American History & Jewish History Blog

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1886
May 31, 2023

Napoleon: The Original Fake News

It’s widely acknowledged that Napoleon was the first modern leader to make substantial and systemic use of propaganda that is recognizable to a modern audience. The massive portraits depicting Napoleon as emperor, ancient warrior, and Christ-like healer remain timeless testaments to Napoleon’s authorship of his own image. It comes as no surprise that Napoleon also controlled the press and censored the performing arts and literary publications in order to maintain the narrative that he wished his citizens-subjects to retain. Of all of Napoleon’s disinformation campaigns, the most brazen continues to dazzle today: his Egyptian campaign.  

Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign lasted just over three years (1798-1801) and took place before he crowned himself emperor in 1804. And yet, the patently false claims he made about it prove that not only was he a manipulator well before seizing power, but that he was so masterful at it that most people associate Napoleon’s Egypt expedition with the Rosetta Stone and the establishment of the Institut d’Égypte – the research facility in which the 160 savants who accompanied Napoleon studied and disseminated their findings on Egypt. 

Acre was the location in which Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign unraveled in May of 1799. Napoleon attacked the Ottoman city twelve times, only to ultimately lift the siege, but not without first losing 2,300 men, with another 2,200 ill and wounded. And yet, he spun the retreat to the remaining men in a ludicrously baldfaced manner in a bulletin, for all to see. He began with bombastic praise and appraisal of the triumphs of the Grand Armée: “Soldiers: You have traversed the desert which separates Asia from Africa, with the rapidity of an Arab force. The army, which was on its march to invade Egypt, is destroyed. You have taken its general, its field-artillery, camels, and baggage. You have captured all the fortified posts, which secure the wells of the desert. You have dispersed, at Mount Tabor, those swarms of brigands, collected from all parts of Asia, hoping to share the plunder of Egypt. The thirty ships, which twelve days since you saw enter the port of Acre, were destined for an attack upon Alexandria. But you compelled them to hasten to the relief of Acre.”

Napoleon tries to convince his remaining men that their comrades fell, and they sacrificed so much not for the pointless failure at Acre, but rather in order to keep Alexandria secure. Napoleon used words and hope in order to combat the futility, rotting corpses, and thirst that his men were facing. He continues to assure his men about their key role in maintaining French occupation of Egypt, and recounts the successes of the campaign: “Several of their standards will contribute to adorn your triumphal entry into Egypt. After having maintained the war with a handful of men, during three months, in the heart of Syria, taken forty pieces of cannon, fifty stands of colors, six thousand prisoners, and captured or destroyed the fortifications of Gaza, Jaffa, and Acre, we prepare to return to Egypt, where, by a threatened invasion, our presence is imperiously demanded. A few days longer might give you the hope of taking the Pacha in his palace.”

Napoleon doesn’t concede to his own men that they are in retreat. He depicts the battle at Acre as either a triumph in the category of the battles at Jaffa and Gaza, or as a battle that’s within their reach but for the fact that they are needed back in Egypt. Plus, it’s too hot and they are needed elsewhere: “But at this season the palace of Acre is not worth the loss of three days, nor the loss of those brave soldiers who would consequently fall, and who are necessary for more essential services. Soldiers, we have yet a toilsome and a perilous task to perform. After having by this campaign secured ourselves from attacks from the eastward, it will perhaps be necessary to repel the efforts which may be made from the west.” [1] Yet, Napoleon’s downplaying of his losses at Acre was not readily accepted by everyone. 

Hannah Cowley (1743-1809), a preeminent British playwright (and less successful poet) summed up what everyone, even Napoleon’s men, knew, in her introduction to an epic poem she wrote celebrating the victory of Sir Sidney Smith and the British over Napoleon’s forces at Acre: “This Poem celebrates one of the most important Events of the French Expedition under General Bonaparte to Egypt and Asia-the effectual stop put to their progress, through British aid, at Acre.”[2]

Of course, Napoleon’s men were used to being lied to. The phrase “to lie like a bulletin,” was pretty common in French slang at the time, as it was so ingrained how untruthful Napoleon’s bulletins were. The unfortunate man who Napoleon left in charge of the army in Egypt when he fled to France, was General Jean-Baptiste Kléber. For years, Kléber put up with Napoleon’s idiosyncrasies, but when Napoleon asked his deputy to meet him at the Rosetta Stone only to stand him up and flee to France, Kléber was livid: “That bugger has deserted us with his breeches full of shit. When we get back to Europe we’ll rub his face in it.”[3]

Kléber was referring to the debacle of a campaign of which he was now at the helm. Depending on which unofficial estimate you believe, of the 38,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors who went with Napoleon to Egypt, less than half would survive the campaign, Kléber included. But the public knew very little of the reality. Acre, Napoleon’s first Waterloo, for lack of a better idiom, was trumpeted as a success to the unsuspecting French public.  Of course, it helped that Napoleon forbade any mention of Sidney Smith in French newspapers, and that he timed his return to follow the bulletin reporting on his (actual) victory at Aboukir.[4]

Following Napoleon’s return to France, the Coup of 18 Brumaire brought Napoleon to power in November of 1799. His troops would still languish in Egypt for another two years. Acre, where it all fell apart, and which Napoleon claimed to have  “bombarded the city in such a manner that not one stone remains in its place,” actually prospered for another three decades. When Napoleon and his men had departed Toulon for Egypt only a year and a half earlier, he had promised each man who returned six acres of land presumably in whatever part of Europe they would conquer next. But by then, half were dead, and the other, withering in the desert amidst hostile enemies, probably never wanted to hear the word “acre” again. But that hardly mattered. France was now in the throes of Egyptmania, entranced by its conquering hero, and soon-to-be Emperor, as he airbrushed his defeat at Acre aside and turned to plunging Europe into chaos for the next decade and a half.


  2.  From the preface to The Siege of Acre: A Poem in Four Books, by Hannah Cowley, G. Wilkie and J. Robinson, London, 1810 
  3. Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon: A Life. Penguin Books, 2015, p.201. Andrews continues “That pleasure was denied him, for in June 1800 a twenty-four-year-old student named Soliman stabbed him to death (Soliman was executed with a pike driven into his rectum up to his breast.).” 
  4. Holtman, Robert, Napoleonic Propaganda, Louisiana State University Press,1950 See pages 54 and 187 
  5.  General Correspondence of Napoleon vol. V, 428
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Smith Leading the Defence of Acre, from Cassell's Illustrated History of England, 1865, Public Domain
May 2, 2023

The Rivalry Between Napoleon and Britain’s Most Famous Admiral You’ve Never Heard of

On May 20th, 1799, in the city of Acre (currently Akko, Israel), Napoleon was handed his first defeat, the likes of which would not be seen again until he was routed at Waterloo in 1815. Acre and Waterloo are, in a sense, bookends of Napoleon’s eighty-battle career: Acre signaled the demise of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, and with it, his earlier ambitions for an empire in the Middle East, while Waterloo famously ended Napoleon’s autocratic reign as Emperor of France and much of Europe. Yet, like a snake shedding its skin, Napoleon slunk away from the Egyptian campaign immediately following the debacle at Acre. He then returned to France, spinning his dismal failure at Acre as a victory, and was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Less than a month later, he was First Consul of France – effectively an autocrat. 

Lost to most of history is the importance of Acre in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the man who vanquished Napoleon at Acre: Sir William Sidney Smith. An established, years-long antipathy between these men contributed to the uniqueness of the Acre fiasco and would continue to haunt Napoleon for years to come. 

Six years before they faced off at the Siege of Acre, Napoleon and Smith crossed paths at the  Siege of Toulon in 1793, where both Smith and Napoleon made a name for themselves. Napoleon, then a 24-year-old artillery colonel in the service of the French Republic, brilliantly forced the Royalists and their British allies at Toulon to capitulate, making the siege a successful one. He was promoted to brigadier-general for his contributions. Sidney Smith was four years older than Napoleon and had made his name in the Royal Navy, primarily fighting in the American Revolutionary War. He had achieved the rank of lieutenant by the age of sixteen and was a captain before leaving the Royal Navy and serving as the principal naval advisor to Sweden’s King Gustav III. Gustav III also awarded Smith a knighthood for his service. When the Siege of Toulon was underway, Smith wasn’t even serving in the navy, yet he aided the evacuation of the Royalists and the British by destroying half the French fleet. He was captured and sent to the Temple Prison in Paris.

According to the norms of the day (and especially since he was technically a civilian), it was expected that the French would release Smith. Napoleon was adamant that Smith be charged with arson. He refused to accept the messenger bearing Smith’s letter asking for release, and Smith stayed in Temple Prison for two years until being rescued by French Loyalists and the British. Smith wrote a letter to Napoleon on the shutter of his cell; this actually turned into an open letter to Napoleon, as word got to the press, who published it.[1] Smith warned Napoleon that “Fortune’s wheel makes strange revolutions,” and that one day, their positions would be reversed.[2] He even posited that Napoleon would be sitting in the cell that he occupied.

Six years later, as Napoleon laid siege to another city in a different part of the world, it would seem that Smith’s words were indeed coming to haunt him. Napoleon had arrived in Alexandria on July 1 of  1798 for his Egypt campaign with a force of 50,000 men. Less than a month later, the British Navy dealt Napoleon a devastating blow, destroying his fleet on the Nile, and leaving Napoleon effectively stranded. Undeterred, Napoleon continued his campaign on land. Wishing to emulate his hero, Alexander the Great, Napoleon envisioned himself triumphantly marching on Jerusalem.[3] In order to achieve this objective, taking Acre was critical. After easy victories at Jaffa, Haifa, and Mt. Tabor, Napoleon expected the city to fall quickly in March of 1799. Then Sir Sidney Smith showed up on his ship The Tigre just off the coast of Acre.

From the harbor, Smith helped the Ottomans hold out against Napoleon’s forces by barraging them and supplying the Ottomans with artillery that Smith had actually captured from Napoleon. After fifty-four days of siege, Napoleon gave up. Smith wrote to Napoleon, this time assured that his nemesis would receive the letter immediately. In it, he referenced the poor treatment he had received from Napoleon and how their fortunes had reversed: “Could you have thought that a poor prisoner in the cell of the Temple prison–that an unfortunate for whom you refused, for a single moment, to give yourself any concern, being at the same time able to render him a signal service, since you were then all-powerful–could you have thought, I say, that this same man would have become your antagonist, and have compelled you, in the midst of the sands of Syria, to raise the siege of a miserable, almost defenceless town? Such events, you must admit, exceed all human calculations.”[4]

Napoleon receiving a letter from Smith must have created a buzz amongst Napoleon’s men, as Smith’s prison letter was well known by then. Incensed and embarrassed, Napoleon lied to his staff and claimed that Smith had challenged him to a duel. But Napoleon had a bigger problem than Smith’s smugness. He had roughly 2,000 wounded or ill men on his hands. It would have been impossible for them to return all the way to Egypt overland. According to the norms of warfare, they would be allowed to be evacuated by the nearby French battleships. But Napoleon could not bring himself to surrender to Smith, nor to ask for terms to help his men. Instead, he preferred to euthanize them with laudanum after marching his men back to Jaffa.

This was a low point, even for Napoleon. The trauma of the defeat at Acre was exacerbated by ego in a confrontation that started at Toulon. Napoleon’s pride and spat with Smith magnified the cruelty of which Napoleon was capable. In 1804, shortly after Napoleon became emperor of France, the rumors surrounding the poisoning of his troops still swirled at court and in the streets. It was then that he commissioned his first piece of visual propaganda, known as Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Gros. It was a sensation and cemented Napoleon’s success in re-imagining his Egypt campaign.

In his own time, Smith’s victory was widely celebrated in England through ballads, poems, and works of art. Not much remains of Smith’s legacy, nor of the importance of his victory at Acre. Gros’s painting, however, lives on as one of the most famous images of Napoleon’s campaign, and in so doing, obscures the history of the events. In a few collections around the world, the British side of the story and the importance of Acre exists and can be found in the form of commemorative medals such as these.


1. Pocock, Tom. A Thirst for Glory: The Life of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith. Random House (UK), 1998. P.55

2. Ibid, p. 55-56. According to legend, Napoleon’s motivation for destroying the Temple Prison in 1804 was to prevent Smith’s prophetic words from coming true.

3. Napoleon admired and emulated many aspects of  Alexander the Great’s conduct, but it was Napoleon’s campaign in the East that seems to have drawn on the ancient general the most. Mclynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography. New York, Arcade Pub, 2011. P. 200 in particular.

4. Pocock, pp. 107-108



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Theodor Herzl addresses the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Jerusalem Post Archive
August 28, 2022

125 Years Since the First Zionist Congress

The World Zionist Organization is marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel 29-31 August 1897, in which Theodor Herzl announced his intention to establish a Jewish state. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will attend the congress, and recreate the famous portrait of Herzl leaning over the balcony of the Hotel Le Trois Rois.

Read more about the event here, and browse our items on Zionism here.

