Bruce Feiler's Where God Was Born takes us on a journey that is both physical and spiritual. Physically, we follow Feiler as he explores Israel in search of Biblical locations, map in one hand, Bible in the other. Spiritually, we accompany Feiler as he tries to rediscover the spiritual peace he found after his first book, Walking the Bible.
From the outset, we encounter an Israel that is very diferent from the one we see in Feiler's other books. His group is beset with obstacles thrown up by the Israeli Army in the name of 'security.' He encounters victims of suicide bombings first hand. He is watched by armed gunmen (Israeli and Palestinian) everywhere he goes.
The journey starts with the seath of Moses and the conquest of Canaan. We see Joshua's battles from the perspective of Yoram Yair -- one of the most decorated generals in Israel's history. He gives us a valuable perspective, especially on the battle of Jericho. We then follow the life of David, from shepherd to hero to renegade, revolutionary, possibly even terrorist, to (finally) king of a unified nation. We wade through the tunnels under Jerusalem, following in the footsteps of Biblical archaeologists like Edward Robinson, Charles Warren, even Montague Parker and Father Hughes Vincent. We encounter the vertical shaft that David allegedly used to invade the city of Jerusalem, and find ourselves wondering exdactly how he did it. We see David's failings and shortcomings, and find ourselves relieved that he was, after all, human.
Feiler then turns from the political center of the nation to it's spritual center -- the Temple Mount.
"What if we try to circumnavigate the Temple Mount?"
"It can't be done. It's too dangerous"
"So where do we start?"
We learn a great irony -- while Jews and Christians are incensed that the Muslims have co-opted their sacred site at the Temple Mount, David did the same thing with an existing Jebusite sacred site when he selected the location for the Temple. Feiler reminds us that "religious rights and wrongs cannot be refereed by claiming first dibs," -- something that should be remembered when considering the conflict in the Middle East. Feiler elsewhere notes that, in the Bible, it isn't living in the land that is important -- it is living in obedience to God in the land. Christians who pledge their unconditional loyalty to the current secular state of Israel would do well to remember that.
We also see that, as magnificent as Solomon's temple seems to us, it wasn't significantly different from other contemporary religious structures. It's as if the point is to teach us that God's greatness isn't proclaimed by the grandeur of the buildings we build for Him. We also see the problems that politics can create for archaeologists, especially around the highly-charged Temple Mount -- even to the point of creating buildings that are structurally unstable in order to keep others off the mount.
As if exploring the Temple Mount area wasn't dangerous enough, Feiler decides to head to Babylon -- modern day Iraq. He looks to the land of Israel's exile, where the leaders weren't judges or kings, but the prophets. Feiler spends a good bit of time in the book exploring the Babylonian connection, and he ties the beliefs and traditions of the Babylonians in to the creation of the faith that we know today as Judaism -- though there is still a lot of discussion among scholars as to how much influence there really was.
The theme that seems to run through each of Feiler's books is a quest for unity in the midst of diversity. Feiler treats the Bible with great respect, often skewering liberal criticisms of the texts, but just as often questioning conservative interpretations. Each time I read one of his books, I gain a greater appreciation for the Biblical texts that I hadn't before. I don't always agree with Feiler's interpretations or decisions regarding the text, but I always find his assertions to be thought provoking. And that is far more important.
Bruce Feiler, author of several books on the similar theme, has produced this as a sort of travelogue and personal reflection, drawing on common historical roots of the three major religions out of the Middle East - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Feiler retraces biblical stories with insight from the conditions of the land today; for example, he parallels the stories of David and Goliath or the establishment of David's throne in a land where the presence of barbed wire and water shortages are still common features.
Jerusalem is, for Feiler, a physical example of some of the relationships he hopes his reflection will foster. 'Modern Jerusalem is built in concentric circles,' he writes. 'At the heart is the Old City, a three-thousand-year-old walled enclave that is less than one square mile. It contains many of the city's most sacred sites: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.' This kind of close proximity in the midst of ongoing trouble is indicative of the political and social situation; there is division but also a sharing, not only of heritage, but of space. Some elements (the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount) are literally built on top of each other.
Feiler looks at different interpretations of people from the biblical past. For example, he highlights Yael Lotan, a British-born Israeli intellectual who expresses support for Palestinian causes, and has an intriguing interpretation of the David and Bathsheba story. 'I'm inclined to believe Bathsheba engineered the whole story,' Lotan states, going on to say, 'In matters of women and children, David can be very naïve.'
