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Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses

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One part adventure story, one part archaeological detective work, one part spiritual exploration, Walking the Bible vividly recounts an inspiring personal odyssey -- by foot, jeep, rowboat, and camel -- through the greatest stories ever told.

Feeling a desire to reconnect to the Bible, award-winning author Bruce Feiler set out on a perilous, ten-thousand-mile journey, retracing the Five Books of Moses through the desert. Traveling through three continents, five countries, and ...

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Overview

One part adventure story, one part archaeological detective work, one part spiritual exploration, Walking the Bible vividly recounts an inspiring personal odyssey -- by foot, jeep, rowboat, and camel -- through the greatest stories ever told.

Feeling a desire to reconnect to the Bible, award-winning author Bruce Feiler set out on a perilous, ten-thousand-mile journey, retracing the Five Books of Moses through the desert. Traveling through three continents, five countries, and four war zones, Feiler is the first person to complete such a historic expedition. He crosses the Red Sea, climbs Mount Sinai, and interviews bedouin and pilgrims alike, as he attempts to answer the question: Is the Bible just an abstraction or is it a living, breathing entity?

Along with renowned archaeologist Avner Goren, Feiler treks through Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, the Sinai, and Jordan, visiting the actual places of some of history's most storied events, from the mountain where Noah's ark landed to the site of the legendary burning bush. He visits the desert outpost in Turkey where Abraham first heard the words of God and faces arrest while camping on Mount Nebo in Jordan, where Moses overlooked the Promised Land. In each place, he scrupulously gathers the latest archaeological research and sits down to read the stories in their natural surroundings. With eloquence and insight, he explores how geography affects the larger narrative of the Bible and ultimately realizes how much these places -- and his experience -- have affected his own faith.

Both a pulse-pounding adventure and an uplifting spiritual quest, Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible is a stunning and elevating work of courage, scholarship, and heart. It revisits the inscrutable desert landscape where the world's great religions were born and uncovers fresh answers to the most profound questions of the human spirit.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Walking the Bible merits a place on any intellectually minded traveler's bookshelf simply on the strength of its premise: a compelling journey of 10,000 miles across the Near and Middle East, in search of the locales at which many of the Old Testament's key events took place. Meticulously researched and documented, the book draws upon a wide range of canonical and secular research on the explicit geography of the Bible, and it offers readers a well-rounded look at both the holiest and most ignored biblical spots on earth.

The guiding principle of Bruce Feiler's quest, on which he was accompanied by legendary biblical expert Avner Goren, was to place biblical stories in the historical and cultural context of the ancient Near East. Drawing upon the traditional Hebrew and Latin terms for investigating and analyzing the content of the Bible, Feiler explains, "What Avner and I undertook was a topographical midrash, a geographical exegesis of the Bible."

What may sound like a high-minded, scholarly journey rooted in logic and reason also turned out to be a richly detailed, complex, inspirational tale of spiritual regeneration. The combination of personal narrative, harrowing travelogue, spiritual quest, and modern politics places Walking the Bible among the most remarkable works of travel literature. An accomplished author, Feiler makes what would otherwise be an excellent core historical travel text an incredibly moving, profound examination of the human relationship with God.

Many travel writers use their adventures to seek answers to philosophical questions about identity, society, and humanity. Feiler's desert trek is an attempt to prove the validity of otherworldly, sacred religious beliefs by establishing and acknowledging terrestrial proof that biblical stories are, in fact, history, thereby solidifying the spiritual and experiential connection between them. While many before him have made pilgrimages to holy sites in order to reaffirm a connection with God, Feiler seeks to bestow a similar sanctity upon the living, tenable spaces on earth that figure prominently in the great Judeo-Christian saga.

The relevance of this mission is confirmed repeatedly throughout his travels. Feiler begins his book by writing of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, "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." That ancient, mythical call is a spirit-rouser for the author, and for the reader. While traveling in Israel, Feiler learns about the biblically sanctioned connection between Jews and their land when an American settler in the West Bank tells him that "to walk in the land of Israel is a holy thing to do." Ultimately, Feiler himself grows increasingly attached to the land upon which he treads, writing, "I began to feel a certain pull from the landscape.... It was a feeling of gravity." With that, Feiler's connection between abstract spirituality and terra firma is made profound, both for himself and for the reader lucky enough to take this remarkable journey with him. (Emily Burg)