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Etching of Max Nordau, 1899, Shapell Manuscript Collection
October 22, 2021

Max Nordau: A Man of Vision and Obscure Legacy

Every city in Israel has a Nordau Street, and it’s usually a main one. If you Google Max Nordau, you’re likely to find something about “Muscular Judaism,” or the degeneration of art. But Max Nordau was also one of the prominent pioneers of modern Zionism – he co-founded the Zionist Organization with Theodor Herzl and his prestige as an author and psychiatrist gave the fledgling Zionist movement some gravitas. While Herzl was and remains a Zionist icon, Nordau has largely been relegated to the past. Why is this?

Max Nordau’s path to Zionism was winding and complex.  He was born Simon Maximillian Südfeld in 1849 in Pest (Budapest, Hungary), like Herzl, who was born there eleven years later. [1] Unlike Herzl, who came from an assimilated Jewish family, Simon, or Simha, as Nordau was then known, was the only son in an observant family; his father was a rabbi, and young Max was given a religious Jewish education. When Max was fifteen, he abandoned Jewish practice, and when his father died, he changed his name from Südfeld (southern field) to Nordau (northern meadow). As a first-generation assimilationist,  Nordau’s name change reflected his desire to move away from his Jewish heritage to a more Germanic or “northern” culture.  [2] His later marriage to a Danish Protestant woman, Anna Dons-Kaufmann, furthered his assimilation.

In 1872, Nordau completed his medical degree from the University of Pest, travelled around Europe for a few years, and settled in Paris in 1880, where he worked as a correspondent for Die Neue Freie Presse, a Viennese newspaper. Nordau’s breakthrough work, The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization, was published in 1883. His critique of religion, as well as of the aristocracy, made him a household name. The book was translated to over fifteen languages, ran through at least seven editions, was banned in Austria and Germany, and was denounced by Pope Leo XIII.

Shortly thereafter, Nordau published Paradoxes, in which he explored optimism, pessimism, prejudice, passion, and other powerful undercurrents of society. This 1885 work eerily presaged the two Word Wars: “It is not probable that the Twentieth Century will pass away without having witnessed the conclusion of this grand historical drama. Until then a large part of Europe will see much distress and blood-shed, many crimes and deeds of violence; peoples will rage against each other, and whole races will be pitilessly crushed out of existence.” [3] Though this and many other observations Nordau shared in Paradoxes were prescient, this work is overshadowed by his most famous work, Degeneration.

In 1892, Nordau published Degeneration, a scathing denunciation of the excesses of modern art, explicitly mentioning such artists and writers as Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Emile Zola, and Oscar Wilde. Degeneration was such a popular work and concept that it has been immortalized in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde’s plea for clemency after being convicted for “indecency” (sodomy). [4] Ironically, in its cataloguing of contemporary art’s failures, Degeneration essentially functions as an anthology of modernist art. 

The same year that Degeneration was published, Nordau met Theodor Herzl, another event that changed his life and legacy. Nordau had been working for Die Neue Freie Presse  since the 1870s, and Herzl had become the paper’s Paris correspondent in 1891. The two remained colleagues until 1895, when Herzl was referred to Nordau in the capacity of a psychiatrist. Herzl’s obsession with anti-Semitism and his proposed solutions of Jewish self-determination and autonomy, was considered so outlandish that Herzl felt compelled to seek professional psychological help. 

Nordau, who had detached from his Jewish identity but who had experienced a horrifying rise of personal and general anti-Semitism, was eventually swayed by Herzl’s position. Both men had covered the Dreyfus trial and were quite shaken by the blatant anti-Semitism in the French Republic. Nordau reportedly embraced Herzl after the latter had pitched his ideas about a Jewish State, and exclaimed “If you are insane, we are insane together! Count on me!” Within two years, Herzl and Nordau had established the Zionist Organization, and the first Zionist Congress took place that year.

Returning to the question of the two men’s very different legacies, perhaps the reason for Herzl’s fame and Nordau’s obscurity is the issue of nuance. Herzl was a Political Zionist, as opposed to a Cultural Zionist. Political Zionism sought to solve the problem of Jewish persecution, whereas Cultural Zionists were not necessarily concerned with Jewish autonomy but rather with the rebirth of Jewish culture. The East Africa Scheme (in which Britain was to establish a Jewish homeland in present day Kenya) illustrates the difference between these movements: Political Zionists accepted it as a practical and useful solution to getting the Jews out of Europe and away from persecution (albeit as a rest stop before inhabiting the land of Israel), and cultural Zionists rejected it outright, as Africa was not the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. 

But this is more than an example. Nordau nearly paid for this with his life. Though Nordau himself was not in favor of a Jewish colony in East Africa, as a member of the establishment Zionist Organization and a close friend of Herzl, he defended the scheme, as a temporary solution to the rising anti-Semitism and violent pogroms plaguing Eastern Europe. At a Hanukkah party in Paris in 1903, a mentally ill Jewish student attempted to assassinate Nordau, firing two shots at point blank range, screaming “Death to Nordau, the East African!” Nordau emerged unscathed, and a bystander was shot in the leg. Charges were not pressed against the Russian student, and the East Africa scheme was abandoned within two years. 

Nordau had been one of the most public intellectuals of his time, and his conversion to Zionism was a watershed moment not only for him, but for the rest of the Jewish assimilationists. To say people were surprised was an understatement; many people did not even realize that Nordau was Jewish. But perhaps the real answer to why Nordau’s popularity has diminished whilst Herzl’s continues to rise (a new biography on Herzl was released in 2020) is because the bulk of Nordau’s work was pseudoscience, and makes for uncomfortable reading in the twenty-first century.

Nordau’s interest in racial theories and racial Zionism, though de rigueur and part of turn-of-the-century Europe, would be considered racist by the mores of our time, especially in light of the Nazi’s popularization and adherence to racial theories. In that sense, much of Nordau’s work has been rejected and debunked. As for Nordau’s critique of modern art, the “cultural diagnosis” of a Jewish “psychiatrist who wrote about degenerate art forty years before Hitler” is not a good look. [5]

However, when Nordau addressed the tenth Zionist Congress in 1911, his words were tragically prescient. In criticizing Europe for emancipating Jews essentially only on paper, he conveyed an urgency to get Jews out of Europe that when read after the Holocaust, is chilling:

“The virtuous Governments, which work with such noble zeal for the spread of eternal peace acquiesce in the downfall of six million creatures–acquiesce, and no-one, except the victims raises a voice against it…The administration of hero funds and the distribution of the interest is laid in the hands of the authorities who favor the massacre of the Jews even if they themselves do not directly instigate them.”

Between the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the 1919 pogroms at Kishinev, Nordau agitated for Jewish autonomy in Palestine, advocating for the immediate transfer of thousands of Jews out of Europe and into their ancestral homeland in Palestine. In 1921, Nordau retired from public Zionist activities, dying two years later. In 1926, he was reinterred in Tel Aviv. Nordau, who was prophetic on a number of occasions and issues, faded away from the cultural and Zionist consciousness. Perhaps his legacy deserves another look.

  1.  Baldwin, P. M. “Liberalism, Nationalism, and Degeneration: The Case of Max Nordau.” Central European History, vol. 13, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, Central European History Society, 1980, pp. 99–120,, p. 101
  2.  Golomb, Jacob. Nietzsche and Zion. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2004, p. 49
  3.   Max Simon Nordau. Paradoxes. From the German of Max Nordau. Chicago, L. Schick, 1886, p. 365
  5.  van der Laarse, Robert. “Masking the Other: Max Nordau’s Representation of Hidden Jewishness.” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, vol. 25, no. 1, Berghahn Books, 1999, pp. 1–31,, p. 1
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Isaac Leeser, circa 1868, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons
July 13, 2021

Isaac Leeser’s Proto-Zionism

Isaac Leeser was one of the most important Jews of the nineteenth century, and certainly the most important rabbi in America at the time. Leeser, an orphan who had been raised by his grandmother, immigrated from Germany to Richmond, Virginia in 1824 at the age of eighteen to live with his uncle. Four years later, in 1828, Leeser publicly defended Judaism in the pages of The Richmond Whig in response to a virulently anti-Semitic article that had been published in London and then republished in New York.[1] Leeser’s polemics not only caused a stir, but brought him to the attention of the Philadelphia Congregation Mikveh Israel. Despite Leeser being only twenty-two and Ashkenazi, the Sephardic congregation asked Leeser to be their Hazzan, or congregational rabbi, a position he held for over twenty years.

It has been said that Leeser was the forerunner of Modern Orthodoxy in America. Modern Orthodox Judaism seeks to synthesize the traditions and tenets of Judaism with the secular and modern world while retaining the particularism of the Jewish people. He insisted on delivering his sermons in English (as opposed to German) in order for German Jewish immigrants to better integrate into their adoptive country, and popularized the practice of preaching in Orthodox synagogues. In a remarkable display of scholarly ecumenism, Leeser jointly published the Masoretic version of the Bible with an Episcopalian minister.[2] He also established and edited The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, a monthly magazine, from 1843-1868. This was the first Jewish serial to be published in the United States, and provided Jews with an established cultural foothold. Today, it is an invaluable record for historians of Jewish antebellum history. Perhaps where Leeser was the most visionary in bridging two worlds or philosophies was how he viewed the Holy Land. 

Supporting Jews who were living in the Holy Land seemed to contradict the desire of Jews living in the United States (or elsewhere) to integrate fully into American society, as it reinforced not only the theological notion of redemption to the Land of Israel, but also the sociological idea that the Jews were indigenous to the Land of Israel, and therefore foreigners in a strange land when living in the diaspora.[3] Leeser managed to belong to both camps – to reinforce and reinvigorate the traditionalism of Judaism, and yet at the same time, advocate for the Jew to be a model American citizen, and to be an outspoken proponent of the Constitution.  

Leeser’s thought on Zionism, his moderate position, was an evolution of several years and factors. Being Orthodox, he came from the traditionalist position that believed only in the return of the exiled Jews to the land of Israel with the coming of the Messiah. Two contemporaries helped change his mind: Mordecai Manuel Noah and Warder Cresson. As early as 1844, Noah advocated for a Jewish homeland, with the help of Christian allies. Leeser initially disagreed with Noah’s position not only because he could not imagine gentile support for a Jewish country in Palestine, but more importantly, because Noah’s vision seemed to lack the support of divine providence. Nonetheless, Leeser printed Noah’s work in The Occident. And despite disagreeing with Noah on the subject of Jewish autonomy, Leeser’s traditional worldview meant that he did support the indigent Jews in Palestine throughout his entire career. Though they didn’t come to fruition, Leeser also supported Cresson’s agricultural aspirations in the Holy Land. 

A turning point in Leeser’s thought was the European Revolutions of 1848. That year, Leeser, observing that Germany, Poland, and Italy had successfully reconstituted themselves as nation-states, wondered “why should not the patriotic Hebrew also look proudly forward to the time (even without revelation) when he may again proudly boast of his own country, of the beneficent sway of his own laws…” [4] Leeser finally conceded Noah’s point that he had vigorously opposed for years earlier, interestingly relegating the major theological point to a parenthetical one. Leeser no longer saw Divine Revelation as a prerequisite for Jewish statehood in Palestine.

Another component of Leeser’s already affirmed Jewish patriotism came at the end of his life, in the 1860s. The turmoil preceding and following the Civil War brought with it a rise of anti-Semitism in both the North and the South. Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s General Orders No. Eleven, issued in December of 1862, expelled Jewish people from Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and parts of Illinois with 24 hours notice. Though President Lincoln quickly rescinded the order, the state-sponsored anti-Semitic expulsion had already horrified Leeser. Like Theodor Herzl some thirty years later watching French Republic pull itself apart over the Dreyfus Affair, Leeser was convinced of the practical need for a Jewish state. 

Before supporting the idea of an autonomous Jewish State in Palestine, Leeser was an eager supporter of Jewish agrarian communities in the Holy Land, in particular the endeavors of his friend, Warder Cresson, to farm the land around Jerusalem. By the end of his life, Leeser was an ardent supporter of a self-sustaining Jewish enterprise in its homeland. In other words, Leeser was an early Religious Zionist. 