Feiler gives interesting description of a trip to Iraq, the place of the great Babylonian exile of the Israelites, and also near to the place where the Garden of Eden would have been (with at least two of the four great rivers of the book of Genesis flowing through the plain). Here Feiler discusses his interactions with American military personnel, CNN and other media types, as well as native Iraqi. Feiler again relates issues of the Bible, this time the prophets of the eighth century. The period leading up to the exile was one of warfare and destruction. However, even in the midst of terrible prophecies, there was an element of hope. 'The Bible has a surprising reaction to these events. Instead of seeing them as signs of doom, it sees them as precursors to salvation.'
Feiler's stories are intensely personal at times. He tells the story of the time he was working with a military chaplain stationed in Iraq, with the interesting name of Chaplain Messenger, and their visit with an imam. As the imam described Islam as a religion of peace, albeit one with people who would exploit violence for political purposes, the Christian chaplain acknowledged the same in his history, and Feiler 'came out' as a Jew for the first time in his journey in Iraq, and the conversation became even more full and interesting, as each dared to ask tough, uncomfortable questions, that sometimes have no answer.
Feiler also uses the term 'diaspora' not just to describe Jews outside of Israel, but others outside of their homelands, too. He describes the return of Iranians to their homeland, one wave after the fall of the shah, and others more recently after the death of Khomeini. This is a diaspora returning home, to a place where there was also once a significant Jewish population (the book of Esther is set in a city in the heart of what is now Iran).
Feiler writes this book with hope that personal connections and conversations can help enhance understanding. It is not a misplaced or forlorn hope, but it is perhaps easier for a traveler who will be returning home to see things in this way than for those who live beside and on top of each other in the problematic space of the Middle East.
Feiler is a good writer, and this is an interesting read.
on March 29, 2006
I just finished this book and couldn't put it down! I found Feiler's narrative to be concise, insightful and easy to read. I could feel myself in his shoes as his journeys took him into some of today's most dangerous regions, steeped in religious history and dogma. His guides and encounters along the way only added to the narrative quality. I came away with not only a new appreciation for the religious history of the Middle East but a greater appreciation for what life must be life for those trying to live their religious lives in areas of the world still persecuting religious differences. I also came away with a better appreciation for the religious freedoms we enjoy in the US and how indeed the founders of this nation were well-educated in these same religious traditions and the need for tolerance.
on September 16, 2005
Feiler is passionate about his own beliefs in his own religion, but never used that as an excuse to beat other readers into following his perspective in this latest work.
I admire his articulate and sophisticated critique of religion and the state. Because it is so easy for anybody to become wrapped up in religious extremism while practicing their own perspective, Feiler's work needs to be studied by people of all perspectives seeking a balanced--and thus peaceful alternative to both history and current events.
on September 14, 2005
Where God Was Born got me at the title. Wow, what an amazing concept, God being born. I had never stopped to ponder such a question. Bruce Felier did ponder it, and he took that question and he traveled thousands of miles to find the best way to explain God's birth...God's purpose for all of us.
The way he blends travel and history with religion and emotion is incredible. Feiler is Jewish and I am Catholic, yet I found his message to be one that should be shouted from every roof top: Respect and Admiration for ALL of God's people is essential for a harmonious world, God's world. We have heard such a message before, but rarely in such an eloquent and documented way. Feiler traveled through Israel, Iraq and Iran; places that are virtually off limits to the western world in the modern day. Through words, he showed us the land of the stories, the land where God showed himself and first spoke his word, a word that would spread throughout all the nations.
I enjoyed this book very much and will read it again soon. Hopefully Feiler's message of fighting religious extremists with religious moderation will enlighten the people who think that violence is the only way, and that one religion and one ideal is better than all others. I believe that moderation is the key. I for one do as much research as I can about every religion. I also read about science; biology, astronomy, archaeology, etc. because i believe it all ties together. I find that poetry, music and art all tie together as well and lead to one conclusion: There IS a God, he made everything, and he is in everything. From there, I am able to keep God as the highest, most important thing in my life, and have him with me every day while I sort through all the rest of life's details. Recent books with similar messages, like Michele Geraldi's book Calling in the Night, are also good to add to any spiritual collection. It is different than Where God Was Born, in the respect that it is more fictional and storytelling than it is travel and antiquity. Nonetheless, Calling in the Night is a good companion for Where God Was born because Calling in the Night has the same subtle message of God being in everthing. I also think that reading the bible will really help you with Where God Was Born. Read the bible first. That way, when you read this book you will feel familiar with it and the places Feiler visits will feel very special to you.
