By bringing a balanced viewpoint that takes account of the weight of history, Professor Simon Goldhill has helped an innovative project make headway in the conflict-ridden Holy Land.

When we talk of shared cultural heritage, we have to be very careful that we don't use the word ‘shared’ without recalling and defending against its dark side. ‘Shared’ cultural heritage in the Middle East will always also be a shared history of violence, and we can't expect to ignore this

Professor Simon Goldhill

His contribution was instrumental in moving towards achieving the goals of the action in general, and an innovative approach for new signs and manuals of sites of shared cultural heritage in particular

Mike Turner, Director of the PUSH project

As an expert in the classics, and the author of two acclaimed books on Jerusalem’s troubled cultural heritage, Professor Simon Goldhill is able to take the long view. And he has brought this perspective to a project which has played a vital role in brokering understanding between peoples of different faiths in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The purpose of the Promoting Understanding of Shared Heritage (PUSH) programme was to develop new policies on sites of shared cultural heritage in those countries, by bringing policy makers together with academic experts and heritage professionals.

At its inaugural meeting, Goldhill’s keynote speech explored the deeper meanings of the terms ‘shared’ and ‘cultural heritage’. His evocation of universal human qualities, as illustrated in Greek tragedies such as Antigone, paved the way for a debate that set the tone for the project.

Goldhill’s role, as a ‘neutral’ and highly knowledgeable academic adviser, has been crucial to the success of PUSH. He sought to emphasise throughout that the process must be one that is truly collaborative - which recognises difference and does not shy away from the complexities of cultural history.

PUSH achieved important changes in policy. New interpretative signs were created for some highly contested sites, setting out in the three main languages of the region the different stories associated with each site. This unique approach both acknowledged layers of history and made them transparent.

Discussions about managing shared natural resources also helped lead to successful collaborative projects well beyond PUSH. The River Jordan has long been a political battleground, both as a boundary and a vital part of the local ecology. For the first time in 40 years, a flow of fresh water has returned to the river, making it possible for work to begin on controlling the sewage that still pollutes it.

Since the PUSH project ended in 2010, Goldhill has continued to contribute his expertise to policy and public awareness in the region, as an adviser to UNESCO, and as the director of a new project looking at urban planning and natural boundaries as issues that may still be controversial even if peace is achieved.

As an expert in the classics, and the author of two acclaimed books on Jerusalem’s troubled cultural heritage, Professor Simon Goldhill is able to take the long view. And he has brought this perspective to a project which has played a vital role in brokering understanding between peoples of different faiths in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The purpose of the Promoting Understanding of Shared Heritage (PUSH) programme was to develop new policies on sites of shared cultural heritage in those countries, by bringing policy makers together with academic experts and heritage professionals.

At its inaugural meeting, Goldhill’s keynote speech explored the deeper meanings of the terms ‘shared’ and ‘cultural heritage’. His evocation of universal human qualities, as illustrated in Greek tragedies such as Antigone, paved the way for a debate that set the tone for the project.

Goldhill’s role, as a ‘neutral’ and highly knowledgeable academic adviser, has been crucial to the success of PUSH. He sought to emphasise throughout that the process must be one that is truly collaborative - which recognises difference and does not shy away from the complexities of cultural history.

PUSH achieved important changes in policy. New interpretative signs were created for some highly contested sites, setting out in the three main languages of the region the different stories associated with each site. This unique approach both acknowledged layers of history and made them transparent.

Discussions about managing shared natural resources also helped lead to successful collaborative projects well beyond PUSH. The River Jordan has long been a political battleground, both as a boundary and a vital part of the local ecology. For the first time in 40 years, a flow of fresh water has returned to the river, making it possible for work to begin on controlling the sewage that still pollutes it.

Since the PUSH project ended in 2010, Goldhill has continued to contribute his expertise to policy and public awareness in the region, as an adviser to UNESCO, and as the director of a new project looking at urban planning and natural boundaries as issues that may still be controversial even if peace is achieved.

 

The weight of history

The ‘Holy Land’ of the Middle East is a contested landscape which contains sites of sacred importance to all three of the world’s major religions. Often, the same piece of land can be loaded with different meanings according to whether it is seen from a Muslim, Christian or Jewish perspective.

As one example, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is revered by Jews as the site of the Temple, by Jews and Muslims as the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, and by Muslims as the site of the first mosque, the al-Asqua, and the place from where Mohammed rose to heaven. For Christians it is a site of immense significance in the life of Jesus and as an expression of the relation between Christianity and Judaism.

Quick fixes are unlikely to work in such a complex situation. But attempts at resolution that use a more nuanced approach, and take account of the weight of history, are beginning to make a difference.

 

Taking the long view

Goldhill’s even-handed, in-depth writing on Jerusalem, telling the story of the city through its heritage sites and the conflicts that surround them, has been the result of many years of culturally sensitive research, and directly led to his involvement in PUSH.

Temple of Jerusalem (2005) explores the complex history of this sacred site. The Temple, a hugely ambitious structure for its time, survived for less than a hundred years before being destroyed in 70 AD. Goldhill’s research looks at how the Temple has become a building of the imagination, re-conceived and fought over across the ages, through artistic and literary sources, as well as historical.

Jerusalem: City of Longing (2008) builds on Goldhill’s previous work to take a broader look at the cultural heritage of Jerusalem as a whole, deliberately avoiding judgemental or simplistic language.