thought and expression.

Who could disagree? The IAB talks about the ‘unfortunate and anti-democratic tendency’ of the boycott movement, but unfortunately its website doesn’t seem to extend its critique to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including Palestinian academics. The IAB says that it ‘refrains from politics and addresses only matters of academic freedom and additional academic principles’, but, as the cases I have described show, ‘matters of academic freedom’ are inextricably linked to ‘politics.’ The conceptual sophistication with which the idea of a boycott is treated seems starkly opposed to the brutality of having one’s house demolished.

The IAB website does include a letter from Dr Sari Nusseibeh (president of Al Quds University), in which Nusseibeh argues against academic boycotts: he writes,

an international academic boycott of Israel, on pro Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: it would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended, and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it, including, foremost, through its own collaborative intervention.

The organisers of the London conference had thoughtfully assembled a diverse range of scholars, from Israel, Palestine, and many other countries: ‘collaborative intervention’ at work. But such collaboration was, in this case, prevented, as our Palestinian colleague was unable to attend the conference.

It is important that we acknowledge the ways in which the imbalance of power in Israel and Palestine has an effect on the constitution of our academic community. If you would like to show your support for some of the many organisations working to uphold the rule of law and human rights in Israel and Palestine, an online donation can be made to the relevant organisations by following these links:

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (UK): http://uk.icahd.org/support.asp?menu=7&submenu=2

Btselem,The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: https://www.btselem.org/about_btselem/donate

Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel: http://adalah.org/eng/category/100/Donate/1/0/0/

‘No Man’s Land, Israel’: Mini-Israel and the miniature Holy Land

15 Sep

‘The amusement park and the historical reconstruction often promise to bring history to life, and it is here that we must pay particular attention once more to the relation between miniature and narrative. For the function of the miniature here is to bring historical events “to life”, to immediacy, and thereby to erase their history, to lose us within their presentness.’

Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore, 1984), p. 60

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in miniature

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in miniature at Mini-Israel

When I think about my childhood in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s, it seems that the whole country was littered with ‘model villages’: tiny worlds of detailed replicas, somewhat battered by the rain. I vividly remember more than one trip to Tucktonia (1976-85), the now-vanished park near Bournemouth which showcased ‘The Best of Britain in Miniature!’ One was expected to wander around, wowed by the skill at which ‘real life’ had been rendered in the form of tiny buildings. Tucktonia was actually part of a craze, started in England at Bekonscot (begun in the 1920s and still going) and in America at Tiny Town in Colorado (begun in 1915): there are now miniature parks all over the world and it seems to be something of a national rite of passage to build tiny versions of iconic buildings. In most cases, the buildings reproduced are chosen for their symbolism, representing the highlights of the nation and its built history.

In the Middle Ages, replicas in miniature of Jerusalem and the Holy Land were common, in various formats: these could be wooden models of the Holy Sepulchre, maps of Palestine, or the condensed installations I’ve written about here, as at Bologna (Italy). In all cases, the main principle is condensation: a place reduced to a version of its essential elements, as determined by its designers. In the Middle Ages, these landscapes blended elements of the real environment with a fantasy of how the Holy Land should be.

The current version of these replicas stands in a dusty field in central Israel, in the form of the Mini-Israel park (founded 2002, and definitely showing its age). Mini-Israel is located in a particularly important symbolic space, adjacent to the Latrun police station where, in 1948 and then in 1967, a series of important battles were fought for Israeli independence. In this sense, it is a kind of secular, Zionist pilgrimage site; most of the visitors when I went were groups of schoolchildren. The Google street address for the site remains ‘No Man’s Land’, as it sits on the erased border between Israel and the former Jordanian territory of the West Bank; Mini-Israel is therefore by no means neutral as a celebration of the nation state on the site of an erased border. I visited Mini-Israel in July 2014 with a view to thinking about connections between this kind of mediated Holy Land and its medieval precursors.

