America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story

Overview

"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 book, New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler travels through touchstones in American history and traces the

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America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story

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Overview

"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 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." 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.\

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Whether they think of it as coincidental or providential, for many Americans, the story of our country evokes the biblical saga of the Exodus. This deep connection has been felt since the earliest years of Pilgrim settlements. Since then, the story of Moses and the exiled Israelites has been linked to the American epoch by Founding Fathers, presidents, religious leaders, civil rights activists, writers, and filmmakers. In America's Prophet, Bruce Feiler (Walking the Bible; Abraham) brings the message of Moses home to our country. By using those deeply felt parallels, he explores what we see in this ancient patriarch and why we identify so closely with his mission.
Booklist
"Fascinating and thought provoking."
Simon Winchester
“This is one of the most original, intelligent and endlessly fascinating books I have read in years: it should become a set book for anyone wanting to know what truly makes America tick.”
Tony Horwitz
“With a journalist eye and an adventurers spirit, Bruce Feiler brings his prodigious gifts of biblical analysis to a reconsideration of Moses as the essential prophet of the American Experience. This is an accessible and engaging book of indispensible insight.”
Douglas Brinkley
“What a smart, original, and deeply intriguing reflection on the role Moses played – yes, Moses – in U.S. history. America’s Prophet is Bruce Feiler at his innovative best: compelling, sweeping and engaging. Highly recommended!”
New York Times on Dreaming Out Loud
“Penetrating and insightful. . . . Bruce Feiler’s Dreaming Out Loud details the ins and outs of Nashville.”
The New Yorker on Under the Big Top
“Astunning collective portrait of an ingrown community with its own history, hierarchy, and traditions.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Fascinating and thought provoking.”
The New Yorker
“Astunning collective portrait of an ingrown community with its own history, hierarchy, and traditions.”
New York Times
“Penetrating and insightful. . . . Bruce Feiler’s Dreaming Out Loud details the ins and outs of Nashville.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Fascinating and thought provoking.”
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.)
Library Journal
Many books that examine the influence of the Bible on American society focus on controversies such as the true meaning of Genesis (Storms over Genesis: Biblical Battleground in America's Wars of Religion by William H. Jennings, Fortress, 2007) or Christmas displays on government property (War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot To Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought by John Gibson, Sentinel, 2005). Others, such as Melanie J. Wright's Moses in America: The Cultural Uses of Biblical Narrative (Oxford Univ., 2003), relate the Bible to aspects of popular culture. Feiler (Walking the Bible) goes in a different direction, starting with the unique thesis of Moses as Founding Father: the story of Moses as the story of America. Part history, part religious study, America's Prophet examines the American cycle of oppression, followed by inspired leadership, and culminating in the sometimes violent journey toward freedom. Feiler posits that from William Bradford and George Washington to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., the United States has been a nation of many Moseses, reluctant leaders giving voice and vision to those with neither, the very human leaders who ultimately fail in some respects, after many trials, to reach the Promised Land. Feiler gives us the American struggle—from the Pilgrims escaping religious persecution and slaves seeking human dignity to European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism and African Americans demanding equal rights—and in the same straightforward, readable style as his previous works. Yet the book possesses a depth and a gravitas that belie the accessible text, attributable to the numerousauthorities—religious and civic, historians, and others—interviewed for the book. VERDICT Both students of the Bible and of American history will find insight in the connections Feiler makes, and both specialists and lay readers in religious studies will want this.—Michael F. Russo, Louisiana State Univ. Libs., Baton Rouge
Kirkus Reviews
A breezy look at the story of Moses and its role in the making of America. During his studies and travels, writes popular religion commentator Feiler (Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion, 2005, etc.), he stumbled on a "little-known storyline" of American history-the influence of Moses in the making of the nation. The author claims that Moses' imprint can be seen on many major figures, including the Pilgrims, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, Barack Obama, who used the Exodus story throughout his presidential campaign. "One person has inspired more Americans than any other. One man is America's true founding father," writes Feiler in his typically bombastic style. "His name is Moses." In the introduction, the author twists himself into knots-"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?"-to justify a narrative that settles into a predictable pattern: first-person reporting at a historic landmark, an interview with a historian and fairly standard textbook history. Feiler indulges a few tangents but always dutifully returns to Moses. Like a conspiracy theorist, the author often mistakes coincidence for portent. "Just because some of our ideas correlate with the Revolution doesn't mean there's causality," says one of Feiler's interviewees. Though his subject is discussing the history of the Freemasons, it could easily apply to the author's Moses thesis. However, even though the author stretches his thesis too far, he does provide an interesting greatest-hits digestof American history from the point of view of revolutionaries. A facile retracing of American history on a Mosaic theme-which is not to say Feiler fans won't love it. Author tour to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Ga., Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060574888
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 969,889
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler writes a column on contemporary families for the New York Times and is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including The Council of Dads. He is the host of several series on PBS, a popular lecturer, and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and twin daughters.

