Jerusalem Delivered

By Walter Sichel

[The Living Age, March 30, 1918; from The Nineteenth Century and After]

The standard of St. George at length floats over the battlements of the Bible. There is a thrill in Jerusalem Delivered unequaled since the first Crusade and its immortalization centuries later by Tasso. Jerusalem, Athens, Rome—these strike the trichord of history: Rome the capital of Rule, Athens of Art, Jerusalem of the Spirit. All of them have been what Gibbon so finely terms Jerusalem, "the theatre of nations." Each—and each is a hill-sanctuary—has repeatedly been mutilated and destroyed. But none so often or so long as the city, small in extent and situation, that has yet loomed so large on the world's horizon for over three thousand years. It is the citadel and shrine of inspiration, of tragedy and triumph, of faith and failure, of destiny and desolation, of heroism and betrayal, of song, dirge and prophecy—the scene of Divinity incarnate and of the central event not only of time, but eternity—an eternal city, indeed. No stronghold has been so repeatedly sacked and rebuilt: it stands for ruin and renewal, for death and re-birth. It has survived the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Arabians, Pharaohs, Caesars, and Caliphs, the Seleucidse, the Abassids, the Seljouks—yet it has remained a monument of loneliness and a pivot of imperial intrigue. It is concerning this last characteristic that a word of warning must be raised ere this brief article closes, for Palestine divides Syria from Egypt and abuts on the Mediterranean: by land and littoral it is a point of vantage and Judaea was ever more Mediterranean than Oriental—a piece of the South in the East. Its very holiness has been the prize and pretext of ambitions.

Jerusalem is primeval. Long before Israel invaded Canaan, the stone records discovered at El Amarna reveal that even then its name was Jebus Salim, the high Place of Peace with a high priest for its worship who corresponded with the Court of Cairo. Egypt was ever present. Centuries afterwards, saved from Sennacherib, it was taken by Pharaoh Necho, and from him almost immediately wrenched by his overweening rival Nebuchadnezzar. Within half a century, and after the favoring Cyrus, it fell to the Persian Smerdis. Spared by the great Alexander, it passed to the Antiochus from whom the militant Maccabees rescued it, establishing the proud dynasty of those Asmoneans who welcomed Cleopatra as their guest. With the rise of Rome came Pompey and Crassus to spoil, Antipater the upstart to restore it and Herod to besiege what his father had saved. But these pro-Roman Idumeans lent it a false security, and it was once more razed 'to the ground by Vespasian. Hadrian protected, Constantine and Helena and Eudosia hallowed, Julian the renegade re-templed it—till, again, in the seventh century, it passed to Persia in the person of Chosroes. A hundred years onwards and the Saracens seized it, while in 1076 the Turks first fastened on its fastness, only to be succeeded by the Egyptian Caliphate. Then the imagination of Christendom was kindled; and there arose as its deliverer, the Belgian Godfrey, of Bouillon, with a wife from Lorraine—Godfrey, the paladin-pilgrim, who, though King, refused the crown, since one of thorns had been his Master's, and yet Godfrey, who in that Master's name massacred Israel as ferociously as Ishmael. The Latin Kings of Jerusalem followed—commerce had urged the Crusaders as much as Christianity—till in the next century the Crown was lost by the degenerate Lusignan. Then Saladin entered, the Bayard of the East, in duel with Richard Lion-heart, the nearest approach to a modern Major General. Next came the interlude in "shining armor" of Barbarossa's grandson, Frederick the Second, of whom doubtless the Kaiser thought in 1898 when he broke down the ancient wall to make the Joppa Gate for his dramatic parade. Then after yet a fresh Turkish inroad, the Carismians captured and pillaged the sacred city. And finally, in 1517, Selim the chivalrous and magnificent, rewon it for the Ottomans. Let it be said at once that the Turks have never lacked chivalry in watching over the holy places.