Calgary Herald
“Anyone planning to visit the Middle East should take two books with them--the Bible and this one.”
Entertainment Weekly
“An eloquently spiritual pilgrimage.”
People
“An inspirational oasis…From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“A powerful and spiritual pilgrimage…in every way, marvelous if not indispensable reading for anyone remotely interested in the Torah.”
Washington Post Book World
“An instant classic…A pure joy to read.”
Los Angeles Times
“Smart and savvy, insightful and illuminating.”
Jerusalem Post
“The perfect read for people who are interested in the Bible and the middle East.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Feiler’s accomplishment, and it’s a profound one, is to confront his idea of God...”
Angelican Herald
“A work of magic...[succeeds] in making the Bible exciting.”
USA Today
“Bruce Feiler went looking for proof. He learned that proof doesn’t matter.”
New York Times
“[Feiler] is an excellent guide...He has...invested [this book] with a keen intellectual curiosity.”
New York Times Book Review
“An enthusiastic travelogue…Feiler delivers a wealth of information in an accessible and entertaining format.”
San Francisco Jewish Bulletin
“Goren and Feiler make for two of the most entertaining traveling buddies since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.”
Miami Herald
“An exciting, well-told story informed by Feiler’s boundless intellectual curiosity...[and] sense of adventure.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Evocative, descriptive, emotionally honest, and often funny.”
Richard Bernstein
Mr. Feiler, in taking us through various harsh and craggy landscapes whose very appearance gleams with biblical associations, proves to be an excellent guide and a worthy wrestler. He has put an enormous amount of information into this book and has invested it with a keen intellectual curiosity, so that we learn a great deal about the spiritual meaning of the Bible and the centuries of speculation about it as a historical document. Most of all, Mr. Feiler achieves for his readers what he set out to achieve for himself: to ground the Bible in real soil and in real history and, in so doing, demonstrate its amazing vitality.
New York Times
Entertainment Weekly
An eloquently spiritual pilgrimage.
New York Times
[Feiler] is an excellent guide...He has...invested [this book] with a keen intellectual curiosity.
Miami Herald
An exciting, well-told story informed by Feiler's boundless intellectual curiosity...[and] sense of adventure.
Los Angeles Times
Smart and savvy, insightful and illuminating.
USA Today
Bruce Feiler went looking for proof. He learned that proof doesn't matter.
Chicago Sun-Times
A powerful and spiritual pilgrimage...in every way, marvelous if not indispensable reading for anyone remotely interested in the Torah.
People
An inspirational oasis...From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed.
San Francisco Chronicle
Feiler's accomplishment, and it's a profound one, is to confront his idea of God...
New York Times Book Review
An enthusiastic travelogue...Feiler delivers a wealth of information in an accessible and entertaining format.
Calgary Herald
Anyone planning to visit the Middle East should take two books with them—the Bible and this one.
Jerusalem Post
The perfect read for people who are interested in the Bible and the Middle East.
Jewish Week
Armchair reading with a spiritual bent...Feiler writes with a sense of poetry about the land.
Washington Post Book World
An instant classic...A pure joy to read.
Christian Science Monitor
Evocative, descriptive, emotionally honest, and often funny.
Melissa Fay Greene
How on Earth did Bruce Feiler come up with so many new, insightful, witty, and touching things to say...?
Anglican Herald
A work of magic...[succeeds] in making the Bible exciting.
San Francisco Jewish Bulletin
Goren and Feiler make for two of the most entertaining traveling buddies since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Stephen J. Dubner
Anyone who cares about the Bible or history or mankind should be grateful to Bruce Feiler.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prolific author Feiler has turned from his earlier subject (clowning, in Under the Big Top) to more serious fare: the Bible and the Middle East. Jewish author Feiler offers himself here as a pilgrim, walking through biblical lands and interviewing individuals from many religious traditions and walks of life. He reads the stories of the Pentateuch in the places they are thought to have happened, he records the latest archaeological understandings of the Bible, and he wrestles with his own faith. Of course, contemporary politics sneaks into the story, too; Arab-Israeli conflicts are hard to avoid when one is writing about the biblical Canaan. Feiler is an accomplished wordsmith. When he describes the "smells of dawn cinnamon, cardamom, a whiff of burnt sugar," the reader is transported to Turkey. He has the rare talent of being able to write in the second person, a gift he uses sparingly here: "Light. The first thing you notice about the desert is the light." In the sections of the book where his content is banal (readers can only take so many descriptions of dusty museums, bustling streets and breathtaking sunsets), Feiler's prose carries the narrative through. This book belongs on the shelves next to classics such as Wendy Orange's Coming Home to Jerusalem. Readers who find Westerners' encounters with the Holy Land enchanting will cherish this book. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Feiler, a frequent contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the author of four previous books, including Learning To Bow and Dreaming Out Loud, wanted to reconnect with the Bible. In this work, he sets off on a personal hegira by camel, foot, jeep, and rowboat to trace the books of Moses, believing the stories to be the greatest ever told. Feiler reminds listeners that human nature is constant; favoritism and family problems are always with us. Covering 10,000 miles, he travels over three continents, through five countries, and four war zones. As did his favorite biblical characters, he crosses the Red Sea, climbs Mount Sinai, and interviews other pilgrims as well as Bedouins. Feiler searches for the answer to the question, "Is the Bible just an abstraction, or is it a living, breathing entity?" His spiritual quest is not without challenges; his research and proposed trek force him to do archaeological detective work, and the war zones force him into unexpected adventures. Walking the Bible combines scholarship, adventure, and heart. Nourishing to the spirit and the arm chair traveler, this is recommended for all libraries with large audio collections. Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
USA Today
“Bruce Feiler went looking for proof. He learned that proof doesn’t matter.”
New York Times Book Review
“An enthusiastic travelogue…Feiler delivers a wealth of information in an accessible and entertaining format.”
New York Times
“[Feiler] is an excellent guide and a worthy wrestler. He has put an enormous amount of information into this book and has invested it with a keen intellectaul curiosity.”
Miami Herald
“An exciting, well-told story informed by Feiler’s boundless intellectual curiosity...[and] sense of adventure.”
Los Angeles Times
“Feiler, not unlike Mark Twain, brings a sharp sense of humor to the whole endeavor.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“A powerful and spiritual pilgrimage…in every way, marvelous if not indispensable reading for anyone remotely interested in the Torah.”
Entertainment Weekly
“An eloquently spiritual pilgrimage.”
People
“An inspirational oasis. . . . From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Evocative, descriptive, emotionally honest, and often funny...Feiler’s most compelling writing is by far about the desert. For anyone wanting to know something of its terrifying strangeness, haunting beauty, and stark spirituality, as well as its possibilities for the future of Israel and the region.”
Washington Post Book World
“Ranks among the great spiritual autobiographies...Feiler, a superb narrartor and storyteller with a gentle, ironic sense of humor, also possesses a potent intellect that at moments blazes forth, illuminating everything in its path.”
San Francisco Jewish Bulletin
“Goren and Feiler make for two of the most entertaining traveling buddies since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.”
Calgary Herald
“Anyone planning to visit the Middle East should take two books with them—the Bible and this one.”
Angelican Herald
“A work of magic...[succeeds] in making the Bible exciting.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Feiler’s accomplishment, and it’s a profound one, is to confront his idea of God as spoken to him by the Bible...His trek through biblical history evolves into something far more fundamental, an intellectual and spiritual crusade to find common bond with the lands of his forebears.”
Jerusalem Post
“The perfect read for people who are interested in the Bible and the Middle East.”
People Magazine
"An inspirational oasis…From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed."
Stephen J. Dubner
“Anyone who cares about the Bible or history or mankind should be grateful to bruce Feiler. His curiosity is prodigious, his intellect sharp, his legs willing to climb and climb.”
The Jewish Week
“Walking The Bible is armchair reading with a spiritual bent...Feiler writes with a sense of poetry about the land.”
Melissa Fay Greene
“How on earth did Bruce Feiler come up with so many new, insightful, witty, and touching things to say...?”
Booklist (*starred review)
“Full of wonder and awe, yet written from a perspective of reasoned inquiry.”
People
“An inspirational oasis. . . . From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060838638
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/2/2005
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including Abraham, Where God Was Born, America's Prophet, The Council of Dads, and The Secrets of Happy Families. He is a columnist for the New York Times, 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

