One City, Three Faiths

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s latest book is an ambitious yet incomplete survey of Jerusalem’s history.  It begins with the Exodus from Egypt and concludes with the reunification of the Holy City under Israeli rule in 1967.  Unlike the author’s magisterial biographies of Stalin, which demonstrated an excellent knowledge of the relevant material and brought to light a myriad of previously unknown facts, the current work largely falls short.

The author’s inadequate grasp of the subject matter is revealed in the early parts of the book.  Montefiore asserts that Jesus is Aramaic for Joshua, when, of course, Jesus is closer to the Greek, not the Aramaic, equivalent.  Another glaring error is Montefiore’s characterization of the (Monophysite) Armenian Apostolic Church as “Orthodox.”

A further issue is the author’s lamentable lack of respect for Christianity and its leading figures.  The intensity of the debate on the nature of Christ between the Monophysites and the mainstream Church is characterized by Montefiore as equivalent to present-day debates on nuclear disarmament and global warming.  The parties to the debate are labeled “Christological football hooligans.”  Saint Jerome, the translator of the Bible into Latin, canonized by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, is derided...

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