Astrolabe N° 12
PhD student in French and Comparative Literature at the Sorbonne University
Gathering by the wailing wall
The Jews of Jerusalem and Western Travellers to the Holy Land (XIXe s.)

Gathering by the Wailing Wall
The Jews of Jerusalem and Western Travellers to the Holy Land (XIXe s.)


William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854), a prolific British artist and an intrepid traveller, visited the Levant on six occasions between 1834 and 1854. Regarded as one of the uncontested leaders of the Romantic Orientalism, Bartlett produced hundreds of drawings and sketches of Biblical scenes and published several illustrated books dedicated to the landscape of the Holy Land (including his personal impressions and historical surveys), such as Walks About the City and Environs of Jerusalem (1844) and Footsteps of our Lord and his Apostles: A Succession of Visits to the Scenes of New Testament Narrative (1852)[1]. During his first extensive tour of Jerusalem in 1842, Bartlett visited the sole surviving remnant of the ramparts of the Jewish Temple, better known as the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall[2]. His painting entitled "Jews' Place of Wailing" shows the remains of an ancient wall made of large irregular stone blocks.


Its general appearance is in contradiction with what is believed to have been the magnificence of Herod's Temple, thus underlining the so-called Jews' fall from grace[3]. Patches of vegetation peek through crevices in the masonry. The shadow of opposite buildings inches up the stones until the wall's right side is in darkness. A lone figure, whose back is turned towards us, stands in prayer at the wall. In the foreground to the right, a predominantly male assembly of Jews wail at the destruction of God's house and plead for its restoration. They are coiffed with broad hats and wear long tunics. Their facial features are blurry, devoid of emotion or depth. While most of the worshippers sit in a crossed-leg position, three individuals - two men, whose body is almost entirely hidden in shadow, and an unveiled woman - stand still, looking directly at us.

One of the engravings in Lands of the Bible by American Biblical scholar and eminent member of the Church of Christ John William McGarvey (1829-1911), who came to Palestine in 1879, has the same touch of decay and death that exudes from Bartlett's print.


Taken from a different angle, it depicts a group of Jews of both sexes facing the wall. All men adopt the traditional Jewish posture of prayer. They display indistinct narrow faces and some of them boast long beards. One single woman is prostrated on the floor, her head covered with a shawl. The stones in the wall look bigger and far more oppressive than in Bartlett's painting[4].

The negative physical characteristics falsely attributed to Jews are more apparent in a print of the Western Wall in Those Holy Fields by British Christian clergyman Samuel Manning (1821-1881).


The worshippers are portrayed in a grotesquely exaggerated manner with long noses, small black eyes and bent backs. Some of them walk unsteadily along the wall, trapped in a ghost-like fashion. A woman, knelt in prayer, presents a unique animal-type facial appearance consisting of prominent jaw line, small nose, arched brow and an open mouth. She seems to be scratching the stone blocks with almost frantic energy. Such physical stereotypes are softened (in a way, they are rendered more attractive) in two paintings by German artist Gustav Bauernfeind (1848-1904), entitled "Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem".


They feature Jews draped in simple robes and head coverings, looking dignified and composed in their emotional distress. Some of them raise their eyes directly towards the top of the wall, as if conversing with God on an equal basis.

Overall, the above paintings label Jews with the stereotypical imagery that had been heaped on their predecessors through the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, ranging from hook-nosed blasphemers to the killers of Christ. As will be explained hereafter, conventional Christian anti-Judaism, impregnated with the racial theories of the time, played a very significant part in the visual and literary representations of the Jewish community of Palestine by nineteenth-century Western travellers. To begin with, the Jewish Quarter (known at the time by the name of Harat-el-Youd), located originally in the southern part of the Old City of Jerusalem, between the foot of Mount Sion and the enclosure of the Dome of the Rock, was commonly pictured as a dirty place, infested with vermin and rodents, as if it continued to bear the traces of the alleged Jews' involvement in the events leading to the death of Jesus[5]. The Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem[6] is one of the first nineteenth-century travel narratives to establish, if a bit vaguely, the link between life in the Jewish area of the Old City and what François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) deems to be the Jews' collective guilt in crucifying Christ: "On the right of the Bazaar, between the Temple and the foot of Mount Sion, we entered the Jews' quarter. Fortified by their indigence, these people withstood the attack of the pacha. Here they appeared covered with rags, seated in the dust of Sion, seeking the vermin which devoured them, and keeping their eyes fixed on the Temple[7]" (Chateaubriand: p. 71). In Parthénon, Pyramides, Saint-Sépulcre, James Condamin (1844-1928), alias J. de Beauregard, reopens the same old wounds by first portraying the Jewish Quarter as a cluster of dark and slippery alleys swarming with "a bunch of stalls, hovels and bloody butcheries" where live "a crowd of tormented people, dressed in rags, whose miserable appearance fills everyone with repugnance and pity[8]" (Beauregard: pp. 152). He then remarks quite candidly that if Palestine Jews are still reduced to extreme poverty it is because of their ancestors' conspiracy against Jesus: "They do not realise that if they are condemned to wandering, cursed, and perpetually odious, it is as a result of the ineffaceable opprobrium of their deicide, and that the blood of the Just, which their forefathers asked, in Pilate's presence, to fall upon them and upon their children, lies heavy upon their heads[9]" (Beauregard: p. 156). As far as André Chevrillon (1864-1957) is concerned, he presents the Jews of Jerusalem in Terres mortes as medieval fossils afflicted with all sorts of infections and diseases, their faces a cadaverous pale[10] (Chevrillon: p. 197).