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



In the Land of Canaan



The guard eyed me squarely as we approached his post, moving one hand from his belt to his walkie-talkie. His other arm rested on a rifle. He had gel in his hair and three stripes on his sleeve. "Yes?" he said, arching his eyebrows.

It was 9:35 on a late-autumn morning when Avner and I strode toward the security checkpoint at the Damia Bridge, an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing about thirty miles north of Jericho. We had driven up from Jerusalem that morning to start the next phase of our journey, visiting sites in the Promised Land associated with Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob. Together they form the holy triumvirate of biblical forefathers, the patriarchs, from the Greek words patria, meaning family or clan, and arche, meaning ruler. The Five Books describe several forefathers who preceded these men, notably Adam and Noah, as well as many who follow. But the three patriarchs receive special distinction because it's to them -- of all humanity -- whom God grants his sacred covenant of territory, and through them that the relationship between the people of Israel and the Promised Land is forged.

The story of the patriarchs takes up the final thirty-nine chapters of Genesis and covers the entire geographical spectrum of the ancient Near East, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and back again, all within several verses. For Avner and me, this scope posed a challenge. Soon after our return from Turkey, we huddled in the living room of his home in Jerusalem and set about devising an itinerary. It was a sunny, comfortable room, with whitewashed walls, bedouin rugs fromthe Sinai, and pictures of his two children, as well as the two daughters of his second wife, Edie, a Canadian who served as office manager for the Jerusalem bureau of the New York Times. Avner sat at the table with his computer, online Bible, countless topographical maps, dozens of archaeological texts, and the handheld GPS device, while I paced the floor.

Our most immediate problem was that with no archaeological evidence to relate any of the events in the Five Books to specific places, we were left to the often-contradictory claims of history, myth, legend, archaeobiology, paleozoology, and faith. There are nearly two dozen candidates for Mount Sinai, for example, and nearly half a dozen for the Red Sea. There are countless theories about which path the Israelites took through the Sinai. In addition, we faced the competing constraints of religious wars, political wars, terrorism, climate, budget, and health, as well as the desire to have fun.