All along, in the vast kaleidoscope of changes and catastrophes, there were many who, passing through this vale of misery, used it for a well. Jealously guarded by the Moslem, Jerusalem remained the symbol of Christendom and the promise of a "new earth" as it descends in the Apocalypse. So often conquered, Jerusalem abides invincible. So constantly profaned, the mystery and majesty are unaltered. Wasted and weeping, this Mater dolorosa stands, no brooding ghost, but a living spirit. What haunted ground, not only of saints, apostles and Redeemer, but of earthly romances and vicissitudes! The smile of Herodias' daughter still wavers inscrutable around the once-palacecl cliff. The crimson sunset still reflects the carnage of Athaliah, Judaea's Lady Macbeth. Jezebel and her priests still image the clash between papist and puritan, for all along Judaea was "this protestant Egypt." Is that the sighing breeze, or is it Marianmne wailing, disconsolate as Rachel? And those clouds of midnight towering over the brook Kedron, are they the solemn shapes of mighty warriors from Joshua downwards, guarding the Valley of Assize? The driven dust eddies—it veils Don Jehuda ben Halévy, the Spanish sage and troubadour who, wan and way-worn, has pilgrimaged hither only to be pierced to his faithful heart by a Moorish spear. That plaintive breeze, saddening the silence, is it the world-old lamentation round the Wall of Weeping? What reveries, what rare merchandise, what traffics and discoveries, cohorts and caravans haunt its approaches; what wraiths and echoes issue from the caves, what long-past lightning's flash over the mountain peaks! What loves and hatreds wander among those vanished gardens and still vibrate in that "city of stone in a valley of iron under a sky of brass!" From David to Disraeli, who has not renowned it—the seat of song, the mount of vision?

But the British entry raises more mundane problems than the liberalization of prophecy so dear to the parish heart, and amid just and general rejoicing it may be well to indicate two of them. Great Britain rules over a vast Mussulman population, and in that sense she is a great Moslem Power. How will the Moslems, long jealous of the shrines, accept the change? General Allenby acted like a statesman in appointing Mohammedans to guard those sacred places which by prescription they protect, and he also showed wise insight when he entered on foot the city that he had won. It is said that a soothsayer so predicted, but, in any case, if the East loves splendor, nothing more constrains it than modest strength. But it will not always be General Allenby. Downing Street is notoriously imperceptive, and constantly its outlook is colored by the politics of the hour. It will never do to see Palestine through the spectacles of extreme democracy or of any one Church or Conventicle. If the Turks have been our enemies, it is not all of them that desire to be so, still fewer that relish their present league with Germany, and millions of Moslems look up to us that are not Turks, but Indians or Arabs. The way in which Jerusalem is to be the center of government will require considered and considerate handling. It must not be forgotten that our triumph coincides with prevailing tentatives towards Indian home rule (misliked by many a loyalist), and forecasts of some eventual Arab administration in Mesopotamia. Mohammedan susceptibilities will thus become doubly sensitive and in divergent directions. The one group will dread sedition, the other interference. What is this but to afford a playing ground for any foe of the future whose motto is to divide and conquer? Unmitigated, absolute, "democracy" is no ruler of empire. A sensitive touch, a firm grasp, an intuitive world-mind are requisite. Ask any really impartial and well-versed Anglo-Indian, any of our tried Eastern proconsuls, and he will confirm this outlook. Let us beware of a House-of-Commons Downing Street in Jerusalem, nor forget that the due apportionment by treaty of the wardship of its shrines afforded the pretext—the apple of discord—for the Crimean War. Let not Jerusalem, the peace-altar, endanger, through "pacifist" doctrinaires, the peace of mankind. The British Empire, if it will only emerge strong, resolute, united, is the safeguard of the world.

Again, how will the "Zionist" hope take shape? Can it prove compatible with conditions immune from political intrigue, quite apart from any and many other considerations? Such, as we have seen, is not the lesson of the past. Will Jerusalem cease to be "the theatre of nations," will too, the tribes of the Lebanon cease to profit by ferment? To many it will seem that a Jewish state—even were that inherently a likelihood—would be impracticable if it is to be formed out of a polyglot crowd, the exiles of persecution—as impracticable as it was in the days of the "Dispersion", when the citizens of the world thronged, Jerusalem only once a year. It would, prove a Babel of tongues and discords, an assemblage of Russian, and Polish and American internationalists that in perhaps forwarding the creed of Lenin and the politics of Geneva, might afford a new center for those Teutonic machinations which even now are busied in setting the Crescent against the Cross. In such a medley, presided over by mediocrity, the dregs of German Jewry, always industrious, often vital, might prevail. And in this regard it may be pointed out that the originator of the mot, "Moi, je reste Ambassadeur à Paris," was not Rothschild, as the tattlers have it, but the shrewd old Cremieux more than sixty years ago. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that, under much finer conditions, the Jewish genius was not political, however great their statesmen have been when assimilated to empires. This has been well shadowed forth by Disraeli in the conflict between Jabaster and the young Alroy, another of the lights that failed. The Jews, in yearning after a Theocracy, never founded a State. They religionized politics, whereas Europe has always politicized religion.

