Author returns to holy lands

Published February 1, 2006

Bruce Feiler is on the move again. In his 2001 book, Walking the Bible (now also a television mini-series on the U.S. Public Broadcasting System), he followed the inspired idea of searching for personal meaning in the first five books of the Bible by traveling to the physical places in the Middle East where such events as Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac are thought to have taken place. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he wrote Abraham, seeking to discover whether Christianity, Judaism and Islam could find common ground in their common father.  Like the biblical Jacob, who wrestled with God in the form of an angel, Mr. Feiler and God are not done with each other yet. In his latest book, Where God Was Born, Mr. Feiler returns to the Old Testament, starting with the sixth book, Joshua, and the subsequent books that cover the reign of David, Solomon’s construction of the temple, the Babylonian exile – and the beginnings of a religion, Judaism. His motive is not narrow, however. “Is religion just a source of war, or can it help bring about peace?” he asks. He returns to touch the land, now riven by war in Iraq and the Palestinian uprising in Israel. With the help of the U.S. army and an assignment from Parade magazine, he visits Baghdad, Babylon and the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Accompanied, as he was in Walking the Bible, by Israeli archaeologist Avner Goren, he visits Jerusalem, including a dangerous walk to the Temple Mount. The book’s structure is similar to his 2001 book, as Mr. Feiler traces the text through the land. He talks to people from many denominations – Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Mormon – and, at times, the narrative also wanders. But a recurring theme emerges – a deep connection with what is literally holy land and holy writings and commitments to respect and co-existence. Not a biblical scholar, Mr. Feiler, who grew up as a fifth-generation Jew in Savannah, Ga., brings a lively intelligence, curiosity and a sense of spiritual wonder to his quest. In the first book, after years away from formal worship, he realizes he needs to re-connect with the role of God in his life, but struggles to understand what it is, amid “the gnawing tug of doubt.” Now married with twin daughters, he is, of course, even more open to the profound questions of existence and wants to engage religion. But, like many, he is troubled by extremism and fundamentalism and the spasms of violence committed in the names of all three major religions of that region, both in ancient times and today. His conclusion is one that many are trying to pursue, that “the only force strong enough to take on religious extremism is religious moderation.” On a personal level, his tussle with God leads him to a poetic conclusion, that “the creator God seeks creativity in humans.” This idea leads him to change his view of religion, “from one of reaction to one of pro-action,” but with the freedom “to go back to the text and make my own interpretation.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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