Ultimately we settled on a guiding principle: Our goal was to place the biblical stories in the historical and cultural context of the ancient Near East. Time and again, rather than focus on every story in the text, or even every interesting story in the text, we decided to concentrate on stories that could be enhanced by being in the places themselves. The story of Jacob and his brother Esau wrestling in Rebekah's womb, for example, while fascinating on many levels, struck us as not likely to be enriched by traveling to a specific location. The stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, by contrast, and the crossing of the Red Sea might easily take on new meanings by visiting their settings. In Judaism, the traditional process of analyzing scripture is called midrash, from the Hebrew term meaning search out or investigate; in Christianity, this process is referred to as exegesis, from the Latin word meaning the same thing. In effect, what Avner and I undertook was topographical midrash, a geographical exegesis of the Bible.

In that spirit, we decided to begin our travels in Israel with a bit of a long shot. Our destination this morning was Shechem, the first place Abraham stops in Canaan and the next place the Bible mentions after Harran. The text makes no mention of what route Abraham, his wife, Sarah (she's actually called Sarai at the moment, as he is still called Abram), and his nephew Lot took to Canaan. Based on road patterns in the ancient world, one of the most logical places for him to cross into the Promised Land would have been a natural ford in the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee, where the Damia Bridge is located today. Though we were already in the Promised Land, we decided to ask if the Israeli Army would let us walk across the bridge to the Jordanian side, then walk back, seeing what Abraham might have seen. Avner explained this idea to the sergeant, who remained at attention. After hearing the explanation, the officer removed his walkie-talkie and relayed our request.

The border post was astir that morning. It was a small crossing -- the Jordan here is narrow enough for a horse to jump -- but tidy, decorated with cacti, olive trees, and oleanders. The gate was blue and white. Every few minutes a Palestinian truck would approach, ferrying oranges, honeydew, or polished limestone. The driver would dismount and hand over his papers, which the guards would stamp and return. Then the guards would roll open the gate, the truck would pass, and the whole process would start again. We were just becoming lulled by the routine, when suddenly we heard static on the walkie-talkie. The sergeant removed it and held it for us to hear: "I don't care if they write a book about the Bible," the voice said. "I don't care if they rewrite the Bible itself. But they're not going to do it in a military zone, and they're not going to do it on my bridge."

The sergeant replaced his walkie-talkie and shrugged. "Sorry," he said, "only Palestinians."

We returned to the highway and turned west toward the mountains. Shechem is located at the northern edge of the central spine of mountains that traverse much of Israel and the West Bank...

Walking the Bible. Copyright © by Bruce Feiler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: And God Said
Go Forth 3
Bk. I God of Our Fathers
1 In the Land of Canaan 39
2 Take Now Thy Son 63
3 A Pillow of Stones 93
Bk. II A Coat of Many Colors
1 On the Banks of the Nile 123
2 And They Made Their Lives Bitter 147
3 A Wall of Water 165
Bk. III The Great and Terrible Wilderness
1 A Land of Fiery Snakes and Scorpions 199
2 On Holy Ground 227
3 The God-Trodden Mountain 249
Bk. IV The Land That Devours Its People
1 Wandering 277
2 And the Earth Opened Its Mouth 304
3 The Land of Milk and Honey 328
Bk. V Toward the Promised Land
1 The Wars of the Lord 351
2 Half as Old as Time 373
3 Sunrise in the Palm of the Lord 394
And the People Believed
Take These Words
Index
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Walking the Bible
A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses

Chapter One



In the Land of Canaan



The guard eyed me squarely as we approached his post, moving one hand from his belt to his walkie-talkie. His other arm rested on a rifle. He had gel in his hair and three stripes on his sleeve. "Yes?" he said, arching his eyebrows.

It was 9:35 on a late-autumn morning when Avner and I strode toward the security checkpoint at the Damia Bridge, an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing about thirty miles north of Jericho. We had driven up from Jerusalem that morning to start the next phase of our journey, visiting sites in the Promised Land associated with Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob. Together they form the holy triumvirate of biblical forefathers, the patriarchs, from the Greek words patria, meaning family or clan, and arche, meaning ruler. The Five Books describe several forefathers who preceded these men, notably Adam and Noah, as well as many who follow. But the three patriarchs receive special distinction because it's to them -- of all humanity -- whom God grants his sacred covenant of territory, and through them that the relationship between the people of Israel and the Promised Land is forged.

The story of the patriarchs takes up the final thirty-nine chapters of Genesis and covers the entire geographical spectrum of the ancient Near East, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and back again, all within several verses. For Avner and me, this scope posed a challenge. Soon after our return from Turkey, we huddled in the living room of his home in Jerusalem and set about devising an itinerary. It was a sunny, comfortable room, with whitewashed walls, bedouin rugs from the Sinai, and pictures of his two children, as well as the two daughters of his second wife, Edie, a Canadian who served as office manager for the Jerusalem bureau of the New York Times. Avner sat at the table with his computer, online Bible, countless topographical maps, dozens of archaeological texts, and the handheld GPS device, while I paced the floor.

Our most immediate problem was that with no archaeological evidence to relate any of the events in the Five Books to specific places, we were left to the often-contradictory claims of history, myth, legend, archaeobiology, paleozoology, and faith. There are nearly two dozen candidates for Mount Sinai, for example, and nearly half a dozen for the Red Sea. There are countless theories about which path the Israelites took through the Sinai. In addition, we faced the competing constraints of religious wars, political wars, terrorism, climate, budget, and health, as well as the desire to have fun.