Where God was born is an excellent book, and I hope people will give it a chance even if their morals, relgion, political views or whatever tell them otherwise. So often we hear that people of religion are not "open minded." In fact, the people who will not give religion a chance because they have prejudged it as being fantasy or something else, are indeed the one's with the closed minds.
on September 17, 2005
As he did with the prequel WALKING THE BIBLE: A JOURNEY BY LAND THROUGH THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, Bruce Feiler combines a tour guide of biblical locations with intriguing annotations and "sermons" lifted from ancient times but also includes modern events. WHERE GOD WAS BORN: A JOURNEY BY LAND TO THE ROOTS OF RELIGION starts with Joshua and continues on through to the Babylonian captivity and the Diaspora written by a fine author who describes what he observes first hand. Well written with incredible insight somewhat thanks to archeological companion Avner Goren, readers will appreciate this fabulous journey that goes way beyond just Israel's' borders as the author finds greatness in the non-Jewish Semite cultures of the region as much as he embraces being a Jew. Because he and Mr. Goren are not armchair travelers, but instead visit the locales described, this superb reference work and his previous excellent nonfictions are inspirational for us religious moderates who believe in tolerance for all; suicidal extremists or intelligent designers who share in common their faith is the divine one need to pass as these groups will reinterpret the simple underlying moral message of Mr. Feiler's strong belief in the words of the bible.
on October 28, 2005
While Bruce Feiler did not invent the genre of religious nonfiction for the layperson, his works may be helping to reshape and revitalize it. With books such as WALKING THE BIBLE and ABRAHAM, Feiler has given readers works both intimate and well-researched. Blending biblical study, travelogue adventure and spiritual quest, his latest book, WHERE GOD WAS BORN, continues on the religio-literary journey to understanding the roots of Western religion and its contemporary manifestations.
Whereas in ABRAHAM Feiler set out to discover as much as he could about the biblical Abraham --- patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam --- in this book he sets out to understand the geography of the Hebrew Bible from ancient quests and kingdoms to modern landmarks and battlefields. Here, as in other books, Feiler talks with both erudite scholars and everyday people about religion, biblical interpretation and culture. This particular journey takes him back to the Middle East, now after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a time when religious and political tensions run high. Yet he manages to find common ground --- the common stories and the essential themes and places shared by the three monotheisms in the face of so many violent and long-standing differences
In WHERE GOD WAS BORN, Feiler's guide is the second and third parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Prophets and Writings. However, much of his journey relies on the geography of the first five biblical books as well. He starts in Israel, looking for traces of King David. This takes him to David's hometown of Bethlehem where he meets one of only 100 remaining Palestinian Christians living there. He learns that David would have used a sling, not a slingshot, to slay Goliath if in fact he can be credited with that deed at all. Feiler struggles with the character of David, a flawed hero to be sure, before moving on to explore the nature of the Israelite kings and their accomplishments and legacies.
Next, Feiler travels to war-torn Iraq in search of the Garden of Eden, the birthplace of Abraham and scene of the Babylonian Exile --- the event that gave rise to rabbinic Judaism. In Iraq Feiler talks religion with American soldiers and Muslim tour guides who all acknowledge the same sacred places. Then he travels, along with his wife, to Iran to examine the figure of King Cyrus, the Bible's first messiah, and wrestle with the complicated tale of Queen Esther. Finally, Feiler returns to Israel and confronts his own mixed feelings while standing at Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Everywhere he goes Bruce Feiler meets interesting people with a variety of religious beliefs and opinions. This diversity of belief, as well as the footprints of all the archeologists, scholars and seekers who came before him, challenges and ultimately strengthens his Judaism.
Part academic endeavor, part storytelling and part spiritual meditation (and therefore planting it firmly in Jewish textual tradition), WHERE GOD WAS BORN is open-minded, ecumenical and factual, as well as quite personal. Without seeming preachy, Feiler is ultimately able to suggest that the power of religion should be channeled to overcome differences in favor of tolerance and respect.