In addition, it seems that visiting the old Hurva synagogue, built in Jerusalem in the early eighteenth-century, only provided Western travellers with an abundance of clichés and icons, which they regarded as further evidence to support their claims against the Jewish community of Palestine. For example, gazing at the congregation of Jews in the synagogue, Beauregard utters: "Ah! These Jews of Jerusalem, how very Jewish they are![11]" (Beauregard: p. 157). Following his visit to the Jewish House of worship, American Protestant minister William McClure Thomson (1806-1894) points out in The Land and the Book: "I never saw such an assemblage of old, pale, and woe-begone countenances. There is something inexpressibly sad in the features, deportment, and costume of these children of Abraham, as they grope about the ruins of their once joyous city" (Thomson: p. 683). Thomson continues by mocking the behaviour of the worshippers: "The men, with broad-brimmed hats, and whatever other head-dress they possessed, were reading or muttering prayers; and while doing so they twisted, and jerked, and wriggled about incessantly, and at times with great vehemence, that "all their bones should praise the Lord," as one of them explained the matter to me" (Thomson: p. 683). Along the same line, French diplomat and essayist Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé (1848-1910) writes in Voyage au pays du passé:

The room is square and sinister; a few tin lamps suspended from the ceiling, and several benches and desks of Gothic design constitute its sole furniture; some odd volumes of the Bible, the Talmud and the Mishnah [compilations of Jewish Oral Law] lie on a shelf. Four old man sit in front of the desks: I give up describing these pharisaic figures, drowned in their immense white beards and in their fur bonnets, which look as large as parasols; with their heads bent over the Hebrew text, they read out the prophecies about their return to Sion with a guttural modulation, while swinging their heads back and forth[12]. (Vogüé: p. 110)

In the face of the weakening religious observance among emancipated Jews in the great capital cities of Western Europe, the growing number of poor orthodox Ashkenazi Jews from Poland and Russia, who had sought haven in Palestine since the first half of the nineteenth century, seemed, as far as many Western travellers were concerned, to be reaching out of the hundreds of books and pamphlets where all Jews were unjustly stigmatised because of their supposed physical characteristics and in which their religious garments, rituals and learning were severely condemned. In other words, it is manifest from popular travel writings about the Holy Land in the nineteenth-century that most of the narrators refer to the Rabbinic Jews of Palestine as the personification of the much-derided Pharisees (a Jewish school of thought that gained prominence during the Second Temple) whom Jesus rebuked openly for their hypocrisy and false piety. For instance, according to Edouard Schuré (1841-1929), the Jews of Jerusalem have "superb heads of usurers and Pharisees[13]" (Schuré: p. 325), while Gabriel Charmes (1850-1886) deplores the fact that the Holy City is once again "the prey of Pharisees and merchants[14]" (Charmes: p. 53).

These tendencies were less obvious in the perception of the largely assimilated Jews of Western Europe (who were regarded as "less picturesque" than their Palestinian brothers), which mainly gravitated towards the end of the nineteenth century around the pseudo-scientific doctrines of racial anti-Semitism and the so-called Jewish conspiracies for world domination[15]. In fact, as has already been suggested, the very existence of Jews in Palestine was viewed not so much in terms of the myth of inordinate financial and political power, but rather as the fulfilment of various prophecies in the Old and the New Testaments about the destruction of Israel and the persecution of the Jewish people[16]. By way of illustration, this is how Irish surgeon William Robert Wills Wilde (1815-1876), father of Oscar Wilde, explains it in Narrative of a Voyage to Madeira, Teneriffe, and along the Shores of the Mediterranean:

