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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pierre Loti's Observations of Jerusalem & the Jews There, 1894 -- Part One

Forty-four years after Flaubert visited Jerusalem [1850], another French writer, Pierre Loti, visited the holy city.


Tuesday 3 April 1894
. . . tunnels seem to lead to the Haram esh-Sherif, to the Temple enclosure. . .
It is at sunrise of one of the cloudy spring days in Judea. . . [Aziza, pp 1296-1297]
Note that Loti calls the country Judea and that the Muslim sanctuary built on the Temple Mount is identified with the place of the ancient Jewish Temple and is important precisely for that reason.

Friday 6 April 1894
. . . Turning the southern corner of the walls [the southeastern corner facing the Mount of Olives], we come back into Jerusalem through the ancient Mughrabi Gate [also called Dung Gate, on the south of the Old City]. No one any longer within the ramparts; one might think one had entered a dead city. In front of us, gullies of cactus and stones that separate Mount Moriah from the inhabited quarters [neighborhoods] on Mount Zion -- waste land where we walk alongside the the enclosure of that other desert, the Haram esh-Sherif, which formerly was the Temple.

It is Friday evening, the traditional moment when --every week-- the Jews come to weep in a special place granted by the Turks, on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, which "will never be rebuilt." And we want to pass, before nightfall, through this place of Lamentations. After the empty ground, we now reach narrow alleys, strewn with rubbish, and finally, a sort of enclosure, full of the stirrings of a strange crowd which moans together in a low, cadenced voice. The dim twilight is already beginning. The background of this place, surrounded by somber walls, is closed, crushed by a formidable Solomonic construction [actually Herodian], a fragment of the Temple enclosure, all in huge, identical blocks [actually the stones are massive and similar but of various sizes]. And men in long velvet robes, agitated by a kind of general rocking back and forth, like caged bears, appear to us seen from their backs, facing this immense ruin, tapping their foreheads on these stones and murmuring a kind of slightly quavering chant.
. . .

The robes are magnificent, black velvets, blue velvets, violet or crimson velvets, lined with precious furs. The skullcaps are all in black velvet, edged with long-haired furs, which put in the shade the sharp nose and the hostile glance. The faces, which make a half-turn to examine us, are almost all of a special ugliness, of an ugliness to make one shiver: so thin, so slender, so sly, with such small eyes, sly and tearful, under the fall of dead eyelids! White and pink hues of unwholesome wax and, on all ears, corkscrews of hair which hang in the "English" fashion of 1830, completing disturbing resemblances to bearded old ladies. . .
[quoted in Claude Aziza, Jerusalem: le reve a` l'ombre du Temple ("Collection Omnibus"; Paris: Presses de la Cite, 1994), pp 1298-1299]

Notes
--The Mughrabi Gate is so named after Arabs from North Africa settled nearby since the Middle Ages. In fact, the Jewish prayer place at the Western Wall was enclosed on the western side, facing the Temple Mount, by houses of the Mughrabi Quarter.
--Mount Moriah is a late name for the Temple Mount, originally called Mount Zion.
--The Mount Zion of today is roughly speaking, the areas of the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, incorrectly named Mount Zion on account of the Byzantine Nea Sion church once there, now a ruin.
--The New Testament claims --perhaps in words written after the fact-- that the Temple will be destroyed [Matt 24:2; Mk 13:2; Lk 21:6]. The claim that the Temple "will never be rebuilt" seems part of a later Christian tradition building on these NT verses.

Pierre Loti [1850-1923] was a French naval officer and widely traveled on that account. Less famous than Flaubert, he was elected to the Académie Française. His novels emphasized the exotic, the sensual, and love [real name: Louis-Marie Julien Viaud]. He disparages the Jews he sees in Jerusalem, but recognizes the ancient, vanished Jewish Temple as giving importance to the present Muslim sanctuary built in its place.
[Photos from Focus East, Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885 (Jerusalem: Israel Museum 1988)]
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Coming: more from Pierre Loti on Jerusalem and Hebron, Jews in Muslim lands, etc.

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