  1.  Sussman, Lance J. “Another Look at Isaac Leeser and the First Jewish Translation of the Bible in the United States.” Modern Judaism, vol. 5, no. 2, 1985, pp. 159–190. JSTOR, Accessed 30 June 2021, p. 162
  2. The word Masoret is Hebrew for tradition, and the Masoretic version of the bible is considered the most authentic version of the Hebrew bible. It was codified between 600 and 1000 AD by Talmud scholars who wished to transmit the original text of the Old Testament. They also provided vowel signs to ensure correct pronunciation as well as important marginal notes.
  3. Shiff, Ofer. “At the Crossroad between Traditionalism and Americanism: Nineteenth-Century Philanthropic Attitudes of American Jews toward Palestine.” Jewish History, vol. 9, no. 1, 1995, pp. 35–50, p. 38.  JSTOR, Accessed 29 June 2021.
  4.  Occident, vol. VI, no 2 (May, 1848), pp. 71-72
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Charles Warren, photographed by Elliot and Fry, London, Wikimedia Commons
June 24, 2021

Sir Charles Warren: Jerusalem, Jack the Ripper, And the Boer War

Though not exactly a household name in our time, anyone reading the newspapers in the latter half of the 19th century would have been familiar with Charles Warren. He gained fame for such disparate events as surveying Gibraltar to excavating Jerusalem, finding the killers of a prominent archaeologist and bringing them to justice, to the humiliation of being the police commissioner on whose watch Jack the Ripper terrorized the people of London and eluded arrest. Warren was also the scapegoat of one of Britain’s worst military disasters – the Battle of Spion Kop– and helped found a global organization: The Boy Scouts. If anyone remembers Warren today, it is for vastly divergent things. Let’s delve into the highs and lows of Warren’s career.

Charles Warren was born in Wales in 1840. At age 17 Warren was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. He gained praise and promotion for his work surveying Gibraltar from 1861-1865. This laid the foundation for the next phase of his career, which would bring Warren considerable fame.

In 1870, the newly-founded Palestine Exploration Fund recruited Lieutenant Warren to survey the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land for archaeological purposes. Warren was the first person to conduct a major excavation of the Temple Mount and became the preeminent explorer of Jerusalem. Warren also “settled several vexed questions of site, and amongst them that of the position of the Temple.”[1] Though his discoveries in Jerusalem were what gained Warren acclaim, he also led expeditions in Gaza, Ashkelon, and Jericho. Remarkably, Warren only spent three years in Palestine before returning to England as a result of ill health.

He was next dispatched to South Africa, another flashpoint of British imperialism at the time, in 1876. After his work surveying there, as well as gallantry in battle, he was made a companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel, and had a town (Warrenton) named after him. In 1880, he returned to England to assume the role of Chief Military Engineering Instructor, but in 1882, he was dispatched on a special assignment. Edward Henry Palmer’s archaeological expedition had gone missing, and Warren was charged with determining their fate. He successfully found the company’s remains (they had been ambushed and murdered) in the Sinai and brought the killers to justice, earning him several knighthoods. In all likelihood, this may have led to his unlikely and unfitting appointment as Chief Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police in 1886. 

Although Warren set about reorganizing and expanding London’s Metropolitan police force, his appointment seemed doomed from the beginning. In 1887, he was roundly criticized for his heavy handling of “Bloody Sunday,” in which many protestors in Trafalgar Square clashed with the police and military, resulting in numerous injuries on both sides. His bad luck continued, when in April 1888, Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim. In September of 1888, the Ripper committed a double murder. What is now known as the Goulston Street Graffito was found at the scene of the crime. The text according to Warren’s report was:

The Jewes are

The men that

Will not

be Blamed

for nothing

Warren, generally punctilious about detail and army discipline, made a decision that was highly irregular: he ordered the graffiti washed off the wall before the police photographer could arrive at the scene. In his report, Warren explains that the graffiti was incendiary in light of the strong anti-Semitic sentiment in London at the time and it needed to be removed immediately – a necessity that trumped retaining the evidence in the murders. In doing so, Warren very likely prevented a pogrom.[2]

Two days after submitting his report about the Goulston Street Graffito, Warren tendered his resignation from the Metropolitan Police on November 8, 1888, and within hours, the serial killer struck again. Though the press relentlessly crucified Warren for his inability to bring in Jack the Ripper, the resignation was more about internal politics and power struggles that had existed prior to the Ripper’s killing spree. Warren returned to the military and was promoted to general. 

Warren’s career would hit a nadir, even after the Ripper affair, with the disaster of Spion Kop, where the British were massacred in the bloodiest battle of the Second Boer War in South Africa in 1900. The 59-year-old Warren had been charged with relieving British soldiers besieged by the Boers at Spion Kop. Effectively sitting ducks being picked off by the Boers, a young lieutenant in the South African Light Horse regiment of the British Army named Winston Churchill described the carnage: “The scenes on Spion Kop were among the strangest and most terrible I have ever witnessed.” [3] Churchill, a war correspondent, acted as a courier during this battle, directly urging Warren to send more reinforcements and explaining that their soldiers were trapped on the mountain. The agitated Warren ordered Churchill’s arrest and did not send reinforcements. Had he done so, the British would have won the battle. At dawn, the Natal Ambulance Corps, led by their leader, Mohandas (known later as Mahatma) Gandhi, marched 25 miles bearing stretchers to remove the wounded and dying from the summit. Warren, who managed to blunder a battle in which 20,000 British soldiers faced off against 8,000 Boers, was held responsible for what went down in history as one of Britain’s worst military disasters.

Warren’s initial brilliance as an archaeologist is a chapter of his life that he never quite closed. Warren “retained his interest in Palestine to the last. He strongly supported the renewed excavation of the Hill of Ophel, which was carried out by the Fund in the years 1924 and 1925. At the end of the latter year, when the report on these excavations was being published, he assisted materially in the preparation of the map of the excavations…”[4] Warren died two years later, in 1927. Periodically, the world’s attention is on Jerusalem; Warren’s name will always be associated with the city.

Read more about presidents and other political figures, plus discover other great posts from Shapell, including George Washington: Farming & Agriculture, Theodore Roosevelt’s Family Life, Harry Truman Post Presidency, and more!



  1. F. C. “Obituary: General Sir Charles Warren, G. C. M. G., K. C. B., F. R. S.” The Geographical Journal, vol. 69, no. 4, 1927, pp. 382–383. JSTOR, Accessed 2 June 2021.
  2. “I do not hesitate myself to say that if that writing had been left there would have been an onslaught upon the Jews, property would have been wrecked, and lives would probably have been lost.” Warren also notes in his report that the Chief Rabbi thanked him for his handling of the volatile situation. Ref. HO 144/221/A49301C, ff. 173–81, Evans and Skinner, The Ultimate Jack the Ripper Sourcebook, pp. 183–184
  3.  Millard, Candice. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. Doubleday, 2016
  4.  From Warren’s obituary in The Geographical Journal
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Benjamin Shapell, Founder of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, at Warder Cresson’s gravesite, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 2013
May 25, 2021

Warder Cresson and the First Amendment

The discovery, in 2013, of the Mount of Olives gravesite of the first appointed U.S. Consul to Jerusalem, reopened a long-forgotten piece of American history, involving lunacy, religious freedom, and a direct challenge to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. In May of 1850, Warder Cresson, the former U.S. Consul to Jerusalem brought an appeal before a Philadelphia court with the goal of overturning the ruling that his conversion to Judaism meant that he was certifiably insane. The case was widely covered in the media, and though it lasted five days, the court’s ruling in favor of Cresson’s right to practice the religion of his choosing is a testament to the durability of the First Amendment and a major victory against the not uncommon American antisemitism of the 19th century. 

Warder Cresson was born in 1798 to a Philadelphian Quaker family. Sometime before 1824, he married Elizabeth Townsend and started farming just outside Philadelphia. His able management of the farm meant that it kept growing, and he was an affluent and respected member of Philadelphian and Quaker society. [1] In 1827, the Great Separation arose amongst the Quakers, which divided them into Hicksite and Orthodox Quakers, or poor agrarian Quakers and wealthier, urban, Quakers, respectively. Philadelphia was the heart of the controversy, and the city where the split was finalized. Warder Cresson was 29 at the time and jumped into the fray, becoming a Hicksite. That year, he published his first religious tract inveighing against privilege in Quaker circles (ironically) entitled An Humble and Affectionate Address to the Select Members of the Abington Quarterly.  In 1829, during an internal Quaker investigation of his faith, he doubled down on his harsh critique of materialism with another pamphlet — Babylon the Great is Falling! The Morning Star, or Light From on High, in which he decried the affluence of local Quakers.

As Cresson’s brood grew (by 1833, he had four children), he left his home and participated in Shaker services in New York. He then successively became a Mormon, a Millerite, and a Campbellite. [2] It is important to note here that 19th-century America was engulfed by the flames of religious passion, and conversion between the various sects rapidly arising was not uncommon. In 1840, Cresson met Isaac Leeser, and with him, the last religion he would eventually call his own: Judaism. Leeser was the rabbi of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel synagogue and the editor of The Occident and Jewish American Advocate, the country’s largest Jewish periodical. Originally from Germany, Leeser was one of the most important American rabbis of his time. Leeser fatefully introduced Cresson to Mordecai Manuel Noah, who advocated for the Jews to return to Zion and who likely influenced Cresson’s desire to travel to Jerusalem.

Cresson, not yet a Jew, made the journey to the Holy Land in an ingenious if not eccentric fashion: he petitioned President John Tyler’s Secretary of State John Calhoun to send him to Jerusalem as America’s first Consul. Jerusalem, an Ottoman backwater, hardly needed an American representative, but since the affluent Cresson was offering to take the position without requiring compensation, his appointment was granted. Cresson left his wife and six children in May of 1844. His arrival in Jaffa was equally flamboyant. He alighted the ship with an American flag in one hand and a caged dove (presumably symbolizing peace) in the other. Before he arrived the following month, however, his appointment had been terminated. Samuel Ingham, who had served as Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of the Treasury wrote to Calhoun explaining that Cresson’s appointment was an embarrassment to the United States as Cresson was a “weak minded man” who “has a passion for religious controversy.” The British satirist William Thackeray quite agreed with this assessment after meeting Cresson in the Holy Land. [3] Cresson didn’t mind that his appointment had been rescinded and continued to act as American Consul, which did no credit to his reputation as someone of sound mind, yet no one intervened.

By 1848, Cresson had converted to Judaism and sailed back to Philadelphia to share his news with his wife and family and, in all likelihood, to have them join the fold. In his absence, he found that Elizabeth, too, had converted: to Episcopalianism. Judaism was a bridge too far for Elizabeth. Warder had left Elizabeth with power of attorney, and she had no desire to relinquish that power. The majority of his estate was in her hands, many of his personal effects had been disposed of, and in 1849, she and her children sought to secure the rest of his estate by having him declared insane on the basis of his conversion to Judaism. [4] Warder had revoked the power of attorney and offered his wife half his estate to keep the case out of court and to show good will. Elizabeth pressed on and the court declared Warder insane. 

Cresson, or Boaz Michael Israel as he was now known, appealed the ruling, which commenced in May of 1851. He stayed in Philadelphia and attended Leeser’s synagogue and contributing articles to Leeser’s periodical. Cresson’s appeal was a five-day trial that enthralled the nation. There was even a display of cutting-edge nineteenth-century science, in which an amateur naturalist named Peter Browne proved to the audience and jury that Cresson was not insane by examining specimens of Cresson’s hair roots and contrasting them with his catalog of specimens he obtained at a Virginia insane asylum. [5] It didn’t take the jury long to concur with Browne.

Though the court documents were lost to a fire, Leeser published the notes of Cresson’s defense lawyer, General Horatio Hubbell of the Pennsylvania Militia, in The Occident. According to Leeser, Hubbell was “a strict adherent of the Presbyterian Church.” [6] This underscores Hubbell’s defense of minorities both on the battlefield — famously saving two Catholic churches from destruction during the Know-Nothing Riots of 1844, and in the courtroom, with his defense of not only Cresson but Judaism. 

In addition to pointing out the obvious financial advantages that Cresson’s wife and his brothers stood to gain by taking over Warder’s affairs, Hubbell made clear that antisemitism was a significant contributing factor to the accusation of lunacy. In turning his attention to Warder’s son-in-law, Alexander Porter, who had also quite the religious journey from being a Presbyterian, then an Episcopalian, and finally a Millerite, Porter’s derision of Cresson as insane only for turning to Judaism “let out the whole secret.” [7] Hubbell then goes on to lambast Porter for his bigotry and hypocrisy: “No, it was all very well while he pulled with him or them; but to dare to embrace Judaism was something beyond this man’s narrow comprehension, a thing unheard of, a foul imputation; thus endeavoring to stigmatize the venerable faith of Israel, to brand its professors, and to stamp any one as a lunatic who should believe in its sublime yet simple doctrines, as if any honest Jew would not be ashamed to compare himself for a moment with this insolent and ignorant bigot!” [8]

Cresson left Philadelphia, returning to Jerusalem shortly after his victory in court. He remarried – this time to a Jewish woman named Rachel Moledano and had two children who did not survive to adulthood. When Cresson died in 1860, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “he was buried on the Mount of Olives, with such honors as are paid only to a prominent rabbi.” And yet his grave’s whereabouts remained a mystery for nearly a century.

 1. Fox, Frank. “Quaker, Shaker, Rabbi: Warder Cresson, the Story of a Philadelphia Mystic.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 95, no. 2, 1971, pp. 147–194. JSTOR, Accessed 18 May 2021. Pp. 148-149

2. Schoffman, Stuart. “‘Insane on the Subject of Judaism’: Pursuing the Ghost of Warder Cresson.” The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 94, no. 2, 2004, pp. 318–360. JSTOR, Accessed 18 May 2021. P. 334

3. Ibid, pp. 336-337 

4.Fox, pp. 173-4

5. “New Psychological Test of Insanity.” The Star And Banner [Gettysburg, PA], XXIII, 13 June 1851, p. 1.