Ultimately we settled on a guiding principle: Our goal was to place the biblical stories in the historical and cultural context of the ancient Near East. Time and again, rather than focus on every story in the text, or even every interesting story in the text, we decided to concentrate on stories that could be enhanced by being in the places themselves. The story of Jacob and his brother Esau wrestling in Rebekah's womb, for example, while fascinating on many levels, struck us as not likely to be enriched by traveling to a specific location. The stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, by contrast, and the crossing of the Red Sea might easily take on new meanings by visiting their settings. In Judaism, the traditional process of analyzing scripture is called midrash, from the Hebrew term meaning search out or investigate; in Christianity, this process is referred to as exegesis, from the Latin word meaning the same thing. In effect, what Avner and I undertook was topographical midrash, a geographical exegesis of the Bible.

In that spirit, we decided to begin our travels in Israel with a bit of a long shot. Our destination this morning was Shechem, the first place Abraham stops in Canaan and the next place the Bible mentions after Harran. The text makes no mention of what route Abraham, his wife, Sarah (she's actually called Sarai at the moment, as he is still called Abram), and his nephew Lot took to Canaan. Based on road patterns in the ancient world, one of the most logical places for him to cross into the Promised Land would have been a natural ford in the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee, where the Damia Bridge is located today. Though we were already in the Promised Land, we decided to ask if the Israeli Army would let us walk across the bridge to the Jordanian side, then walk back, seeing what Abraham might have seen. Avner explained this idea to the sergeant, who remained at attention. After hearing the explanation, the officer removed his walkie-talkie and relayed our request.

The border post was astir that morning. It was a small crossing -- the Jordan here is narrow enough for a horse to jump -- but tidy, decorated with cacti, olive trees, and oleanders. The gate was blue and white. Every few minutes a Palestinian truck would approach, ferrying oranges, honeydew, or polished limestone. The driver would dismount and hand over his papers, which the guards would stamp and return. Then the guards would roll open the gate, the truck would pass, and the whole process would start again. We were just becoming lulled by the routine, when suddenly we heard static on the walkie-talkie. The sergeant removed it and held it for us to hear: "I don't care if they write a book about the Bible," the voice said. "I don't care if they rewrite the Bible itself. But they're not going to do it in a military zone, and they're not going to do it on my bridge."

The sergeant replaced his walkie-talkie and shrugged. "Sorry," he said, "only Palestinians."

We returned to the highway and turned west toward the mountains. Shechem is located at the northern edge of the central spine of mountains that traverse much of Israel and the West Bank...

Walking the Bible
A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses
. Copyright © by Bruce Feiler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Some books come from a deep-seated urge. Others come from an unexpected moment in time. Walking the Bible comes from both.

First, the deep-seated urge. Like many, after leaving home at the end of high school, I lost touch with the religious community I had known as a child. I slowly disengaged from the sticky attachment that comes from a regular cycle of readings, prayers, and services. I separated myself from the texts as well. And ultimately I woke up one morning and realized I had no connection to the Bible. It was a book to me now, one that sat on the shelf, gathering dust on its gilded pages. The Bible was part of the past -- an old way of learning, a crutch. I wanted to be part of the future.

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. But even as I traveled, I found that certain feelings from my past kept resurfacing. There was a conversation going on in the world that I wasn't participating in. References would pop up in books or movies that I couldn't fully comprehend. I would read entire newspaper articles about wars I couldn't explain. At weddings and funerals the words I heard and recited were just that -- words. They were not part of me in any way. And yet I wanted them to be. Suddenly, almost overnight as I recall, I wanted these words to have meaning again.

No sooner had I made this realization than I discovered how daunting it seemed. For starters, the idea of reading the Bible from cover to cover seemed undoable. The text was too long, its language too remote. I went to the bookstore seeking help, but found 50 different translations, with assorted concordances, interpretations, and daily inspirations. None of the classes I considered tackled these questions either. I was left with the book, which sat by my bed for months on end, suffering from renewed neglect.

Then I went to Jerusalem. On my first day I joined an old friend, Fred, who was giving a tour to some students. We stopped on a promenade overlooking the city. "Over there," said Fred, "is Har Homa [a controversial settlement]. And over there is the cliff where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac." Real or not, that piece of information hit me like a bolt of Cecil B. DeMille lightning. It had never occurred to me that that story -- so timeless, so abstract -- might have happened in a place that was identifiable, no less one I could visit.

