Aspiring to a New Jerusalem: how to reform a society, Part II

Wonderful follow-up post by Dr Laura Sangha, on aspirations for a New Jerusalem during the Reformation. I’ve really enjoyed reading these posts, which have given me much to think about.

I was interested in the highly suggestive quote from the minister Mr Sharp, who warns: ‘consider your near relation to Jerusalem, she is the mother of us all’.

To take this on a contemporary tangent, the quote resonates with twentieth and twenty-first century gendered (and often very heterosexist) depictions of Israel/Palestine in literature and political discourse. In these comparisons, the land is represented variously as a nurturing mother, vulnerable woman, or lost lover, to the extent that Raja Shehadeh has discussed this objectification as a kind of ‘land pornography’.

For instance: in Harun Hasheen Rashid’s ‘Poem to Jerusalem’, Jerusalem is personified as a ‘weeping’ victim of rape (for which read: colonisation), who must be protected by Palestinian men, while in Yehuda Amichai’s ‘If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem’, the status of the city as personified mother/lover is ambiguous (one line states that ‘If I forget thee Jerusalem […] I shall forget my mother’, while another adds that ‘my love will remember’). Many of Amichai’s poems are addressed to Jerusalem, a theme I’m sure others have examined at greater length, while Anna Ball (2012) has discussed gendered tropes in Palestinian literature and film.

Thinking about Amichai reminds me of a quote from another of his poems on Jerusalem, ‘Love of Jerusalem’, which, even if it doesn’t escape the framework of heteronormative male desire which structures so many of these poems, seems a lighter note on which to end this brief post:

‘But he who loves Jerusalem
By the tourist book or the prayer book
is like one who loves a women
By a manual of sex positions.’

the many-headed monster

Laura Sangha

Once you start looking, it is surprising how many politicians, poets and pioneers have found the answer to the question ‘what kind of society do you want?’ in Scripture, taking as their model the New Jerusalem described by John of Patmos in Revelation. John’s ecstatic vision predicts that following Judgement Day, New Jerusalem will be the earthly location where all true believers will spend eternity with God. This heavenly society became the model that people would evoke for centuries to come. Why was it so enduring?

Another aspirational model - Thomas More's Utopia. Another aspirational model – Thomas More’s Utopia.

Ideal Aspirations for All

As we saw in the previous post, the concept of a New Jerusalem is not static, it is a flexible idea that is taken up and defined according to the historical context it is used in, and in line with the intentions and aims of the person evoking it. It…

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4 thoughts on “Aspiring to a New Jerusalem: how to reform a society, Part II

  1. Many thanks for sharing my posts Hannah, and for sharing your responses – absolutely fascinating, and very helpful context for me as well. This reminds me of the ancient tendency to personify countries and continents, a representation that was popular in the Renaissance. At that time it was common for Europe to be represented as a finely dressed women, whilst Africa and America were usually naked, and often alluringly so. Obviously a process of ‘othering’ going on in as well as underlying invitation for colonial exploitation. A good example is the title page of this 1598 atlas:

  2. Pingback: ‘there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself’ | Imagining Jerusalem

  3. Pingback: ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem': British ‘New Jerusalems’, from Blake to Brutalism | Imagining Jerusalem

  4. Pingback: ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem': ‘New Jerusalems’ in Britain, from Blake to Brutalism | Imagining Jerusalem

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