Earlier this week, Chanan Tigay shared his 5 favorite books to re-read. With the release of The Lost Book of Moses: The Search for the World’s Oldest Bible, Chanan is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.
I am an American, Jerusalem-born.
Which is to say that, while my parents — born in Buffalo and Detroit, respectively — spent a Sabbatical in the Holy City a few decades back, I happened. Ever since, Jerusalem has maintained a powerful grip on my imagination. I love the mix of old and new, east and west, Arab and Jew. I love the hidden alleyways. I love the hidden history. And I’m fascinated by the history that’s not so hidden — the ancient walls, the bullet-scarred buildings. And the hummus — I’d move to Jerusalem just to eat lunch each Friday at Pinati.
I can get around Jerusalem without a GPS, know where to have copies of my keys made, and still refer to the Inbal Hotel as it was previously called: the Laromme.
I thought I knew a lot about the city. But in writing my new book, which is set in part in Jerusalem of the nineteenth century, I realized there was much I did not know. According to the archaeologist Eric H. Cline, the much-contested City of Peace has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Squeezing onto the Number 4 bus at 9:00 on a Sunday morning, it can sometimes feel like every day in Jerusalem is a microcosm of the city’s tumultuous history — a series of small battles to be faced down and overcome. But strolling the street s of Rehavia on Shabbat, it’s hard to imagine a more peaceful spot on earth.
Jerusalem has always been, and remains, dynamic — it is a symbol, yes, but also a strategic asset. A beacon on the hill, and also a bunker. And no matter how much I think I know about the city of my birth, there is always more to learn.
In that vein, here are three of my favorite books about Jerusalem:
A Tale of Love and Darkness: Although Amos Oz’s classic memoir is not strictly about Jerusalem (as a young man, Oz leaves Jerusalem for a kibbutz), the City of Peace is the stage upon which the unforgettable drama of the author’s difficult childhood plays out, complete with cameos by literary luminaries like S. Y. Agnon and Shaul Tchernichovsky. This isn’t an easy book, but it’s a beautiful one — training its unparalleled lens on Jerusalem as the British Mandate came to its end and the State of Israel emerged in its place.
The Book of Kings: Although archaeological remains of Jerusalem’s past are a constant feature of its present — walk through Jerusalem for an hour and try not to stumble over some relic or site of historical value — there’s one important spot where that’s not the case: Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. We’ve got its western retaining wall, of course, but that’s about it. If you’re interested in conjuring a vision of what the Temple looked like way back when, though, the best place to start is the Bible’s Book of Kings. The writing’s not quite Amos Oz (The porch in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits in length, corresponding to the width of the house, and its depth along the front of the house was ten cubits…) but it’s full of specifics.
KeCheres HaNishbar: Shulamit Lapid’s wonderful fictional treatment of Moses Wilhelm Shapira, the Jerusalem antiquities dealer at the heart of my own nonfiction book. Shapira was a highly complex man — at once obsequious and pompous, honest and deceitful, loving and self-centered, brilliant and naïve, Jewish and Christian, European and Middle Eastern — and Lapid captures him with style and sophistication.
Chanan Tigay is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Middle East, 9/11, and the United Nations for numerous magazines, newspapers, and wires. He is a professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.
Chanan Tigay is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Middle East, 9/11, and the United Nations for numerous magazines, newspapers, and wires. Born in Jerusalem, Tigay holds degrees from Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania and was a recent Investigative Reporting Fellow at UC Berkeley. He is a professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.