Holy City: Jerusalem in time, space and imagination
Professor Michael Zank, Boston University Dept. of Religion

About this website and how to use it

This website is a companion to CASRN220 Holy City: Jerusalem in Time, Space, and the Imagination, a course offered by the Boston University College of Arts and Science. It is neither a scientific nor a popular publication but a resource for teaching and self-study, and access will eventually be limited to the BU committee, requiring a valid login and pwd.

The site is as yet unfinished (as you will notice as you browse through various periods) but it is constantly undergoing revisions and links and other information are added almost daily. My intention is to make this as rich a virtual experience as is possible given my limitations. Most importantly, students should be able to use this site as a historical orientation and as a resource, a gate way to pertinent information on the history of Jerusalem.

While I am responsible for the intellectual content, i.e., the structure, periodization, and annotation, I hold no copyright of most of the images and documents. Where possible, I indicate the source or link to other sites on the internet offering access to sources (e.g., the websites maintained by UN member organizations). Once the site is complete (at least on a basic level), I intend to use it as the main 'textbook' for the course, making it unnecessary for students to acquire any further books. At this stage, however, the site is to be used in addition to the course textbook, which used to be Karen Armstrong's Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths; currently, I use Asali, Jerusalem in History.

My perspective in documenting the history of Jerusalem

Any history is based on a particular perspective. My perspective in documenting the history of Jerusalem is that of an observer who tries to understand the attachment of those who consider Jerusalem their city or who consider it a holy city. I believe that looking at the history of Jerusalem from such a perspective reveals a lot about the people who owned and controlled the city, or those who wish to own and control it. I am thus partial to the scholarly goal of understanding the social, political, religious, and imaginative attachment to the city. I try to resist partiality to any particular party claiming ownership or attachment to the city. Nevertheless, I am certain to err in some respects. I cannot hide, for example, that my background and training is in the Jewish and Christian traditions and that I am a mere amateur in the literature and history of Islam. I lived in Jerusalem for a while, residing for extended periods on both sides of the "green line", i.e., on the Jewish and on the Arab side, and I am not entirely unfamiliar with the tensions tearing at the unity of this municipality.

The course, and its companion website, though offered through the Department of Religion, makes no demands of religious commitments of any sort on the students signing up for the course. We neither encourage nor discourage religious commitments, rather such commitments, as well as the absence thereof, are among the subjects of our methodical investigations. On a basic level, I hope that students will be able to acquire useful knowledge about their own tradition as well as about the traditions of others. The study of Jerusalem provides ample occasion to acquire such knowledge, especially with respect to the three great Western religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, both onto themselves and with respect to their interactions, conflicts, and cross-pollonizations.

Jerusalem is one of the shared symbols of the three Western monotheistic traditions. The course and the website aim to explain how Jerusalem acquired this rank in the imagination and belief of these different, yet related, traditions. I do not, however, arrogate to myself to have anything constructive or concrete to contribute to the solution of the conflict in the Middle East, except that I think that knowledge may help us to avoid gross simplifications. Fewer simplifications mean less fanaticism, and less fanaticism means greater openness to alternate ways of looking at things and greater readiness for compromise.

I would be delighted if some of the political interest groups on campus would make use of this website as well, provided they allow the material to speak for itself rather than taking it captive to their respective ideological purposes.

For further information about this course and my approach to teaching Jerusalem see:

"Holy City: Jerusalem in Time, Space, and the Imagination" in Transformations. Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy (Thematic issue on "Teaching the City"), Vol. XIX/1, 2008: 40-67.


Shawn Provencal at the Geddes Language Center designed the basic functionality and architecture of this site, based on a stylistic sketch by Eike Winzer (Thanks, Eike!). Without Shawn and much help from the other good folks at the Geddes (esp. Bruce and Bob), I couldn't have put this together. Amy Allen scanned hundreds of images now available to our Jerusalem project. Her work was funded by a grant of the BU Humanities Foundation. A large part of our image library consists of slides taken over many years by Prof. emeritus James Purvis. Special thanks to Jim for his single-minded dedication to creating a first rate collection and for sharing it so generously. Sara Schlesinger, an intern funded by Smith College, collected and organized lots of additional material (texts and images), as well as prepared an annotated links page and helped with the html tinkering.


For questions or comments, please contact me at mzank@bu.edu.

Back to Main Jerusalem Timeline.

Copyright: Michael Zank (2008).