Holy Rubble and Rabble (Wall Street Journal book review)

April 1, 2016

“Whoever did not see Jerusalem in its days of glory has not seen a beautiful city in his life,” the Talmud says of the days when Herod’s temple shone at the center of a city that symbolized the gateway to the divine. The world was given 10 allotments of beauty, the sages say, and Jerusalem got nine.

Along the wall of the same temple, unmentioned by these sayings, was a noisy commercial street 25 yards wide where 2,000 years ago you could barter for a goat, change money, and find weavers, butchers, prostitutes and some murderous zealots. It was a short walk to the hippodrome, where you could brawl with rival fans and, if you were lucky, see a really good chariot crash. One imagines a Temple priest, pausing mid-sacrifice, sighing as he glances at the earthly Jerusalem over the wall.

In “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City,” Adina Hoffman gives us the story of three gifted architects who brought their talents to the city two millennia later, between the world wars. By this time Herod was long gone, replaced by the British, but the tension between the imagined city and the real one remained.

(Read the whole thing here.)