6. The Occident, Vol. XXI (1863) No. 5, p. 203, accessed at 23 May, 2021

7. The Occident, Vol. XXI (1863) No. 7, p. 303

8. Ibid, p. 304

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May 3, 2021

Book Review: Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel

Last month, news broke that Emmy-nominated Shira Haas (of Shtisel fame) would play Golda Meir in a new miniseries produced by Barbara Streisand, based on Francine Klagsbrun’s 2017 biography of the fourth prime minister of Israel. We thought it would be a good opportunity to share some thoughts with our readers about Klagsbrun’s book, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel on Golda Meir’s birthday.

The biography is clearly exhaustively researched, yet manages to be thoroughly engrossing. Klagsbrun spellbinds her audience with the story of a Jewish girl who was born in Kyiv (then part of Soviet Russia) in 1898, raised in Milwaukee, and emigrated to Palestine, to become the first woman in the world who was democratically elected to the position of head of state, in 1969.

Meir’s time as Prime Minister was actually the least interesting part of this book, and that is because Klagsbrun does an excellent job of depicting Meir’s childhood in Milwaukee and putting it in the context of American history: when Meir discovered socialist Zionism, Theodore Roosevelt, and then President Taft occupied the White House.

Another strong point of the book is that Klagsbrun brings to the reader’s attention Meir’s indispensable role in establishing the State of Israel.  Like Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion — with whom she worked closely — Golda Meir was what you could call a Founding Mother of the modern Jewish State.  

As the reader follows Meir’s ascent in the Labour Party, Klagsbrun ensures that the dizzying politics and history of the party are (relatively) digestible and easy to follow. Meir also made history in 1956 when she was appointed Foreign Minister – the only woman in the world to hold that position — which she did for a decade. 

Klagsbrun is also frank about Meir’s shortcomings, which is a welcome departure from the breathless hagiography that is generally published about public figures. Moreover, a biography about a Jewish woman who was raised in America and was fundamental to establishing the modern state of Israel is apt at a time where both communities are consuming and producing unprecedented amounts of media about the other in an attempt to understand one another.

Meir’s commitment to African countries (she had scores of namesakes who were born in Congo, Ghana, Togo, and Sierre Leone — and each baby Golda received a small gift from the Foreign Minister) and Soviet Jewry were other high points, as well. Meir left office, surprisingly with a decent approval rating. Only after she died was her reputation sullied by the Yom Kippur War. The incompetence in dealing with what notoriously lives on in Israeli memory the nation’s deadliest war was laid at the Prime Minister’s feet. And though Meir resigned and took responsibility for the fiasco, Klagsbrun brings to light the share that Moshe Dayan (the Defense Minister at the time) bore for the disastrous war. He did not give the Prime Minister complete information, and unlike Meir, he more or less fell apart from the stress of the war. 

With the declassification of several documents, her reputation is improving with a better understanding of the events that unfolded during her tenure, and this book is a great companion to a reexamination of Golda Meir.

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Cook's Nile & Palestine Tours Poster, Shapell Manuscript Foundation
March 25, 2021

A Year Less Traveled

As we find ourselves already a year into reduced travel, it might be interesting (or tormenting) to have a look at some historic Thomas Cook travel posters from our Collection. In 1841, Thomas Cook, a cabinetmaker from Leicestershire, England, first started organizing excursions for people to attend temperance meetings by train. The eponymously named company’s excursions expanded from rail to sea, and eventually, to plane. The company also pioneered organized tourism to the Holy Land in the 1860s, as well as to Egypt. Many luminaries of the nineteenth century visited the Holy Land as a result of Cook’s work. Perhaps the most famous was Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The 178-year-old company, considered the world’s oldest travel firm, sadly collapsed in 2019. At the time of Thomas Cook’s dissolution, 150,000 Britons were on vacations organized by the company. The government, in coordination with the company, flew back all its citizens, making it the biggest peacetime repatriation in British history. Happily, Thomas Cook relaunched as an online travel agency this past December, ensuring their rich history will not soon be forgotten.

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Soldiers on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, 1973, Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit
February 25, 2021

Review: Valley of Tears

In November of 2020, HBO Max aired the Israeli miniseries Valley of Tears, which had premiered in Israel the month before. The series is trailblazing in a few ways. The first is its subject matter. The series depicts Israel right on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and ends with the subsequent tank battle in the eponymously named Valley of the Tears. In addition, it’s the largest budget of an Israeli series to date, with an estimated $1 million per episode; features some of the best-known Israeli actors; and, behind the scenes, many of Israel’s best writers.

For context, the Yom Kippur War is to many Israelis what Vietnam is to Americans. Not only was a large number of Israeli men of that generation lost in combat (2,500), but the war was largely viewed as an avoidable catastrophe and utter hubris on the part of Israeli intelligence and the political establishment. Though officially acquitted by a commission, Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned as a direct consequence of the war and was haunted by it until her dying day. That being said, the three-week war was a remarkable military victory against slim odds that resulted in Israel retaining more territory than before the war. It ultimately led to a historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1977, negotiated by their heads of state, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, respectively.

Valley of Tears tells the story of regular soldiers in the IDF, caught up in a surprise war against the backdrop of their personal struggles. There is plenty of much-needed comic relief, which makes the stories more relatable.The show opens with an awkward and clever intelligence soldier, stationed at the northern Hermon outpost, who repeatedly warns his superiors of an impending war. The soldier is constantly ridiculed until his suspicions are verified and the Syrians close in on the outpost. This frames the general mindset in Israel at the outset of the war. 

By far, the most compelling and innovative storyline is that of three tank brigade soldiers who are activists in “Pantherim Shchorim” (the Israeli Black Panther movement, created by Mizrachi immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries). In this aspect, Valley of Tears breaks fresh ground in addressing the social and economic inequality faced by Mizrahi immigrants in the State of Israel.  The artistic choice to frame the chaos and struggles of the Yom Kippur war against the backdrop of social injustice and unrest mirrors the change that Israel went through in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The long-powerful Labor Party’s demise following Meir’s resignation after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 paved the way for change. The ascendancy of the Likud party in 1977 was largely due to the vote of Mizrachi Jews, who had felt so marginalized by Labor governments. Valley of Tears manages to capture a sense of Israel on the brink of meaningful change. It is also an engaging and thought-provoking look at Israel at war – with itself and its enemies.

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Herman Melville, circa 1860, Wikimedia Commons.
December 30, 2020

Clarel Disinterred

In the winter of 1856-1857, Herman Melville traveled to Europe and the Levant, and spent approximately nineteen days in the Holy Land. He was one of many luminaries who took the same routes and tours, and stayed at the same hotels; Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt followed suit over the next thirty years. Melville, burnt-out at 48 from a string of failed novels and overexertion, embarked on his journey as a form of recuperation. His journals from the five-month trip, which spanned three continents and nine countries,  reveal that it was in the Holy Land that the author reached a turning point, and his journey was every bit as immersive emotionally as it was physically. To be sure, Melville was not entranced by the Holy Land per se, as his travel journal reflects: “No country will more quickly dissipate romantic expectations than Palestine—particularly Jerusalem. To some the disappointment is heart sickening.” But the trip certainly had an impact on him.

Nineteen days of contemplation in the Holy Land would be brought to life nineteen years later, with what Melville considered his most personal work: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, published in 1876. Longer than Paradise Lost by nearly double, and arguably less accessible, Clarel remains the longest poem in American literature. The novelist had achieved overnight success in 1846 for Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, and notoriety for the commercial flop Moby Dick in 1851. Yet he had also enjoyed moderate success for his volume of poems treating the American Civil War that was published in 1866. It was not enough success, however, to support his family. Working as a customs inspector in New York, Melville devoted his evenings to writing Clarel.  In Clarel, Melville tried his hand at iambic tetrameter in creating his own epic poem. Clarel was the eponymously named protagonist of the epic. A seminary student, facing a spiritual crisis, Clarel journeys to the Holy Land to rediscover his faith. And there lies the parallel not just between Melville’s personal spiritual journey, but America’s. In the wake of the Civil War and the scientific breakthroughs of the 1870s (such as Darwin’s), Americans were plunged into a crisis of faith. Naturally, this was met with a great religious revival, producing much discussion, if not clashing, in reconstructed America. Clarel, the naive American,  meets characters of many religions and races, who question and debate faith against the backdrop of Biblical sites. The epic ends with Clarel experiencing a renewal of faith, only to have it dashed when his Jewish fiance dies and is not resurrected at Easter. The narrator then exhorts Clarel to faith despite all he has been through. 

Melville had the two-volume epic printed at his own cost. He anticipated the negative reception by essentially disavowing himself of its content in his author’s note on the first edition: “I here dismiss the book–content beforehand, with whatever future awaits it.” Privately, he described the epic to a correspondent as “eminently adapted for unpopularity.”[1] He was right. It was, indeed, a commercial and critical flop. Of the 350 copies printed in the first run in 1876, 220 were pulped. Nine years later, Melville agreed to disinter a rare copy of the book for another rarity: a fan of Clarel. It’s fair to say that the epic remained interred until its themes of religion and depth psychology re-emerged in the wake of the Second World War, renewing interest in the poem. [2] In the decades that followed, there were a few articles published about Clarel by Melville scholars, as is to be expected. 

More recently, it seems that Clarel is becoming disinterred yet again. In August of 2019, Herschel Parker, who has devoted over half a century to studying and writing about Melville, published his edition of Melville’s complete poems, in celebration of the author’s bicentennial. The star of this hefty volume is, undoubtedly, Clarel.  In May and June of 2020, two articles were published online about the relevance of Clarel to understanding the crisis of American faith both in Melville’s day and in our own. A humanities podcast even dedicated an episode to it around the time those articles came out. Maybe it should not be too surprising, as themes of individual crisis and the tensions between faith and science never do go away or get resolved. Perhaps Clarel deserves another look if not from people of faith (or who study it), then from historians, as Clarel also emerges as a historical document par-excellence. 



  1. Clarel:  A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991), ed. By Herschel Parker, pp. 540-542
  2. Parker, p. 507


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Theodor Herzl with a Zionist delegation in Jerusalem, 1898. Wikimedia Commons
December 14, 2020

Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, and the East Africa Scheme

In August of 1897, after putting together the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Theodor Herzl, resplendent in his white tie and tails, his noble visage self-consciously groomed, rose to speak. He had to wait for a quarter of an hour for the applause to die down. A few days later, the congress ended as it began – with thunderous applause, this time with the younger delegates lifting and carrying  Herzl on their shoulders around the hall. [1]  

Six years later, in 1903, at the Sixth (and Herzl’s last) Zionist Congress, Herzl, who had less than a year to live, strained to breathe as he spoke, and had a rebellion on his hands. Only after declaring in Hebrew “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning” did the aggrieved party, the Russian caucus of the Zionist delegates, agree to come back into the hall.  [2] Herzl had suggested that the Congress consider the British offer to create a Jewish homeland in East Africa (modern-day Kenya), which was such a point of contention that it threatened to split the World Zionist Organisation. Herzl’s dear friend and right-hand man, Max Nordau, was even the target of an attempted assassination shortly thereafter. What happened in these six years to the Zionist Organization? The answer might be found in a closer examination of the relationship between Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, and a young rival, Chaim Weizmann, the future first president of the State of Israel. 

Chaim Weizmann was roughly fifteen years Theodor Herzl’s junior. Unlike Herzl, an assimilated Central European Jew, Weizmann hailed from Russia, and in addition to his doctorate in chemistry, was the beneficiary of a traditional Jewish education and upbringing. Weizmann first laid eyes on Herzl at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898. [3] The two men maintained a correspondence, and actually found common ground in Weizmann’s goal of establishing a Jewish university in Palestine. 

But by 1901, a growing number of younger Zionists were unhappy with the slow progress of the Zionist movement. These young men, mostly Russian, as was Weizmann, felt that though Herzl had given Zionism a shape, he was off the mark when it came to its substance. Weizmann’s anti-Herzl agitation (“Herzl has no idea of Russian Zionism and of Russian Zionists”) served to make a name for himself, and more critically, led to a meeting with Herzl. Though Weizmann was spoiling for a fight, the elder statesman recognized the need for the younger generation to have their own conference, which took place shortly before the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1902. Though there was some chafing between Herzl and the younger group, which called itself the Democratic Fraction, Herzl tried to work with them and keep the Zionist movement unified. By 1903, shortly before the Sixth Zionist Congress, Weizmann was at the helm of the Fraction, which, for all its animated discussions, hadn’t achieved much. 