This extraordinary people, the favoured of the Lord, the descendants of the patriarchs and prophets, and the aristocracy of the earth, are to be seen in Jerusalem to greater advantage, and under an aspect, and in a character totally different from that which they present in any other place on the face of the globe. In other countries the very name of Jew has associated with it cunning, deceit, usury, traffic, and often wealth. But here, in addition to the usual degradation and purchased suffering of a despised, stricken, outcast race, they bend under extreme poverty, and wear the aspect of a weeping and a mourning people; lamenting over their fallen greatness as a nation, and over the prostrate grandeur of their once proud city. (Wilde: pp. 358-359)

Based on the same notion of a purposeful Jewish existence in Palestine, Chateaubriand sees in what he calls the "character of a miracle" (Chateaubriand: p. 162) surrounding the Jews' survival in the Holy Land an educative force of immense significance for those Christians who have lacked the discipline or have turned away from Catholicism: Beware now ye unfaithful or you will end up like the Jews! Chateaubriand writes: "To see the Jews, scattered over the whole world, according to the word of God, must doubtless excite surprise: but to be struck with supernatural astonishment, you must view them at Jerusalem; you must behold these rightful masters of Judea, living as slaves and strangers in their own country[17]" (Chateaubriand: p. 162). And he concludes: "Crushed by the cross that condemns them and is planted on their heads, skulking near the Temple, of which not one stone is left upon another, they continue in their deplorable infatuation[18]" (Chateaubriand: p. 162). Likewise, during his tour of the Sorrowful Way in Jerusalem, Xavier Marmier (1808-1892) uses the aged-old theme of the "Wandering Jew", based on the medieval folklore of a Jew who, having offended Jesus on his way to the crucifixion, is doomed to wander on earth till the Second Advent of Christ, as a metaphor for the divine punishment that was allegedly decreed upon the Jewish people (Marmier: p. 83). Marmier is not the only writer to draw the line between the deterioration of living conditions in the Jewish Quarter and the "Wandering Jew". Among the Western travellers who took on this legend in the nineteenth century, Mark Twain is arguably the most famous and influential one, although the latter did not necessarily use it for the same purpose as Marmier[19].

However, as hinted above, the place that was both celebrated and scorned as the ultimate embodiment of the "sinful Jews" - forced to live in fear and wander without hope of rest - was the Wailing Wall. Not only was it part of the usual Holy Land circuit in the nineteenth century, but also, under the influence of the Age of Romanticism, many Western travellers were drawn during Friday prayers to what they perceived as the melancholic nature of the last remaining section of Herod's Temple. American William Cowper Prime (1825-1905) writes in Tent Life in the Holy Land: "Some kissed the rocky wall with fervent lips, some knelt and pressed their foreheads to it, and some prayed in silent, speechless grief, while tears fell like rain-drops before them" (Prime: p. 139). Prime further probes: "I was deeply moved, as one might well be in the presence of this sad assembly; the last representatives, near the site of their ancient temple, of those who once thronged its glorious courts and offered sacrifices to the God who has so long withdrawn his countenance from the race" (Prime: p. 139). Similarly, upon visiting the Western Wall, the Count of Chambord (1820-1883), rightful Bourbon heir to the throne of France, cannot remain indifferent to the Jews' sorrows: "For the first time in my life, Jews trigger in me feelings of commiseration and respect. They appear confident [in their beliefs] and deeply afflicted[20]" (Chambord: p. 181). Vogüé says: "An ineffable pity seizes the spectator at the sight of the eternal misfortune and unfailing patriotism [of the Jews], [...] The heart is sorrowful and the reason is confused[21]" (Vogüé: p. 210). Princess Christina Belgiojoso-Trivulzi (1808-1871) acknowledges that the "custom [of wailing at the wall] holds a genuinely sad feeling[22]" (Belgiojoso-Trivulzi: p. 215). While questioning the sincerity of their wailing, Free Church of Scotland minister Robert Buchanan (1802-1875) also allows himself to be deeply touched by the plight of the Jewish mourners: "Be it so, that in all this there is much that is formal and mechanical - an affectation of grief in which the heart has little share; [...] how eloquent nevertheless it is! How full of solemn meaning and true pathos to every thoughtful mind!" (Buchanan: p. 215).

