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American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story…

American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the… (2008)

by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

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Religious fundamentalism run amok but at the same time catering and caring for many that the missionaries of the day just cast aside. There is a whole cast of saints and sinners and a few are found to be both. Ms Geniesse has created a well researched book on the American Colony in Jerusalem and given a tide of history of the middle east an area of complexities to this day. Truly a fascinating read!

The Spaffords created the American Colony as a place for the group to prepare for the end of the world. The patriarch of this cult is Horatio Spafford but upon his death and really just before his death Anna his wife who becomes known as "Mother" is the controlling figure. The majority of the children are ill educated except for those who borrow books from Johanna Brooke who became a model "for escape from the loss of personality in a self deluded religious group such as ours." For many who stayed it was safer not to think at all.

"Anna was not the first, and certainly will not be the last, to use religion as a tool in the service of goals having more to do with Caesar than with God. If there is a lesson to be learned from this small slice of history, surely it is the importance of thinking for oneself lest one be victimized. Still the colony left a legacy of generosity to the people they served, and Bertha and her descendants have carried it on. And if anything is true of Americans, and fits their ideal of the American Dream, it is the inclination to think for themselves as ready and willing to help others in the service of making the world a better place." ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
Fascinating story of The Overcomers, a religious cult from Chicago, who moved to Jerusalem to await the Second Coming of Christ in the late 1800's. Their interest was not prosleytizing -- in fact, they counted both Arabs and Jews among their staunchest supporters -- but only (originally) to place themselves at the foot of Christ and His return. Their impact on the city remains today, in the form of the American Colony Hotel which continues to provide four-star lodging to important visitors to the Holy City. The author did a fine job of admiring their many positive contributions while never white-washing the increasingly problematic behavior of Anna Spafford, who assumed leadership of the group on the death of her husband. ( )
  BluesGal79 | Mar 31, 2013 |
I suggest that you read Our Jerusalem by Bertha Spafford Vester before reading this book. The American Priestess version of the founding of the American Colony becomes even fascinating because it is different. The version in American Priestess is believable although parts of the book are very unprofessional - from 1947 on the author gives history exclusively from the Palestinian standpoint, but general history is not the author's strong point as there are other historical inaccuracies.
  mapalem | Nov 5, 2011 |
American Priestess tells the true story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem. It is part biography, and part the story of American evangelical Christians who settled in Jerusalem in the late 19th century to await the End of Days. Anna Larsdatter was born in Norway in 1842. As a young child, she emigrated with her family to Chicago. Through a series of misfortunes and happenstance, Anna was reared by a well-to-do family and was well-educated for a girl of her time. She was introduced to Horatio Spafford, a much older attorney who fell in love with her. They married when Anna was 19, shortly after the beginning of the Civil War.

The first section of this books drags a bit, telling of Anna and Horatio’s life in Chicago. It definitely picks up when the Spaffords, along with some of their followers, arrive in Jerusalem in 1881. For a time they live within the walls of the Old City. When their numbers expand, along with their treasury, the group rents a former pasha’s palace in East Jerusalem. They eventually purchase this property and, in the twentieth century, this becomes the famed American Colony Hotel.

The group of “overcomers” spends much time and effort feeding and nursing the poor, be they Jews or Arabs. They are well regarded by the locals, but are constantly at odds with the American consular officer. He is concerned with the group’s financial irregularities and rumors of how they practice their religion. Anna Spafford hears voices from God, and controls every aspect of the lives of her followers. Meanwhile, the Chicago relatives of some of her followers are concerned that Anna has, essentially, stolen their money for her own purposes.

American Priestess contains a tremendous amount of information. Jane Fletcher Geniesse has certainly done her research. I was particularly interested in life in Jerusalem during the fall of the Ottoman Empire and World War I, which was devastating for people in the Middle East. This book is well-written but it is not a quick read for the casual reader. ( )
  LaBibliophille | Oct 24, 2009 |
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Praise, therefore, be to Him who hath made the histories of the Past an admonition unto the Present. -- Sir Richard Burton, The Arabian Nights
This book is dedicated to the youngest generation, my three grandchildren: Joe, named for the wonderful Joes; Rob, for the special grandfathers; and Julia, for her great-great-grandmother and her aunt. As they decide the future, may they also study the past.
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On a windy September day in 1881, the captain ordered the anchor dropped while the ship was still far offshore.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385519265, Hardcover)

For generations in Jerusalem, a fabled mansion has been the retreat for foreign correspondents, diplomats, pilgrims and spies–but until now, few have known the true story of the house that became the American Colony Hotel or its bizarre history of tragedy, religious extremism, emotional blackmail, and peculiar sexual practices.

During the boom years following the Civil War, in the country’s heartland capital, Chicago, a prominent lawyer Horatio Spafford and his blue-eyed wife Anna rode the mighty wave of Protestant evangelicalism deluging the nation. When suddenly tragedy struck, the charismatic Spaffords, grieving, attracted followers eager to believe their prophecy that the Second Coming was at hand and in 1881 sailed with them to Jerusalem to see the Messiah alight on the Mount of Olives.

No sooner had they settled into the Holy City than the U. S. Consul and the established Christian missionaries declared them heretics and whispered of sexual deviance. Yet Muslims and Jews admired their unflagging care of the sick and the needy, and Jews were intrigued with their advocacy of a Jewish Return to Zion. When Horatio died, Anna assumed leadership, shocking even her adherents by abolishing marriage and established a dictatorship that was not always benevolent. Ever dogged by controversy, she and her credulous followers lived through and closely participated in the titanic upheavals that eventually formed the modern Middle East.

Written with flair and insight, American Priestess provides a fascinating exploration of the seductive power of evangelicalism and raises questions about the manipulation of religion to serve personal goals. A powerful narrative, the story sweeps through the dramatic collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the establishment of the British Mandate, and finally the founding of Israel where Anna’s house in East Jerusalem, now the American Colony Hotel, stands as an exemplar of beauty and comfort, despite its turbulent history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A portrait of religious leader Anna Spafford describes her efforts during the 1880s to establish a community of Christians in Jerusalem, a controversial movement that called for a form of sexual abstinence, abolished marriage, and reviled the established church.… (more)

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