Archive for October, 2013

Civil War Anniversaries

One of Alexander Gardner’s photos
of Confederate dead at Gettysburg

Faulkner famously wrote (in Requiem for a Nun), “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This quotation is often applied to our national fascination with our Civil War. The first week of this past July was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3) and the Union victory at Vicksburg (July 4).

Like many Americans, I’ve visited the Gettysburg National Park. The first time was in 1969, when I was 12, and more recently in 2001. I’ve never visited Vicksburg, but I’ve known from childhood that a distant cousin, a young man named Frank Moore, was a casualty of that siege and is buried in our family cemetery in rural Illinois.

Last summer, an online article’s title caught my eye: “The Banality of Butter: What Hannah Arendt Can Tell Us about Paula Deen” by Darin Strauss (The Atlantic Wire, July 1, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/banality-butter-hannah-arendt-tell-us-paula-deen-134748348.html Discussing the ongoing scandal of Deen—a food author and TV celebrity who years ago used a racial slur and now has apologized—Strauss discusses aspects of Southern culture in which Deen comes. One thing that caught my eye—-putting into good words something that bothers me—concerns the legacy of the Civil War. Strauss writes:

“As Jamie Malanowski, a contributor to Times’s Disunion series, wrote in a recent Op-Ed: ‘The complex and not entirely complete process of reconciliation after the Civil War… served to whitewash [the history of the South].’ E.g., we still have U.S. Army bases named after the Confederate generals — men who in their treason against the U.S. government killed American soldiers. And it is still common in the South to frame the Civil war as a matter of States’ rights —though the Confederacy’s own Vice-President admitted ‘without doubt’ that slavery was the reason for secession and ‘cornerstone’ of the Confederacy — and to dismiss it as ‘the War of Northern Aggression.’ As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo puts it: ‘The two sides [have become] increasingly seen on equal terms… Two armies with equal valor, honor and history.’”

Books on display at “my” Barnes & Noble
in Ladue, MO

Strauss writes that he brings the Confederacy into the discussion of Deen, because a greater issue is our national failure to acknowledge the nature of the Confederacy, and the fact that “any society founded on the bondage of one’s fellow man is rotten at its core.” It’s a painful failure to face; he writes, “…Ask yourself if a presidential candidate could say: ‘the Confederacy was fully wrong and deserved to lose’ and then expect to win the South. This, despite that every hour the Confederacy endured was an hour that people were tortured and separated from their families and made to suffer countless other daily horrors—large and small—that happen when one sells other people as chattel. And ask yourself if there’s not something in there that explains why lots of people aren’t only defending Deen, but seem confused that they even have to….”

Although it doesn’t address all the aspects of this “natural failure,” I thought more about this topic as I reread this paragraph from Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust:

“For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is an instant when it’s still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and its all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet…and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.”

That quotation is from a wonderful book, James M. McPherson’s Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War (Oxford, 1996) (p. 138). McPherson has written several books on the war including the renowned 1989 Battle Cry of Freedom. 

This anniversary week prompted me to look through some favorite histories that I used when I taught two courses, “The Life and Times of Lincoln” and “Buckeye Presidents,” at the University of Akron. (Go Zips!) With good judgment and vast knowledge, McPherson addresses some of the issues of the romanticization of the southern cause—and also of General Lee, who is so key to Southern identity. Commenting on Allan T Nolan’s 1991 book, Lee Considered, McPherson agrees that the qualities of military leadership which Lee’s admirers revere have “romanticized some harsh realities” (p. 156). For instance, Grant lost as many men at Cold Harbor—7000 in under an hour—as Lee lost from “Pickett’s charge” (also in under an hour), and Grant lost a much lower percentage of his troops at Cold Harbor than Lee did at Gettysburg. “Yet Picket’s charge has been celebrated in legend and history as the ultimate act of Southern honor and courage against the Yankee Goliath, while Cold Harbor symbolizes callous stupidity” (p. 156).

The genius and tragedy of Lee is central to the Southern story. “When Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June 1862, the Confederacy was on the verge of collapse,” writes McPherson, but “[w]ithin three months Lee’s offensives had taken the Confederacy off the floor at the count of nine and had driven Union forces onto the ropes. Without Lee the Confederacy might have died in 1862” (p. 158).