Other travellers express in their narratives rage and disgust at the sight of the observant Jews praying at the Wailing Wall. For example, Beauregard notes with disdain: "Blind men! They do not understand that each page of their Holy Book contains the history of their condemnation[23]" (Beauregard: pp. 155-156). Julien Viaud (1850-1923), known as Pierre Loti, has some harsh words in Jerusalem about the assembly of Jews in front of the wall on a Friday afternoon. Here is an extract[24], to give something of the flavour of his discourse:

It is Friday evening, the traditional moment when, every week, the Jews come to weep in a special place granted by the Turks, on the ruins of Solomon's Temple, which "will never be rebuilt". And we want to pass, before nightfall, through this place of Lamentations. After the empty ground, we now reach narrow alleys, strewn with rubbish, and finally, a sort of enclosure, full of the stirrings of a strange crowd that moans together in a low, cadenced voice. The dim twilight is already beginning. The background of this place, surrounded by sombre walls, is closed, crushed by a formidable Solomonic construction, a fragment of the Temple enclosure, all in huge, identical blocks. And men in long velvet robes, agitated by a kind of general rocking back and forth, like caged bears, appear to us seen from their backs, facing this immense ruin, tapping their foreheads on these stones and murmuring a kind of slightly quavering chant[25] (Loti: pp. 104-105).

Notice how Loti clearly asserts that the Jewish Temple will never rise again. A closer reading of the above paragraph reveals that Loti made a few mistakes in describing the Wailing Wall. Chief among them is his remark about the Solomonic nature of the construction. As has already been noted, the Western Wall is the last surviving part of the encircling ramparts and towers built by Herod (not by Solomon) to protect the Temple. As for the worshippers at the wall, Loti says: "The faces, which make a half-turn to examine us, are almost all of a special ugliness, of an ugliness to make one shiver: so thin, so slender, so sly, with such small eyes, sly and tearful, under the fall of dead eyelids! White and pink hues of unwholesome wax and, on all ears, corkscrews of hair which hang in the "English" fashion of 1830, completing disturbing resemblances to bearded old ladies[26] (Loti: p. 105).

However, in spite of his evident disdain for Palestine Jews, watching them praying, singing and crying at the Western Wall arouses controversial feelings in Loti: "As such, these people's devotion to their lost homeland, after so many incredible misfortunes and centuries of dispersion, is touching and admira[27]ble" (Loti: p. 107). Nevertheless, even when Loti offers what may appear like a kind-hearted gesture towards Jews, he does so within the denigrating bounds of racism: "One could almost cry with them, - if they were not Jews (Loti's emphasis), and if the heart were not strangely frozen by all their wretched figures[28]" (Loti: p. 107). Likewise, Léonie de Bazelaire, on the one hand, attacks the Jews, by calling them a "deicide people" and by deriding their "bony, livid figures" (Bazelaire: p. 106), and, on the other hand, she shows compassion towards what she refers to as a people "without a homeland, with neither an altar, nor a king, wandering, cursed across the surface of the earth, and shedding tears on the fragments of Solomon's wall, which forms their only heritage[29]" (Bazelaire: p. 155).

Nonetheless, while drawing on the racial theories of the late nineteenth century, the "Jewish discourse" articulated by Western travellers, such as Beauregard, Loti and Bazelaire, hardly ever embraced the doctrines of secular anti-Semitism (as professed in the nineteenth century by Wilhelm Marr, Eugen Karl Dühring, Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Edouard Drumont, to name only few) that was to be found in abundance in Europe and the United States in the years preceding World War II, according to which neither assimilation nor conversion could resolve the "Jewish problem". On the contrary, exploring the Middle East primarily out of religious motives and being, for the most part, fervent Christian themselves, nineteenth-century Western travellers did consider the conversion of Jews as a whole, and of the Jewish population of Palestine in particular, as a means to the accomplishment of the Second Coming of Christ on the Day of Judgement. Some visitors to the Holy Land, like Bazelaire, merely pointed to the necessity of such an action, without expressly calling for it: "Will you [the Jews] carry on like this until the end of time, blinded by the sun, obstinate, hardened by the whip of punishment ?[30]" (Bazelaire: p. 106). Others, spurred on by the urgency of the task, "welcomed" Jews in the grace of Jesus with open arms. Such is the case of the Countess of Gasparin (1813-1894) who, after the conversion ceremony of a Jewish butcher from Jerusalem, notes in her Journal d'un voyage au Levant, basing her commentary on Jeremiah 46: 28 and Zechariah 8: 23: "Upon seeing this son of Abraham receiving the true faith of the patriarch, I told myself: perhaps the day is not far when Israel will look towards the One they once nailed [on the cross]; the time comes when the nations that have persecuted the Jews will be destroyed by the vengeful Lord, when ten men of all languages will hold firmly on the skirt of a Jew to be saved[31]" (Gasparin: tome III, p. 241).

