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George Prochnik’s Stranger in a Strange Land

In my review for the LA Review of Books, I delve into George Prochnik’s intriguing and beautiful book, Stranger in a Strange Land. This work masterfully intertwines Prochnik’s memoir with the intellectual biography of Gershom Scholem, a renowned Kabbalah scholar. Scholem, a pivotal figure in Jewish intellectual history, revolutionized the study of Kabbalah, transforming it […]
Field of Blood book cover

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.
The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas

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 […]
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 […]
Ground Zero Mosque supporters

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.
Sari Nusseibeh The Story of Reason in Islam

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 […]
Boole Trinity

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 […]
Trump Theologian The Humanist Noah Kennedy

Donald Trump, Theologian

Recently, James Carroll wrote a sensitive piece in the New Yorker (“The Radical Meaning of Pope Francis’s Visit to Juarez”) about the testy exchange between Pope Francis and Donald Trump regarding immigration. Midway through the brief article and on his way to making the point that the pope held the ethical high ground in the debate, […]
Palestinian Opinion Survey Flag

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 […]
Mandelbaum Gate Jerusalem

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 […]
The Persistence of Myth

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 […]
Herodium Wikipedia

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. […]