PBS documentary Jerusalem: Center of the World—which airs Wednesday, April 1—isn't a pilgrimage-on-film, but it's not a bad place to start.
The title is partly inspired by medieval European maps in which Africa, Asia, and Europe are shaped like three petals attached to the center, Jerusalem. Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a "compass" marks the center of the world. This film shows that the city is, rather than the geographic center of the world, a focal point of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—which together account for more than half of the world's population.
Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, narrates Jerusalem's religious history as he pats the sides of Israel's ancient ruins and wades through a tunnel dug beneath the city during Hezekiah's reign. European paintings—many by Rembrandt—and Islamic illustrations fill in as Suarez and a colorful group of religion experts explain how Jerusalem became so important.
The film starts with Abraham leaving Ur at a time when Jerusalem was already settled by Canaanite tribes. The documentary embellishes biblical history, adding in traditions that say, for example, that Jerusalem is also where God created Adam.
Suarez goes into the details of the destruction and rebuildings of the Jewish Temple. Jesus' short life is given about 15 minutes of the two-hour run time. For viewers who know what happens up to 70 A.D.—and then nothing—it will fill in some big gaps.
The second half of the film explains how the city came to look as it does today, if you can keep up. Toward the end, the pace picks up as Suarez lists how "the world's most contested piece of real estate" changes hands among multiple Christian and ...1