Yet nowhere is the preaching for the proselytization of Jews more evident that within certain Evangelical and Protestant circles, mainly in England and the United States. Unlike the efforts of some statesmen and scholars who favoured the restoration of a Jewish state in Palestine under the guidance of the West, the Evangelicals advocated the Jews' return to the Holy Land and their large-scale conversion as part of a "peaceful crusade" or, to put it simply, a gradual non-violent Christian victory over all other faiths (Shepherd: p. 229). For this purpose was created in 1809 the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, whose founding members were selected from the ranks of the leading aristocratic families in England. At first, the London Society concentrated its efforts on the Jewish inhabitants of the London area, but, in the 1830s, it decided to extend progressively its activities to Palestine. In October 1833 was established the first London Mission opposite the Tower of David in Jerusalem by Reverend John Nicolayson (1803-1856), a Danish national who came to the Holy Land in 1826. In order to attract the Jewish masses, the London Mission promoted the construction of churches, schools and modern hospitals. In 1842 was created the Anglo-Prussian Protestant bishopric in Palestine, whose first Bishop was the converted Jew Michael Solomon Alexander, son of a Jewish Rabbi. The London Society's activities inspired other initiatives, such as the establishment of an American colony near Jaffa by a group of Methodists and Millenarians from Maine in 1866, taken over by German Templars from the Duchy of Swebia in 1871 and turned into an efficient agricultural settlement called Sarona[32] (other German colonies were founded in the vicinity of Haifa and Jerusalem in 1868).

Notwithstanding its proselyte efforts, the London Society did not yield satisfactory results, converting only 600 Palestine Jews throughout the nineteenth century (Perry: p. 208). Nevertheless, it did have a major impact on the literary representation of the Jewish community of the Holy Land during that period. Indeed, from 1840 onwards, many Western travellers, especially those of Protestant background, had incorporated the ideas and concerns of the London Society, regarding the conversion of Jews as the ultimate solution to the "Jewish problem". Hence, when Lady Francis Egerton (1800-1866), who visited the Holy Land in 1840, makes the acquaintance of a converted Prussian Jew and member of the London Mission, she declares that she "cannot think the Jews will be restored as a nation, until they are converted to the Christian faith" (Egerton: p. 22). Yet she quickly admits: "Comparatively speaking, no one is converted, though there is a Jewish mission established in Jerusalem for the purpose" (Egerton: p. 22). Fully aware of the slow progress in evangelism made by the London Mission of Palestine and of the rejection awaiting converted Jews within their own community, Elizabeth Finn (1825-1921), wife of British Consul of Jerusalem James Finn (1806-1872), expresses her admiration for those Jews who dare to abandon their faith in favour of Christianity:

It must be a terrible moment to a Jew, when the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, forces itself upon him, and when all the agonising consequences that must follow this conviction rush upon his mind, - anger, scorn, contempt and finally separation from the friends of his youth; the grief and keen distress inflicted upon them; and, for himself, no prospect but to go out from among his kindred, among strangers, penniless and friendless. (Finn: pp. 75-76)

Finn concludes by reflecting on the religious belief of her fellow coreligionists: "Could our own faith in Christianity bear such a test as this? Thank God that it has never been tried!" (Finn: p. 76).

Following his meeting with Reverend John Nicolayson, chaplain to the first London Mission, Wilde points out: "Missionary labour must ever proceed slowly among the Jews in Jerusalem. And although I do not see that Scripture warrants the belief that the Israelites will be converted as a nation till after their restoration; yet some have come out and embraced Christianity in despite of the persecution which they knew awaited them from their brethren" (Wilde: p. 378). In light of the evangelical vocation of the London Mission, Wilde not only saw the Western Wall as a symbol of disgrace, like many of his contemporaries, but also as a transitional phase from destitution to independence, should the Jews have decided to embrace the gospel of Christ. He argued that the time was rapidly approaching when, notwithstanding their hardship and tears, the Jews would be delivered by the Lord and be given the Promised Land:

At all hours, late and early, there were they [the Jews] to be found; some sitting and rocking backwards and forwards, praying in a low wailing tone, their faces turned towards the east; others standing motionless, and gazing intently upon the solid wall, their arms devoutly crossed upon their breast, and tear chasing tear down the creek of many a silver-breaded patriarch; others whispering into its crevices, or kissing its sacred stones. [...] The question of Sanballat rose to my lips, "what do these feeble Jews? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burnt." (Neh. iv. 2) But the voice of the Psalmist answered me, "Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof." (Ps. cii. 13, 14.). (Wilde: pp. 251-252)

Wilde further believed that in order to preach effectively and avoid the hostility of the Jews, missionaries should learn the Hebrew language and be well versed with the Jewish traditions (Wilde: p. 380). In Christian Researches in Syria and the Holy Land in 1823 & 1824, Reverend William Jowett (1787-1855), member of the Church Missionary Society, also underlines the importance of the chameleonic qualities of the missionary: "Let a missionary to the Jews settle in Jerusalem [...] let him to the Jews become as a Jew - they will then love him, for his sympathy; understand him, for his resemblance to them; and for his self-devotedness, put faith in him and in his words" (Jowett: p. 322).

