Saturday, May 10, 2008
Simon Goldhill - The Temple of Jerusalem
As with the other books in the "Wonders of the World" series, Simon Goldhill concentrates on a single building from history, and examines it's architectural, historical, social and cultural impact. Unlike most of the others, his task is made much harder by the simple fact that the Temple of Jerusalem was pretty much flattened on 28th August 70AD (in the morning we're told).
The Temple of Jerusalem was the most important place for the whole of the Jewish religion. Preceding it, had been at least two other Temples, but this final one, built by King Herod, diminished all others in size and scale. 144,000 square metres in area, and 32 metres in height, the only part that survives now is one of the massive walls that held it in place. The Western Wall, that is now known as the "wailing wall". The Temple only stood for 90 years. For almost 2000 years Jews from around the world have travelled to the wall to pray, and mourn the loss of the Temple.
For the Jews the Temple holds a special significance. But the area at the heart of Jerusalem, holds significance for the other two, key religions from the area - Christianity and Islam. For this reason, the Temple as a building (and the Temple as an Idea) hold special importance for millions around the globe. And now, as then, this significance creates ideological, as well as religious importance.
Goldhill describes then the limited knowledge we have of the building. What archaeologists have discovered and what the few historical writings that describe the building tell us. We know a surprising amount about the Temple rituals - depicted with great accuracy in Jewish holy books. But the meat of his book, is to examine how the building has been fought over (by Christian, Jewish and Islamic troops) and how the Idea of the Temple has developed through the years. He argues that for Christians, the promise of rebuilding the Temple in the future, becomes linked with the idea of Jesus as personification of the Temple. It's image becomes part and parcel of actual buildings now - witness the "Temple Church" in London.
In one example Jewish revolutionaries against the Roman occupation placed an image of the Temple on the coins they minted - a sign of the ideological importance of the building. Everyone from the Crusaders and the Freemasons (though their contribution is decidedly a-historical) have grasped at the concept of the Temple in one form or another.
Finally, Goldhill finishes with the 1967 Israeli war to capture Jerusalem from the Arabs. He makes the point that how you view the story, will be coloured by the readers politics (and events since then).
For a building that hardly existed on a historical timescale, the Temple has perhaps more than any other ancient building shaped our current times. I'd recommend this book if only because it gives a better understanding of some of the great political, social and religious movements in our own times.
Gere - The Tomb of Agamemnon
Ray - The Rosetta Stone
Hopkins & Beard - The Colosseum