Gettysburg was, of course, one of several battles where Lee nearly won the war on the South’s terms—by wearing down the North rather than conquering the North or its armies. McPherson lists these battles: Seven Days, Second Manassas and Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and the Wilderness-Petersburg campaign (p. 156). But with the Confederate losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the war reached a crucial turning point; while Northern morale had been very low after Chancellorsville, but after the first week of July 1863, the Southern morale began to waiver and, eventually, to be lost. (See his essay, “Why did the Conferderacy lose?”) In turn, Gettysburg and Vicksburg not only empowered the North but also bolstered the cause of Emancipation, about which Northerners were still angrily divided during the first half of 1863 (p. 203).

“Without Lee the Confederacy might have died in 1862,” but if it had, writes McPherson, “slavery would have survived; the South would have suffered only limited death and destruction. Lee’s victories prolonged the war until it destroyed slavery, the plantation economy, the wealth and infrastructure of the region, and virtually everything else the Confederacy stood for. That was the profound irony of Lee’s military genius” (p. 158).

I took down another favorite book containing Arthur C. Danto’s 1987 article, “Gettysburg.” This essay is well worth reading and thinking about; it is a skillful analysis of several topics: the battle itself, the nature of weaponry and military tactics, the battle’s legacy (was Gettysburg more like the Trojan War, as Gore Vidal suggested, or the epic conflicts in the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata?), and also a criticism of the nature of the historical interpretation at the Gettysburg park.(1)

Danto notes that Gettysburg had no particular importance as a location. For instance, it did not lie along crucial roads. Lee’s army had entered Pennsylvania and once they moved toward Gettysburg, that little town’s countryside happened to become a suitable place for the two armies to encounter one another. But as the battle commenced and continued, a central, horrible fact about the Civil War became very stark: the superior fire power available in 1861-1865 contrasted tragically to the outdated tactics of war employed. According to Danto, helmets reduced World War I injuries by 75%; but soldiers in the American Civil War considered it more honorable to wear their “jaunty caps” rather than such protective armor (which, after all, even ancient armies employed). Thus, the Gettysburg casualties were horrendous: about 51,000, over 7000 of which were outright deaths. The Confederate wagon train of wounded was 17 miles long. And yet, the light of glory continues to be reflected upon Lee and the Southern cause thanks in part to those emblems of honor—-the shining sword and the soldier’s cap—which were useless against 1860s rifles and shells.

Danto praises Longstreet for having a better plan than Lee at Gettysburg: to move the Confederate army to the Union army’s left, that is, between the Union forces and Washington, and then to wait for a Union attack which, even if it didn’t happen, would give the Confederate army a position to march toward Washington. But Lee hoped to gain a very significant victory, which by July 3 was planned as an attack on Meade’s center via artillery bombardment prior to a massed charge. But the artillery fire against Meade’s forces aimed too high, landing behind the Union army. Meanwhile, the Union army ceased fire to conserve ammunition. Consequently, Lee—having no information about the build-up of Union forces behind the ridge—mistook Union silence for incapacity, and thus the tragedy of the July 3 charge. I read elsewhere that Pickett never forgave Lee for ordering the charge.

Not to leave out Vicksburg: the full campaign, which finally ended July 4, 1863, claimed over 10,000 Union casualties and over 9000 Confederate casualties, plus nearly 30,000 Confederates surrendered.

I’m not a southerner, but I do know what it’s like to feel tremendous loyalty and devotion to a native place (for me, Fayette County, Illinois).(2) So when I feel frustrated about the sentiments about which Strauss writes, I try to use my own experience of place and identity in order to understand a little of the Southern sentiment. (Plus, one of my best friends is a South Carolinian who has written well about his roots.)

On the other hand, what Malanowski (above) called “the complex and not entirely complete process of reconciliation after the Civil War” is a good issue to ponder during these sesquicentennial years. In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln suggested that the war was an atonement of shed blood for the sin of American slavery. But although the war itself finally ended, we are obviously still dealing with its legacy in numerous ways. To borrow another theological term, the atonement of the Civil War, analogous to the atonement of Christ, has an “already/not yet” quality: the blood has been shed and slavery removed, but the final reconciliation—a country that has fully addressed the core sin of racism—is something toward which we look, in prayer and hope. Perhaps our continuing national fascination with the war—and the directions our country took in its aftermath—will help lead us in healing directions.

