It was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, and yet the Temple of Jerusalem—cultural memory, symbol, and site—remains one of the most powerful, and most contested, buildings in the world. This glorious structure, imagined and re-imagined, reconsidered and reinterpreted again and again over two millennia, emerges in all its historical, cultural, and religious significance in Simon Goldhill’s account.
Built by Herod on a scale that is still staggering—on an earth and rock platform 144,000 square meters in area and 32 meters high—and destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus 90 years later, in 70 AD, the Temple has become the world’s most potent symbol of the human search for a lost ideal, an image of greatness. Goldhill travels across cultural and temporal boundaries to convey the full extent of the Temple’s impact on religious, artistic, and scholarly imaginations. Through biblical stories and ancient texts, rabbinical writings, archaeological records, and modern accounts, he traces the Temple’s shifting significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
A complex and engaging history of a singular locus of the imagination—a site of longing for the Jews; a central metaphor of Christian thought; an icon for Muslims: the Dome of the Rock—The Temple of Jerusalem also offers unique insight into where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam differ in interpreting their shared inheritance. It is a story that, from the Crusades onward, has helped form the modern political world.
The Temple in Jerusalem, as Simon Goldhill reminds us in this admirably readable account of its long and tortured history, has always been more than a holy place: it is above all an idea—a myth, a fantasy, a utopian dream that has dominated the imagination for three millennia and continues to act as a source of contention… [H]is book is thoroughly absorbing: the writing is fresh, the erudition lightly worn with pleasing nuggets of fact and fantasy culled from an impressive variety of sources.
The Temple of Jerusalem could not be the subject of a guide book at all, since it now only exists in the mind: the Romans destroyed it entirely in AD 70… The heart of [this] book…lies in its reconstruction of the Temple in the mind. Goldhill is just the writer to attempt such a bold exercise in ‘reception history,’ his vivid and almost conversational style leading the reader comfortably through complex material… In a book this short there is inevitably a lot of selection, but it is judicious, and always contributes to the central theme: that the Temple is what we make it.
Goldhill skilfully allows the reader to understand how the Jerusalem Temple has become a dreamscape for all the Abrahamic faiths. Even more importantly, he shows how that religious longing has inspired artists to imagine their Jerusalem… After reading Goldhill’s book, I can understand how ‘Jerusalem’ is not merely the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock but also an empty space filled with conflicting myths.
It’s no mean challenge evoking the architecture, the spiritual power, the politics and the fantasies associated with a building burned down by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. But Goldhill rekindles those half-remembered myths from cheder childhood… Its pride of place signifies just how powerfully we cling to the mysticism and mystery of the Temple—the eternal embodiment, as Goldhill writes, of glorious idealism and man’s failure to meet it.
In a crisp and lucid style, Goldhill, a classicist at Cambridge University, sets out to write a history both of ancient Jerusalem’s glorious House of God and of the ways it has been imagined over the 2,000 years since its final destruction by the Romans.
What this book [makes] clear is that the Temple of Solomon is more important for its memory than for its once existent reality. It is central to Jewish memory and piety and is woven into the theology of Christianity.
- 208 pages
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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