In conclusion, the representation of Palestine Jews by Western travellers to the Holy Land is far more ambivalent than may appear at first sight, structured around a perpetual conflict between opposites. Indeed, while giving voice to a mixture of theological anti-Judaism (exacerbated by the religious fervour pervading in Jerusalem at the time) and the emerging racial ideologies of the late nineteenth century to describe the Jewish Quarter and its inhabitants in a very negative way, travellers' hatred of the Jews, as far as some of them were concerned, had gradually grown into a stronger feeling of sympathy towards those historically blamed for the death of Christ. This "doublespeak game" became more pronounced as Evangelical and Protestant bodies, in accordance to their interpretations of certain Biblical prophecies, increased their proselyte activities in Palestine from the 1840s onwards. Within this context of potential mass Jewish conversion to Christianity and Messianic expectations, the Wailing Wall, branded by many travellers as the symbol of God's chosen people's despair and isolation, was also conceived as the bridge between Judaism and Christianity, or, to put it differently, as the prophetic gathering point for all Jews in the land of their ancestors, paving the way for the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.

Guy Galaska

  1. ^ For more information on the life and works of William Henry Bartlett, see: Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Painting the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century, Jerusalem, Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1997, Chapter IV, pp. 80-95; Alexander M. Ross, William Henry Bartlett: Artist, Author and Traveller, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1973.
  2. ^ The First Temple (in Hebrew, Beit ha-Midkash) was erected on Mount Temple in order to serve as the central place of worship for the Israelites by King Solomon in the 10th century bce. Solomon's Temple was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Among other treasures, it housed a seven-branched candelabrum. Salomon's Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 bce and rebuilt upon the same site around 515 bce after the Israelites' return from exile. The Second Temple was subsequently renovated by King Herod the Great in 20 bce and, following the Jewish rebellion against Rome, was razed to the ground by the legions of Titus in 70 ce. For further information, see: Natan Schur, History of the Holy Land, Tel-Aviv, Natan Schur and Dvir, Publishing House, 1998, pp. 59-141.
  3. ^ A thorough description of Herod's Temple is given by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce: "As to the holy house itself, which was placed in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple, it was ascended to by twelve steps; and in front its height and its breadth were equal, and each a hundred cubits, though it was behind forty cubits narrower; for on its front it had what may be styled shoulders on each side, that passed twenty cubits further. Its first gate was seventy cubits high, and twenty-five cubits broad; but this gate had no doors; for it represented the universal visibility of heaven, and that it cannot be excluded from any place. Its front was covered with gold all over, and through it the first part of the house, that was more inward, did all of it appear; which, as it was very large, so did all the parts about the more inward gate appear to shine to those that saw them; but then, as the entire house was divided into two parts within, it was only the first part of it that was open to our view. Its height extended all along to ninety cubits in height, and its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty. [...] Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white" (Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews or The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, translated by William Whiston, 1737, Book V,
  4. ^ With respect to the Jews, McGarvey adds the following note to the engraving: "No doubt many of these unhappy people mourn as much over their individual sorrows as over the national calamities of which they read; but that there is much genuine lamentation among them is attested by all travellers who have witnessed the scene. When the author was there, out of the two or three hundred persons present, much the greater part appeared to be deeply absorbed in the services which had brought them together, and many of both sexes were weeping freely, with streams of tears flowing down their cheeks. They still look forward to the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom of David, and they continue to offer prayers that cannot be heard because they are not offered in the only name by which man can now draw near to God. They pray, too, for that which has already been given them and rejected, under the mistaken belief that it is yet to come" (John William McGarvey, Lands of the Bible. A Geographical and Topographical Description of Palestine, with Letters of Travel in Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co., pp. 187-188).