Map of Mini-Israel, showing the 'Star of David' shape of the park

Map of Mini-Israel, showing the ‘Star of David’ shape of the park

The fort at Latrun, in miniature, at Mini-Israel.

The fort at Latrun, in miniature, at Mini-Israel.

Mini-Israel is, obviously, selective, and it would be petty merely to write about the bizarre selection of sites. But there is an outstanding omission, from my perspective, in the model of Jerusalem: the entire Christian Quarter of the Old City simply does not exist, and missing with it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Where the Christian Quarter should be is a patch of scrubland and bonsai trees. The resulting cityscape is therefore much more dominated by the Jewish and Islamic holy site of the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock, and its iconic golden dome. I hesitate to guess about the politics of this omission: perhaps the park’s designers never got round to miniaturizing the Christian Quarter, or maybe they feel that plenty of churches were included elsewhere (the park does attempt a haphazardly ecumenical approach, with mosques and other churches, for instance). But an omission like this is, of course, tacitly political, just as is the lack of borders (the park is arranged in the shape of a Star of David, rather than following Israel’s internationally-recognised, pre-1967 borders). Likewise, there are no refugee camps, no development towns, no nuclear reactor, no dispossessed Bedouin communities: like any such miniature park, Mini-Israel builds an ideal rather than reflects reality.

Mini-Israel: view of Jerusalem and the missing Christian Quarter

Mini-Israel: view of Jerusalem and the missing Christian Quarter

Mini-Israel is very different from a pilgrimage site in many ways: unlike a traditional pilgrimage landscape, Mini-Israel has no formal or predetermined ‘route’ through it, little organising narrative, and interpretation is largely left to the individual. At the same time, when considered as a mechanical technology of artificial space, Mini-Israel has much in common with medieval pilgrimage landscapes: the miniature or the model always tends toward description and depiction rather than contextual information and narrative (pace Stewart’s On Longing), and so enacts a kind of historical, contextual and spatial closure. It is a total view of the world, arrested in a dream of harmony. The whole of the park is built to a size ratio of 1:25, and this emphasis on scale also represents a harmonious fantasy: the space is managed by a mathematical principle of reduction of the exterior element of the built environment; in the miniature park, the emphasis is on the tiny facades of the buildings, rather than their lived history or location in shared/contested space. Where there are figurines of people, they look like frozen ants, stopped in strange poses: at the Western Wall, they reel about and topple over, as if drunk, or ill.

At various points in Mini-Israel, sponsored exhibits show automated mechanical reproductions in miniature: the airport, a dairy, a kibbutz at work. Aeroplanes took off and landed in a repetitive movement. Tiny trains whirred round and round a railway in an infinite loop. The automatic mechanicals struck me as uncanny, a little depressing, working away in a self-serving fiction, seemingly independent of human agency or vitality.

The miniature Kotel: the Western Wall of the Temple, Jerusalem

The miniature Kotel: the Western Wall of the Temple, Jerusalem at Mini-Israel

Call for Papers: ‘Travelling Selves: Creating the Pilgrim Persona’ for Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies 2015

28 Aug

Call for papers for a session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA, May 14-17 2015.

Travelling Selves: Creating the Pilgrim Persona
Organized by Suzanne Yeager (Fordham University) and Anthony Bale
(Birkbeck, University of London)

