Visiting the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey

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The wooden ceiling of the Jerusalem Chamber. Photo: Leigh Mullins, courtesy of the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall.

Not many people have the opportunity to visit the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey. It’s usually off-limits to the public.

Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) librarian Adam John Fraser was lucky enough to be allowed to see inside, and you can read about it in his blog post. The post also includes images of the room’s tapestries and architectural detailing, and a video on the PEF’s links with the Chamber. The PEF held its first meeting in the Chamber, in May 1865. If you’re a mathematical sort, you’ll notice this means the PEF is currently celebrating its 150th birthday.

The Jerusalem Chamber is part of the former Abbot’s house at Westminster, and was added in the fourteenth century. The origin of its name is unknown, but there are a number of rooms at the Abbey named after locations in the Holy Land, including Jericho and Samaria. In the medieval Palace of Westminster, the biblically-inspired room names became even more vivid, with rooms called ‘Heaven’, ‘Hell’ and ‘Purgatory’ (some might say that the moral character of Westminster’s current political inhabitants means that the latter two names remain appropriate – ho ho, etc).

The room is most well-known as the location of the death of King Henry IV, later dramatised in Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV Part II (Act IV, Scene 5). As the King was preparing to go to the Holy Land, he fell ill, and was brought to the Chamber in the Abbot’s house to recover. When he came to, he asked where he was and was told Jerusalem. It was reportedly at this point that Henry IV realised he was going to die, because of a prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem.

A number of kings sought to die at Jerusalem, or at least, some version of it. This meant, as our network member Anthony Bale puts it in a post about the Jerusalem Chamber on his blog, Remembered Places, that: ‘to die well is to die at Jerusalem. But not, necessarily, the actual Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem of the heart, and of the mind.’

Archaeology and occupation in NBC’s TV series ‘Dig’

Earlier this year, the American TV network NBC screened Dig, an action series set in Jerusalem. The series focuses on an FBI agent, Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) who is investigating the murder of an American archaeologist.

Mystery and adventure ensue, with the agent uncovering a cult and conspiracy that have seen the series compared (not exactly favourably) to Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code.

Dig, co-created by Gideon Raff, creator of the Israeli TV show Prisoners of War and its more internationally well-known American counterpart Homeland, caused controversy before it reached TV screens. Indeed, the levels of debate about the series before it was shown seem greater than the rather muted reception it received when finally aired.

Set and partly filmed in East Jerusalem, notably in the Israeli ‘City of David’ settlement, located in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, Dig prompted widespread protests from Palestinian civil rights organisations over its apparent normalisation of Israeli control and colonisation of a Palestinian area of the city.

The series was scheduled to be filmed in its entirety in East Jerusalem, but production was moved to the rather less authentic location of Albuquerque, New Mexico, following the Israel Defence Force’s launch of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.

The series provoked further controversy over NBC’s receipt of a multi-million dollar grant from the Jerusalem municipality, designed to encourage filming in the city and to ‘help brand Jerusalem and the State of Israel in a positive light.’

Dig‘s themes, and the troubled process by which it came to our screens, highlight the longer associations between archaeology and colonisation, in Israel and elsewhere. As scholars such as Nadia Abu El-Haj, Nur Masalha and Keith Whitelam have noted, archaeological practice has contributed to the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ which appear to naturalise contemporary Israel’s ‘ancient’ roots, and serve to strengthen Israeli territorial sovereignty today.

In this light Dig‘s tagline, ‘The deeper you dig, the further you get from the truth’, seems unintentionally apt.

Israeli archaeological interests have facilitated more direct violence against Palestinians, in demolitions, house takeovers and increased surveillance, as well as leading to the destruction of some non-Jewish archaeological sites.

The New Inquiry recently posted an excellent and wide-ranging review of Dig, written by Molly O. Taking in the politics of the series itself and of its production, its televisual context in earlier collaborations between Israeli and U.S. TV stations, and the role played by culture in Israeli ‘soft power’, the review also offers reflections on the wider stakes in representing Jerusalem. As O notes:

In addition to its narrative mystery, Dig’s mass appeal depends on its ability to produce an image of Jerusalem that posits the city as a potential site of social salvation.

Scholars on Twitter offered lighter thoughts on the series with the hashtag #ScholarsDig, calling out some of its archaeological inconsistencies (Assyrian square script on a breastplate, apparently, rather than paleo-Hebrew), the less convincing ways in which it represents modern Jerusalem (could you really walk into the Holy Sepulchre so easily on Holy Saturday?), and, as you might suspect, its rather implausible plot (a bit too much Ark of the Covenant for most).