In subsequent weeks I had the same experience in a variety of places. In the Middle East, the Bible is not some abstraction. 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. I would take this ancient book and approach it with contemporary methods of learning -- traveling, talking, experiencing. In other words, I would enter the Bible as if it were any other world and seek to become a part of it. Once inside, I would walk in its footsteps, meet its characters, and ask its questions in an effort to understand why its stories had become so timeless and once again so vitally important to me. (Bruce Feiler)

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Reading Group Guide

IntroductionWalking the Bible is Bruce Feiler's engrossing 10,000-mile journey and archaeological odyssey -- by foot, jeep, rowboat, and camel -- through the Holy Land. A fifth-generation Jew from Savannah, Georgia, Feiler was overcome with the urge to reconnect with the Bible, musing upon the original seeker, Abraham, as his inspiration:
"Abraham was not originally the man he became. He was not an Israelite, he was not a Jew. He was not even a believer in God -- at least initially. 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."
Along with noted Israeli archaeologist Avner Goren, who acted as Feiler's trusted guide, partner, mentor, and sidekick, Feiler embarks on painstakingly retracing through the desert the Pentatuech, the first five books of the Old Testament. Traveling through Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, and Jordan, three continents, and four war zones, Feiler converses freely with Bedouins and religious pilgrims alike. He visits actual places referenced in the Bible, including Mount Ararat, where it is believed that Noah's Ark landed after the flood, Saint Catherine's Monastery, the site of the burning bush where Moses first heard the words of God, and Mount Nebo, where Moses overlooked the Promised Land. In engaging and lucid prose, Feiler continually reflects on how the geography of the land affects the narrative of the Bible, and pointedly wonders whether the Bible is just an abstraction, or a living, breathing entity. Ultimately, Feiler concludes in Walking the Bible that the Bible "is foreverapplicable, it's always now…It lives because it never dies." The land that Feiler explores on his journey is timeless. Walking the Bible is not only a "good read," it's worth thinking about and savoring the people and places Feiler visits. This Study Guide is designed to help book groups explore and reflect on Walking the Bible through discussion. The Study Guide helps groups trace the large themes Feiler touches upon in his travels -- feelings about the land, its people, their history, the Bible -- and Feiler's own experiences on his journey. Whether you've journeyed to the Middle East or are content to remain an "armchair traveler," Walking the Bible is a fabulous adventure through a timeless world. And its accompanying Study Guide will deepen your experience and understanding of the region. Discussion Questions
  • Feiler traveled to many places as he journeyed through the sites found in the five books of Moses. Which one did you find the most interesting or inspiring? Why?
  • Of the many facts, stories, and history Feiler tells about the Bible and its geography, what did you find the most surprising? In other words, what did you learn about the Bible you didn't know before?
  • In the chapter, "Wall of Water," Feiler writes, "As much as [Avner] knew about the Bible, he seemed to know more about the nature of travel, about how to go to places, leave a bit of yourself behind, take a bit of the place with you, and in the process emerge with something bigger -- and experience, a connection, a story" (page 192). What do you think was Feiler's most significant "experience" or "connection" in his walk through the Bible? Why?
  • Describe Avner's connection to and feelings for Sinai.
  • What is Feiler's purpose in Walking the Bible? Does he accomplish that purpose? How?
  • Describe how the desert figured in Feiler's travels -- what he found there, its influence on the lives of those who live in the desert now and on those who lived in biblical times.
  • Who do you think was the most fascinating person Feiler met in his travels? Why?
  • In "Sunrise in the Palm of God," Feiler writes, "[The] more profound change the journey brought about in me…allowed me to turn off my mind occasionally and open myself up to feelings-spiritual, emotional, divine, even imaginary -- that might innately connect me to the world….after months of traveling around the Middle East, I felt newly aware of the emotional power of certain places, the essential meridians of history that exist just underneath the topsoil…" (page 420). Have you ever traveled to a place that connected you emotionally to place in the way Feiler describes? If so, describe your experience. If not, where do you imagine such a place might be for you?
  • Describe Avner and how Feiler relies on him.
  • Describe some of the contrasts Feiler experiences between the ancient biblical world and the modern world of the Middle.
  • In "Go Forth," Feiler writes, "Some journeys we choose to go on, I realized; some journeys choose us" (page 35). Talk about a time when you felt compelled to begin a journey -- a time when you felt the journey chose you.
  • In "In the Land of Canaan," Feiler writes about meeting Fern Dobuler, an Israeli who was originally from New York. Fern says, "When my kids used to go on field trips in America, they went to a museum, to the Empire State Building. Here when you go on a field trip they drop you off in the middle of the nowhere and you walk, for hours and hours and hours" (page 49). Discuss the difference between how Americans and Middle Easternsers feel about or experience the land.
  • Contrast the differences Feiler experiences in Israel and with his experiences in Egypt.
  • Discuss the similarities and differences between St. Catherine's monastery in the chapter, "On Holy Ground," and Kibbutz Sdeh Borer in the chapter, "The Land of Milk and Honey."
  • How did Feiler's travels change your mind about the Middle East, the people who live there and their history? Or how did Feiler's travels support what you already think about the Middle East? Contact the Author
Bruce Feiler is the New York Times best-selling author of six books, an award-winning journalist and speaker. Over the last ten years he has traveled to over sixty countries, on five continents, immersing himself in different cultures and experiences. The result is six acclaimed books that take the reader along on his fascinating adventures and bring other worlds vividly to life. For Feiler's complete bio, as well as excerpts and reviews of all his books, and information about his speaking schedule around the country, please visit his website. Bruce Feiler also takes email comments directly from readers at his site and is pleased to answer questions from study groups. Bruce Feiler's newest book Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths (William Morrow, September 17, 2002) describes his personal quest to discover the man at the heart of the world's three monotheistic religions -- and of today's deadliest conflicts. The book, the first-ever interfaith portrait of Abraham, will be published this fall simultaneously in numerous countries around the world. In addition, William Morrow, Bruce Feiler, and other partner organizations are organizing a unique and unprecedented week of national interfaith dialogue -- from Friday, November 8th to Sunday, November 18th -- in which they hope to have at least 100 ABRAHAM SALONS running simultaneously across the country. For information on how to join this effort, please contact Bruce directly at his website. For Further Reading The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter; God: A Biography by Jack Miles; The Bible as It Was by James Kugel. Reference The HarperCollins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, annotated by the Society of Biblical Literature; Harper's Bible Dictionary, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier with the Society of Biblical Literature; Harper's Bible Commentary, edited by James L. Mays with the Society of Biblical Literature; The Harper Atlas of the Bible, edited by James Pritchard.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 68 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 68 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 12, 2008