(Today’s New York Times has a good piece, “Why the Civil War Still Matters”: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/opinion/why-the-civil-war-still-matters.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0 )


(1) Published in Grand Street (Spring 1987) and reprinted in Annie Dillard, ed., The Best American Essays, 1988 (Ticknor & Fields, 1988), 99-116.

2. As soon as I declare my loyalty to my home county, I have to stop and remember that that land was originally Native American land, and my own relatives were instrumental in driving out Native Americans from Illinois in the 1820s and 1830s. I also have to acknowledge that the county had a very strong pro-Confederacy leaning during the war, and that my ancestors who settled Fayette County were descendants of slave owners. It’s better to stand up and acknowledge racist legacies where they exist, when though it might unsettle one’s love of place.

Read Full Post »

Back in September, on the 13th, my local news channel featured an announcement that cassette tapes were introduced by Philips on this day in 1963. I had already been thinking about them: a “Gramophone” magazine review of a Martha Argerich CD reminded me of cassettes because I once owned a two-cassette box of Chopin music that Argerich had recorded. I hadn’t known that the famous “funeral march,” sometimes featured in my childhood’s cartoons, was actually Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2. As the tape played along in the car, clicking a little in the player, it came to that movement, and I thought, “Oh!  That’s where that comes from!” Of course, Argerich’s version is compelling.

I wondered: Whatever happened to cassettes? I know I’ve not seen them in stores for many years, although they once covered several shelves in places like Sam Goody and Tower Records.

I checked Wikipedia, which had a footnoted article that indicates they are actually still being sold, but in very few numbers. The author writes: “Cassettes outsold vinyl and compact disc, respectively, from the early 80s until the early 90s.” Even in 2004, 8.6 million cassettes were sold. But by 2009, sales had plummeted to 34,000. “Of the 2,000 tapes sold year-to-date, most have been albums at least 36 months old, bought at indie retailers in the south Atlantic region, in the suburbs, according to SoundScan.”

So there’s my answer! The author notes that cassettes’ niche is specific: “Not only were tapes the way many young people first owned music in the Reagan era; from post-punk to C86 to riot grrrl to industrial and noise, cassettes also embodied the 80s underground’s do-it-yourself ethic. So much so, in fact, that many indie labels never stopped creating them….Last August, Rhizome writer Ceci Moss identified 101 cassette labels.” (http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7764-this-is-not-a-mixtape/)

That made me think of other formats. During the college years of 1976-1979, I had an eight-track player in my car, and I still enjoyed those tapes as late as 1979, a summer I had a job that involved a lot of car travel. But I doubt I purchased any thereafter. According to a Wikipedia article, eight-tracks were no longer sold in retail stores by 1982, though record clubs still sold them until 1988. The last commercial eight-track release seems to be Fleetwood Mac’s 1988 “Greatest Hits.”

Good riddance! Those tapes were terrible things: their clunkiness, and the way you had to put up with repeated songs. I see them sometimes in antique stores and groan.

My parents wonderfully purchased me a reel-to-reel recorder and player when I was in high school, around 1972. I used it to record music off the radio, especially KSHE-FM in St. Louis, and later Met Opera Saturday matinees. But I don’t think I ever purchased a pre-recorded tape. No wonder: when I looked up that format on Wikipedia, I discovered that pre-recorded reels were largely gone from stores by 1973, and a few were offered by record stores until the late 1970s.

I don’t miss cassettes much. Of course, you had to rewind or fast-forward to your favorite song, and you hoped you wouldn’t go too far or too short. But I was used to them. I don’t remember the first cassette I purchased, but I remember the first one I played: David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World” LP, which I taped at home by putting the small player/recorder next to the turntable speakers, and then I carried that same player with me in my old car, a seen-better-days 1963 Chevy. The car wasn’t worth getting a player installed (and my subsequent Dodge Dart had the 8-track player). So it was a homemade way to have favorite music in the case as I, a teenager in a small town, enjoyed my new driver’s license and freedom.

