02 August 2009
Holy Fire and Saving the Holy Sepulchre
These are both about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but they're about as different as two books on the same topic can be. I enjoyed the second, but thought the first wasn't so great. Both had a lot more detail than I wanted.
Holy Fire is a more general history of the Church and if you haven't ever read much about the Church, this would be an interesting way to learn more. But I thought the book was uneven and disorganized. Yes, it was basically chronological, but I felt like the author just threw in whatever she wanted even if it didn't really fit it. This was particularly true at the end of the book when she spent a long time writing about Christan Zionists. What they have to do with the Holy Sepulchre, I don't know, but they get a lot of space. After getting through the book, I felt negative about the Church and the Christianity in general. I almost felt the author had an agenda, and even though I almost entirely agreed with her agenda, this book just really didn't work for me. I had been very much looking forward to reading it because there isn't a lot out there for the general public about the Holy Sepulchre (and this is definitely for the general public- the author assumes the reader knows absolutely nothing about the Holy Sepulchre and to a large extent, recent history).
Saving the Holy Sepulchre was a lot better, if awfully detailed. Cohen writes that he didn't set out to write a book on this particular topic relating to the Holy Sepulchre, but this is the story he found (a major difference between these two books- the author of the other wrote exactly the book she set out to write). This is the 50-years and more tale of the difficult negotiations regarding the reconstruction of the Church last century. There are so many reasons why it was so very difficult and Cohen explains everything so well and was so even-handed. I was very impressed. And when you're done? You're left with a very positive feeling about the Church. Recommended, even if you skim some.