If you caught the series, do let us know what you made of it.

Hannah Boast

Public Lecture: Prof Nabil Matar, ‘The Cradle of Jesus and the Oratory of Mary in the Noble Sanctuary’

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Close-up of inscription and designs on side of the Dome of the Rock, by Flickr user J McDowell.

The second keynote lecture of our conference ‘Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City’ will be delivered by Professor Nabil Matar (Uni. Minnesota) and is titled ‘The Cradle of Jesus and the Oratory of Mary in the Noble Sanctuary’. All are welcome to attend.

It will take place from 9.30-10.30am on Friday 7th November, in Tutu’s, on the fourth floor of the Macadam Building, King’s College London (campus map), and will be chaired by Dr Helen Smith, of the University of York.

Professor Matar’s abstract is below:

‘The paper examines the Christian elements inside the Muslim Sanctuary, consisting of “mahd Isa”/cradle of Jesus and “mihrab Maryam”/oratory of Mary. These were mentioned in the writings of jurists and Sufis since the 10th century, but have received no attention from scholars. The paper traces the allusions to the cradle and the oratory in Arabic pilgrimage accounts and descriptions of Jerusalem and discusses their significance in the history of Islamic worship.’

Public Lecture: Prof Anthony Bale, ‘Jerusalem and the Medieval Meme’

The Garden of Eden at the Holy Land Experience, Florida, taken by Professor Anthony Bale.

All are welcome to attend our opening keynote lecture by Professor Anthony Bale of Birkbeck, University of London, entitled ‘Jerusalem and the Medieval Meme’.

The lecture will take place from 9.30 to 10.30am on Thursday 6th November in Tutu’s, on the fourth floor of the Macadam Building, King’s College London (campus map). It will be chaired by Dr Michele Campopiano, of the University of York.

Professor Bale’s abstract is below:

‘Jerusalem has consistently been reproduced, replayed, restaged, in formulaic ways, from pilgrims’ souvenirs to theme parks. In this paper I seek to go beyond thinking of Jerusalem only in terms of its ‘iconography’ and instead use the term ‘meme’ to explore Jerusalem’s reproduction and reproducibility. I will cover a range of medieval sources – starting with fifteenth-century Jerusalem pilgrims’ accounts of the 1458 voyage from Venice to Jaffa – and will also talk about a contemporary Jerusalem, the Holy Land Experience in Florida.’

CFP: Sharing the Holy Land: Perceptions of Shared Sacred Spaces (London, June 12-13 & Leeds, July 6-9, 2015)

A Call for Papers and Symposium that sound very relevant to our network interests. The deadline for the CFP is 12 September, so if you want to submit a paper, you’ll need to act quickly!

Medieval Art Research

Call for Papers:
Sharing the Holy Land: Perceptions of Shared Sacred Spaces
International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 6-9 July 2015
Deadline: 12 September 2014

A symposium, Sharing the Holy Land: Perceptions of Shared Sacred Space in the Medieval and Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean will be held at The Warburg Institute, in London on 12-13 June 2015, featuring keynote speakers, Prof. Bernard Hamilton, Prof. Benjamin Kedar, and Prof. Ora Limor. See http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/events/colloquia-2014-15/sharing-the-holy-land/ for information.
detail-of-middle-eastholy-land-on-mainz-world-map-c-1110

Following on this, three sessions are being organized for the International Medieval Conference to be held at Leeds on 6-9 July, 2015. The three sessions seek to address how both Western pilgrims, and the indigenous Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Levantine populations perceived the sharing of religious shrines with other faiths. Of particular interest is how this sharing was described and explained in contemporary accounts and how this influenced the knowledge of other faiths among the Semitic religions…

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‘…they would fire into her stomach’. How tourguides narrate Palestinians in The City of David, East Jerusalem.

By Dr David Landy, Trinity College Dublin.

The ‘City of David’ is an illegal Jewish settlement in Silwan in East Jerusalem. As such it is a place of violence and tension, with local Palestinian resistance to their colonisation met with brutality by settlers and the Israeli authorities.

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David Be’eri, settler leader, drives his car into a stone-throwing Palestinian child in Silwan October 8, 2010. Photo by: AFP

Strangely, it is also a popular tourist spot with hundreds of thousands coming to see the archaeological dig there, as this was the original site of Jerusalem. I visited the site in order to find out how tours of the site portray local Palestinians. It has been claimed that Palestinians are erased in these tourist narratives, mirroring the de facto erasure practiced by the Israeli settlers who guide tourists around.