My 1979 Pontiac station wagon had a cassette player built in, so I had a lot of popular tapes. After I was married in the 80s, Beth and I like to purchase cassettes for our cars, especially for cross-country trips to visit the parental-units on holidays. We had a tape of Rossini overtures, baroque “greatest hits,” and Garrison Keillor radio shows. To this day, “William Tell Overture” reminds me of a tedious interstate rather than the Lone Ranger. We had a favorite tape that included two Vaughan Williams’ “A Lark Ascending” and “Tallis Fantasia” along with Elgar’s “Serenade in E Minor for String Orchestra” and Tippett’s “Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli,” and also a cassette with Haydn’s trumpet, harp and organ concertos. All these pieces still bring to mind road trips.

Of course, the tapes were handy for compiling your own favorite songs. A good friend made me a mixtape of her favorite 70s songs, which I played a lot in my car for a long time. I had some Christian pop songs compiled on a tape, as a way to put myself in a peaceful mood when, for instance, driving to the hospital to call upon folks.

We had a little carrying case in which to store the tapes, but often they ended up being tossed into a small cardboard box. I’d dump them out onto the car seat, and they made that plastic clatter as they fell onto the seat and I sorted through them to locate good music for whatever the day’s trip was.

The last cassette I purchased was either Talking Head’s “Sand in the Vaseline,” or a Christian singer (whose name I can’t remember) singing a beautiful version of Psalm 121. This was back in the mid 1990s. By then I was purchasing CDs for home listening.  But why did I wait to begin purchasing CDs until around 1989 (seven years after their introduction) and only then when my favorite record store stopped carrying LPs? I liked LPs (still do) and my car only had a cassette player. Used to this audio technology, I was devoted to it for a long time. My 2004 Nissan Sentra had players for both cassettes and CDs, but not my 2010 Toyota Matrix.

Will I someday write a nostalgic piece about CDs? Will it (like this essay) unintentionally turn out to be a reminiscence about cars? The time is coming and is here; in my Matrix, I listen to my iPod full of downloads more often than CDs.

Read Full Post »

Giuseppe+Verdi+PNGA post from 2010, with an update at the end….. I’m a mood-driven listener to music. Sometimes I get into moods when only rock music cranked up to “max” will do, or 80s new wave or synthpop. When my mom died last fall I blasted a favorite Jeff Beck CD in my car because I had so many strong emotions to deal with. Sometimes I want to listen to types of classical music, or to a cross-section of a composer‘s works. Other times, I want to hear a lot of the same composer. I liked Haydn’s music so I bought a 33-CD set of his symphonies. Messiaen intrigued me so I purchased his complete organ works. I loved Mozart’s 15th piano concerto so I bought an 11-CD set of all of them! That’s why I haven’t tackled Mahler; his symphonies are long, and I’m still listening to music already purchased.

I used to collect opera LPs, especially Wagner, but also some Mozart, Verdi, Britten, and others. My first opera purchase was Böhm recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with Sherrill Milnes in the title role. I recall buying it at the now defunct Chapel Square Mall in New Haven, Connecticut. My fondest set was Le Nozze di Figaro, also conducted by Böhm, with a wonderful cast including Prey, Mathis, Janowitz, Fischer-Dieskau, and Troyanos. At one point I loved Wagner and owned at least one set of his famous operas, even the early Rienzi. Similarly, I collected Benjamin Britten’s operas.  

I also found several classic Verdi recordings: Toscanini’s Falstaff and Aida, Otello with Jon Vickers in the title role, and also Rigoletto (with Sutherland, Pavarotti, and Milnes), Guilini’s 1958 Don Carlos (the five act version but in Italian), and the Messa da Requiem. I purchased La traviata, donated it to a library book fair during a spring cleaning, then wished I had it back. (Fortunately there’s always Ebay.) I think I owned used sets of Macbeth and Luisa Miller but I don’t remember what happened to them. They probably were sacrificed with household downsizing connected with interstate moves.

I couldn’t quite get into Verdi at first. His melodies are so beautiful and memorable: “Vedi! Le fosche

Anna Netrebko is a notable Violetta and, according to her website, she performs Lady Macbeth in 2014.