Scholarly interest in medieval multicultural interactions has increased dramatically over the past three decades as researchers find ample evidence for a Middle Ages that was world-focused and interconnected. In the past few years, crusading and merchant activity has garnered the lion’s share of attention, while comparatively little has been said about pilgrimage. This session seeks to remedy this dearth by presenting a renewed focus on pilgrim writing. By focusing on the narrative voice of the pilgrim, we hope to uncover the important role of the traveler as he or she crafted his or her persona, and to interpret pilgrim narrative as a way of producing the self which blended aspects of personal biography, the souvenir, lived experience, authoritative cultural narratives, intertextuality, scribal culture, intermedial productions, and other strategies.
Background
It is by now a commonplace that pilgrim accounts offer complexities when treated as historical documents. Some of these texts resist proffering their narrator’s name or place of origin; some pilgrim writers are so committed to copying past models that dating their work (or even authenticating their journey) becomes problematical; while others include fantastic or unreliable data. These complaints are certainly justifiable, but recent research viewing pilgrim texts as literature shows that, from a literary standpoint, pilgrim writing offers a goldmine of scholarly potential.
To draw more attention to this understudied resource, we invite papers that assess pilgrim literature – particularly fourteenth- and fifteenth century pilgrim accounts – querying the use of narrative voice and the creation of narrative personae. Through this study, we seek to answer questions such as: did pilgrims strive to create a sense of authenticity or authority in their accounts? Did they view their work as narrative? If pilgrims were consciously self-fashioning, how did their personae speak to their experiences? We hope that our session will invite our colleagues to join us in exploring whether or not the pilgrim’s identity mattered in the account, and under what, if any, conditions.
Please send an abstract (@300 words) to Dr. Suzanne Yeager, yeager@fordham.edu, by September 20, 2014

Conference: ‘The Making of Jerusalem: Constructed Spaces and Historic Communities’

19 Jun

Sponsored by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, ‘The Making of Jerusalem’ conference will take place in the Armenian Patriarchate, Jerusalem, 2-4 July 2014: for further details click on the link above.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem: rotunda of the Anastasis, June 2014

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem: rotunda of the Anastasis, June 2014

Between Caiaphas and Calvary: where did Jesus spend his time as a condemned man?

15 Jun

Where was Jesus between the events of the Passion? The Bible doesn’t really say.

However, from the Middle Ages to the present day various sites have been identified as prisons or cells in which Jesus was held during the events known as the Passion. I’ve been working for some time on the rich and multifaceted medieval traditions which surrounded Christ’s imprisonment. The Armenians continue to venerate a prison cell at the Convent of the Olive Tree in the Old City, often said to be site of the house of the high-priest Annas. The Franciscans worship at a prison cell at the rear of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greeks hold an ancient cistern on the Via Dolorosa to be the holy prison cell in which Christ was held by Pilate. In the Crusader period a further site, the Chapel of the Repose, was described as Christ’s holy prison cell on the Via Dolorosa. Here I want to share a few thoughts and pictures about another of these sites, the underground cave known as Jesus’ prison cell at the Catholic church of St Peter in Gallicantu, on Mount Zion just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

St Peter in Gallicantu Jerusalem

St Peter in Gallicantu Jerusalem

As the name suggests, this place is identified as where the cock crowed three times, revealing Peter’s deception and Jesus’ forgiveness (Luke xx:6). But the site is also associated with the high-priest Caiphas, where Jesus was led to be mocked (Luke xxii: 63-5). In the Byzantine period it is clear that the tombs and cisterns cut into the rock here started to be venerated as holy sites, as red and black crosses were painted on the walls. During the crusader period, the site started to be more firmly established as where Peter was imprisoned (Acts iv:3) and then the house of Caiphas in which Jesus was mocked.

 

However, the physical prison cell of Christ at St Peter in Gallicantu is a very modern ‘invented tradition’, dating from the 1880s. The French Assumptionist Order founded the monastery in 1887 and two years later the caves beneath were discovered; this was part of the scramble for holy space around Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century, after new Russian, Greek, Anglican and other orders founded grand institutions outside the city walls, their spires compete for the city’s iconic skyline. Often, as at St Peter in Gallicantu, an active kind of medievalism was at work, as crusader-sites and pre-Ottoman pilgrimage sites were refounded and reinvigorated.

The monastery is a grand building, with a bright mosaic showing the outrages de caiphe: the abuses of Caiaphas.

