A spellbinding history of the hidden world below the Holy City—a saga of biblical treasures, intrepid explorers, and political upheaval
“A sweeping tale of archaeological exploits and their cultural and political consequences told with a historian’s penchant for detail and a journalist’s flair for narration.”
In 1863, a French senator arrived in Jerusalem hoping to unearth relics dating to biblical times. Digging deep underground, he discovered an ancient grave that, he claimed, belonged to an Old Testament queen. News of his find ricocheted around the world, evoking awe and envy alike, and inspiring others to explore Jerusalem’s storied past.
In the century and a half since the Frenchman broke ground, Jerusalem has drawn a global cast of fortune seekers and missionaries, archaeologists and zealots, all of them eager to extract the biblical past from beneath the city’s streets and shrines. Their efforts have had profound effects, not only on our understanding of Jerusalem’s history, but on its hotly disputed present. The quest to retrieve ancient Jewish heritage has sparked bloody riots and thwarted international peace agreements. It has served as a cudgel, a way to stake a claim to the most contested city on the planet. Today, the earth below Jerusalem remains a battleground in the struggle to control the city above.
Under Jerusalem takes readers into the tombs, tunnels, and trenches of the Holy City. It brings to life the indelible characters who have investigated this subterranean landscape. With clarity and verve, acclaimed journalist Andrew Lawler reveals how their pursuit has not only defined the conflict over modern Jerusalem, but could provide a map for two peoples and three faiths to peacefully coexist.
Journalist Lawler (The Secret Token) explores in this sweeping account the complicated history of archaeological digs in Jerusalem. Ranging from imperialistic expeditions in the 19th century, when explorers competed in a "race to stake a claim to Jerusalem's past," to allegations that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government used archaeology "as a legitimizer for the state," Lawler's colorful narrative includes aristocrats, scientists, charlatans, and clerics who searched for the "authentic place of Jesus's death and resurrection," sought to uncover the remnants of the ancient City of David, and tried to find the Ark of the Covenant, among other archaeological treasures. He vividly describes early explorers navigating mud- and sewage-laden tunnels to "recover the biblical secrets locked beneath the Holy City," and incisively untangles the contentious geopolitical dimensions of ancient history as modern-day Israelis and Palestinians use archaeological analysis to bolster their political viewpoints and territorial claims. Richly detailed, sensitively argued, and entertainingly written, this immersive history casts Jerusalem in a new light and reveals the tensions that meet at the intersection of science, politics, religion, and history. This fascinating, evenhanded chronicle is a treasure.