Jerusalem(630–540 BC, 1804AD)/ Conflicts-between literature and reality: the city as a symbol

“The name “Jerusalem” occurs 806 times in the Bible, 660 times in the Old Testament and 146 times in the New Testament; additional references to the cityoccur as synonyms.”
Keith N. Schoville

The bible was the most wide spread piece of literature in western societies. Although there are multiple versions and even more translations, all emphasized the importance of Jerusalem.

The Two Books of Samuel documented the multiple rise and falls of Israel from the time of Samuel’s birth, to the death of David. This part of the bible meant to serve as a lesson for followers, illustrating how only by and only by following god’s guidance men can succeed. 2 Samuel 5 in particular described how God made David the king of Israel, guided him to build the city of David and protected his people from enemies in the process, and in 2 Samuel 7 promised prosperity on the piece of land enjoyed by his people (the Jewish, in modern terms).

“And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning” 2 Samuel 7:10
“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.” 2 Samuel 7:12
“I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” 2 Samuel 7:14-16

The bible was not written in order to document actual historical events, but rather by mentioning certain events guide its followers’ actions and tell the significance of god. Under such circumstances distortions do happen and the glorious holy land impression was imposed onto the city, despite the reality of constant wars and deaths. The bible’s effect on portraying Jerusalem this way made it a symbol of ideal and blessed heaven on earth, the ideology wide spread among churches across Europe.

One of the most significant example is probably an English poem written by William Blake in 1804.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

Here instead of mentioning Jerusalem as the actual existing city, it becomes a metaphor of the author’s vision of his ideal homeland which he hoped to be a land full of love and peace, blessed by god with all the promised prosperity in the bible. The heroic sense within was also clear, with weapons of a rather English manner, and the mentions of wars to be fought before reaching the utopia.

Which of course is miles away from reality, if not the total opposite. Despite this is clear to all of us (and probably to the writer himself), the poem was written into hymn commonly sung within England churches, and went as far as the Westminster Abbey during the Royal Wedding. For many English this is England’s unofficial national anthem.

Although one can see this as contradictions between the real world and the literature one, these two worlds are doubtlessly linked together by the religious affection on those who take these texts seriously enough to fight for the city. Unfortunately, part of the reason peace being far from Jerusalem was that these people’s impositions and beliefs of what it is supposed to be more often than not disagree with each other. It is the same descriptions that made the city both blessed and cursed at the same time.

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