The violent pogroms in Kishinev in April of 1903 alarmed Herzl to the point where he very seriously considered accepting the British government’s offer to establish a Jewish homeland in East Africa. Though Weizmann initially heard Herzl out on the idea, he was amongst the many Russian delegates who vociferously opposed the resolution at the Congress in August of that year. Pandemonium broke out, with the Russian delegation splitting off and having their own meeting, passing a resolution refusing to ratify any formal consideration of the East Africa scheme. [4] In this separate meeting, Weizmann denounced Herzl as “not a nationalist, but a promoter of projects.” [5]

In fact, Herzl never denied the centrality of Palestine to the Jewish people. Despite the Fraction’s claims earlier that Herzl didn’t understand Russian Zionists, it was the existential threat to Russian Jews that made Herzl consider the scheme as a temporary measure to ensure their safety. This reassurance, echoed by Nordau at the lectern, incidentally, was enough to placate at least two other Russian delegates: Weizmann’s brother and father. [6]

Though the Congress closed with an agreement to send some delegates to get the lay of the land without any formal commitments, the East Africa scheme caused a major rift and power struggle in the Zionist Organisation. Weizmann, who had been agitating against Herzl’s political Zionism for a few years now, took full advantage of this rift in order to boost his own profile as well as the commitment to the Land of Israel. Immediately after the Congress, he launched an all-out attack on the East Africa scheme, focusing solely where it had support: Western Europe. And as his professional opportunities dried up in Switzerland, Weizmann’s two callings — chemistry and Zionism– intersected, and Weizmann found himself pursuing both in what had been Herzl’s territory: the United Kingdom. 

The African scheme fizzled out by December of 1903, as a result of opposition by British colonists in  East Africa. And yet, it still held the Zionist Organization in a power struggle. By July of 1904, Herzl was dead, and the Zionist Organization was bereft. Nordau, the natural choice for Herzl’s successor, declined. Weizmann, who finally had his ducks in a row, moved to the UK a few months later. En route, he met with Nordau, who mused that some day, the young Weizmann would take up the mantle of Zionist leadership. [7]

Weizmann had already done a lot of campaigning for his cause – that of the Land of Israel for the Jewish homeland – on his pilot trip to London in 1903. If anything, Herzl had achieved a landmark in getting the British Empire to recognize the Zionist cause. Weizmann picked up where Herzl left off. And two years later, in 1906, Weizmann had his first meeting with Lord Balfour. Weizmann’s refusal to contemplate the East Africa scheme had a profound impact on Lord Balfour, though it would be another decade until Weizmann would pull off one of the most remarkable diplomatic achievements of the 20th century: the Balfour Declaration. This  British commitment to a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel was a long road that was paved by Weizmann, but one blazed by Herzl.


  1. Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel From the Rise of  Zionism to  Our Time (New  York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 46
  2. Anita Shapira, Israel: A History, trans. Anthony Berris (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 2014), p. 23
  3. Norman  Rose, Chaim Weizmann: A  Biography (New  York: Viking, 1986), p. 49
  4. Derek Penslar,  Theodor  Herzl: The Charismatic  Leader (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020), p. 192
  5. Rose, p.  73
  6. Rose, p. 72
  7. Rose,  p. 85
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David Ben-Gurion, Israel Defense Archive
November 18, 2020

Ben-Gurion the Archivist

In 1950, the State of Israel was only two years old and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, was facing monumental, existential challenges. The fledgling state was still imperiled by enemies, a struggling economy, and even food security. Yet Ben-Gurion, widely acknowledged by historians for his prescience as well as his ability to seize historic opportunities, locked in on one particular idea while vacationing in Tiberias: preserving Jewish manuscripts. In Ben-Gurion’s own words,

Our first duty is to save Hebrew literature. There are thousands of Hebrew manuscripts lying idle in various libraries. Many of them have vanished in the darkness of the past or have been destroyed by the wrath of oppressors…It is the duty of the State of Israel to acquire and gather those exiles of the spirit of Israel dispersed in the Diaspora. [1]

Thus began Ben-Gurion’s ambitious project: to establish an Institute of Manuscripts in order to microfilm and catalog every single Hebrew manuscript in existence. The Prime Minister, who had also served as Defense Minister, had already created the military archive two years prior. In this same letter to his Finance Minister, Ben-Gurion requested an allocation of £50,000 for the project, “without delay.” Ben-Gurion, whose own home was crammed with books, and who would set out to write a history of Israel upon his retirement, had made a decision that was rooted in philosophy. In his studies of military history, Ben-Gurion noted, “decisive and constant victory is that of spiritual power.” According to Ben-Gurion, the source of spiritual power for the Jewish people in their new country would be their ancient literature. Once returned home to its roots, these manuscripts would provide the spiritual sustenance needed to overcome the very material challenges the Jewish people now faced, and serve as the nucleus from which to study and preserve the corpus of Hebrew literature.

Ben-Gurion’s project was also the natural continuation of Chaim Weizmann and Albert Einstein’s dream of the founding of a Jewish university in Jerusalem. Indeed, the microfilm project was a partnership between the state and the Hebrew University. In 1925, at the inauguration of the Hebrew University, Weizmann (who would serve as the country’s first President), acknowledged the asymmetry of a country with existential issues establishing a university:

It seems at first sight paradoxical that in a land with so sparse a population, in a land where everything still remains to be done, in a land crying out for such simple things as ploughs, roads and harbors, we should be creating a center of spiritual and intellectual development. But it is no paradox, for those who know the soul of the Jew. It is true that great social and political problems still face us and will demand their solution. We Jews know that when the mind is given fullest play, when we have a center for the development of Jewish consciousness, then coincidentally, we shall attain the fulfillment of our material needs.

Ben-Gurion, who spent many days at the New York Public Library between 1915 and 1917, where he met his wife, Paula, also understood the importance of enabling Jews to access the world’s cultures and literature. “Everything human is not foreign to us–and everything human must be provided for us in our language,” the Prime Minister asserted, as he took the first steps to launch the Hebrew series Masterworks of World Literature. Ben-Gurion, perhaps uncharacteristically, let the series committee decide which works of literature to translate into Hebrew, though he did request that they include a particular passion of his: Indian philosophy. 

Ben-Gurion’s prescience and ideals concerning making far-flung Hebrew manuscripts accessible is today echoed in the near-universal effort of digitizing manuscripts for the public. The result of Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Jewish materials from all over the world available to anyone, anywhere, can be seen in the National Library of Israel’s Ktiv website, where many of the Hebrew manuscripts are on view.


  1. For more on Ben-Gurion’s ideas about the relationship between the Hebrew language and the modern state of Israel, see Anita Shapira, Ben-Gurion, Father of Modern Israel, pp. 182-183


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View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in 1841. Courtesy of Dahesh Museum of Art.
December 25, 2019

“The Twain Shall Meet” – The New York Jewish Week

“The artistic pursuits of Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, and Emma Lazarus, the first important Jewish American poet, are celebrated, respectively, at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both exhibitions creatively bring archival materials to the public.

While I haven’t been able to verify whether Lazarus and Twain actually met in person, it’s clear they moved in similar 19th-century New York social circles, and they shared an interest in Palestine.” – Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Times

Click here to read the full article.

View the Twain exhibition here.

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General Lew Wallace. Photo taken by Matthew Brady between 1861 and 1865. Library of Congress.
December 5, 2019

The Author of Ben-Hur, the Book that Healed a Nation

General Lew Wallace had a long and storied career, though few people outside the circle of Civil War scholars might have heard his name in our era. He is perhaps best known as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ; a novel, though seldom read in our time, was the most popular book of the nineteenth century, second only to the Bible. Today, at best, it evokes a vague sense of a 1950s film adaptation and a remake in 2016. 

Born in 1827 to the future Governor of Indiana (his mother would die when he was seven), Wallace led a life that saw him cross paths with Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, James Garfield, William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Billy the Kid, and numerous other luminaries of the nineteenth century. He was at various times a copyist, a lawyer, a senator, a soldier, an artist, a musician, a luthier, an ambassador, and, most famously, a general, and an author. 

Ben-Hur, Wallace’s second book, was the most widely read novel of the nineteenth-century, dethroning Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It has been argued that it acted as a national salve after the Civil War. Whereas Uncle Tom’s Cabin divided the nation, Ben-Hur united it.[1] Ben-Hur helped form a cultural bond in the Reconstruction era between the North and the South, between the modernization of America and its traditional values, and between the ever-widening gap between the sacred and secular in America. Wallace himself, in his journey from disgraced Civil War general to popular novelist, embodied his book’s message of redemption, as well as the American dream of rags to riches.

Grant, who was Wallace’s commanding officer during the Civil War and was responsible for scapegoating Wallace for the heavy casualties at the Battle of Shiloh, devoured the novel in a thirty-hour sitting. Jefferson Davis, the former Confederate president, had his daughter Varina read the Tale of the Christ to him from 10pm until daybreak, both of them so enraptured by the story as to be oblivious to the passage of time.[2]

Like Grant and Davis, President Garfield could not get enough of Wallace’s writing, and woke up at 5:30 one morning to finish it in bed. That same afternoon, Garfield, a former professor of literature and fellow Civil War veteran, wrote a letter to Wallace expressing his appreciation for Ben-Hur, and soon after asked Wallace to be ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Garfield’s  motivation was literary, rather than political: he wanted Wallace to be able to research a sequel in the Levant when his duties as ambassador weren’t pressing. Wallace served in this capacity from 1881-1885. Garfield’s sequel came in the form of Wallace’s The Prince of India, published in 1893, but sadly, twelve years after Garfield’s assassination.[3]

During his time as Minister to the Ottoman Empire, Wallace did take the opportunity to travel extensively in the Levant and the Holy Land. He was quite pleased with his initial geographic and topographic research on the Holy Land, which he had undertaken in various American libraries; so much so, that he wrote that he didn’t feel he had to change any details in Ben-Hur.[4] During his appointment, Wallace also worked to help Jewish refugees who were fleeing pogroms in Russia and Romania resettle in Syria, which he achieved due to his friendship with Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Grant, who had traveled to Constantinople in 1878, was also struck by the number of refugees, many of them Jews fleeing Bulgaria. Wallace was in turn, a celebrated figure in nineteenth-century Jerusalem, whose Jewish inhabitants compared him to David, and called him “the Nobleman and Prince,” in this “Song of Praise” written to welcome Wallace to the city.

Though Wallace enjoyed much success as a writer, he was still haunted by his unfair legacy at Shiloh until he died in 1905. Wallace’s Ben-Hur continues to have a lasting impact on American culture, in the form of inspiring biblical epics that are perennially produced in Hollywood. The phenomenon of Biblical Blockbusters, ranging from The Prince of Egypt to Noah, to The Passion of the Christ is a quintessentially American phenomenon, and has its roots in Wallace’s Ben-Hur.[5]

[1] MILLER, HOWARD. “The Charioteer and the Christ: Ben-Hur in America from the Gilded Age to the Culture Wars.” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 104, no. 2, 2008, pp. 153–175. JSTOR, p. 155, Miller also discusses how Ben-Hur

[2] The Passion of Lew Wallace

[3]  The book has nothing to do with India, but it is based on the old anti-Semitic  trope of the Wandering Jew. An odd choice for a man who helped Jewish immigrants.


[5]  Miller, p. 175

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George J. Adams, member of the Latter Day Saint movement's Council of Fifty and founder of the Church of the Messiah. c. 1841. Library of Congress.
November 12, 2019

Mark Twain and the Adams Colony

American colonists followed preacher George J. Adams from New England to Ottoman-ruled Palestine on a messianic mission to prepare the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. “We are going to become practical benefactors of the land and the people,” Adams stated, “to take the lead in developing its great resources.” A year after arriving, some of these impoverished colonists wanted a ticket home. It was at that moment that author Mark Twain came to town while on a five-month pleasure trip through Europe and the Middle East. Read more

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October 25, 2019

Exhibition Opening: “Mark Twain and the Holy”

On display until February 2, 2020

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation and the New-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the best-selling travelogues of all time with a new exhibition in New York, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view October 25, 2019 – February 2, 2020. This exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent 1869 book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress—through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.

In 1867, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)—known professionally as Mark Twain—departed New York harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Known at that point for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens had serendipitously discovered a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, and successfully inveigled his way onto the journey with an assignment from the San Francisco newspaper Alta California. Twain was to supply the paper with weekly columns about the trip and his fellow passengers. When he returned to New York and then to Washington, D.C., he began reshaping those columns and other notes made during the trip into a book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was this work that catapulted Twain to national fame, selling more copies during his lifetime than any other book he ever wrote.

Benjamin Shapell, President of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, remarked that “musing about the voyage in a passage later published in Innocents Abroad, Twain so aptly noted: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindednes.’ That his travelogue espoused such a liberal sentiment while at the very same time also exposing the deep closed-mindedness of his fellow shipmates is the very reason why Twain’s biting perspective comes across as so fresh to us even today. We are pleased that the New-York Historical Society has brought together these rare manuscripts and artifacts, bringing Twain’s lively, influential, and singular experience to life.”