Bruce Feiler writes a column on contemporary families for the New York Times and is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including The Council of Dads. He is the host of several series on PBS, a popular lecturer, and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and twin daughters.

Biography

Bruce Feiler has turned his curiosity into a career, writing on topics from clowning to Christianity with a sense of wonder, humor and inquisitiveness. Most recently he has become known as both theological tourist and tour guide, exploring Biblical history and its physical and cultural roots in the 2001 bestseller Walking the Bible and in 2002's Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.

Feiler had begun his career writing about another culture with Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan, a funny and enlightening account of his year as an English teacher in a small Japanese town. The book continues to be embraced by those who want a better understanding of Japanese culture, one spiked with the humor of its alien gaijin observer. Feiler depicted another hallowed educational system in Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge, an account of the author's experiences as a graduate student at Cambridge. Feiler's books educate, but their appeal also lies in the discoveries he makes as someone entering a new situation with natural preconceptions, then having those ideas upended by reality.

Kicking the fish-out-of-water theme up a notch, Feiler joined the circus for Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus. Here, Feiler showed the journalistic enterprise and mettle that would later figure into his bold journeys through Biblical territory. Spending a year performing as a clown on the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, Feiler provides a surprising look at the show, its performers and the often seamy underside that accompanies circus life.

Feiler jumped into yet another milieu with his look at the country music industry, Dreaming Out Loud. Presenting an insider's view of Nashville made possible by his access as a journalist to stars such as Garth Brooks and Wynonna Judd, Feiler puts together of picture of starmaking -- including in his profiles a young talent named Wade Hayes -- and the machinery that runs modern country music. As with his other books, Feiler describes how his notions (he hated country music before Brooks made him a fan) have evolved along with his subject.

Feiler is also an award-winning food writer and journalist who has written articles for major publications such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the New Republic. But he gained a larger audience when he took on his biggest topic yet: the Bible. "Over more than a decade of living and working abroad I found that ideas, and places, became more real to me when I experienced them firsthand....In the Middle East, the Bible is not some abstraction," Feiler wrote in an essay on Barnes & Noble.com about the origins of Walking the Bible. "It's a living, breathing entity unencumbered by the sterilization of time. That was the Bible I wanted to know, and almost immediately I realized that the only way to find it was to walk along those lines myself."

In taking that walk, Feiler vastly expanded his audience and found himself a subject he would stick with. He was already working on a sequel to the book when September 11 redirected him toward one aspect of his earlier studies: the religious father figure of Abraham. He set out to find hope in this binding tie among Judaism, Christianity and Islam; but found, again, a different picture than the one he anticipated painting. Feiler's education is ours; without him asking the questions, we might not have new insights on cultural fixtures that already seem so familiar.

Good To Know

How he wrote his first book: Feiler appropriated sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's self-description as an "explainaholic," then explained in an interview with a country music web site how he came to write his first book: "I wrote a series of letters home [from Japan] of the ‘you’re not going to believe what happened to me today' variety. When I came back home, everywhere I went people said to me, ‘I really liked your letters,’ and I would say, ‘Do I know you?’. It turns out that these letters had been passed around. I thought, well, if this is as interesting for me and my family and all of you, I should write a book about [my experiences]."

Feiler, who grew up Jewish in Savannah, Georgia, says that an early encounter with the legend of Abraham was part of a watershed moment for him. The Torah passage he read for his Bar Mitzvah was Lekh Lekha, the story of Abraham going forth from his father's house. He told BeliefNet, "The defining moment of my life was the night of my Bar Mitzvah, when my father pulled me aside at this family gathering, poured me a drink, and said, 'Son, you're a man now, you're responsible for your own actions.'"

Feiler's exploration of the Bible has been confined to the Hebrew Bible, leaving out much in the Old Testament and the entirety of the New Testament; but he told readers in a USA Today chat that he hopes to do a sequel that would take him through the events of Jesus' life.

Feiler is also a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine and has won two James Beard Awards for his food writing.

Feiler says he has traveled to over 60 countries and sprained his ankle on four continents.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Bruce S. Fieler
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Savannah, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1987; M.Phil. in international relations, Cambridge University, 1991

Table of Contents

I Moses! Moses! 1

II An Errand into the Wilderness 7

III Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land 35

IV A Moses for America 73

V Let My People Go 106

VI The War Between the Moseses 140

VII Mother of Exiles 176

VIII The Ten Commandments 208

IX I've Seen the Promised Land 241

X A Narrative of Hope 275

Giving Thanks 311

The Books of Moses 315

Select Bibliography 325

Index 337\

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Bruce Feiler's "American Prophet" presents a strong case for the prominence of Moses in shaping the American story. The author's travels to historical locations document that the Exodus story is America's story. This is fascinating history.