    Not too bad a book, especially in a college setting where such a breezy writing style is often appreciated.

    Bruce Feiler had a metaphore or a simile for every aspect of his book, sometimes two or three; most of the time they added to the experience, but every once in a while you you would think something along the lines of "That was a stretch" or it would draw you away from, rather than toward the topic he seemed to be going toward.<BR/><BR/>His book was almost like an edited series of diaries. I didn't use the word journal as that could lead you to believe this sounded like a travel log, rather this seemed only steps away from little hearts, multiple exclamation points, and cries of "Gee Wilikers!"<BR/><BR/>Becuase Feiler pointed out spiritual epiphanies most of the time rather than searching out a deeper meaning it was good for classrom discussion as there were so many paths of thought left unexplored.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Historical/Geographical Overview of Old Testament

    Having lived in the Middle East for nearly 10 years I found this book to be a reasonable tour of Old Testament sites and their underlying meaning for today's Middle East.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    An absolute treasure of information.

    This book was given me by a friend and I'm so glad for it. This is - by far - one of the very best books about the context, culture, archaeology, apologetics etc of scripture I have read yet. Mr. Feiler's choice to "walk" the known or possible sites wherein events occurred that were location-based was a wise one. And the historical accounts, academic research, onscene observations and personal interviews and interactions he relates in this book make it a treasure of information - far larger than is reflected in its pagecount. Having read it now, the book seems to contain more information than just one book, more like a volume of books yet all contained in just one volume.

    Anyone interested in the context and culture of the regions in which Old Testament biblical events like the Exodus, etc are said to have occurred, would greatly enjoy this book.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2012

    Beautifully photographed

    I purchased this book for a Christmas present for my boss. He was absolutely pleased! He remarked on the superb photography and how he has enjoyed reading the acompanying commentary. The book was very well received and I am so glad he enjoyed his gift. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in either photography,the bible or both.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    I found this book to very informative and entertaining.

    This book addresses a topic that I know little about and it does so in a very entertaining way. The book is well researched but still very readable. I read it because it was a selection in a book club to which I belong. I would not have considered reading it on my own. However, I'm very glad I read it and I have recommended it to my relatives and friends.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2008

    Thoroughly Entertaining

    Walking the Bible is a very interesting book that talks about one man¿s journey through the Bible. Bruce Feiler travels throughout the Middle East visiting the places where experts have guessed that biblical events have taken place. Feiler does a remarkable job of portraying his adventures. His writing technique is extraordinary and phenomenal. This book is jam-packed full of information, but you don¿t feel like you¿re reading a boring research paper at all. And yet you can tell that so much research went into this book. When he rides a camel up Mount Sinai, he talks about how camels are the perfect animals for this job. He devotes a paragraph to nothing but facts about camels, including the third eyelid they have to wipe sand out of their eyes. He says, ¿In a sandstorm, camels can actually close this third eyelid and see through it. As further protection, camels also have extremely long eyelashes. I also have long eyelashes, which at the moment¿ I hoped would be taken as conformation that I, too, was somehow genetically aligned with the desert¿ (pg. 253). As you can see he gives plenty of information, and yet makes it completely entertaining. I would definitely recommend this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2006

    Bible Bonanza

    Boy, when I got this audio-CD I didn't know what I was expecting. WOW! I couldn't beleive how explicit and exact Bruce Feiler is. You must get this whether it's the book or the audio-CD.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2001