It took Mark Twain and his publisher a good two years to bring Innocents to fruition in 1869, but once in print, its success was immediate. Twain’s scabrous humor found an eager and receptive audience, well documented in contemporary reviews on display in the show. Innocents undoubtedly contributed to the vogue for traveling to the Holy Land, and the exhibit features letters by such notables as President Ulysses Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom journeyed to Palestine. 

Mark Twain and the Holy Land introduces visitors both to a young Mark Twain on the eve of celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, captured by artists, writers, and photographers.

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Mark Twain, circa 1872, from American Portraits. Wikimedia Commons.
September 29, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Days 13,14,15; September 29th-October 1

(skip to Journal entry)

Mark Twain’s travel journal entries for his last few days in the Holy Land are rather brief, and so we’ve transcribed the full text below.  The time was spent in Jerusalem, Ramle, and Jaffa. It’s two days before he departs that he notices a discrepancy in his dating of the entries. From the Holy Land, Twain would continue onto Egypt, and ultimately return to New York by way of Bermuda.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with us through Twain’s travel notes. Check back soon, as we’ll be sharing more great Twain articles in anticipation of the opening of the exhibition, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, at the end of October.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept 28 – Went all through the Holy Sepulchre again.

Saw the rock faces in a wall on Via Dolorosa that cried Hosanna! when Jesus passed.

Visited the Fountain of Hezekiah, where David saw the mother of Solomon bathing.

Went to the Pool of Bethesda again for water.

Got a branch from the Cedar of Lebanon planted by Godfrey de Bouillon, first King of Jerusalem about 1085 to 1099.

28 or 29

Went out by the Damascus Gate 3 PM & left for Ramleh – reached there at 8 PM. or 9. Tall, handsome Crusader’s tower. This is the valley of Ajalon, where the moon stood still.

Next morning – Sep. 30 – rode 3 hours in a gallop to Joppa – where timber for Solomon’s temple was landed

Jonah sailed from here on his mission.

Visited house of Simon the Tanner where Peter had the vision of unclean beasts.

Napoleon took this place once.

Oct. 1. – Sailed for Egypt.

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Aerial photograph of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia Commons.
September 28, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 12, September 28th

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Mark Twain and his Quaker City companions spent another full day touring Jerusalem, recalling many biblical events and stories from the old and new testaments, and from Muslim tradition as well. There is also mention in his journal of the crusades, in referring to Godfrey of Bouillon. The group enjoyed vast views across the land when they reached the top of the Mount of Olives and were able to take in the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, the Mountains of Moab, and many more landmarks. Read excerpts below.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:


Sept. 27 – …passed Jaffa gate… crossed Hinnom Valley…. climbed the Hill of Evil Council.

….Saw where the altar of Moloch stood…. drank at Job’s well (near Sultana’s).

….The King’s Gardens all along – & the King’s well. Passed by he curious old Village of Siloam….

Virgin Mary’s Fountain.

Proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane….

Turned up to left, past St Agnes & Virgin Mary’s Tombs & ascended to top of Mount of Olives

….saw plainly the Jordan, its valley, the Dead Sea & the Mountains of Moab.

….abreast of the Damascus gate (north), came to the noblest stateliest tree in Palestine – Godfrey de Bulloigne’s tree where he camped….

Went through the Via Dolorosa.

This video shows aerial views from the Old City of Jerusalem. Check out youtube for some great 4K and drone videos across the city and the country:

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Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. Mohammada Atta, Wikimedia Commons.
September 27, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 11, September 27th

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On this day, the Quaker City group returned to Jerusalem, via Bethlehem, stopping at the Milk Grotto, Convent of the Nativity, and Rachel’s Tomb. The rest of the day was spent back in Jerusalem, a two hour journey north from Bethlehem. Once there, Twain stopped in at the Mediterranean Hotel and then visited the Western Wall. A day filled with major historic and biblical sites.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:


Sept. 26 – Got up at 3 AM & traveled 2 1/2 hours… got to the enclosure of olive trees where the angels announced the birth of the Saviour to the Shepherds…..

Milk Grotto.

Then to the convent of the Nativity…. Lunched there & left. – 2 hours to Jerusalem. On the way, visited Rachel’s Tomb (authentic.)

In Jerusalem breakfasted at noon at the Mediterranean Hotel…

….Went to the Jew’s wailing place alongside the old wall of Solomon’s Temple… Many Pharisees, with a curl forward of ear.

Another part of the Temple wall, where Dr. Robinson discovered the spring of the arch which Solomon built to connect Zion Hill with the Temple…. stones are 20 feet long & 5 or 6 thick. How did they haul them with camels & jacks.

Retired to our tents outside the Damascus Gate.

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Dead Sea, Israel, 2017. Ido Avramasko, Wikimedia Commons.
September 26, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 10, September 26th

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Twain’s Quaker City group traveled south along the Jordan River, arriving at the Dead Sea. His horse apparently knew better than him; Twain upset the animal when he tried to bring it into the Dead Sea water, while he himself ended up with a blistered face and salt covered hair.

The water of the Dead Sea is not drinkable, being more than 9 times as salty as the ocean. With a high mineral content, the water can be beneficial for the skin, and the sea has been the site of health resorts reaching as far back as the time of Herod the Great. The area is also sunny year round with dry air. Having formed as part of a rift, the surface of the sea and its shores are over 1,400ft below sea level, the lowest land elevation on Earth. It’s a must-see natural wonder if you’re ever in the area.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Dead Sea.

Sept. 25 – Visited ancient Jericho & the Foundation of Elisha.

…. As usual, got up 2 hours too soon (at 2 AM) & at 4 had traversed the plain of Jericho & arrived at the

River Jordan,

….Then rode 2 hours to the Dead Sea, & took a long bath. Face blistered and hair filled with crystalized salt. – Took a horse in & he upset.

….Rode 5 1/2 hours through frightful heat, over the roughest mountain scenery, and arrived at last, brimming with gratitude, at the prodigious Covenant of Mar Saber.

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Quarantal Monastery of Jericho, 2012. Tamar Hayardeni, Wikimedia Commons.
September 25, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 9, September 25th

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Leaving Jerusalem and heading toward the Jordan Valley, the landscape became more bleak and the temperature rose. From his journal, it seems Twain was continuing to become more disenchanted with the region as he wrote, “No Second Advent – Christ been here once – will never come again… I have only one pleasant reminiscence of the Palestine excursion -time I had the cholera in Damascus.”

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 24 – Left Jerusalem at 8 AM….

Village of Bethany.

….Over mountain saw Jordan Valley, Mountains of Moab & Dead Sea

Modern 2d Jericho.

8 Arched aqueduct…

Ancient Jericho.

Many ruins still there (arches, of course), & mosaics in the brook.

….Priest only entered Holy of Holies once a year & then sent a scape goat through Golden Gate to wilderness…

….God protect the relics of Jerusalem when our tribe get there.

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Via Dolorosa, American Colony Jerusalem, 1919. Hand-colored photographs were created by the photographers of the American Colony Photo Department, located in Jerusalem. Founded in the late 1890s by Elijah Meyers, the photo agency was headed during its heyday (ca. 1903-1933) by Lewis Larsson, whose staff photographers included Erik Lind, Lars Lind, Furman Baldwin, and G. Eric Matson.
Taken from the American Colony Jerusalem Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
September 24, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 8, September 24th

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A day full of visiting the most enviable and coveted sites to see in Jerusalem. The list of the places Mark Twain and the Quaker City travelers encountered surely speaks for itself.

Regarding the date listed in the journal, see here.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 23. – Visited the Mosque of Omar….

Great Rock of Abraham’s Sacrifice (authentic) Cords of pillars & sculptures from Solomon’s Temple (authentic)….

Got some pieces of the old Temple.

….Place where they tie rags to let Mahomet know they have been there.

Mosque El Aksa.

….Walls full of relics of Solomon’s Temple plastered in for preservation – Christians would steal & take home. Thank the Mohammedans.

Beautiful old inverted pillars.

Underneath are the old monstrous arched pillars & foundations of Solomon’s Temple, preserved excellently by the ruins that lay upon them so long…. and the subterranean way of the Pool of Siloam discovered by Dr. Robinson.

Palace of Caiaphas

Pool of Bethesda.

The Gate Beautiful


Seat of Judgement

…. Doorway to Pilate’s House.

Place where Christ sat when people said His blood be upon us & upon our children….

Via Dolorosa….

Dives House

Lazarus House

House of Dog Moreover

Tombs of the Kings

Quarries under the City.


Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

…. Place where Helena found the Cross

….Navel of the world in the Greek Chapel, where Adam’s dust came from.

….Crown of thorns.

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Jerusalem Old City Walls. Eitain Ferman, Wikimedia Commons.
September 23, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 7, September 23th

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Having woken the previous day at 1:00am to spend it traveling across northern Samaria, and only reaching camp at 7:00pm, it’s understandable that there is some confusion of dates, per what Twain has recorded, in his travel journal. It appears, that waking at 2:30am, Twain mistakenly recorded the day again as “Sept 22.” Toward the end of his stay in the Holy Land, he noticed the discrepancy and adjusted the date accordingly before setting sail to Egypt on October 1st.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22….


where the ark of the Covenant rested 300 years…


(House of God) Scene of Jacob’s Ladder Dream – nothing left now but a shapeless mass of ruins.

Villages of


Beroth & Mount Nebo-Samuel

where Prophet Samuel is buried….

Fountain of Beirah.

– very ancient….

All the way to Jerusalem, rocks -rocks – rocks. Roads infernal. Thought we never would get there.

Arrived at last…

bits of ruin scattered everywhere, and the ground thick with Mosaics.

Could recognize the Tower of Hippicus

Tower of Antonio

Mosque of Omar

Damascus Gate

Mount Olivet

Valley of Jehoshaphat

Garden of Gethsemane

Mount Moriah

….Loafed all afternoon in the Mediterranean Hotel.

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A view from Wadi Kana, Samaria; Israel National Parks and Nature Reserve. Jamie Levavi, March 2018.
September 22, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 6, September 22th

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From 1:00am to 7:00pm, Twain and his Quaker City companions found themselves traveling through northern Samaria. He notes its distinct terraced hills, which can be traced back to biblical times, and where then farmers and vintners continued to use and maintain these agricultural tracts through the millennia to today.

Like much of the Holy Land, Samaria is home to many notable biblical sites and filled with archaeological treasures. It is not uncommon that when ground is broken, builders come upon ancient olive and wine presses, or the remains of ancient villages and homes. Careful steps are then taken to preserve these discoveries either by the archaeological or nature authorities.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 22 –
Left Genin at 1AM. Some time before daylight, passed near another place where Joseph’s brethren pitted him.


About noon after passing over a succession of mountain tops (saw Mediterranean Sea 40 miles distant) & many Biblical cities (in which the inhabitants looked savage & would have liked to throw stones (women & babies with elaborate coin headdresses,) we came to the singularly terraced hills which shewed that we were out of Galilee & into


Climbed a hill… where the good Samaritan (the only one that ever lived there) dwelt…
….It is rough stone mud hovels & camel dung, as usual.

Tomb of St John

Or Shechem. Lunched there at 2 P.M.
Ebal on the left (hill of cursing) & Gherison on the right (hill of blessing)…
Ebal is cultivated with grapes – scattering olives on the other- disproves the enthusiasts who say the accursed mountain is barren & the other blooming.

Joseph’s Tomb
Jacob’s Well

Both well authenticate…

Camped at 7PM at an Arab Village – Lubia (Libonia of the Bible). Tents behind. Slept on the ground in front of an Arab house.

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Ein Dor. Ein Dor Museum of Archaeology.
September 21, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 5, September 21th

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Today’s entry from Twain might find Star Wars fans momentarily confused and smiling. At 7:30am, the Quaker City group broke camp and “galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor…. the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed.”

The Plains of Esdraelon are today more commonly called the Jezreel Valley, and the local pronunciation and modern spelling of Endor, is Ein Dor, now a kibbutz. Biblical references to the Jezreel Valley, where Ein Dor is located, include major battle scenes. In Christian eschatology, part of this valley is to be the site of a great end of days battle between good and evil – perhaps another similarity to not be lost on Star Wars fans, as Endor was the location of the great battle between the light and dark sides of the Force.

But returning to Twain’s own epic adventures, he cannot help but repeatedly note how “rusty” and “nasty” the local conditions are throughout his journal. Though familiar through the bible, The Holy Land seemed to appear like another world to Twain, with it’s drastically foreign culture, extreme topography, and unusual customs; including women with tattooed faces, which he also notes more than once in his notes.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 21 – …galloped across the Plain of Esdraelon to Endor

the rustiest of all, almost – a few nasty mud cabins, – many caves & holes in the hill from which the fierce, ragged, dirty inhabitants swarmed. Pop. 250.

The Witch’s Cave

…. Endor is a fit place for a witch…. Next, to Nain… still smaller town…. place shown where corpse was passing through city wall when Chirst resurrected it.

