Saturday, January 8, 2011

Israel Tomorrow

Rembrandt. Jeremiah Lamenting Jerusalem. 1630
This painting does not express the mood all around here, which is one of jubilee and anticipation, but it's just too beautiful a painting to not consider for just a bit. Of all of the things that I have been captivated by (and have been so frustrated in not having time to write about), the loss of the Temple, and all that it entailed continues to draw me back.  The loss of the first Temple in 586 B.C.E. at the hands of the Babylonians, which is the one that Jeremiah had predicted and which you see him mourning here, makes God itinerant, no longer fixed.  The return from the Babylonian exile (starting in 538 B.C.E.) provokes great theological confusion: can God be elsewhere than in the Temple? Yes! say those returning from exile. How can that possible be? say those who stayed. And then difficult discussions: if not in the Temple, then what does it take to make God present? A dear friend and prof came to speak to the class this morning about Jewish ritual and had a great statement about Shabbat: that it was a way to make time holy - during the Sabbath you mark time so as to make it sacred.  And you get to breathe, and be with family, and think.  The 39 categories of work you cannot do alone is years of thinking.

So what is it that Jeremiah is mourning? Is it the loss of a place to commune with God? A loss of God Himself?  Pathos at the human suffering occurring in this conquest?  Hopelessness at not having been heard when he prophesied? Introspection at how to now rebuild a relationship with the divine?  Doubt as to the lucidity of God?  How Rembrandt painted such introspection will always be a golden mystery. His Bathsheba will forever take my breath away.  We're going to Israel with 25 students - what will be their thoughts? Almost half of them look forward most of all to floating in the Dead Sea - we can always start there.  I'll be thinking of Jeremiah as I look at the absence of the Temple on the Temple Mount, and its presence in models and drawings in museums.  I need to start thinking about architecture within an object-oriented ontology.

Darius of Persia, Christ, Judas Maccabeus care for the Temple
Here's a layered view of the draw of the Temple: Darius of Persia (who conquered the Babylonians, therefore allowing for the return from exile) counsels a Jew to rebuild the Temple; Christ throws the merchants out of the Temple; and Judas Maccabeus counsels his men to reconsecrate and rebuild the Temple. A care for this place, a desire to keep it sacred.  This is different from the desire for Jerusalem that medieval Christians exercised - there, they oscillate between the very real (land, principalities, laws, taxes) and allegories (Jerusalem as Guinevere, Jerusalem as the center of the world).  My God, we will be going to Acre, the last stronghold of the Crusaders - when Acre (Akko) went in 1291, that was the end of the Crusader era - 300 years of assault.  Confronting that architecture - made from local stone, in styles from Western Europe (which themselves may have been influenced by Middle Eastern architecture), what was this construction?  What was lamented here?

Psalter Map, c. 1300. British Library
Things are going to be virtual for a while - I'm not taking my computer and have not yet figured out how to upload images from my iPhone. Plus, I want to take lush full images with my real camera, not just my iPhone camera.  So this may mean that there is little to no writing out here for the next two weeks, which I will miss tremendously. I have a smart little green leather notebook for ideas for posts, and will look forward to writing these up one at a time upon my return.  I'm going to the center of the world - a strangely shared center but with such powerful chapters (Suleiman the Magnificent (Muslim Ottoman Turk) creating the space around the Western Wall as a "lieu de receuillement" (gathering space) for the Jews in the early 16th-century comes to mind).  There will be conflict, but also persimmons and the source of the River Jordan and walking up to Masada at sunrise, and Oliver by my side.  A good 15 years of studying this city and the land that frames it and somehow, I'm going to be in Tel Aviv tomorrow afternoon.  So laila tov to all and, indeed, shalom.


  1. Happy travels ... and looking forward to your blogging the trip!


  2. Safe and happy travels! I'll be looking forward to reading all about your adventures when you return! Godspeed! Love, Mere