Travels Through Historical Fiction: Jerusalem, City of Conflict and Conviction

jerusalem WesternWallJerusalem

Western Wall, ancient city of Jerusalem, also called the Wailing Wall or Kotel ha-Ma’aravi, part of the outer wall surrounding the ancient Temple Mount. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., this was all that remained standing.

To say that Jerusalem is a city historically plagued by conflict is to risk being branded a writer of cliches, but here is the thing about cliches. Beneath the banality and hackneyed phrasings usually lies truth. For millennia, Jerusalem has survived despite multiple invasions, sieges, sackings, and periods of desertion.

It is believed that a settlement on the present outskirts of the city was already 3000 years old when King David established the kingdom of Judea with Jerusalem as its capital. Prior to this, Judea was known as Canaan and was occupied by the Philistines, a once seafaring people who had wrested the area from the Egyptian Empire. Though it is highly unlikely the Egyptians gave much thought to this distant and uncultured “backwater on the periphery of their empire”, groups still fought over it. [1]

Once the ancient Hebrews established their control of Canaan, there were periods of relative calm interspersed with those of war and destruction. According to Wikipedia, Jerusalem “has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.”[2] Given the substantial number of sources cited to support the article, I will take Wikipedia’s word for it.

mesopotamian warriorsMost notable among the invaders, sackers, conquers, and destroyers of the city were the Assyrians (733 B.C.E.), Babylonians (587 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the First Temple and exile of the people), Persians (538 B.C.E., return to the city and construction of the Second Temple), Macedonians (334 B.C.E., under Alexander the Great), Egyptians under Ptolemy I (a vassal of Macedonia), Seleucid Empire (198 B.C.E.), the Maccabean Revolt (167-165 B.C.E., established the Hasmonean Empire with Jerusalem as capital), and finally, the Roman Empire (63 B.C.E., Pompey brought Palestine into the Roman Empire, which then destroyed the city in 70 C.E.).[3] [4] [5]  No one can question that Jerusalem was and remains a city of conflict.

That it is a city of conviction as well is beyond question. Jerusalem is the spiritual home of the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. King David essentially ended any polytheistic leanings and practices held by the ancient Hebrews and his son, Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem. From that time forward, monotheists have claimed the city as their own.

Judaism and Islam both claim the same location as a holiest of sites. The website Go, See, Write explains the complicated history of Temple Mount this way.Venice

Temple Mount is the single holiest place in Judaism. It was here that God gathered the dust to make Adam, the location of Abraham’s binding of Issac, the site of the first two Jewish temples, and the site where the Third Temple will be built with the coming of the Messiah.

Temple Mount is simultaneously the third holiest place in Islam. Muslims used to pray in this direction instead of towards Mecca. Muhammad rose to heaven from this location.

Combine those vitally important religion traditions with current political realities and the layers that fall over Jerusalem become even more complex. During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel routed the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and occupied the West Bank, including all of Jerusalem. You would think, this being the holiest site in Judaism and the Jewish state of Israel in firm control over the area, that there would be Jewish control over the site…[but you would be wrong]

A few days after the end of the Six Day War, the Israeli government returned administrative control of Temple Mount back to the Muslim community of Jerusalem and their waqf. Access to the site is limited for all non-Muslims to certain hours on certain days. Also prohibited are all forms of non-Muslim worship in this area: you can’t wear a cross here, carry a Bible, or even pray, unless you are Muslim.[6]

For Christians, Jerusalem is revered as the place of both Christ’s veneration and his ultimate condemnation and death. The New Testament writers reported a life-long association between the city and the man whose followers would one day found a new religion in His name.

Today, March 25, 2016, is Good Friday for all Christians in communion with churches following the western liturgical tradition. But no matter the church affiliation or the date on which it falls, Good Friday is the second most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, Easter being the first. Without Good Friday, there would have been no Easter.

Golgotha Map wbGood Friday is celebrated by Christians of all affiliations as the day the Romans crucified Jesus Christ on a hill named Golgotha just outside Jerusalem’s city walls. After death, he was buried in a borrowed tomb. Christians believe that after three days in the tomb, the greatest and most holy of miracles occurred. Easter, the Sunday following Good Friday, is celebrated by all Christians as the day Christ arose from the dead. The actual date for Easter varies with the date of the vernal equinox (explained here) and also differs with the church tradition to which one ascribes. In Eastern Orthodox Churches (listed here), Easter is usually celebrated at a later date than in western Christian churches and denominations. In addition to some variances in doctrinal beliefs, the eastern churches follow the older Julian calendar, while western churches follow the Gregorian.


Church of the Sepulcher

The circumstances and the sacred mysteries surrounding Christ’s death and resurrection have fascinated writers for two millennia. In modern times, they have provided the foundation for quite a few works of historical fiction, several of which were made into blockbuster movies. The gallery presented below the footnotes includes some of the best known novels and additional items of interest. Of the novels, my personal favorite is The Robe. It tells a story of the Roman officer who won Christ’s robe in the dice game played at the foot of the cross.



  1. Gilad, Elon. “A Very Brief History of Jerusalem.” Haaretz, May 27, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  2. “History of Jerusalem.” Wikipedia.  Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  3. Gilad, Elon. “A Very Brief History of Jerusalem.” Haaretz, May 27, 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  4. Oates, Harry. “The Maccabean Revolt.” Ancient History Encyclopedia.  Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  5. Schiffman, Lawrence H. “The Land of Israel under Roman Rule.” My Jewish Learning.  Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  6. “Jerusalem, the Most Important City in the World?” Go, See, Write.   Retrieved March, 24, 2016.




An imagining of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.


A story of the criminal who was freed by Pontius Pilate, thus sending Jesus to the cross. 1961 movie starred Anthony Quinn.


Author and the original cover for the book on which two blockbuster movies (1925 starred Ramon Novarro & 1959 starred Charlton Heston) were based.



Qou Vadis cover

Though not set in Jerusalem, this story grew out of the events of Easter and the beginnings of the Christian Church. 1951 movie starred Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr.

the silver chalice

A story of the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper, sometimes referred to as the Holy Grail. 1954 movie starred Paul Newman.


The story of Christ’s robe won in a dice game at the foot of the cross. 1953 movie starred Richard Burton and Jean Simmons.

solomon's temple

 Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, destroyed the First Temple, took the Hebrews into exile, and built the Hanging Gardens of Wonders of the Ancient World fame.

temple-of-jerusalem herod's


Jerusalem _ Old City Walls _ Noam Chen_IMOT

Old City Walls



Map of the Old City

jerusalem damacus gate 1960's

garden of ges ancient olive trees

Ancient Olive Tree at Gethsemane


Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane

jerusalem in Jesus' time

jerusalem first-century-jerusalem_shg


Church of the Holy Sepulcher