Anna Netrebko is a notable Violetta and, according to her website, she performs Lady Macbeth in 2014.

notturne” from Il trovatore,  “La donna è mobile”from Rigoletto, the Triumphal March from Aida, and lots of others. But I was into Wagner, and Verdi’s operas seemed to lack the chromatic interest and visceral force of Wagner’s. My wife and I did enjoy a production of Simon Boccanegra at Santa Fe in 2004. Britten once said, “I am an arrogant and impatient listener; but in the case of a few composers, a very few, when I hear a work I do not like I am convinced it is my own fault. Verdi is one of these composers.” [1] I’m not an arrogant listener but–especially since I know almost no musicology–I respond to music on a purely emotional level and know that, sometimes, I’m still growing in musical taste. I was heartened by an article by Walter Clemons who also wasn’t touched by Verdi’s music at first.[2]

Sorting through my old LPs after our recent move, I brought my Verdi operas into my office and gave them a new listen. This time I was smart, however. I’d been looking for an emotional entry into Verdi’s music and had never quite find it listening to whole operas. So I found a good collection of Verdi arias to help me, “Essential Verdi, 40 of His Masterpieces” on the Decca label.

What a wonderful set! As I listened to the two CDs (in my car), I kept grabbing the liner notes when I came

Thomas Hampson as Simon Boccanegra from thomashampson.com2012/10/10/ thomas-hampsons-blockbuster- october-at-lyric-and-carnegie/

Thomas Hampson as
Simon Boccanegra
from thomashampson.com2012/10/10/

to stop lights to see which opera aria I’d just heard. I finally appreciated Verdi’s gift for writing melodies. You hear it among old favorites like “La donna è mobile” and the Aida grand march but you also hear it in the lesser known dramas like I masnadieri. Clemons writes that he was convinced of Verdi’s greatness during a live performance of Othello’s aria “Ora e per sempre additio;” Othello despairs, yet “Verdi gives him back, in memory, the martial music of his days of glory” (p. 88). I found a similar moment in the “Ave Maria” from that same opera, sung on this set by Renee Fleming.

Famously, Verdi returned after Otello with one more, remarkable opera, Falstaff, only his second comic opera among nearly thirty (the first was Un giorno di regno, his failed second opera). Verdi’s views of life were pessimistic but humanistic. As Osborne puts it, “In the Requiem … gentle resignation and joyful anticipation of an after-life were no part of his thoughts…. The intensity and compassion of his tragic view of the human condition are Shakespearian in stature: the prodigality of his technique deserves … to be called Mozartian” (p. 403). In this last opera, Verdi seems to have definitively joined his tragic view with a Mozartian comic spirit.

Falstaff ends:

Tutto nel mondo é burla.
L’uom é nato burlone,
La fede in cor gli ciurla,
Gli ciurla la ragione.
Tutti gabbati! Irride
L’un l’altro ogni mortal.
Ma ride ben chi ride
La risata final.

As translated by Vincent Sheean in the Toscanini recording: “The whole world is a jest; man was born a great jester, pushed this way and that by faith in his heart or by reason. All are cheated! Every mortal being laughs at every other one, but the best laugh of all is the one that comes last.”

I agree with some of that. We are all “pushed this way and that” and we’re all “cheated” of something. We’re silly to think we can escape life’s unfairness. Verdi suffered terrible losses early in life, the death of his two children and first wife. Over time, he transformed his suffering and pessimism into wonderful theater and melody. Clemons writes that “Verdi’s long, fertile career can now be seen as remarkable in its steady progress and deepening insight as that of Dickens.” (p. 123) Yeats comes to mind as another artist who grew steadily and ended with depth and insight.

Here’s one more quote from Clemons. “There is something clear and sunlit-square about Verdi’s music that makes it at first difficult to appreciate, if romantic mystery is what one looks for. The value of his honesty and clarity grows with acquaintance” (p. 123).


Giuseppe Verdi was born October 10, 1813, 200 years ago this past week. Commemorations and articles have been happening for the past several months for his bicentennial. For instance, there are new productions of his dramas. A 75-CD set of his complete works, including multiple versions operas, was released this year. This set has I Lombardiand its adaptation Jérusalem, both versions of Simon BoccanegraStiffelio and its revisionAroldo, both the French Don Carlos and the Italian Don Carlo, and the seldom produced operas like Giovanna d’Arco, Alzira, La battaglia di Legnano, and others. Naturally, all the famous operas are there, and pieces like his String Quartet. As I said in the first paragraph, I tend to like to listen to a lot of a composer’s music, but it takes me a long time to get through the 33 CDs of Haydn’s symphonies. So I’m tempted by this set’s affordable cost but haven’t taken the plunge. Instead, I downloaded two nice anthologies of arias and pieces from several famous and less frequently performed operas.

