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Feiler Brings Biblical Settings & Characters To Life,
This review is from: Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses (Paperback)
Bruce S. Feiler's literal quest for a spiritual connection to the Torah, (the Pentateuch), that he studied as a boy, resulted in a ten-thousand mile journey in which he retraced the steps of his Biblical forefathers across three continents. His friend and guide, renowned Israeli archaeologist Avner Goren, accompanied him on his travels through Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Nile Valley, the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan, visiting the legendary scenes of the greatest stories ever told. In an interview, Feiler once said that he had always thought of the Bible "as this foreboding black book with gilt-edge pages." When visiting Israel, before making this trip, a close friend was pointing out places of interest, (an understatement)! "Over there," he said, "is the rock where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac." It dawned on Feiler that he was not in Disneyworld or Kansas! He realized the places mentioned in the black book's gilt pages are real - one can see, and feel them. The idea came to him then to "retrace the Bible through the desert and read the stories along the way." And along the way he found himself using the "Bible as a Baedeker."
Bruce and Avner trekked by foot, car, jeep, camel and rowboat in order to examine archeological evidence, get a feel for the geography of each place, interview hundreds of people from Bedouins to pilgrims and tourists, consider historical theory, study and contemplate theology and religious myth, in their attempt to put the Biblical narrative into a historical and cultural context. Together they search for the "real" Mount Sinai, where it is written that God revealed Himself and subsequently delivered the Book of the Covenant to Moses.The location of this sacred mount is up for debate. At least twenty-two mountains have been put forth as the real thing. Mr. Feiler makes the point that, "...the lack of identifying details points to another, perhaps more consequential factor: The less Mount Sinai is associated with a physical place, the more it is perceived as a spiritual place." He says that Sinai is not only a place, it is a "metaphor for the covenant between Israel and Yahweh." He also quotes a rabbinic midrash, (Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures compiled between A.D. 400 and 1200 and based on exegesis, parable, and haggadic legend), saying that the world's mountains once quarreled over which one would play host to God. Each extolled its own virtues except for Sinai, which said humbly, "I am low." God finally announced: " My presence will rest on Sinai, the smallest and most significant of all." The rabbis note that in its modesty Sinai resembled the humility of Moses who did not want to become his people's leader.
To me the best parts of this book include the author's comments, like the above, which really give life, zest (!), to his experiences. The conversations between Feiler and Goren, their insights, along with the wonderfully rich interviews conducted with Jews, Christians, Muslims, and humanists, scholars, archeologists, local historians, and bystanders at many of the locations - some of these people, perhaps, descendents of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs - really make "Walking The Bible" special and distinguish it from travelogues and other books of this type.
The book is divided into five parts which correspond, not to the Five Books of Moses, but to five geographical areas where significant Biblical events took place: "The God of Our Fathers," revolves around Jerusalem and nearby sites; "A Coat of Many Colors," Egypt; "The Great and Terrible Wilderness," Sinai; "The Land That Devours Its People," also Sinai and the Negev Desert - the dependency of man on his fellow human beings for survival in the desert really impressed Feiler. Remember, the tribes wandered Sinai for forty years. As the joke goes, if Moses' sister Miriam had been the leader, she would have asked for directions (!); and "Toward The Promised Land," Jordan.
The author's vivid and detailed descriptions, especially of the people he meets, are outstanding. Yes, his writing leaves something to be desired, but to tell the truth, I was so absorbed in his adventures, I hardly noticed. It is certainly not bad writing. He is telling a tale of adventure - old and new, not competing for the Pulitzer. His research and documentation are meticulous. Feiler relates to Abraham in a way which touched me deeply. He writes, "Abraham was not originally the man he became.... He was a traveler, called by some voice not entirely clear that said: Go head to this land, walk along this route, and trust what you will find."
I am so glad that I journeyed vicariously with Bruce Feiler and Avner Golen. For an amazing voyage of discovery, I recommend you take the trip yourself!