Jerusalem’s ancient call to the modern world
Before the 50th anniversary of Israel’s Six Day War, I revisited the City of David, which contains the petrified remains of King David’s dynasty. The archaeological findings provide an edifying and uplifting Jewish answer to some grave challenges threatening Western civilization: moral relativism and Islamic extremism.
The intellectual crisis of the West, defined by the incapacity to discuss or even recognize it, constitutes one of the great crises of our time. Today, it is unpardonably triumphalist to stand on the side of liberal democracy, which is aided by the military and abetted by capitalism. So instead, many citizens of Western, democratic countries avoid wrath by denying unpopular truths, distancing themselves from governments that support them, and declaring themselves pro-peace and pro-social justice.
But those are empty expressions representing truce lines, not meaningful demonstrations of real differences between good and evil. It is no coincidence that dogmatic secularists and radical Islamists occupy common space, both in the ideological and physical realms. There is a pattern: Having surpassed traditional morality for more fashionable philosophies that eschew war as unconscionably destructive, moral relativists are invariably eager to enlist support from Islamic extremists, who are fanatically opposed to the Western tradition of freedom.
In some parts of the U.S. and in many democratic countries in Europe, conviction to a higher calling, love of country, and devotion to fellow man are not merely disappearing. They are being drowned out by the far-reaching emancipation from religion and cowardly acquiescence to the establishment tyranny. In the sea of moral relativism, false piety is the iceberg that sinks the ship of state.
Israel, of course, is at the center of the charge, for its adherence to Jewish tradition, on the one hand, and its application of Western standards of judgement on the other hand. This is the ultimate trivialization of history, as illustrated by the joke about the Gentile who punches a Jew for supposedly sinking the Titanic. The Gentile replies: “Iceberg. Goldberg. Oh, what’s the difference?”
As it turns out, a lot. The City of David is compelling, in part because it takes up the space between the dogmatic secularists and the Radical Islamists by militating against the assertion that social engineering has somehow reprieved human beings from their desires and limitations.
Among much else, the excavations tell the tales of the best minds of the Davidic and Solomonic Kingdoms–poets, priests, prophets–who consciously assessed good and evil and courageously demonstrated what was at stake. They imposed serious demands that required sacrifice, rather than comfortable solutions that masked reality, in order to enhance humanity and make their citizenry aware of the awesome responsibility of their fate.
Nothing can be said with impunity, however, and identifying heretics is always easier than accepting criticism. Terrified by danger, the ancient Israelites opted to commit spiritual suicide. They imprisoned the prophet Jeremiah, who warned of impending doom at the hands of the Babylonians, and they replied to G-d: “We can live without you.” But ultimately, their destruction ensued.
In ancient Jerusalem, as in life, it’s conceivable to learn big lessons from little things. David–the “runt of the litter”–is certainly no exception. Content tending to his flock, David deplored war. But he drew lines in the sand and took decisive action when they were crossed. With Jewish pride and self-respect, he asserted himself against Goliath, unwilling to cede to falsehood, insult, or injury. By felling the fearsome giant with a primitive slingshot, David tested science with goodness and brought about Jewish unity.
David also rightly understood that the ruler of a regime must first constitute a people to which the regime would belong. With an impressive display of early modern statecraft, he established his kingdom on the border, between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, both to avoid the appearance of favoritism and to garner broad political support–thereby setting the precedent for three contemporary Western capitals–Washington, DC; Brasilia, BR; and Canberra, AU–which were constructed in accordance with those conditions.
And yet, while the defense of freedom requires precisely that–a rigorous, physical defense–violence is vulgar, so it is an unwelcome house-guest in the spiritual realm. David was disqualified from building the Temple due to his (triumphant) leadership in war. So instead, his son, Solomon, who peacefully deliberated about justice and the common good, faithfully constructed it. By doing so, Solomon formed a harmonious union between nature and political order–and created the capacity for truth to replenish itself.
Anyone who cherishes America, Israel, and the West will appreciate the City of David. By examining the archaeology–and considering the consequences of those ideas and episodes–visitors can benefit from a better understanding of fundamental human decency and work to ensure a manifestly more pleasant world.