The February 2013 issue of “Gramophone” magazine was a very nice Verdi anniversary issue. Choosing Macbeth, La traviata, Aida, and Falstaff as representative of Verdi’s genius, the articles include interviews of artists like Renee Fleming and Bryn Terfel on his roles. The articles communicate that quality of Verdi that I find appealing, his humility and sense of triumphing over odds (one of which must be his melancholy). Perhaps he had a need to portray his talents as modest—describing a period of his work as the “galley years”—but his demeanor is so distant from Wagner’s well known arrogance and sense of entitlement.  Plus, as Clemons writes, Verdi’s talents grew over time so that he became one of our greatest composers and musical dramatists.

1. Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi (New York: Knopf, 1979), p. 11.

2. Walter Clemons, “Viva Verdi! The Story of a Love Affair,” Vanity Fair, 46 (June 1983), 87-89, 122-123.

Read Full Post »


I purchased this picture of Jerusalem in that city in 1983 and have displayed it in our homes over the years.

A post from my “Bible Connections” site….. I’ve a Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (hereafter ZPBD) that my grandma Crawford gave to me when I was 14 (1971). I was appreciative but mostly uninterested, but the book became a keepsake after Grandma died just a few months later. Then, when I was 18, I began to take faith more seriously. I kept the book and still use it, over forty years later, along with some of my other reference books. I took it down the other day to take a few personal notes about the subject of Jerusalem in the Bible—references I can continue to study over time.

The subject of Jerusalem is much longer and more involved than my few modest notes. A good Bible dictionary can give you the many references to the city in the two testaments. The biblical citations alone are numerous, and also one can take into account the extra-biblical historical materials about the ancient city, along with its importance for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—not to mention the long history of the city into our contemporary time. Not only was it the capital of David’s kingdom but was also the site of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ visits to and ministry in Jerusalem are interesting to study, as is the early church in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts, and the concern of the Apostle Paul (in some of his letters) that the poor of Jerusalem be supported by Gentile Christians around the empire.

Later, Jerusalem becomes central to Muslim faith. It was the destination of the Prophet Muhammad on his Night Journey, recorded in the Qur’an. Today, the beautiful Dome of the Rock stands upon the site of the Jewish temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem also is important in the Baha’i faith.

For now, I mostly want to write down a few biblical references about its founding and also its symbolic significance. It is a pre-Hebrew place, called U-Ru-Sa-lim in ancient times (later in Hebrew Yerushalayim), that is, “city of peace.” The earliest biblical reference to the place is the story of Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Gen. 14:18). So although Jerusalem does not became an Israelite city until the time of David, it begins to figure in the Bible a thousand years earlier in Abraham’s time. That connection of Jerusalem to “peace” (Salem or Sa-lim, in Hebrew shalom) is found in Haggai 2:9, Psalm 122:6, Isaiah 66:12, and other scriptures (ZPBD, p. 417).

The city’s name Yerushalayim appears for the first time in Joshua 10:5, and then later in the book (15:8, 18:28), where the text tells of Joshua’s failure to drive out the Jebusites, although the Israelites may have inhabited part of that area (Judges 1:21).

It is worth consulting a Bible dictionary about the parallel history of another city, Shechem, which eclipses Jerusalem in importance to the Israelites prior to the time of David. It is the city deeply associated with Abraham (Gen. 12:6-7, Jacob (Gen. 33:18-19, Gen. 34), Joseph (Gen. 37:12-14, Joshua 24:32), and Joshua (17:7, 24:1), and Shechem continued in importance for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:1, 12:25, 2 Chron. 10:1, Jer. 44:5ff, Psalm 60:6, 108:7). Shechem falls from the biblical record, although the Samaritan woman of John 4 met Jesus in that area (ZPBD, 780-781).