Perhaps less successful than ABRAHAM, it is still remarkable and timely, ambitious and readable.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
on January 29, 2006
I loved this book, not because of its religious connections but because I felt like I ws on the trip too. It had a good grounding in the current and historic gorgraphic and historic significance of the area and lent a lot of background meaning to assist the reader in understanding (if that is possible) the current events which are taking place right now. It was also easy to read. You didn't get lost in the verbage and with the help of a simple area map you could follow the expidition easily.
on December 26, 2005
Bill Feiler deliberately misrepresents the Source texts he says are behind his book. I spent my last 24+ years reading many of the Source Hebrew texts the author said he based his book upon, and I was raised in the country of Iran said he got many of his epiphanies.
I would normally call mistakes such as these simply honest errors due to lack of access to real sources, but after watching his interview on Foxnews, I saw him so blatantly lie about so many of his sources, that I have no choice than to state that this man lies for a living to force his views down unsuspecting readers' minds.
One example: Feiler said the Hebrew Texts showed a God of the Jews who wanted to accept all faiths of all people and that the former King of my country, Cyrus, was proof of the view of the God of the Hebrews. Reality is that the texts he quoted actually STATE THE EXACT OPPOSITE! The texts show the God of the Hebrews ANGRY with his people BECAUSE they so readily accepted so many other faiths and made them part of their community! THIS LIE IS EXACTLY THE THESIS THAT FEILER'S BOOK ATTEMPTS TO PUSH DOWN THE THROATS OF THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HAD THE PRIVILEDGE OF READING THE SOURCE TEXTS HE QUOTED!
Feiler purposefully ignored 95%+ of His source texts to misrepresent the texts and promote his personal agenda. One does NOT need to be a scholar to take a few minutes to read through the source text translations of books like Nahum, Habakkuk and many of the other texts written during the Babylonian exile, to realize that Feiler is COMPLETELY MISREPRESENTING THE OBVIOUS MESSAGE OF THEIR AUTHORS!
The God of the Hebrews promised the Jews safety in their country ONLY if they would NEVER ALLOW THEIR FAITH TO BE MIXED WITH THE OTHER FAITHS OF THE PEOPLES AROUND THE GLOBE! This author attempts to twist this honest reading of the texts to push his own viewpoint that God of the Hebrews wanted his people to accept all other faiths as one and the same as their own. What a Gross misrepresentation of these clear texts.
For a more thorough refutation, I could pull up easily hundreds of clear statements from his "source texts" and the writings of Islam, to show how horribly this author misrepresented his own viewpoints. Being raised an Iranian Muslim provides me with an honest perspective to his views on our country and our people and my last 24+ years of reading the Hebrew texts as a follower of the God of Abraham and His ONE AND ONLY MESSIAH helped me see through this man's obvious lies.
If you are interested in these 100+ texts, feel free to drop me a note and I'll try to take some time to put them together in an easily irrefutable package or even better, pick up the source texts yourself and read them ONLY ONCE! Feiler's mispresentations will become COMPLETELY OBVIOUS TO ALL OPEN MINDED HONEST READERS OF THE SOURCE TEXTS QUOTED IN FEILER'S BOOK!
May the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, and Paul bless you :-)!
on July 20, 2009
This is a very interesting book, however, as a Christian who more closely identifies with fundamentalist ecumenicals than any other denomination, and who believes that all scripture is God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit, I was disappointed by Feiler's apparent belief that Jewish scripture, which is, of course, what Christians call the Old Testament, is the result of various people who borrowed from old Chaldean legends and developed doctrines and a religion from their own experiences as a people both in what we now call the Holy Land and in their Babylonian exile. In other words, he apparently believes that the Bible came from humans instead of from God. To make matters worse (theologically speaking), he apparently believes that there is more than one path to become closer to God, seeing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as co-equal religions, all of which sprang from the same roots in the legends, traditions, and customs of the middle-east. I can't accept that. Jesus made it clear when said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me."
Feiler is a very good writer. His prose is clear and simple, but he still can convey complex thoughts without using long words in complex, tortured sentences. That takes talent.
I know a little about history, geography, and other cultures, but there's always more to learn, and Feiler brought much light to the dark corners of my mind. Too bad he and I don't always agree on how to interpret what he taught me. Oh, well, it's still a very good book. I recommend it.