In the Spotlight

The Field of Blood by Nicholas Morton

Nicholas Morton’s new book on the formative years of the Crusader states is a delight on multiple levels.  The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East provides an illuminating survey of the Levantine region in the period immediately after the Christian Frank incursion, when Jerusalem was the newly-created seat of a Christian kingdom and European nobles sought to dominate the Holy Land. Historians have long assumed the Crusader experiment was destined to fail, but Morton makes a very persuasive case that it could well have succeeded. The action takes place in present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, and involves the same strategic cities—Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs—that so tragically dominate headlines today.

Recent

The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas

20th Century Palestine
The publisher of The Last Palestinian touts it as the first book in English to profile Mahmoud Abbas, the man who succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and has since been the titular head of the Palestinian national movement. Astonishingly, the publisher’s claim appears to be true, and co-authors Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon have indeed delivered a crisp catalogue of the events and players that have brought Abbas and the Palestinians to where they are today.
Jerusalem Day

A Tale of Two Jerusalem Days

Jerusalem Day
A couple of years ago I found myself changing my flight to Jerusalem to include a side-trip to Jordan, so that I could meet a friend-of-a-cousin-of-a-friend who had offered to help me with my research. It was difficult to find anything about the man I was to meet, but among the precious snippets I could glean was that he had founded an organization called the Jerusalem Day Society headquartered in Amman. And there was a review in Publishers Weekly indicating he was was a fabulist and an anti-Semite.

Other Essays and Reviews

Ground Zero Mosque supporters
Islam in America

Making Moderate Islam by Rosemary R. Corbett

Nobody seemed to care that an upscale Islamic community center was being proposed for lower Manhattan until 2010 when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post christened it “The Ground Zero Mosque”. Sporting its new sobriquet, the proposed project made the familiar leap from scandal rag to cable news to becoming a fetish in America’s culture war.…

Boole Trinity
Christian Theology

George Boole, the Holy Trinity, and the Birth of the Computer

Since it first emerged in the early days of Christianity, the concept of the Holy Trinity— Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three components of a single God-head— has been a head-scratcher for non-Christians and an unending source of conflict within the Church. The concept was already rattling around among the earliest Church Fathers in…

20th Century Palestine

The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas

The publisher of The Last Palestinian touts it as the first book in English to profile Mahmoud Abbas, the man who succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and has since been the titular head of the Palestinian national movement. Astonishingly, the publisher’s claim appears to be true, and co-authors Grant Rumley…

Christian Zionism

The Persistence of Myth

While working on a chapter on Jerusalem during the British Mandate (1917-1948) I ran into one of the private micro-dramas I assume most writers run into and that I learned long ago nobody else is really interested in. But as I thought about it more, there seemed to be a lesson for me that I…

Mandelbaum Gate Jerusalem
20th Century Palestine

Kai Bird’s Crossing Mandelbaum Gate

While doing background reading on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, I came across Kai Bird's poignant and insightful account of his childhood as the son of American consular officials who served in Israel and Palestine, and who later moved their family to a new assignment in Saudi Arabia in the mid-60's and early…

Sari Nusseibeh The Story of Reason in Islam
Authors and Books

The Story of Reason in Islam by Sari Nusseibeh

As a Westerner for whom the intellectual history of Islam is something of a mystery, reading Sari Nusseibeh’s timely and sweeping new book was like swimming on the surface of an unfamiliar ocean. This delightful survey is packed with intriguing details of what the giants of Islamic thought struggled with and argued about, but ultimately…

Palestinian Opinion Survey Flag
Opinion Poll

Infographic: New Survey of Palestinian opinion

It can be a startling for Westerners to see a scientific poll of Palestinian residents asking, among other things, if they are in favor of a third intifada, but it is an improvement over the not-too-distant past when far too few people cared what Palestinians thought. When the first intifada erupted in December of 1987 it…

Charlie Hebdo Fields of Blood
Politics & Religion

Reading Fields of Blood while watching Charlie Hebdo

I know the sorrow I feel for those murdered in Paris - the creative artists, their colleagues and those killed trying to protect them - is shared by a massive international host who revere the norms of civil society and are shocked by the barbarity of the assailants. The attacks were nothing if not an…

Jerusalem Day
Jerusalem Day

A Tale of Two Jerusalem Days

A couple of years ago I found myself changing my flight to Jerusalem to include a side-trip to Jordan, so that I could meet a friend-of-a-cousin-of-a-friend who had offered to help me with my research. It was difficult to find anything about the man I was to meet, but among the precious snippets I could…

Fred Donner and Book
History of Islam

Fred Donner and the Early Days of Islam

One of the pleasures I've discovered in time I've spent so far on my current project is meeting interesting people, and also discovering how generous some people can be with their time and expertise. This was brought home to me most recently when I met Fred Donner, a distinguished scholar of Islam and of Near…

Barbara Tuchman 1971
20th Century Palestine

Encountering Bible and Sword by Barbara Tuchman

Last weekend I faced a solitary thousand-mile roundtrip drive from the Bay Area to San Diego down the largely featureless California Central Valley, a chore that became a delight as I spent the time listening to a book I’d never read, Bible and Sword, by a writer I’ve long admired, Barbara Tuchman. (more…)

Herodium Wikipedia
Archaeology

Ze’ev Herzog and the historicity of the Bible

To what extent can we reasonably treat the stories of the Bible as actual historical events? On a recent visit to Tel Aviv, I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Ze'ev Herzog, a distinguished Israeli archaeologist and a leading figure in the debate regarding the "historicity" of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament.…

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