Modern mural at St Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem: the abuses at Caiphas's house

Modern mural at St Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem: the abuses at Caiphas’s house

One then descends several levels, following rather ominous ‘one-way crypt’ signs:

Signage to the Prison of Christ at St Peter in Galicantu, Jerusalem

Signage to the Prison of Christ at St Peter in Galicantu, Jerusalem

The Prison itself is a deep cave. Holes in the rock have had small ropes attached to them, to strengthen the conjecture that these holes were used for manacles. But the Prison is a surprisingly unadorned space: a sandy dark cave, equipped not with an altar (it’s not a formal chapel) but a lectern with a reading, adapted from the description of the Suffering Servant from the Old Testament book of Isaiah (xl:55): ‘Lord Jesus, your hands are tied so that mine may be freed. You accepted death so that freed from sin and death I might come to paradise with you! Blessed are you Lord!’

The Prison of Christ at St Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion, Jerusalem

The Prison of Christ at St Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion, Jerusalem

Remarkably, the signage at monastery is circumspect about any claims of authenticity:

‘…according to a fourth-century tradition not recorded in the Gospels, Jesus would have been scourged not only by Pilate but also by Caiaphas, and where the apostles Peter and John would have been held and scourged for preaching name of Jesus in the temple area after the resurrection. Aided by this context, Christians traditionally recall here some of the painful sufferings endured by Jesus during his Passion – regardless of where they took place, as well as by the apostles, the first believers in his name.’

In this way, the site directly recalls the mnemonic culture of the later Middle Ages: at St Peter in Gallicantu one is not awed by a historical site but rather one is ‘aided’ by the context to remember the narrative of the Passion and its emotional effects: this Prison of Christ is then best seen as a memory-cue and a stimulus to emotion rather than a place of historical proof in itself.

View from St Peter in Gallicantu of the Old City, with ancient caves, cisterns, and walls in the foreground

View from St Peter in Gallicantu of the Old City, with ancient caves, cisterns, and walls in the foreground

Call for Papers: Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City

13 May

I’m posting this call for papers here, for a conference to be held at King’s College London in November, on aspects of Jerusalem and its memory from 1099 to the present day. It’s being hosted by the Imagining Jerusalem network

Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City
6th-7th November
King’s College London

Organised by the AHRC-Funded Research Network ‘Imagining Jerusalem, 1099 to the Present Day’
Keynote speakers: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck), Professor Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths).
Further keynotes TBC.

Perhaps the world’s most iconic city, Jerusalem exists both as a physical space and as a site of memory, ideas, and re-memberings. In art, literature, film, and history writing; in acts of public and private worship; and in communities across the globe, memories of Jerusalem have, for centuries, been created, invoked, and relived. This cross-period, interdisciplinary conference invites paper and panel submissions on the theme of Jerusalem and Memory, c. 1099 to the Present Day. Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

- techniques of memorialisation / techniques of memory
- place, space, and memory
- souvenirs, mementoes, and memory aids
- the materiality (or immateriality) of memory
- memory and sensation
- memory, land and environment
- memory and warfare
- memory and governance
- forgetting, false memory, and fictional remembering
- narrative and memory
- memory and the archive
- national, local, and transnational memories
- memory and community
- ethnography as remembering
- ritual, repetition, and performance
- sacred and secular memory

The organisers are particularly keen to receive panel submissions which address a shared theme across more than one discipline and/or historical period.

Abstracts of c. 300 words for single papers and c. 1000 words for panels consisting of three papers should be sent to imagining-jerusalem@york.ac.uk by 1st July 2014. For more details or inquiries, please contact the same address or visit the Network website: http://jerusalems.wordpress.com/

This conference is organised by the lead members of the Network: Dr Anna Bernard (King’s College London), Dr Michele Campopiano (University of York), Dr Helen Smith (York), Dr Jim Watt (York), and the Network Coordinator, Hannah Boast (York).

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Jerusalem as Occidentalist cityscape in twelfth-century Bologna

8 Apr

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Many medieval copies of Jerusalem function at the level of metonymy: a part suggests the whole, a symbol evokes a distant and holy world. Sometimes a polygonal or round building or some crenelated battlements function as a shorthand reference to Jerusalem. Sometimes it was simply the Easter Sepulchre placed in church which once a year became the Jerusalem of Jesus’s death and resurrection. However, in the Italian city of Bologna, a remarkable landscape was crafted in which the urban fabric was Jerusalem, not only on a symbolic level but as lived, familiar space. The beautiful Nuova Gerusalemme at the church of Santo Stefano in Bologna has been much altered since its twelfth-century heyday, but it can still be visited and its Jerusalem-ish landscape appreciated.