That is why the Roman Catholic religion which, assuming the mantle of Caesarism, "sent forth its dogmas like legions into the provinces," has always been thwarted in its more theocratic aspirations. Take Dante. He dreamed, it is true, of a real theocracy, but he was a strong champion of a Monarchical State. He staked his hopes on that great Emperor—that "patriot-King"—whose premature death dashed his vision to the ground. And after Dante, Savonarola craved a real Theocracy, but, again, it assumed that Republican shape which, two centuries later, was to play a greater, though as futile, a part in England. The Church, one way or another, throughout Europe, perpetually tended towards becoming a "State within the State," a "King of Kings," and the present Oratorians; still obey, the antique Morentine Constitution which St. Philip of Neri embalmed and prescribed as the rule of his order. Indeed, a great part of the Middle Ages was spent in perpetual conflict between the Pope and the Emperor. To come nearer home, take Milton, who tempered the Puritanic fire with the Renaissance light. He deemed himself a theocrat, he was only a Republican; his religion subserved his politics. A reformed commonwealth and no visible Church, are Milton's ideals. "The Parliament of England," he protests, among many other such pronouncements, had turned "regal bondage into a free commonwealth." "How then," he proceeds, "can any Christian derive his Kingship from Christ? I doubt not but all ingenious and knowing men will easily agree with me that a free commonwealth without a single person or House of Lords is by far the best Government.…" And then he propounds grand councils of a perpetual senate without, forsooth, "any Dogeship of Venice," as the means of salvation. He cannot divorce religion from politics. True, before puritanism the English Reformation, which was a protest against internationalism, created in the English Church the nearest reconciliation between nationalism and Theocracy. But the pact did not last, and politics triumphed. The English bishops dictated to America. Nationality does not imply unity of race. On the contrary, a nation is a fusion of races, under a common ideal, and the Jews are a race, not a nation. To become a nation they must be deracinated. Is this possible? Is it desirable? Are the idealogue's to be trusted, and how often are they right? "Whoso is wise will ponder these things."

It will be urged, I know, in some quarters, that these doubts are superfluous in face of the contemplated League of Nations which is to usher in the Millennium. It is a consummation devoutly to be desired. But, quite apart from the fact that it postulates universal agreement, that it only means an organized alliance from which any signatory (like Russia) could break away, and that it really but re-establishes the Hague Palace, which facilitated the war by lulling the anti-Germans, I would venture to submit two practical criticisms. It is proposed to "refer" any national quarrel to the Common Council. Is it not obvious that while it is being "referred" the strong man armed will cross the border? Again, no such pooling of forces to "police" the world could prove effective without the sanction of those very armaments to which "Labor" is always and vehemently objecting. If you have a permanent force highly trained and organized, why not keep it for your own defense? It is by mutual self-respect and a mutual understanding, backed by the strength of union, that nations, like families, will soonest live in peace. Mr. Asquith is pleased to call this "the chapter of accidents," but surely his own "Wait and see" is their encyclopedia. And, in any case, prevention is better than cure.

Meanwhile Mr. Thomas Atkins cannot be insensible to the genius of the spot, though these considerations will hardly appeal to him, and the austere grandeur of Jerusalem may touch him less than the memories of hymns. But the Psalms, the hymns of history, must rise to his recollection as he "lifts his eyes unto the hills," and the sight of Calvary will recall not only the Supreme Sacrifice, but the world-crucifixion of today. He will know nothing of Tasso, and Jerusalem Delivered, but, listening to the prince-poet Isaiah, he will remember that "the desert shall blossom, as the rose," and, looking this Christmas on a freed Bethlehem, he will feel that the Child, whom no Herod could slay, has conquered, and that "the government shall be upon His shoulder."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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