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Corpus Separandum is Latin

June 19, 2011

I’ve almost finished reading James Carroll’sJerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World. I’ll be reviewing it (along with Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography) for an academic journal, which I hope to be able to link to when the time comes. In the meantime, however, here’s an interesting comment or two.

Carroll is a lapsed Catholic priest, probably in his 60s, who is still deeply influenced by religion. He’s a prolific writer on Church-related subjects, such as Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews — A History, and he writes thoughtful and intelligent books. On the other hand, he’s not  a historian, and from my perspective his writing often tends to be about things that can’t be tested historically, neither verified nor disproven. They’re probably not theology, but they are religious, in that they attempt to describe the religious underpinnings, the sets of beliefs, that motivate or explain various behaviors. In this book, at any rate, he doesn’t seem ever to use primary sources; instead, his method is to read many secondary sources while expounding on the religious aspects of the story they tell.

(His secondary sources for modern Israel tend to be what you’d expect from a certain type of academic, i.e not the right mix. Yet his basic narrative is not seriously impacted, unlike, say Karen Armstrong in Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, who gets modern Israel mostly wrong).

Here’s what Carroll has to say about the UN intention in 1947 to preserve Jerusalem outside either a Palestinian or a Jewish state:

Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, wanted control of the sacred centers, but they were not alone in being unable to abide the thought of Jewish control. Yes, the city was the most disputed real estate in Palestine, but mere political turf was not really the issue. The clue to the significance of the Corpus Separandum proposal for the city lay in its being offered in a Latin phrase – the language of Rome, which had initiated Jerusalem’s condition as an apocalyptic nerve center (see the Arch of Titus, near the Colosseum, with its bas-relief celebration of the first century destruction), and of Catholicism, which had kept the condition current. Greeks, too, were part of this, as Byzantium had carried forward assumptions about Jewish expulsion from the land that Constantine and his mother, Helena, had made holy. But by now the Vatican was the chief custodian of exile theology, and it was universally expected to be a party to any internationalizing arrangement. Rome’s unfulfilled desire for Jerusalem was the very genesis of the mimesis – the mimetic rivalry. (P.265)

He also note that the idea that Israel was “born in sin” has a very different connotations to  Jews (or ignorant secularists) than to educated Christians. For the latter, everyone except Jesus is born in sin, and so are nations, so there’s nothing unusual in saying this also about Israel. For others, it sounds a lot worse.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Stan Brin permalink
    June 19, 2011 12:39 am

    In “One City, Three Faiths,” Armstrong includes quotes that are not attributed to any specific individual, and cites statistics without bothering to proved any source whatsoever. She is not a historian, she’s a polemicist.

  2. June 19, 2011 12:44 am

    It’s seemed to me that the US State Department’s insistence that none of Jerusalem belongs to Israel gets its persistence from the Protestant missionary heritage of Foggy Bottom, as described in Oren’s “Faith, Power and Fantasy.” It’s not just Catholics.

  3. June 19, 2011 12:37 pm

    Very interesting.

  4. Nycerbarb permalink
    June 19, 2011 2:58 pm

    Yaacov –

    Will you be attending this? My Visions of Jerusalem

    Do you plan to write at all about how services are provided and integrated between the Arab and Jewish parts of the the city? I am specifically interested in health care, sewage, water, and electricity. Politics are fine, but in the long run, it is really services that interest me. I have commented on this on the ruminations blog.

    Nycerbarb

    • June 19, 2011 3:18 pm

      Nycerbarb,

      Not going, no. Hi-falutin speeches are not my priority at the moment.

      The services will be a major focus. They explain far more of the reality than the politics, and are generally under-reported, to put it mildly. Actually, one of the things that got me onto this track was stumbling across the unknown story of the water company, in which a right-wing settler and a left-wing activist got together with some of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem to circumvent the lawyers of the Justice Ministry who were blocking government action (and still are, tho it’s no longer relevant).

  5. Barry Meislin permalink
    June 19, 2011 11:45 pm

    Of course, Israel’s biggest sin is that it wasn’t supposed to have been born at all—and if born, it should have been nipped in the bud.

    Aborted.

    Alas, those trouble-making Jews (they already went through one holocaust, so why not another?—-what’s the big deal?) caused those cassocked casuists in the Vatican to scramble about trying to construe whether and how to replace replacement theology.

    (And there are still people who wonder if God has a sense of humor….)

    FIle under: “lamma sabachtani….”

  6. June 20, 2011 3:24 pm

    I shudder and am so sorry that most of us who name the name of Jesus Christ adhere to one form or other of unbiblical replacement theology (even if denying that label), from which stems anti-Israel policy. I wonder if the details of the Vatican-Arab League memo of understanding (not the Basic Agreement with the PLO from Arafat days, but the accord from Spring 2009) have been made public yet (last I heard they were still secret).

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