  5. ^ In western travellers' defence, it should be noted that the small Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem was densely populated in the nineteenth century, a fact that, coupled with the oppression of Jews under the Muslim regime, greatly contributed to the deterioration of the living conditions of its inhabitants. According to Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, the Jewish population of Jerusalem grew from 2,000 (out of 8,750) at the beginning of the nineteenth-century to around 25,000 (out of 42,000) in 1890. Following a few waves of expansions inside the enclosed city, it was only in the 1860s that new Jewish neighbourhoods began to appear in the immediate vicinity of the Old City (Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, "The Growth of Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century", in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 65, n° 2, June 1975, pp. 262-266). For further information, see: Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century, Emergence of the New City, Jerusalem, Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1986; Ben-Zion Gat, The Jewish Community in Palestine During the Years 1840-1880, Jerusalem, Rehavia School, 1963; Michael Dumper, "Israeli Settlement in the Old City of Jerusalem", in Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 21, n° 4, Summer 1992, pp. 32-53; Renée Neher-Bernheim, La vie juive en Terre sainte 1517-1918, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 2001;
  6. ^ The extracts hereafter are taken from the English translation of the Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem by Frederic Shoberl published under the title The Travels to Jerusalem and the Holy Land through Egypt, London, Henry Colburn, vol. II, 1835. Please note that unless indicated otherwise, all other quoted passages from French travel narratives are my own translations from the original French into English.
  7. ^ "A la droite du Bazar, entre le Temple et le pied de la montagne de Sion, nous entrâmes dans le quartier des Juifs. Ceux-ci, fortifiés par leur misère, avaient bravé l'assaut du pacha : ils étaient là tous en guenilles, assis dans la poussière de Sion, cherchant les insectes qui les dévoraient, et les yeux attachés sur le Temple".
  8. ^ "Dans ces ruelles glissantes, où pénètre tout juste assez de lumière pour y voir à peu près se conduire, au milieu d'un ramassis d'échoppes, de bouges, de boucheries sanglantes, vit entassée, aux pieds de la mosquée d'Omar, ou "Haram ech Chérif", une cohue loqueteuse et souffrante, dont l'aspect minable inspire tout ensemble le dégoût et la pitié".
  9. ^ "Ils ne sentent donc pas que, s'ils sont errants, et maudits, et perpétuellement odieux, c'est qu'ils portent au front l'opprobre ineffaçable de leur déicide, et qu'il pèse implacable, sur leur tête, le sang du Juste que leurs pères ont, chez Pilate, souhaité de voir retomber sur eux et sur leurs enfants !"
  10. ^ "Là-dedans une cohue puante, souffrante, loqueteuse, scrofuleuse, anémiée par la vie à l'ombre, des yeux enflammés ou chassieux, des teins malsains, presque translucides à force de pâleur, et les vieux costumes des juifs du Moyen Age".
  11. ^ "Oh! ces Juifs de Jérusalem, combien ils sont Juifs !"
  12. ^ "La salle, carrée et sombre, a pour tout meuble et ornement quelques lampes d'étain suspendues au plafond, des bancs et des pupitres de forme gothique ; sur un rayon, des tomes dépareillés de la Bible, du Talmud, de la Mishna. Devant les pupitres, quatre vieillards sont assis : je renonce à décrire ces figures pharisaïques, noyées dans leurs immenses barbes blanches et dans les ailes de bonnets de fourrure larges comme des parasols ; courbés sur le texte d'hébreu, ils épellent avec une modulation gutturale et un balancement de tête rythmé les versés des prophètes qui leur promettent le rétablissement de Sion".
  13. ^ "Il y a là de superbes têtes d'usuriers et de pharisiens".
  14. ^ "Aujourd'hui, comme jadis, la ville sainte est livrée aux pharisiens et aux marchands".
  15. ^ See: Emmanuel Haymann, L'antisémitisme en littérature. Pour en finir avec les clichés, les préjugés ou la haine, Lausanne, Favre, 2006, pp. 195-212 ; Michel Winock, La France et les Juifs, de 1789 à nos jours, Paris, Editions du Seuil, coll. Histoire, 2004, pp. 83-131.
  16. ^ Western travellers frequently referred to the prophecies found in Leviticus 26: 31-32, Deuteronomy 28: 49-52 and 29: 23, Ezekiel 22: 14-15, Isaiah 64: 9-12, Daniel 9: 26, Hosea 2: 4-5, Micah 3: 11-12, Matthew 24: 1-2, Luke 21:24 For further information, see:
  17. ^ "Quand on voit les Juifs dispersés sur la terre, selon la parole de Dieu, on est surpris sans doute : mais, pour être frappé d'un étonnement surnaturel, il faut les retrouver à Jérusalem ; il faut voir ces légitimes maîtres de la Judée esclaves et étrangers dans leur propre pays".
  18. ^ "Ecrasés par la Croix qui les condamne, et qui est plantée sur leurs têtes, cachés près du temple dont il ne reste pas pierre sur pierre, ils demeurent dans leur déplorable aveuglement".
  19. ^ Twain says about the Wandering Jew that "he has speculated some in cholera and railroads, and has taken almost a lively interest in infernal machines and patent medicines" (Twain: p. 389). He later adds: "Then he collects his rent and leaves again" (Twain: p. 390). These statements reinforce the widespread perception of Jews as usurers and moneylenders who will resort to all methods and evil doings in order to increase their fortune.
  20. ^ "C'est peut-être la seule fois de ma vie que les juifs m'ont inspiré un sentiment de commisération et une sorte de respect. Ils paraissent convaincus et profondément affligés".
  21. ^ "Une indicible pitié saisit le spectateur à la vue de cette éternelle infortune, de ce patriotisme sans défaillance, [...] Le cœur se serre et la raison est confondue".
  22. ^ "Il y a dans cette coutume un sentiment vrai et touchant".
  23. ^ "Les aveugles! Ils ne voient donc pas que le livre sacré qu'ils feuillettent porte, inscrite à chaque page, l'histoire de leur condamnation!"
  24. ^ The English translation of the two following extracts (from Jérusalem by Pierre Loti) are taken from "Pierre Loti's Observations of Jerusalem & the Jews there, 1984":
  25. ^ "C'est vendredi soir, le moment traditionnel où chaque semaine, les Juifs vont pleurer, en un lieu spécial concédé par les Turcs, sur les ruines de ce temple de Salomon, qui "ne sera jamais rebâti". Et nous voulons passer, avant la nuit, par cette place des Lamentations. Après les terrains vides, nous atteignons maintenant d'étroites ruelles, jonchées d'immondices, et enfin une sorte d'enclos, rempli du remuement d'une foule étrange qui gémit ensemble à voix basse et cadencée. Déjà commence le vague crépuscule. Le fond de cette place, entourée de sombres murs, est fermé, écrasé par une formidable construction salomonienne, un fragment de l'enceinte du Temple, tout en blocs monstrueux et pareils. Et des hommes en longues robes de velours, agités d'une sorte de dandinement général comme les ours des cages, nous apparaissent là vus de dos, faisant face à ce débris gigantesque, heurtant du front ces pierres et murmurant une sorte de mélopée tremblante".
  26. ^ "Les visages, qui se détournent à demi pour nous examiner, sont presque tous d'une laideur spéciale, d'une laideur à donner le frisson: si minces, si effilés, si chafouins, avec de si petits yeux sournois et larmoyants, sous des retombées de paupières mortes".
  27. ^ "En soi, cela est touchant et sublime; après tant de malheurs inouïs, après tant de siècles et de dispersion, l'attachement de ce peuple à une patrie perdue".
  28. ^ "Pour un peu on pleurerait avec eux, - si ce n'étaient des Juifs, et si on ne se sentait le cœur étrangement glacé par toutes leurs abjectes figures".
  29. ^ "Pauvre peuple sans patrie, sans autel et sans roi, errant, maudit sur toute la surface du globe, et qui baigne de larmes un pan de mur de Salomon, seul héritage qui lui reste".
  30. ^ "Iras-tu ainsi jusqu'à la fin du monde, aveugle devant le soleil, obstiné, endurci sous le fouet du châtiment ?"
  31. ^ "En voyant ce fils d'Abraham entrer dans la véritable postérité du patriarche, je me disais : le temps approche peut-être, où Israël retournera vers Celui qu'il a percé ; le temps vient où les nations qui ont persécuté les Juifs seront exterminés par l'Eternel vengeur, où dix hommes de toutes langues empoigneront et tiendront ferme le pan de la robe d'un Juif pour être sauvés".
  32. ^ Laurence Oliphant, the famous British diplomat and mystic, who settled with his wife in the Haifa area from 1882 to 1886, records in Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine: "Not only did they [the German Templars] persevere with the most unflinching resolution at Haifa, but extended their operations to Jaffa, where at that time a colony of American Adventists, whom some of your readers may remember, and who had emigrated there about twenty years ago, was in process of dissolution. Purchasing the remains of their settlement, a new group of the Temple Society established themselves there. Since then two more colonies have been formed, one at Sarona, about an hour distant from Jaffa, and one in the immediate neighbourhood of Jerusalem, where the leader, Mr. Hoffman, at present resides" (Laurence Oliphant, Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine, London, William Blackwood and Sons, 1887. pp. 19-20).

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Référence électronique
Guy GALAZKA, « GATHERING BY THE WAILING WALL », Astrolabe [En ligne], Avril 2007, mis en ligne le 26/07/2018, URL :