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

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

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by Bruce Feiler

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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

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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 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

People Magazine
"An inspirational oasis…From the barren land, Feiler emerges, like those whose paths he traces, renewed and transformed."
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.”
“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.”
Washington Post Book World
“An instant classic…A pure joy to read.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Evocative, descriptive, emotionally honest, and often funny.”
San Francisco Jewish Bulletin
“Goren and Feiler make for two of the most entertaining traveling buddies since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.”
Angelican Herald
“A work of magic...[succeeds] in making the Bible exciting.”
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)

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
Jewish Week
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...?
Anglican Herald
A work of magic...[succeeds] in making the Bible exciting.
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.
The Jewish Week
“Walking The Bible is armchair reading with a spiritual bent...Feiler writes with a sense of poetry about the land.”
Booklist (*starred review)
“Full of wonder and awe, yet written from a perspective of reasoned inquiry.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.41(d)

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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Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
regybear More than 1 year ago
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.
Theophrastus More than 1 year ago
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.

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!"

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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Jknauff More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can't wait to read Abraham!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book that allows us to visit places virtually that are not safe for Jews to visit right now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely astounding!!!. I have never gotten this emotion from a book before, and I am an avid reader. The historical aspect and how it ties in with the bible was inspiring and informatative. I would highly reccommend it to any avid reader like myself. Robert Raleigh, Clev,OH.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not a fast reader but I was compelled to read this 400+ page true story. As a Catholic I was pleased to find myself enthralled with the travels of this Jewish author as he followed in the footsteps of Moses. My interest in the Old Testament (and weekly Church Gospel readings) has been awakened. It changed my indifference to the troubles in the Middle East. I actually found myself enjoying this glimpse into the lives of Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Syrians. Sometime in my life when things in the Middle east have calmed, I want to go visit some of the places I read about. It was a bit preachy in spots, but this could easily be turned into another Indiana Jones movie!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Feiler takes the reader on a field trip through the Bible, cooking up a delightful smorgasboard of theology, history, archeaology, geography, storytelling, religions, and wisdom. The way he is able to weave all of these scholarly pursuits together is insightful and inspirational, letting the reader enjoy the journey from home while simultaneously soaking up a great deal of knowledge. Much better than listening to Aunt Bertha's vacation slide presentation! This book will definitely give you a new appreciation for the Bible. It seems Feiler's project may have started out as a personal project which eventually evolved into this wonderful book. He says in the text that the idea for the book snuck up on him, saying that 'suddenly, almost overnight, I wanted these words (i.e., the words found within the Bible) to have meaning again, to understand them.' Those words definitely resonated with me, because that was the same inspiration that I had when writing my own book (A New Beginning by Eric Westra). He took an entirely different path of execution than I did, taking a trek of thousands and thousands of miles to be able to experience the territory firsthand in order to be able to give a better personal context to the first five books of the Bible. He writes, 'I hoped this effort might deepen my appreciation of the stories by freeing them from their covers and replanting them in the ground.' And so if you want to be able to glean this type of wisdom without having to actually take this type of journey on your own, pick up a copy of this book and join Feiler and Avner and others on this incredible and entertaining trek. In fact, pick up this book as well as my own (Eric Westra, A New Beginning) if you would like to have both sides of your brain sparked in re-igniting your passion for the Old Testament.
MKH More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much especially having visited Egypt earlier this year. The maps in the front are excellent and for the first time in my life I have a better idea of where the countries in the Old Testament lie in relation to modern states of the Middle East.
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