Readers who want to know more about the historical and liturgical background of the Bologna site are referred to Robert Ousterhout’s 1980 article, from which much of my information is taken. I visited the site last week and in this post I share some of the thoughts I had about it.

The complex of churches existed since at least the sixth century and probably somewhat earlier, built over a Roman temple of Isis. At the centre was a round church dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre. In the twelfth century – in fact, within sixty years of the First Crusade of 1099, when the Crusaders successfully took Jerusalem – the chapels in Bologna were redesigned to ‘resemble’ Jerusalem. The San Sepulcro chapel (pictured above), with its distinctive ‘circular’ (polygonal) shape, was built c. 1100-1140 and continues to recall the main rotunda of the Anastasis at the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Twelve columns (suggesting the deep significance of the number twelve: the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Twelve Apostles, etc.) are arranged around a copy of the medieval ‘aedicule’, the small tabernacle or booth at the site of Christ’s empty grave (pictured below). The exterior brickwork has further polychromatic polygonal designs in it, suggesting other mnemonic devices to recall the patterns and symbolism of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.

As well as the aedicule, within this round church there remains a medieval copy, in similitudine, of the column on which Jesus was scourged (pictured below), akin to the twenty-first century whipping post at the Holy Land park in Florida. The building reproduces the atmosphere and main sites of the Holy Sepulchre; it shows clearly how, at a period in which thousands of Crusaders were travelling to Palestine, their ideas, knowledge, and religious culture was also travelling back to Europe.

One passes through the round church to Cortile di Pilato, a courtyard associated from the later Middle Ages with Pontius Pilate containing an ancient well (in the first picture, above), recalling Pilate’s washing of his hands (Matthew 27). Off the courtyard once stood various other small chapels recalling biblical and quasi-biblical episodes of the Passion of Jesus: a prison-cell, a Calvary, a now-vanished chapel in similitudine marking the site of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene.

The distance from the Calvary to the aedicule of the Resurrection is 42 meters; this is based on the specific proportions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the distance between these sites is 41.6 meters (Ousterhout, p. 312).

As Ousterhout showed, the chapels and shrines photographed here were just a part of a bigger civic complex: at Easter, a dramatic liturgical procession took place, moving from the nearby church of St John on the Mount (now rebuilt, which played the role of the Church of the Ascension on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives) to the church of St Thekla (now demolished and replaced with a luxury fashion shop in a Baroque palazzo, the location mirrors Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, the dedication to a saint especially popular in Palestine, Cyprus, and Lebanon). From St Thekla the procession continued to Calvary and the Holy Sepluchre at the Santo Stefano complex.

Based quite precisely on the dimensions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it was found, in a dilapidated state, by the crusaders, before they rebuilt it in the 1150s and ’60s, the complex sought to improve on the Holy Sites in the Holy Land, replaying holy space in a discontinuous but liturgically resonant cityscape. The Bologna complex, which Ousterhout says was ‘intended to be more than just a souvenir copy’, was an ambitious act of Occidentalism. By this I mean that it shows how the Eastern spaces being remodelled by the Crusaders in Palestine were generated in conversation with western European ideas of biblical history and liturgical memory. This was a western space developed by the West through its fantasies of the East; the East was then remade in this image. The Bologna complex continues to be a potent reminder of Jerusalem: or, should we say, Jerusalem continues to be a potent reminder of Bologna?

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Postscript: on the side of the Bologna complex is a recent piece of graffiti (below): the name ‘Salem’, the Latin name for Jerusalem. This is cognate with the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ (peace) but also recalls the earliest biblical name of Jerusalem, Salem (שלם; Genesis 14).

photo (20)

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