While this was one way Palestinians were dealt with, there were times when tours could not elide over their presence. For instance, when tours pass this ‘look-out point’, we were offered a panoramic view of part of Silwan. Row upon row of Palestinian houses were laid out before us, and it was impossible to ignore them.

How then were they dealt with?

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

Below is an anecdote from a tour I took. It illustrates one way Palestinians are narrated. On this tour, the Israeli tourguide used the place to tell us about the walls surrounding ancient Jerusalem. She chose a girl of about 12 or 13 from the mostly Jewish audience as a ‘volunteer’ and said ‘meet the hill on which we will build the City of David’.

Pointing to the girl she asked us, ‘If you are to defend your city, where would you build the walls?’ When someone correctly answered ‘high up’, she instructed the girl to raise her hands over her head as ‘walls’, something which made her look even more vulnerable, in need of protecting.

The guide then explained that we also need to protect the water source of our city, at the bottom of the hill, around the girl’s legs. Then she added, ‘we can’t build the walls low down around her legs because if we did, then the enemy on the other hill…’ – and here she pointed to where the Palestinian houses on the other hill were crowding along the slopes, and everyone’s gaze followed her finger and they nodded in understanding. ‘Then the enemy on the other hill, they would fire into her stomach’.

At the time, I was shocked by the visceral atavistic images this narrative evoked, the young woman on whom we build our Jewish city, the need to defend our vulnerable young (Jewish) women, and the casual relegation of un-named Palestinians to the role of the inevitable enemy threatening our citadel. It was a narrative which both elided over Palestinian presence and treated it as a threat.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

In retrospect, the fact that nobody else was shocked was of equal interest. For key to narrating Palestinians as the enemy is doing so in a non-political, naturalised way which all could accept. And key to the naturalisation process is the sublimation of this enmity.

After all, the tourguides (and while on the lookout point I observed several guides doing the same thing, pointing to the Palestinian houses to illustrate the need to and the ways of defending the City of David) were only discussing ancient history. Palestinians were not named, were not mentioned. This rhetorical trick reminds me of how two of racism’s main carriers are the joke and the rumour, both modes of expression that allow the speaker to disavow the racism they are enunciating, as well as representing it as a commonsensical way of understanding of the world.

In like form, in this tourist site, such stories of ancient city walls protecting the citadel from enemies on neighbouring hills were used to make sense of the confusing ruins we were walking around in. But they had another purpose: these past stories of militarised history served to sublimate the present-day violence against the Palestinians in Silwan. Palestinians themselves were treated as ghosts, absent presences who were faintly threatening, from whom we, in our Jewish citadel, were presently safe.

CFP: ‘Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City’, London, 6-7 Nov. 2014

Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City
6th-7th November
King’s College London

Organised by the AHRC-Funded Research Network ‘Imagining Jerusalem, 1099 to the Present Day’

Keynote speakers: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck), Professor Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths).

Further keynotes TBA.

Perhaps the world’s most iconic city, Jerusalem exists both as a physical space and as a site of memory, ideas, and re-memberings. In art, literature, film, and history writing; in acts of public and private worship; and in communities across the globe, memories of Jerusalem have, for centuries, been created, invoked, and relived. This cross-period, interdisciplinary conference invites paper and panel submissions on the theme of Jerusalem and Memory, c. 1099 to the Present Day. Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

– techniques of memorialisation / techniques of memory
– place, space, and memory
– souvenirs, mementoes, and memory aids
– the materiality (or immateriality) of memory
– memory and sensation
– memory, land and environment
– memory and warfare
– memory and governance
– forgetting, false memory, and fictional remembering
– narrative and memory
– memory and the archive
– national, local, and transnational memories
– memory and community
– ethnography as remembering
– ritual, repetition, and performance
– sacred and secular memory

The organisers are particularly keen to receive panel submissions which address a shared theme across more than one discipline and/or historical period.

Abstracts of c. 300 words for single papers and c. 1000 words for panels consisting of three papers should be sent to imagining-jerusalem@york.ac.uk by 1st July 2014. For more details or inquiries, please contact the same address or visit the Network website: https://jerusalems.wordpress.com/

This conference is organised by the lead members of the Network: Dr Anna Bernard (KCL), Dr Michele Campopiano (York), Dr Helen Smith (York), Dr Jim Watt (York), and the Network Coordinator, Hannah Boast (York).

Download the Call for Papers.