Shunem,… where woman built shanty on wall for Elisha & he raised her dead son.

Next to Ancient Ruined Castle

celebrated in the Crusades… where Napoleon won a splendid victory over the Syrians (Turks).

City of Jezreel,

on the hill, where Ahab King of Judah lived in splendor with his awful heifer Jezebel…

Fountain of Jezreel,

Where Gideon slipped up on the Midianites & Amalekites with his 300 who lapped like dogs….

This Esdraelon is called the battle-field of the nations. 11 separate and distinct nations have fought in it…. Assyrians & Persians, the Jews & Gentiles, Crusaders & Saracens, Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, and Franks….

Next to

El Genin, where we are camped.

Women tattooed on arms, hands, chins, lips, & sometimes cheeks.

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View of the Church of the Annunciation as seen from the Salesian Church, Nazareth. Wikimedia Commons.
September 20, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 4, September 20th

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This day, Twain’s traveling group was accompanied by a man whom Twain described as “a pirate… if ever a pirate dwelt upon land.” This tall Arab man armed with a large silver scimitar was hired to guard the group from Bedouins who allegedly took pleasure in killing Christians.

Together the caravan rode to Mount Tabor, a green landmark that Twain enjoyed after trotting through what he considered monotonous desert landscape. The group climbed to the summit of the mountain with sweeping views of the region while they discussed Christ’s transfiguration that took place on the mount. After, they took a two-hour ride to Nazareth via narrow and rocky roads. “All distances in the East are measured by hours, not miles,” Twain observed.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 20 – Bathed in Galilee before breakfast. Passed through the strange old town (beautiful porphyry columns with flutings almost worn away. ) Had a wretched looking scalliwag imposed upon us for a guard by the shiek…

Mount Tabor.


….New convent & ruins of an old one built by the Crusaders. Saw XX* in it. Also ruins of Joshua’s time.


Then came to Nazareth, where Christ lived & carpentered till 30 of age (not allowed by Jewish law to teach sooner.

Glass windows, – some 2-story – many shops – many cone-shaped mud hovels; – camels & fantastic Arabs & dirty children – all around, the hills that were familiar to the eyes of Jesus -…. Saw the grotto of the Annunciation…. Grotto where lived Joseph Mary & infant Christ –

Workshop of Joseph & Jesus….

Synagogue where Jesus taught & from which Jews took him to throw him down the mountain, when he “passed from their presence”.

Fountain of the Virgin.

*This is Mark Twain’s usual symbol for crosses.

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Sea of Galilee, 2014. Zachi Evenor, Wikimedia Commons.
September 19, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 3, September 19th

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September 19th was a busy and full day for Mark Twain in the Holy Land. Rising at 7:00am, he and his travel companions arrived to Joseph’s Pit by 10:00am. This site is fabled to be that where Joseph’s brother’s stripped him of his multicolored coat and sold him to merchants;

“And there it will remain until the next detachment of image-breakers and tomb-desecrators arrives from the Quaker City excursion, and they will infallibly dig it up and carry it away with them,” Twain lamented in Innocents Abroad. The same pit still serves as a tourist destination in Emek Dotan.

It’s notable that in his journal, Twain sums up the group’s experience of attempting to sail the Sea of Galilee as “Tried to get a boat and didn’t.” This incident is later developed in Innocents Abroad, describing the pious Quaker City excursionists attempting to haggle with a sailor, who, offended at being rebuffed for his asking price, sailed off and did not return;

“Well, there was nothing to do but just submit and forego the privilege of voyaging on Gennesaret,” Twain lamented, “after coming half around the globe to taste that pleasure.” With no other boats nearby, the pilgrims mounted their horses and road to Magdala (near the present-day town of Migdal). “Magdala is not a beautiful place,” Twain observed. “It is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy.” There, they visited one notable dwelling: a ruin that was rumored to be the home of St. Mary Magdalene. After Twain’s companions collected parts of the front wall as souvenirs, they continued to Tiberias where they spent the night.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

Sept. 19 – Left our cap by he Waters of Merom at 7AM. The Arabs threw stones into the camp last night and tried to stampede the horses.

…came in site of the

Sea of Galilee

Lake Genessareth,

Sea of Tiberias.

….examined the arched pit called

Joseph’s Well,

where his brethren threw him. Then over a horrible rocky, barren desert (like Nevada,) skulls with scattering goats & shepherds… & past



from which Christ sent his disciples in a boat, after the miracle of 5 loaves & 2 fishes….

We descended to the sea at


Christ’s dwelling-place….

Tried to get a boat and didn’t.

Took a bath.

….crossed a long, rich, oleander plain… to the birth-place of Mary Magdalene – the rattiest, rustiest dirtiest little collection of mud hovels, tattooed women & sore-eyed children in Palestine.


…another nasty mud hovel village full of Arabs, Jews & Negroes.

…. for 300 years it was the metropolis of the Jews in Palestine. It has been the abiding place of many famous and learned Jewish rabbins.


Warm Baths

2 miles below are mentioned by Pliny.


Splendid stars – when blue wave rolls nightly on Galilee.

We have seen no country between here & Damascus capable of supporting any such populations as one gathers from the Bible. The people of this region in the Bible were just as they are now – ignorant, depraved, susperstitious, dirty, lousy, thieving vagabonds.

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Image: Tel-el-Kadi; site of Dan, source of the Jordan River, between 1890 and 1900. Library of Congress.
September 18, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in the Holy Land – Day 2, September 18th

(skip to Journal entry)

While Twain’s descriptions of his Holy Land travels on September 18th start at “the largest fountain in Syria…. the banks of the stream are bordered thick with oleanders…” they quickly become more stark. The group continues on to rocky roads, encounters some local living conditions, a swamp, and finally “Lake Hula, or the Waters of Merom of bible fame.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Sept. 18. – Broke Camp at 7.15am… came to the Hill ruins & fountain of Tel’ el Kadi (Dan.)

“Dan. …a lot of Danites from Sodom, 600, came over, like a pack of adventureers… & lived there… till Abraham hazed them in after times.

We traveled a long stretch (4 miles) of miserable rocky road… over half-green half-rusty country full of fine sheep, bulls of Bashan, and Bedouin Shepherds. The Bed’s… scorn to live in houses. Saw their tents…. riding 2 hours along a vast green swamp that occupies the whole width of the Valley, we camped at last at a fountain & mill well down abreast of Lake Hula…

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View at the remnants of the Tempel of Pan with Pan's cave at the background. The building at the slope of the cliff is the grave of Nebi Khader. Image: Gugganij, Wikimedia Commons.
September 17, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – Day 1, September 17th

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On September 17th, Mark Twain rode into the Holy Land with a caravan of eight Quaker City passengers.

“The scenery of the Bible is about you – the customs of the patriarch are around you – the same people, in the same flowing robes, and in sandals, cross your path,” Twain described in The Innocents Abroad. “And behold, intruding upon a scene like this, comes this fantastic mob of green-spectacled Yanks, with their flapping elbows and bobbing umbrellas!”

Some of the “incorrigible pilgrims” that were his travel mates, he sadly reported, vandalized sites in order to bring home some Holy Land souvenirs. “They have been hacking and chipping these old arches here that Jesus looked upon in the flesh,” Twain verbally scolded. “Heaven protect the Sepulchre when this tribe invades Jerusalem!”

All snark aside, Twain was aware that he was entering the Holy Land and the experience moved even this highly sarcastic writer. “It seems curious enough to us to be standing on ground that was once actually pressed by the feet of the Saviour,” he concluded that day. “I cannot comprehend yet that I am sitting where a god has stood, and looking upon the brook and the mountain which that god looked upon, and am surrounded by dusky men and women whose ancestors saw him, and even talked with him, face to face, and carelessly, just as they would have done with any other stranger.”

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

“Holy Land.”

“Sept. 17. – Edged in to the Holy Land proper, to-day….”

“climbed… 1,000 feet high, which overlooks the ancient city of Cesarea Phillippi, Dan, & the great plain wherein are visible some little stream – sources of the Jordan. The mountain is in the Bashan & is covered with olives groves & the oaks…. It is crowned with the grandest old ruined castle… 1,000 feet long by 200 wide… walls and turrets have been from 30 to 60 feet high… dressed stone masonry with beveled edges… grand portcutllis… vaults, arches, dungeons… goatherd lives there now.”


“This place – where we are encamped, is beautiful with olive groves, & the fountain which is the main source of the Jordan – we washed in it & drank of its waters. The fountain comes from a great grotto where the Greeks (& the Romans after them), worshiped the god Pan (hence the name, Panias)… At the same place, Herod the Great erected a marble temple to commemorate the visit of Caesar Augustus…”

“Cesarea Phillippi”

“This and Banias are one….Hoof-prints deep in old rocks. This is the first place we have ever seen, whose pavements were trodden by Jesus Christ. Here he asked… Peter who he took him to be… & Peter’s confident answer elicited that famous sentence upon which all the vast power & importance the Church of Rome arrogates to itself is founded: “Thou art Peter & upon the Rock… what thou shalt bind upon the earth shall be bound in heaven….” and near here… some caim that the Savior’s Ascension/Transfig took place.”

“Lake Hula – or the Waters of Meron.”

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“Kefr Hauwar” Howard Crosby Butler Archive, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University.
September 16, 2019

Mark Twain’s Journeys in Palestine – September 16th

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In 1867, Mark Twain was on assignment from a San Francisco newspaper. He would depart New York Harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe and around the Mediterranean. This would be the first organized tourism trip of its kind in American history. During this time, he would send back humorous, revealing, and opinionated weekly reports to be published in the newspaper’s columns, documenting his travels, famous sites he visited, and the local inhabitants. The columns and notes from his travel journals would soon after be published as The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. The book was an instant success, catapulting Twain to national fame.

As part of our celebration of the 150th anniversary of the success of his 1869 publication, we’ll be sharing daily excerpts from his travel journal – “Notebook 9” – documenting Twain’s time spent in the Holy Land. Soon to follow, the exhibition Mark Twain and the Holy Land will open at New-York Historical Society; you’ll be able to view the Shapell Manuscript Foundation items from the exhibition here.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or right here to get a daily dose of Twain in the Holy Land.

Excerpted from Mark Twain’s Notebook 9:

SEP 16…

Nimrod’s Tomb. 4,000 years old. The first King.

Camped at an Arab village (Kafir Something),* where Nimrod he Mighty Hunter, the builder of Babylon & the Tower of Babel lies buried. He was a fine old Sport & a great linguist.

*Kefr Hauwar

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Mark Twain Signed Photo by Abdullah Frères in Constantinople, c. 1867. Shapell Manuscript Collection.
September 15, 2019

Forbes: Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ Celebrated In New York

“A new exhibition that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of ‘one of the best-selling travelogues of all time’ is set to open at the New-York Historical Society in New York.

“Mark Twain and the Holy Land will highlight American humorist Mark Twain’s 1867 voyage to Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land, and his subsequent book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress.  The show will introduce visitors to a young Twain on the eve of his celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, according to the New-York Historical Society, which organized it in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

“Original documents, including manuscripts, journal entries and letters by Twain, will be on view from October 25, 2019 through February 2, 2020.”

Read the full article by Tanya Mohn in Forbes here.

Shapell Manuscript Collection documents, items, and objects from the exhibition will be displayed online with the opening of the exhibition in New York, so check back soon. In the meantime, the Mark Twain Collection can be viewed here.

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Image: Zvi Hirsh Heller (aged 15) of Petach Tikva studied at the Hebron Yeshiva. He was a victim of the 1929 Hebron Massacre and died of his wounds in hospital in Jerusalem. Rechavam Zeevy, Wikimedia.
August 29, 2019

A Presidential Response to the 1929 Hebron Massacres

In August 1929, following inflammatory sermons and inciting rumors, pogroms were instigated in which Arabs slaughtered Jews in British Mandate Palestine. The Hebron Riots of 1929 – part of the Palestine Riots of 1929 – sent shock-waves around the world, and ended centuries of continued Jewish presence in Hebron. Americans were particularly aghast as newspapers reported that a number of those massacred were students from New York and Chicago. Americans campaigned for the government to intervene on behalf of the Jewish Americans and their property in Palestine.

This letter from President Herbert Hoover is in answer to one such missive, where he manages to respond, yet says very little.


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Netanyahu holding a cabinet meeting commemorating Ben-Gurion's passing Image: Koby Gideon, Government Press Office.
July 15, 2019

Netanyahu: The Longest-Serving Israeli Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu made history in the past when he became the youngest Israeli prime minister, and the first to be born in the independent State of Israel. This week, on July 20, 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu will make history yet again by becoming Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. Until the 19th of July, Israel’s first prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, will have held the record, serving a cumulative total of thirteen years and twenty-seven days. Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu was also elected to four terms, three of them consecutive.

In this summer of 1963 letter, written after resigning as prime minister for the second time, Ben-Gurion –  gifting himself an additional two years on top of his thirteen served – shares his insights about the appropriate length for a prime minister to remain in power. 

