Annabel Jane Wharton. Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. xi + 272 pp. $32.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-226-89422-5; $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-226-89421-8.
Reviewed by Daniel Callahan (Department of History, University of Delaware)
Published on H-HRE (June, 2007)
Didn't Jesus Drive the Money-Changers from the Temple?
Professor Annabel Wharton's book is a fascinating scholarly work exploring the progressive dematerialization of Jerusalem through the centuries and the close connection in the West between the economy and the modes of representation of the Holy City. To gain greater intellectual credibility for this theme, the author begins her conclusion with a quotation from the writings of the well-known post-postmodern omnivorous philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek, who comments on the culmination of money fetishism "with the passage to its electronic form when the last traces of its materiality have disappeared" (p. 233).
The book is an adventurous union of art history and economics by a prolific scholar. In considering the role of Western images and economic life in the shaping of Jerusalem, Wharton also examines how the West has contributed to Jerusalem's difficult position in the world politics of today. Yet to do so required this lengthy survey through its evolution from the first to the twenty-first century of the Common Era. As a medieval historian who is much focused in his research on the ancient and medieval periods of the history of the Holy City, I regret that only one chapter was given to the eleven hundred years before the First Crusade. Much is required of the reader's earlier knowledge of the history of Jerusalem to 1100. Yet the author's examination of the central importance of Jerusalem relics is very much on target as a way of considering the first Christian millennium and permits her to present the continuing value of such items, even if now, as she points out, the relics of the True Cross are being sold on eBay (p. 46).
Her connection of the sacred and the profane, Jerusalem sanctity and economic concerns, becomes even stronger in chapter 2 which is built around the Templars. Entitled "Replicated Jerusalem," it considers the Templar churches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries modeled, at least in part, on the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The order's great wealth stemming from its Jerusalem connection, which enabled the Templars to become important bankers, would eventually lead to charges of usury by such sovereigns as Philip the Fair of France.
Wharton goes on in chapter 3, entitled "Fabricated Jerusalem," to explore the role of the Franciscans in bringing Jerusalem to the West by the creation of a number of replicas of sites in the Holy City in Italy and elsewhere from the fifteenth century on, especially for Stations of the Cross. Their special ties to Jerusalem through the life of St. Francis and the Holy Sepulcher, where many served this church, made them very wealthy as an order and played a significant role in the selling of indulgences.
Chapter 4, "Mechanically Reproduced Jerusalem," jumps forward into the nineteenth century and examines the marvel of David Roberts's lithographs of the Holy City, illustrations that had a wide and very positive reception in the West, especially in Britain. Out of such illustrations came panoramas of the Holy City that circulated widely and encouraged the growing middle class to visit the Holy Land. Wharton makes an interesting comparison of the illusory Jerusalems of the panoramas and the growing importance of "illusory" forms of wealth, that is, paper money in place of gold and silver. She also considers the growing number of Western visitors to the East, and their increasing awareness of the presence of the Ottoman Empire and the dream of the restoring of Constantinople in place of Istanbul.
In the fifth chapter, "Spectacularized Jerusalem: Imperialism, Globalization, and the Holy Land as Theme Park," the author examines the "Disneyfication" of Jerusalem in the West by considering such examples as the Orlando Holy Land Experience and the Las Vegas reproduction. Here one finds the logical culmination of making money on the Holy City. Yet to reach the world of such theme parks much attention is first given to the role of Britain in its occupation of the Holy City in the early twentieth century and the transformation of Jerusalem by its occupiers, particularly the actions of General Gordon, Charles Warren and, especially, Ronald Storrs in reshaping the actual Holy City in the image of a Protestant spirituality. This is the Jerusalem copied in the later theme parks.
As thoughtful and entertaining as the book is, it might have been even stronger if there had been an initial chapter on the history of Jerusalem before the Christian era. This chapter could have permitted the author to consider the sacred nature of the holy site in much greater depth as well as its central place in time. This is the Jerusalem that inspires such awe and devotion in its inhabitants and Hebrew visitors that it would remain central in their thoughts after its capture and destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and again later by the Romans. This is the historical Jerusalem that remains a sacred black hole, the center of the earth, the foundation for the developments considered in this book.
In the conclusion, the author, as an art historian, also might have considered the profit to be made in the future, if not the present, in the recreation of the Holy City in virtual reality, the ultimate kind of evanescence if the reader is unwilling to accept a heavenly Jerusalem. Or Wharton might have explored interesting parallels in the growing selling of Mecca in the West, as seen, for example, in the appearance of the forty-six foot tall "Cube Hamburg 2007" at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, a work modeled on the Kaaba of the Holy City of Islam.
Yet this reviewer cannot expect so sweeping a vista in a scholarly work of less than 275 pages. Rather, the author has given us a very thoughtful and stimulating book that other medievalists ought to consider when presenting their own research. All too often today, the study of the world before 1700 is viewed as of little relevance. We are grateful to Annabel Wharton for giving us a splendid model of what a student of the "distant" past can accomplish when the present is also kept very much in mind.
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Daniel Callahan. Review of Wharton, Annabel Jane, Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks.
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