The city of Shiloh is another important early city, the place where the Israelites under Joshua set up the Tabernacle, thus making Shiloh the center of the Israelite theocracy until the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant 400 years later (1 Samuel 4:3). Psalm 78:60 says that the Lord forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh. It was one of the worship centers during the time of the northern kingdom, but Jeremiah refers to it as a desolate place by his time (Jer. 7:12, 14) (ZPBD, 785-786).(1)

As for Jerusalem, David captured the city from the Jebusites during his reign (2 Sam. 5:6-10, about 998 BC). That is the first reference to the word Zion (ziyon), of uncertain meaning but perhaps citadel. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, thus sanctifying Zion Hill (2 Sam. 6:10-12). Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem on the proximate Mount Moriah, which meant that the name Zion was applied not only to the particular hill named Zion but also the temple mount (Isa. 8:18, 18:7, 24:23, Joel 3:17, Micah 4:7), and eventually all of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:21, Ps. 48, 69:35, 133:3, Isaiah 1:8, and others). The name Zion came to also apply to God’s people (Ps. 126:1, 129:5, Isa. 33:14, 34:8, 49:14, 52:8), and in the New Testament, for heaven (Heb. 12:22) (ZPBD, 914).

A very different biblical theme is the prophetic image of Jerusalem as God’s unfaithful wife! On this theme I recommend an excellent book by a former classmate, Dr. Julie Galambush:Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh’s Wife (Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).

Jerusalem as God’s city, sometimes unfaithful but overall a symbol and reality of God’s peace, is found many times in the scriptures. The glory of Jerusalem itself is also found in the references to the place as the city of the Lord (Isa. 45:13, 60:14, Ps. 46:4, 48:1, 87:3), the mountain of the Lord (Isa. 2:3, 11:9, 56:7, 66:20), and many other lofty and praising references. It is called Hephzibah, “my delight is in her” in Isa 62:4) (ZPBD, 418).

The image of the New Jerusalem is also a powerful image in the concluding chapters of the Book of Revelation, one that connects to earlier texts like Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah. (The image also appears in noncanonical books like 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and some of the Qumran writings.) As depicted in Rev. 21-22, the New Jerusalem becomes an aspect of Heaven, or is Heaven itself, and is the reconciliation of God with all things. The peace of Jerusalem is the peace of God.

Altogether, you begin with that first, pre-Hebrew reference to Salem in Genesis 14, and then reconnect to the city in the histories following Deuteronomy, and then trace the references to the city (historical, prophetic, and symbolic) through the rest of the Bible, you do see how the city of peace is another pervasive theme, bringing the many biblical texts together.

I’m a member of a local Jewish-Christian dialogue group on Middle Eastern issues, which meets at Eden Theological Seminary. I enjoy learning from my colleagues about challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians, including the complicated social, citizenship, and political issues of East Jerusalem (pre- and post-1967) within the overall municipal area. Discussion-friendship groups like this are one important way for us all to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as taught in Psalm 122:

 I was glad when they said to me,
   ”Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
   within your gates, O Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem—built as a city
   that is bound firmly together. 
To it the tribes go up,
   the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
   to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 
For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
   the thrones of the house of David. 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May they prosper who love you. 
Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.” 
For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, “Peace be within you.” 
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.

As I’ve taken these notes, a song has been stuck in my head. Grandma’s Bible dictionary gives the names of other Christian hymns, like “Jerusalem the Golden.” I learned another old hymn in Sunday school as a child (words by Isaac Watts, refrain and music by Robert Lowry). The city thus became nostalgically lodged in my childhood faith, years before I ever went there.

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

To conclude these thoughts, I want to recommend a lovely 2-CD set of music called “Jerusalem: City of Two Peaces,” which I discuss here: http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2012/11/jerusalem-city-of-two-peaces.html


1. The fact that Jerusalem became more significant than Shechem and Shiloh—and only in the eras of David and Solomon—reminds me of my page about the biblical monarchy, where I discussed the ambivalence in the biblical sources about an Israelite king. Some passages (that I discovered and discussed there) affirm that Yahweh is Israel’s true king and thus was not according to God’s original plan—as, one might argue, these other two cities were God’s original places of importance and worship. But God incorporated the monarchy—and specifically King David—as a “type of God’s kingdom.” And so the career of David—and now, we can add, the Jebusite city that he conquered for the Israelites—became significant for Israel’s messianic hope. It is interesting to reflect theologically about the way God seems to adapt and be reflexible in these aspects of Israel’s experience.

Read Full Post »