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Reflective pilgrims

30 January 2015

John Armson reads contrasting books on the Holy Land and its significance

Occupied Territories: The revolution of love from Bethlehem to the ends of the earth
Garth Hewitt
IVP £11.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.80 (Use code CT597 )

Peace-ing Together Jerusalem
Clare Amos
World Council of Churches £7
Church Times Bookshop £6.30 (Use code CT597 )

THESE two admirable books differ greatly. Garth Hewitt is personal and enthusiastic, on a wide canvas. Clare Amos bases her book more on reflections on the five years she spent in Jerusalem. Each will appeal to some, but probably not both to all.

Hewitt's Occupied Territories has the subtitle The revolution of love from Bethlehem to the ends of the earth. This is, indeed, a grand theme, and a driving force for the author - for which, he recog­nises, he owes gratitude to Naim Ateek.

Hewitt's message is passionate but level-headed: clear, simple, and easy to follow. "Somewhere around 4 BC the Prince of Peace was born." So his book opens.

This reviewer sensed: he loves Jerusalem, Bethle­hem, and more. Indeed, he clearly has a passion for the whole area. His own love for it shows through. It comes out in the poetry and other items (it would be wrong to call them "asides") that he weaves into his text. His book is richly endowed with passion and insight.

He is also the founder of the Amos Trust, "a small, creative, Chris­­­tian human-rights agency that works with vibrant grass-roots partners around the world". So, not just "words, words, words". But, if his own enthusiastic words should irritate some (and there is no good reason why they should), they will certainly excite others.

Clare Amos works with the World Council of Churches, and was recently awarded a Lambeth Doctorate in Divinity. Her writing about her time in Israel is evidence of her good grasp of the "feel" of the land, of Israel - and of Jerusalem, in particular. She writes at one point of how her five years there enabled her to discern and get inside the feel of the place, and led her to search for further understanding - of the place and its people. And she understands (important, this) that Jerusalem has meaning not just for Jews, but that Muslims and Chris­tians also have a feeling for the city and its long history.

She discusses, under four headings, the meaning of the city - for those who live there, and for herself: the new or heavenly Jerusa­lem; Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God; Jerusalem, the centre of the world; and Jerusalem, the rejected and suffering one. All that brings home both the complexity and the attraction of the city - to all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways.

For any reader of this article whose senses are alerted, this reviewer would say: "Go there - the sooner, the better."

Canon John Armson is a former Precentor of Rochester Cathedral.

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