    "America's Prophet" is original history that is based on Bruce Feiler's thorough research. The author visits American historical sites that are keys to understanding his compelling narrative on Moses as America's real founding father. These include a trip to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell with the quotation on its face from Leviticus 25, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof". Other travels take the author to the Underground Railroad locations including the Ohio River crossing location that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to write of the slave girl Eliza carrying her son to freedom across the Ohio River. Feiler visits Saint Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan, which survived on 9/11, for a reenactment of the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States. His connection of Moses and the first President of the USA forms a superb chapter.
    The other excellent chapters include the Pilgrims, the Statue of Liberty,
    Hollywood and the Ten Commandments, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. All of these narratives provide very readable as well as very sound history in support of the book's title and thesis: Moses is America's Prophet and the Exodus story is America's story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Well Organized and Another Great Read from Feiler

    I have been wanting to read this book for a while and it met my expectations. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Underground Railroad and Martin Luther King, Jr. The entire book was very informative and well organized. With a book on the theme of Moses and Promised Land, it could tend to be a little repetitive, but this did not take away from the sense of the book. I thought the author did a good job of defending his ideas. I particularly liked his courage at the end to look for lessons and to advocate for action. I do feel that America, as a nation, is divided. We need a national dialogue of some kind that helps us reconnect as a people. I'm sure that this book will develop a lot of discussion. Thank You, Mr. Feiler, for sharing your ideas with us and being willing to investigate such a intellectually curious subject.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    Surprising But Very True

    That Moses has been a key figure in American history is an idea that seems at first misplaced and wrong. When I skipped the book on my Kindle, that was my basic thinking. But I got it for Christmas, so I gave it a shot, and. it is one of the best books I have read in a very long time.

    Bruce Feiler explains that the Bible spends one book (Genesis) getting to Moses, and then it spends 4 books on Moses. The history of the world, from the beginning until the Exodus from Egypt, including the Creation, the Flood, the patriarchs, Joseph, 2000 years worth, that all gets 1 book.. For the people of the Reformation, who for the first time could read the Bible in their language and have it in their possession, the Bible had some shocking and revolutionary points to make. The Bible speaks against the divine right of kings, a theory or doctrine that has been seen in almost every society of human history, one so powerful that it keeps the people down, and one so useful to rulers that they build it up. The basic idea behind the divine right is the same in Asian lands, many to this day, simply called the Mandate of Heaven.

    The Bible is a radical political document because monarchy is simply unbiblical. The Bible brings the Pharaohs, Emperors, Ceasars, and Kings claims to heavenly sanction crashing down to Earth. The Bible is full of prophets criticizing, judging, and condemning kings, from Moses and the Pharaoh to Samuel and Saul to Nathan and David. This is a revolutionary idea, "a veritable call to revolution." That kings rule can become slavery, a yoke of bondage that violates the freedom God gave to all of his children, is another, connected, revolutionary idea. Humans have rights, heaven doesn't write a blank check to those in power, it places moral limits on them.

    As late as Columbus, the Bible was not widely read in Europe. "Throughout the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church, eager to monopolize its power, insisted that the Bible was so sacred it must be read only in Latin, could be interpreted only by its clergy, and had to be kept only in church. The penalty for violating these edicts could be death." Most churches didn't have a Bible, and reproducing one by hand would take 2 monks 4 years to do, working full time side by side.

    But once the hold that the Roman Catholic Church held on the West was broken, once there was a printing press reproducing Bibles and lowering the costs dramatically, and the scriptures were left the realm of the mystery rituals, mental revolutions began. When Bibles became owned by most families and read and spoken about as the common currency of the culture, revolutions began to happen. By 1650 1.4 million Bibles had been printed in England alone. The people could debate what the scriptures said about Henry the 8th's marriages. By the 19th Century, Americans were nearly universal in deep Biblical literacy, something lost in recent decades.

    The Exodus story was used as explicit inspiration for the people who left the Egypt of the Old World and came to the Promised Land, a wilderness that God would make flow with milk and honey. The Pilgrims believed they were casting off the toke of their Pharaoh, King James, and building a new Zion in the Promised Land. Their leader, William Bradford, said in 1620, when they had arrived on Cape Cod after 66 days in the stormy Atlantic, that they should thank God for their safe passage through their own Red Sea. Cotton Mather said in 1702 that any leader of a peop

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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