Jerusalem and its future
RESIDENTS of Jerusalem call it ``magic hour.'' It is the period just before twilight when the still bright Mediterranean sun has gone into repose behind the western hills. The air is perfectly transparent, without smog or vapors of humidity. The city appears a brilliant diorama, its objects lighted from within. A strong mountain breeze lends a shimmering quality to the vista, colors seeming to dance off the buildings and holy places -- gold from the Dome of the Rock, silver from the Al Aqsa mosque, a faint rose hue from the Jerusalem stone used in nearly all construction. Jerusalem would be an experience intense enough for resident, tourist, and pilgrim even were politics alien to the scene. It is not. Nor was it at the birth of our era when Jesus came over the Mount of Olives to celebrate Passover in the holy city.Skip to next paragraph
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It was a time of simmering resistance to Rome, a distant power that had established its regional capital in Caesarea.
Senior Roman officials came to Jerusalem principally to ``show the flag,'' collect taxes, and mete out justice, the latter bringing procurator Pontius Pilate to the city the week Jesus was sentenced to die.
The insult of Roman rule was felt most acutely by Jews during the Passover week, when they celebrated the deliverance from Egypt. Some scholars today theorize that the crowd that greeted Jesus with cries of ``Hosanna'' was beseeching him to fight for the country's independence from Rome. Palm branches strewn in his path have been found on ancient Hebrew coins and may well have been a symbol of Jewish nationalism. The psalms of degrees chanted by the crowd speak of harsh retribution against the pagan enemies of Zion. Once inside the temple, the verses may well have been left for the children to recite, adults knowing well that the proceedings were within earshot of the adjacent Antonia Castle and its Roman legions.
Jesus would not be stampeded or tricked into a recklessly futile challenge to Roman authority. His immediate targets were the corruption and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. While descending from the Mount of Olives he wept, overcome by the vision of the destruction of the Second Temple, an event that would follow his own crucifixion by some 37 years.
In nearly 2,000 years of subsequent rule by Romans, Arabs, crusaders, Mamelukes, Turks, and Britons, Jerusalem never approached the majesty and importance enjoyed before Jesus' day.
To the followers of Islam it ranked behind Mecca and Medina in spiritual significance and far behind Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus in political consequence.
Jerusalem was too far inland for the crusaders to hold. During the four centuries before 1916, it was little more than a corrupt, dirty, underpopulated backwater of the Ottoman Empire.
The British governed the city as part of a League of Nations Palestine mandate in trust for beneficiaries whose antagonistic interests they found incapable of reconciliation. The British quit the country in 1948, when Israel's existence as an independent nation was established. Israel wound up dividing Jerusalem with Transjordan (now Jordan) along armistice lines that would prove unsatisfactory to all concerned.