Although the concept of the “American dream”; invented in 1931, may be considered a recent one, the utopian desire of settling in America in search of the promised land is anything but recent. In “Our Jerusalem: Americans in the Holy Land and Protestant Narratives of National Entitlement” by Milette Shamir, the author discusses the Holy Land Mania in the Unites States; how Americans identified with the Holy Land and the reasons of this obsession.
First, Americans identified with the representations of the Holy Land in order to define the American National Identity. The author distinguishes two components of the National Identity; the familiar feminized past and the national masculine future. The feminine representing the biologized point of origin and a reassuring mother of a common past i.e. the Holy Land, in parallel with the masculine representing the civilized oedipal who inherited the role of the Israelites despite genealogy. On one hand, the late-nineteenth-century words of Arthur Bird are brought up to express the religious vision of America being bound on the east by the first chapter of the Book Genesis and on the west by the Day of judgment (Shamir, p:32). This shows the symbolic role that the religion played in territorial claims of the “Promised land of the Chosen People”. On the other hand, the reaction and faithful following of Mark Twain’s adventures in the Near East, show the importance of the imperial superiority in defining the American Identity. The “Palestine Park” in Chautauqua, New York (p:34); a life size model of Jerusalem, shows the importance of the marriage between the two components of the National American Identity.
Second, the author recognizes two main causes of Holy land mania. Following the civil war, Americans presented with an increased urge to travel (p:35). The instability, conflict and failure to maintain the promised peace in the united states caused a shock to the American identity, therefore the urge to escape that land and seeking a terra firma (p:35), where national wounds could be inspected and healed by comparison of “home” to the “feminized” Holy Land. In addition, the development of communication means, paved roads and the establishment of the first consulate during the 1850s resulted in an increase of security and protection for American tourists. This increase in security encouraged Americans, reactionary in nature, to travel to the Holy Land. This getaway is an anxious response to rapid social and economic transformations that come with the massive urbanization that took place in America during that period (p:35). The immutability, stability and simplicity of the unchanged East presented an opposite effect to the anxiousness of urbanization.
Finally, the author believes that the Holy Land obsession had nothing to do with civilizing the Ottoman Empire or Palestine and everything to do with a sense of social crisis and a longing for stability that was lost to the war and urbanization in the US.
American Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1 (March 2003) © 2003 American Studies Association