European Portrayals of Jerusalem

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This book is about absence. It studies Jerusalem through the centuries as it appeared in the writings, illustrations and photographs of the European visitors. It argues that despite the thousands of volumes written on Jerusalem, the city remained largely unrepresented and its people were largely absent from most accounts.

The book explores the way the three Abrahamic religions constructed an idea of Jerusalem as a holy city. It then discusses how this position of a holy city transformed the city in the minds of its visitors to a timeless place connected with religious history, not with the social reality. This imagination of the holy city contributed to a creating of it, a place that awaits reclaiming by Europe or its clients. In other words, this book is about how Jerusalem was first colonized by imagination before it fell to the control of the colonizers.


“ ... Outstanding monographs, essays, guides, and photographic albums have appeared since the middle of the nineteenth century, often written by notable writers and essayists – from Mark Twain and T.E. Lawrence to Gustav Flaubert and his companion/photographer, Maxime Du Camp. They reflected a whole range of reflections on the holy land inspired variably by the sacredness of the place, political intrigue by the colonial powers, as well as the unexpected shock of their encounter with the mundane ... This book deals with both the conceptual problem of encounter between the Occident and the exotic-sacred orient and with a holy city as an object of adoration. The author, Dr. Issam Nassar, has two important distinctions. He is a historian of Palestine with intimate knowledge of the terrain, as well as the scholarly and literary literature that appeared in Arabic as well as in European languages. He is also an outstanding photographic historian who has published widely on the adventures of the camera in the Eastern Mediterranean ...” – (from the Foreword) Professor Salim Tamari, Birzeit University

“ ... Dr. Nassar’s book is a finely-woven account of the early religious knowledge of the city in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, and he expertly traces the writings left to us about the city by travelers and pilgrims of the three faiths. In doing so, he provides a clear historical picture over the millennia of who controlled the city at what times and what different forms of rule meant to the changing landscape and image of the city ... This excellent historiography of European writing and images of the Holy Land reveals the intertextuality of 19th century accounts that were drawn largely from an accumulated image of biblical patrimony that European Christians claimed as their own ...” – Professor Rochelle Davis, Georgetown University

“ ... Dr. Nassar’s study is a pioneering one that highlights the absence of Jerusalem, and Palestine by extension, and its people from the mind and consciousness of the European world. A consequence of such absence, one could argue, remains with us to this day in various degrees ... This book has tremendous implications to historians and politicians alike. It highlights the weight that history, including that of colonialism, has on current politics. I highly recommend this ‘must-read’ book to all students of Jerusalem and its history ...” – Professor Husam Mohammad, University of Northern Oklahoma

Table of Contents

Foreword by Salim Tamari
I. Jerusalem of the Heavens
II. Writing and Travel
III. Protestant Jerusalem
IV. Jerusalem in English Travel Narratives
V. The Photographic Jerusalem

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