Europe’s Oldest Painting of the “Real” Jerusalem

Nov. 16 2022

In medieval Christian art, it’s easy to find depictions of Israel’s ancient and modern capital. These were not based on the city’s actual layout at any given time, but instead on artists’ imagination. For this reason, the Cleveland Museum of Art touts a triptych by an anonymous Austrian painter, dating to around the year 1500, as an “exceptional” attempt at a “topographically accurate” cityscape. Menachem Wecker notes that the painting is itself based on a 1486 woodcut by the Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich—who had visited Jerusalem himself—and comments on its significance:

Many artists drew upon theological conceptions of heavenly and earthly Jerusalems, and it was easy—particularly for those who never visited the city—to think about the Holy Land as a symbol, rather than a real place. This remains the case today. No matter how much one reads in the news about Jerusalem, or no matter how many pictures one sees or how much time one spends on Google Maps “walking” old city streets, one can only approximate the sense one has of actually navigating Jerusalem.

When I see images like Reuwich’s [woodcut and the Jerusalem triptych], I think of abundant news story, even in major newspapers, that leave me scratching my head when they state that the Aqsa complex is Islam’s third-holiest site, without also noting that Jerusalem is central to Christianity and is the holiest city in Judaism. . . . I often wonder how many readers come away from those stories thinking that Muslims have revered Jerusalem from the start, and Jews and Christians are Johnny-come-latelys (or St. John-come-lately).

Of course, when one considers the history of Jerusalem and sets aside the different theological positions of the various faith groups, one is likely to conclude that Jerusalem was significant to Christians and Muslims respectively precisely because it was central to Judaism first. If not for all of the prophecies about the Holy Land in Jewish scripture, it is easy to imagine that Jesus, who was Jewish, would not have set out for Jerusalem, which would mean there would be no reason to require a church on a site that would be so central to his story. And if there had not been two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, and a long prophetic association with that city, would Mohammad have taken his night journey to and from [what is now] al-Aqsa? Doubtful.

The 1486 woodcut and ca. 1500 painting show a then-modern city superimposed on a biblical and ancient one, with Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy sites nearly built on top of one another. All are pieces of the Holy Land puzzle, and although centuries have passed, quite a lot remains the same.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Rough Sketch

More about: Art, Islam, Jerusalem, Jewish-Christian relations

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror