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Bethlehem THE CRADLE OF KINGS

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

By Munir Sansur.

This Week in Palestine

May 2005

Sansur Books, Bethlehem, 2005, 219 pages, $30.

The book traces an intimate history of Bethlehem, from its beginnings as a prehistoric settlement through to the troubled times of the First Crusade. Written by the late Munir Sansur, whose family has lived in the area for generations, The Cradle of Kings is an informed and passionate history of this town that played such an important role in the development of Christianity.

In this book, which was published posthumously, we learn about Abu Harb the Veiled, the Caliph Al-Hakim and Peter the Hermit, amongst others, in a dizzying pantheon of characters from Neanderthal hunter-gatherers through to Holy Roman Emperors. Perhaps the highlight of the book lies in its second part which is an historical narrative. In it we learn about the Crusade and its impact on Bethlehem and the region through the eyes of four different fictitious characters created by the author. The historical breadth of Sansur’s research is combined with the imaginary characters that include a Bethlehemite, a pilgrim and two Crusader knights. Together they portray a vivid and evocative picture of the Holy Land in one of its most defining moments. All this is lived against an ancient landscape that is now, more than ever before, quickly vanishing.

The book comprises of two parts. The first is a historical overview of Bethlehem and Palestine in general, which takes us through prehistory and the Nativity to the beginning of the First Crusade. The second part is more of a historical narrative in which we learn of the Crusade, and its impact on the region, through the characters created by the author. While the characters are imagined, the historical framework in which they reside is accurate and factual. Very informative and thoroughly entertaining, The Cradle of Kings enables us to contemplate and draw strength and its message, after all, is one of tolerance and forgiveness.

Sansur was born in Jerusalem in 1962 into a Palestinian Christian family. After completing an MBA in Belgium he taught for a while at Birzeit University but his main work was running the family’s trading company in Bethlehem. A locally renowned concert pianist and a connoisseur in classical art, history and archaeology, Sansur was also a collector of old masters’ paintings and objets d’art. He passed away suddenly in July 2002. This is Sansur’s only book. While he was neither a qualified historian nor an archaeologist, he was a great raconteur with a passion for colourful stories and debate. Above all, he was a Bethlehemite who held his hometown in great reverence and imbued his writing with that love.

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