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America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story Hardcover – October 6, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Book Description

The exodus story is America's story. Moses is our real founding father.

The pilgrims quoted his story. Franklin and Jefferson proposed he appear on the U.S. seal. Washington and Lincoln were called his incarnations. The Statue of Liberty and Superman were molded in his image. Martin Luther King, Jr., invoked him the night before he died. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama cited him as inspiration. For four hundred years, one figure inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses.

In this groundbreaking book, New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler travels through touchstones in American history and traces the biblical prophet's influence from the Mayflower through today. He visits the island where the pilgrims spent their first Sabbath, climbs the bell tower where the Liberty Bell was inscribed with a quote from Moses, retraces the Underground Railroad where "Go Down, Moses" was the national anthem of slaves, and dons the robe Charlton Heston wore in The Ten Commandments.

"Even a cursory review of American history indicates that Moses has emboldened leaders of all stripes," Feiler writes, "patriot and loyalist, slave and master, Jew and Christian. Could the persistence of his story serve as a reminder of our shared national values? Could he serve as a unifying force in a disunifying time? If Moses could split the Red Sea, could he unsplit America?"

One part adventure story, one part literary detective story, one part exploration of faith in contemporary life, America's Prophet takes readers through the landmarks of America's narrative—from Gettysburg to Selma, the Silver Screen to the Oval Office—to understand how Moses has shaped the nation's character.

Meticulously researched and highly readable, America's Prophet is a thrilling, original work of history that will forever change how we view America, our faith, and our future.

Photographs from America's Prophet
(Click to See Full Image)

The Hebrew Letter "Bet"
“In every generation one should regard oneself as though he had come out of Egypt.” The large letter “bet” contains the word “bad” and images of ancient Egypt at top and Nazi concentration camps at bottom. Drawing by Yosef Dov Sheinson from A Survivors’ Haggadah. (Courtesy of The Jewish Publication Society)
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in a never-before-published photograph, delivering his sermon “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore” at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, New York, May 17, 1956, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Courtesy of the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine)
Liberty Enlightening the World
With ships and New York Harbor in the background. Lithograph published by Currier & Ives, c. 1886. (Courtesy of The Library of Congress)
The Great Seal of the United States
John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson’s proposal for the Great Seal of the United States, as drawn by Benson J. Lossing for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1856. (Courtesy of The Library of Congress)

From Publishers Weekly

A bestselling author for his popular explorations of the lands of the Bible, Feiler turns his attention to the biblical figure of Moses in U.S. history. He argues that the story of the life of Moses as told in the book of Exodus has been the dominant metanarrative employed by political and social leaders in shaping America's identity, from the Pilgrims escaping religious persecution to the civil rights movement with its vision of a Promised Land. A journalist rather than a historian, Feiler approaches his subject using the same formula he has employed in previous books: physical walks through historic sites and interviews with experts. Although the book offers snippets of interesting anecdotes, the approach is uncontroversial and the book lacks forward momentum. Feiler is a popularizer, and readers interested in a light and cursory treatment of a theme in U.S. history will enjoy it. Readers wanting a more in-depth and critical understanding of the subject may want to look elsewhere. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060574887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060574888
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By skrishna VINE VOICE on October 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I absolutely love Bruce Feiler's books. I've read most of them so far, and I find them compelling and incredibly interesting. His books Walking the Bible, Where God Was Born, and Abraham are amazing works of non-fiction in which Bruce Feiler actually goes to the Middle East and visits locales from the Bible and tries to make a spiritual connection with them. Though I'm not Christian or Jewish, I've always been very interested in the Bible, and his books really captured my imagination.

America's Prophet is a very interesting book about the figure of Moses in the history of America. When I first got this book, I was a bit confused because I didn't think Moses had much of a place in American history. I can't believe how wrong I was - again and again, Moses comes up as a figure of inspiration, someone to lead us through troubled times to a Promised Land. Americans see themselves in the story of Moses, even now. It's really incredible to read about.

My favorite part of America's Prophet was when Feiler retraced part of the Underground Railroad. He went out in the middle of the night and literally darted between alleyways and buildings, trying to get a sense of what it was like. Of course, he only followed a very short part of the Railroad, but I was so impressed by his need to become part of the story. I've admired and been a fan of Bruce Feiler's for a very long time, but this really showed me how much he immerses himself in the stories he's writing about.

If you are interested in the Bible, even just in a secular sense like me, you must pick up Bruce Feiler's books. Though he is Jewish, his words about faith and spirituality cross all religious boundaries.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mr. Feiler developes a great thesis in this book, that Moses was a guiding figure in American history, significantly more so than even Jesus. To get there, he starts with the Pilgrims and runs to present day.

In addition to the theorizing, Mr. Feiler throws in some very interesting and seldom seen history. For example, he gives the history of the Pilgrim's first church service on Clark Island before they founded Plymouth and the "real" history of the Liberty Bell. Other events captured well were the underground railroad, M.L. King's assassination and the Statute of Liberty - all of which, of course, he relates to the Moses story. These historical insights carried the book and gives the reader history lessons in addition to serving as examples to substantiate his theory.

He also buttresses his theory with excellent examples of speeches and sermons that used Moses as the symbol of America as a whole as well as specific groups Americans. He captures how both the Exodus Moses and the "chosen" people of the Old Testament were common themes in the history of the United States and how Americans - black and white - saw themselves. He further shows how those principles applied to everyone from the Pilgrims, to Lincoln and slaves to twentieth century immigrants.

My only criticism is that he often became redundant, giving four or five examples when one or two would do. He often repeated his points and recapped his chain of logic. It seemed a thesis "paper" was stretched into book length.

This criticism notwithstanding, this is a novel and interesting look at American history with some rarely seen tidbits of history thrown into the mix to makle it interesting.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What do the Puritans, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Statue of Liberty, Cecil B. DeMille, and Martin Luther King Jr. have in common?


In America's Prophet, Bruce Feiler reveals the Mosaic thread that weaves its way through the tapestry of American history. Along the way, we see a Jewish history becoming the American story becoming a universal narrative of hope. The book is utterly engrossing, and I recommend it highly.

The American appropriation of Moses begins with the Puritans. They viewed King James as Pharaoh, themselves as the Children of Israel, and the New World as the Promised Land. But if the sailing of the Mayflower was their exodus, the signing of the Mayflower Compact was their Sinai. Moses was not only a liberator, he was a lawgiver. The twin Mosaic themes of freedom and responsibility recur again and again in the American story. George Washington, for example, both led his people out of British tyranny and into constitutional responsibility. Martin Luther King Jr. both led African Americans out of Jim Crow segregation and into the "beloved community."

The Moses narrative has spoken powerfully to the American people because, historically speaking, they have been nominally Christian and biblically literate. The Civil War was, in some ways, a theological dispute. Would Moses side with the abolitionists and lead the slaves in an Exodus toward freedom? Or would he side with the slaveholders, since the Sinai law accommodated slavery? Debates couldn't settle the question; only war could. And at the end of it, Abraham Lincoln was acclaimed as yet another Moses.

So was Martin Luther King Jr. who led the way for the full integration of African Americans into American society that the Civil War only inaugurated.
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