The Ancient Modern
A Tale of Jerusalem / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Searching for a way to explain my recent experience traveling in Jerusalem, I landed on the following fairytale-like narrative:
Once upon a time…
…a powerful king amassed a great treasure through his strength and wisdom.
His death being near, the king decided to share his wealth freely among the five cities of his kingdom.
He sent heralds ahead to announce his intention, and proceeded to a central place among the cities: a wide plain through which many roads brought many travelers.
There, the king commanded that chests of gold and casks of wine, jewels and artifacts, tools, books, musical instruments, medicines and great works of art be spread out and given freely to the people.
The king’s treasure was so vast and varied that hundreds of years could pass without its being fully expended. During the king’s last days and for several years after he died, the people came peacefully to seek and claim what they needed or wanted.
After some time, however, disputes began to arise. Gold was prized over silver, rubies over emeralds, large books over small. Fashions and preferences arose. The people began to hoard, then to bargain, then to squabble.
Disputes became skirmishes and skirmishes became wars.
Suddenly, a great war began on the very field where the treasure had been given, and the fighting became so fierce that the treasure itself—still undiminished—was soon buried under fallen soldiers, fortifications, rubble and debris.
No one could get close enough to take what they needed without danger of being caught in the fighting.
The kingdom which had not known poverty for so long found itself divided between those who had access to the treasure and those who did not.
The war continued for so many generations that the treasure itself became a matter of debate and legend. Many explanations for the war—philosophical and economic—were circulated and believed. Various single items were thought to be “the treasure.” Groups, guilds and cults appeared—each claiming “true knowledge” of what really happened.
The economies of the five cities became bound up with the politics of the war and with the increasing scarcity of wealth. The unity of the kingdom was broken as each city defined itself by the wounds and losses it had sustained from the others.
The war continues to the present day.
So much poverty, ignorance and disease could be relieved by the king’s treasure, hindered by violence and buried under layers of history. The treasure has been inaccessible for so many years that most no longer believe such a treasure could ever have existed.
And those who know of the treasure are least likely to share it. In order to share it, they would have to end their war.