    Spiritual Growth is a Journey

    Fieler is a wordsmith as well as a seeker. I wish I had his writing talent. In reading his latest work I slowly realized the similarities between the Israelis and Palestinians of today. Both come from rich literary and poetic backgrounds. Both the Koran and the Wisdom books of the Jewish people emphasize hospitality to a traveler because both groups understand the extremes in climate of the area, especially the harshness of the desert and wilderness areas. I would enjoy reading a book by Fieler where he traveled to the holy places of Islam. The two books would complement each other and because of Fieler's objectivity and sensitivity perhaps the Arab world and their Jewish neighbors could see that they have more in common than they are able to see at the present. I am a Christian and I am not prostelytizing for anything except peace and mutual respect between two groups of neighbors. The images of beautiful sunsets evoked in the book might be seen as a hope for more harmony in the Middle East. The book reinforces the theme of faith as a constant journey. Fieler won't stop now. The following list of books I have enjoyed reflect the hope for tolerance and understanding which I received from Fieler's book and I hope that others will also read them. They are enjoyable as well as thought provoking. Love involves reflective thought and actions as well as sentiment. Thank you.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2012

    A spiritual and cultural as well as geographical pilgrimage

    Bruce Feiler takes us on an engaging journey through the lands of Abraham, Jacob and Moses. Feiler's journey was spiritual as well as geographical and he exposes us to aspects of bedouin and Israeli culture I had never come across before. I found Feiler's spiritual journey to really be non-denominational and applicable to Jews, Christians and even Muslims.

    I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable read that made me want to make a similar journey to see the lands of the Bible. I'd give it 4.5 rather than 4 stars if I could.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    A very good map of the sites of the best stories of the Bible. V

    A very good map of the sites of the best stories of the Bible. Very informative. Well written.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2011

    A journey worth reading!!

    A well written, easy to read book that puts in perspective the physical journey of God's people. Although it is not a book for spiritual growth in your relationship with God, it is a book worth reading to farther understand the journey of a people, whom God chose to bring salvation to the world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2008

    The Trek through the Torah

    Walking the Bible is an interesting account of a journey through the biblical sites of the Five Books of Moses. Feiler begins his journey not to grow closer to God, if (in his thinking) there even is a God, but to strengthen his ties and connect to the Bible. <BR/>As he sets off in his pilgrimage we begin to be exposed to his engaging writing. Feiler's unique writing style is always entertaining, and the way he presents all the information is very well crafted. I am amazed at his ability, since such a familiar and historically rich topic could easily present the mass amount of information in a way that would leave the reader feeling like its a textbook, or needing to take a break. Feiler uses humor, great analogies, and wonderful comparisons to bring his points across and it is an overall joy to read. While on his pilgrimage, he becomes acquainted with many knowledgeable historians and gives a numerous account of different perspectives on how the events in the Bible happened. As we watch his process of coming up with his ideas, the reader is also doing the same thing while being entertained as well. Its a wonderful book to read, full of extremely interesting insights, and never once did I lose interest while I was reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2005

    Walking the Bible Review

    Bruce Feiler takes a trip in which he travels to many of the holy sites in the first 5 books in the Old Testament. He does a great job of descrbing the scenery and sights, and engages the readers, capturing their interest, almost making the readers feel that they were there. He also slowly begins to show how the Bible, and the land it takes place in can transform people, as his goal of not including God can only last so long, especially when he began to connect with the land spiritually.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2005

    Great writer, great man

    In this book Walking the Bible I really appreciate the way Feiler writes. He writes in a way where you can hear it in his voice that he is not biased. He really does try not to offend anyone. I enjoyed reading because he is a very good researcher without trying to make it feel like you are reading a history book, or even a research paper for that matter. Even more than his writing I do enjoy the fact that he cares about other people¿s religions and knows they have the right to believe whatever they want, so he puts everything into perspective for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2005

    Instant Classic

    Feiler is an amazing writer who can grab your attention and move your mind through the land. The best part about this book is the setting, and the way that are able, through the writing, to imagine the area, it is as if you could feel the sand blowing across your face. I highly recommend every person, who is interested in any type of religion, to read this book. This book is a way of walking through someone¿s faith and finding what is really there. If you ever wondered about the places where the Bible stories took place, and what the people in those stories were like, this is the book for you. This is an intriguing first hand experience report on what bible life was like.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2005

    In Search of the Past

    This documentary of Bruce Feiler's journey through the Bible commands your attention throughout the book. He offers interesting insight that I myself hadn't thought of. Not only is it a very interesting analysis of ancient days, but I really enjoyed the thoughts he had on the modern-day history as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2005

    more than just a guided tour through the bible

    I wasn't real sure what to expect when I first started reading this book. I thought maybe it would be more of a basic travel log. It was so much more than that! Bruce Feiler is such an amazing writer! He uses such intricate details, you really feel as if you are right there with him. This is a story not only about a historical journey through the bible, but the author's inner transformation as he breaks away from modes of reason and logic and more towards emotion and trust.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2003

    Extraordinary! I want the world to read this!

    I can't wait to read Abraham!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002

    A placement of mind and spirit

    Deeply moving for unexplained reasons. An experience I can't wait to continue and already anticipate a void once I've finished the book. This book will take you someplace your soul needs to go.The sand, the wind the history the science the humor. Better and more satisfying than carnal experiences.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2002

    Great reading

    This is a great book that allows us to visit places virtually that are not safe for Jews to visit right now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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