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Leaving Jerusalem before dawn, anxious to reach Sinai and to discover the Semitic origins of his Christian faith, Tancred – the protagonist of Benjamin Disraeli’s 1847 novel – approaches Bethlehem just as the sun is about to rise: At this moment, Tancred and his escort are in sight of Bethlehem, with the population of a village but the walls of a town, situate on an eminence overlooking a valley, which seems fertile after passing the stony plain of Rephaim. The first beams of the sun, too, were rising from the mountains of Arabia and resting on the noble convent of the Nativity. Tancred does not have time to tour the convent: he is off ‘to penetrate the great Asian mystery’. Still, even this brief description captures the tensions evoked by the encounter with Bethlehem, a locale marked by a sense of relativity and flux. Defined by a geographical schism (eminence/valley), which, in turn, could only be appreciated when compared to the adjoining landscape (fertile/lush), here was a perplexing urban formation. The ‘City of David’ was a town with the population of a village, or a village with the walls of a town.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCities of God
Subtitle of host publicationThe Bible and Archaeology in Nineteenth-Century Britain
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9780511783647
ISBN (Print)9781107004245
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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