Enjoyed Learning About The Longest Serving PM of Israel?

Enjoyed learning about the longest-serving Prime Minister of Israel? Then discover other great blogs from Shapell, including David Rice Atchison President For A Day, The Most Athletic Presidents, The First Vaccine, and more!

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Image: Theodor Herzl on the ship-deck as it arrives at the shores of Jaffa at dawn. October 26, 1898. The Herzl Museum, Wikimedia Commons.
April 8, 2019

National Library of Israel Features Theodor Herzl Postcards

In October 1898, Theodor Herzl arrived in Jerusalem, to work toward furthering his initiatives to create a Jewish state. While in Palestine, he met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, twice; once near Holon, and a second time in Jerusalem. During his journey, he regularly sent letters and postcards home. The National Library of Israel houses this collection, and highlighted here are the postcards Herzl sent to his daughter, Paulina.

You can view more of Herzl’s postcards and photographs here, and read his letters about creating a Jewish state in our Theodor Herzl Collection.


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Nirit Shalev Khalifa
August 21, 2017

When Did The US First Get Involved In The Middle East

U.S. presence and diplomacy in the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, goes back much farther than you’d expect. You can listen to curator Nirit Shalev Khalifa and Dr. Ron Bartour discuss this topic with Gilad Halpern. Discover more on this topic at our online exhibition, Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land: American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th Century.


You’re listening to a TLV 1. This is The Tel Aviv review. And I’m a now joined here in the studio by Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa, the curator of the exhibition Dreams and diplomacy in the Holy Land, American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. That’s currently showing at the national library in Jerusalem. Also, here in the studio is Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy Land, as well as a former broadcaster on Israel Radio and a rhetorician. Welcome both to the studio. Hello.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Thank you.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thank you.

Nirit, we’ll start with you. There are a few striking things about the history of American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. One of them is the great proactiveness and political involvement at a time when Washington’s official foreign policy was isolationists and non-interventionist. Why is that? What motivated them to be so active?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
This is one of the most amazing things, that all those consuls came to Jerusalem. And if you see the motivation they had, it was mainly because they really wanted to come. They wanted so hardly that their friends colleagues tried the best they can do. They convinced the minister in Washington. And that even sent us to the first consul or almost consul in Jerusalem Warder Cresson. Warder Cresson-

Speaker 1:
Almost consul because he was [crosstalk 00:01:49] officially appointed.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Almost consul… He appoin and then it was canceled even before he came to Jerusalem.


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The journey took about a month. And that time, the people in the government in a Washington, they found out who is the person, but it was-

[crosstalk 00:02:06] Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The reason- Yes, the reason that they appointed him, because he was very religious person and he wanted to come to Jerusalem. He had no idea about the real Jerusalem.


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
He thought about Jerusalem in the-

[crosstalk 00:02:22] He had the Jerusalem syndrome.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The biblical Jerusalem.

Host 1:

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some kind of. And I think that was a, you mentioned the Jerusalem syndrome, maybe you can say that the American diplomacy, that time was some kind of Jerusalem syndrome. Because, they came with ambitions. And also, we say, all the thinking of American about liberty, about freedom, but what you think in America, the new world, the new zion [crosstalk 00:02:50] they wanted to create. They came to Jerusalem and they found it.

Sometimes it went over the top because Warder Cresson, for example, the reason his appointment was revoked was that he was mentally unstable and his ex-wife even tried to institutionalize him.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. But you see, the reason was religion. Some of them came, if we say Warder Cresson was very dramatic and extreme-

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…example, but we can say about many other consuls. They won because the help of them or some relatives. They wanted to come. And when they came to Jerusalem, they came as the new guy in the neighborhood.


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then, was no support, no policy from Washington. And then they had to deal with two main subjects. One of them was the American settlers-


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…who is the American colonies and the other was the Jewish communities.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ron. What’s the thing that led the American policy in the land of Israel in Palestinian, in the Holy land. Was it just a Christian Zionism or were there other interests involved?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
In one word, Geopiety. Namely, if you look at this map, which was produced for the bicentennial, by my professor, Moshe Davis, the head of the Hebrew University, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, with his wife, you can see Moses and other distinguished guests from the Bible running around in the American map. And as a matter of fact, there were like 340 settlements, American, Puritan, Colonial settlements, and from the national [inaudible 00:04:41] period named after the Bible. So, geopiety speaking, Zion in America was in that nature. Furthermore, American students at Harvard in the 17th century had to study biblical Hebrew and they claimed it’s difficult. So, this led the government to appoint religious, mostly, people as consuls in the Holy land.

Because, in many ways the American Ethos is very similar to the Zionist Ethos. It mentioned the new Jerusalem, the new Zion, this whole thing about going back to the roots while discovering the new land. And some of those people that are covered in the exhibition were, you could say pro to Zionist, Zionist even before Herzl.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even though some of them had some hesitations, for example, the side of Cresson, who tend to be Jewish who became a Rabbi and married this- [crosstalk 00:05:50].


Dr. Ron Bartour:
…as far as the wife and recently his tomb in Mt. Olives was found-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thanks to the exhibition we found the- [crosstalk 00:05:59]

Oh, really?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so in his book, you can see this Magen David with his soul, his Jewish soul. And he’s saying in his book, the key of David, one true God, who was blessed forever and underneath his Hebrew name, Michoel Boaz Israel, which he shortened for my Mccovey. That’s the first-


Dr. Ron Bartour:
…Mccovey, modern Mccovey.

And he’s the one who actually converted to Judaism, but others who were practicing Christians. So, the mission primarily, but I don’t know if primarily, but you know, a big part of the mission, to establish good relations with the Jewish communities in Jerusalem and in many ways to give them the patronage.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yes. Especially extraterritorial rights, which was the core of the American capitulations in this regime with the Ottoman Empire in which foreigners could have acquired land, houses and outside of the Ottoman, Texas.

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, this was very important for Jews who came in growing number to the Holy land, because Europeans usually [inaudible 00:07:17] for their rights and between them and the Turkish, the Ottoman Empire. And the Jews were afraid of losing their extraterritorial rights, they’re privileges. There were proteges. And from Russian protection, British protection, they were led to America. Now American had the Monroe Doctrine since 1823, this isolation [crosstalk 00:07:44].


Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, the question is why the Turks were so eager or agreed to- [crosstalk 00:07:48]

That’s what I was going to ask. How was it received by the Ottoman authorities, who ruled this piece of land? It was part of the empire at the time.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And why America? Because, American official non-involvement was liked by the Ottomans, but specifically they liked American know-how, technologically speaking, of building ships, which the European destroyed in 1823 in Navarino where Greece was fighting for its independence. This was the real reason why in 1830, this- [crosstalk 00:08:21]

Basically it’s a cross-atlantic Alliance, even before it-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
[crosstalk 00:08:27] The consul was established.


Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yeah. Right.

So, basically they were looking towards America as a potential potential ally. While the British, the French and the Russians were gradually becoming their enemies. That’s what you’re saying.

Dr. Ron Bartour:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nirit, we’ll go back to you. This Friday, on the 10th of January, there’s a gallery tour at the National Library where the exhibition is. And it will be dedicated to a specific consul, Victor Beauboucher, who’s actually a Frenchman.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. And one of the amazing thing is about all those characters that we see during… We’re talking about 16 consuls, because they couldn’t survive many years in Jerusalem. They just had to ask for another job after a few years and even after some months. And Victor Beauboucher was another very important consul, because he was involved in few major affairs, like, first day American colony in Jaffa.

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And we are going to talk about the American colony in Jaffa, and also to see a film made by professor Yael Katzir, who documented the story. I guess most of the people knows now where the nice wooden building in Jaffa Tel-Aviv-


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
-street. But…

And also Jerusalem, the famous hotel.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
No. But this is another American colony.

Oh, right. Okay.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
That was with another consul that had made them a lot of problems [inaudible 00:10:15]. But Victor Beauboucher actually was… He came and he had to help them to go back to America because they came here and [crosstalk 00:10:27]

Yeah. Who are these people? I mean, we know that the American colonies exists to this very day, like you said, in Tel Aviv near Jaffa and in Jerusalem and other places in the country.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And another American colony, which was actually the first one that we are talking about in Mt. Hope-

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Which is [crosstalk 00:10:45]

Yeah. That never survived. It existed for a few years and… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
All of them, I think-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The forefather John Steinbeck, the famous American writer was murdered there.


Dr. Ron Bartour:
And I had [inaudible 00:10:57] back in 1855, and you can find it in the Senate document.

Okay. That’s really fascinating anecdote, but who were these people who established the American colonies here?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
In 1866, this American colony in Jaffa. Their leader was the preacher, George Adams. And he convinced them to come again to, to the Bible and to be farmers here. And they came with their wooden houses. This is an amazing thing that just came from Maine and they came with everything with them. But of course they came to nothing and they couldn’t survive. And after a while, they needed a real help just to help them to go back to America and to build their life. Only few families stay here. And one of them is the Floyd family.

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And Rolla Floyd, he was the first tour guide. He actually invented the tour guide in the Holy land.

Mm-hmm (affirmative) When was that? What the decade of 19th century?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
We are talking in the ’60s.

Okay, 1860s.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
It was between ’66 and ’67.


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And they had to leave. And one of the things that maybe to mention about this exhibition, because we have so many firsts, we tried to look for every consul. What’s happened during staying here?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some of them said it was very boring and asked to leave.

Yeah. Exactly. That was going… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
But it wasn’t so boring. I guess, for most of them, it was too much interesting. [Crosstalk 00:12:35]

Exactly. That’s my question to you, Ron, now. Another thing that struck me is that we were talking about, I don’t know, maybe a dozen consuls in just over half a century. And all of them asked to be transferred prematurely. [crosstalk 00:12:54] I don’t know all of them, but a great majority of them. And some of them, like Nirit said, found it boring. Others just couldn’t handle the network of pressures that was applied on them from the Turkish authorities, from the Department of State, in Washington, and from the Jewish community here. Many of them were embroiled in controversies that hit the very few newspapers that were here. All of this, of course you can see at the exhibition, but what do you think brought them to this situation?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
First of all, you have to remember that the settlers and most of the consul came from the geopietic feeling. Not just them, Edward Robinson, the famous American archeologist who found the Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem and there was the wall.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Near the Western Wall. [crosstalk 00:13:56]

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It said that he remembered his grandfather’s Bible, which led him to this profession, which led him to come to the Holy land. And so, under the Spoils system, this was the name of the department of States system until 1906, people were chosen because of personal reasons. Other missionary, like this Beauboucher for example, who actually was involved with his deputy Jewish wants before it was converted to Christianity named Finkelstein who became the private secretary later of Sewald, the famous secretary of state.


Dr. Ron Bartour:
Okay. And this Sara Steinberg affair, where Beauboucher went Friday night to a Rabbi’s house to take out a small child rose so much fear. [crosstalk 00:14:52]

Why did he do that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Because he was, in his heart-


Dr. Ron Bartour:
…a religious missionary.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So, he wanted to protect her from-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So to speak.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yeah. Her family was converted when-


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…their parents died and only sister was a Christian, already.


Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then there was a fight, who’s going to get the-

So, they were all-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And this guy went to President Grant.

Who’s that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It’s Rabbi Schneersohn.


Dr. Ron Bartour:
Grandson of the famous Schneersohn, who established Chabad. And he, as you see, speaking about geopiety, spoke to President Grant about this missionary consul, that should go home-


Dr. Ron Bartour:
…so to speak. And as you can see, he was dressed like a prophet. This Rabbi said-

So this-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
As a matter of fact, he was the one who, for himself asked to become an American diplomat in Tiberia.

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:

But it was denied.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It was denied because it was involved in the scandal in which he was beaten up by extreme Jews in the Galilee who didn’t want to go for modern agriculture and beaten him. But he succeeded in removing this consul Beauboucher from his office.

Right. Okay.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And he died in diaspora dreaming about a Tiberian-


Dr. Ron Bartour:
…colony, [crosstalk 00:16:13] which was established.

So, like-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And that’s why we don’t have [inaudible 00:16:16] American Consulate in Tiberia [crosstalk 00:16:18].

Yeah, because his mission failed. A lot like-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
But President Grant came to the Holy land, maybe as a result of this.

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And wrote about it, a diary, which we have.

Okay. Like we see, those many, many dreams that penetrated diplomacy and vice versa, which makes the name of the exhibition so apt, Dreams and diplomacy and the Holy land, American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. Thank you very much for coming into the studio, Dr. Nirit Shalve Khalifa, the curator and Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy land. And I encourage our listeners to come on Friday, the 10th of January at 11 o’clock in the morning?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
At 10:30 in the morning.

10:30 o’clock in the morning. 10:30 in the morning, to the National Gallery in Jerusalem for a gallery tour dedicated to Victor Beauboucher. Thank you very much and we’ll be right back.

Read more about US history, plus discover other great blogs from Shapell, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Grandchild, Leopold Rothchild, President Jefferson and the First Vaccine, and more!

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