Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion


At a time when America debates its values and the world braces for religious war, Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestsellers Walking the Bible and Abraham, travels ten thousand miles through the Middle East to examine the question

Is Religion Tearing Us Apart ... Or Can it Bring Us Together?

Where God Was Born combines the adventure of a wartime chronicle and an archaeological detective story with an inspiring journey of spiritual ...

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At a time when America debates its values and the world braces for religious war, Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestsellers Walking the Bible and Abraham, travels ten thousand miles through the Middle East to examine the question

Is Religion Tearing Us Apart ... Or Can it Bring Us Together?

Where God Was Born combines the adventure of a wartime chronicle and an archaeological detective story with an inspiring journey of spiritual exploration. Taking readers to biblical sites not seen by Westerners for decades, it uncovers little-known details about the common roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and affirms the importance of the Bible in today's world.

Where God Was Born observes that at the birth moment of the biblical religions, all of the faiths took from one another, exchanged ideas, recognized their commonalities, and were open to peaceful coexistence. Offering a rare vision of God that can unite different faiths into a shared allegiance of hope, this is a brave, challenging, and profound work that addresses the most important issues of our time.

Enhanced CD: Put this CD in your computer to view photographs from Walking the Bible: A Photographic Journey

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bruce Feiler's 10,000-mile quest for the roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam took him to some of the bloodiest trouble spots in the Middle East. In Iraq, he writes, "By far the most dangerous thing we did on any day was drive. One doesn't quite realize how fragile law and order is until one tries to get from one place to another." Part wartime chronicle, part archaeological detective story, Where God Was Born explores the wisdom of faith in the very region where it seems to be source of all conflict.
Publishers Weekly
Mixing archeological history with war story, Feiler journeys the length and breadth of the modern Middle East, in search of the final word about religion's efficaciousness. Feiler's understated voice underscores the drama of his tale. The sober, measured tones and the occasionally scratchy timbre of his voice emphasize the personal aspect of his book, which is part biblical exegesis and part study of religion's impact on contemporary life. Feiler's work ranges from studying the less savory aspects of the legacies of Israelite kings David and Solomon to touring Iraqi archeological sites under the watchful eye of the postinvasion U.S. Army. The audiobook bookends its chapters with swirls of orchestral music, adding a nice touch and playing up the inherent archaic romance of Feiler's story. The production as a whole might have benefited, though, from a reader with slightly more gravitas than the author can provide. Feiler acquits himself honorably, but a professional reader might have more capably teased out the book's aura of drama past and present. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, July 11). (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Author and journalist Feiler has made something of a cottage industry out of the spiritual/biblical travelog, from Walking the Bible to Abraham to this work, which loosely picks up biblically where Walking leaves off-that is, with Joshua set to enter the land of Canaan. Coupled again with the late archaeologist Avner Goren, Feiler travels the land querying issues of conquest, autonomy, ethnic identity, and ultimately, what it means to be an Israelite without a land (his work ends with the rising influence of Hellenism and pressures from Christianity on diaspora Judiasm). Known as something of a word maven, Feiler does not fail to conjure up grandiose verbal images here, referring to Hanukkah as "a way for Jews to participate in the American sport of competitive consumption" and remarking on Babylon's lack of a "huggable hero." He engages Christian as well as Muslim religiosity along the way, broaching issues of religious and ethnic violence and animosity (with no real resolution). If Feiler's previous works are popular in your collections, then you'll want this quick and readable one, too. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Feiler (Walking the Bible, 2001, etc.) travels to Israel, Iran and Iraq to learn if religion inevitably gives rise to violence, or if it is a seedbed of peace. If you've read Feiler's earlier books, you know the formula: he heads to the Middle East, teams up with great archeologists who show him the sites, conducts a bunch of interviews and ruminates about the Bible. Here he travels to Israel, where he chats with a novelist who's written about King David; to Iraq, where, by the rivers of Babylon, he reflects on vengeance and redemption; and to Iran, where he interviews a leader of the Zoroastrian community about what wisdom Zoroastrianism has to offer the modern world. ("Be calm. Be beautiful. And above all, be good," sums up the leader's advice.) The author's account of war-torn Iraq will likely rivet readers. "By far the most dangerous thing we did on any given day was drive," he writes. "One doesn't quite realize how fragile law and order is until one tries to get from one place to another in a vigilante nation." Feiler mixes a little autobiography into the story, even touches on his own changing relationship with organized religion. Unsurprisingly, he comes away from his peregrinations optimistic about the possibility that peace will come from religion yet, and he denounces religious extremists who contort Scripture to serve their own ends. Most of his grand conclusions are anodyne: Gods needs us to be his co-creators, religious journeys have no real end. If such musings don't seem adequate to the task of unsnarling the knot of religion and violence, they will nonetheless leave readers with a warm fuzzy feeling. Feiler's take on all things biblical is beginning to get tedious.
“A marvelous account . . . Erudite yet immensely readable, Feiler chronicles a spiritual journey to the roots of Western civilization.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060823856
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/13/2005
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 Hours
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 5.78 (h) x 0.54 (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.

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.


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

Where God Was Born

A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion
By Bruce Feiler

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Bruce Feiler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060574879

Chapter One

Man of Blood

Razor wire is made up of thin metal twine with small sharp barbs every few inches that is twirled into coils about two feet in diameter, then bundled outside fences, roofs, and doorways like a lethal scarf. Razor wire is so ubiquitous in Israel it could almost be the national flower. It even looks like a shrub, the way it twists and turns, catches plastic bags and soda bottles in its web, and rubs against civilization like poison ivy on a playground. Whenever I see a bundle, I imagine myself making a daring escape through its coils. Then I see myself slipping, my leg catching in the tangle, tearing, then blood, and the disappointment of failure. Razor wire is barbed wire with a greater power to intimidate.

It does have one unexpected benefit, though. The airiness of its coils allows just enough light to get through so that if you leave it for a while, at, say, the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a sprout of yellow daisies can take root in the desert and pop up through the fear.

Razor fences are not the only impediment to traveling the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. There is also, on this chilly morning, the Israeli Army, the Palestinian security forces, and a border so volatile that Avner couldn't traverse it. He left me at a long line of cars to walk along a cliff with a few Italian tourists in wheelchairs, through a checkpoint armed with Israeli teenagers, into a gamut of taxi drivers so desperate for business one actually looked hurt when I passed him by. "Why are you angry?" he shouted.

Moments later Arlet Odeh sped up in a white Mercedes. She was thirty years old, with dangling curls, a hawk nose, and deep bags under her eyes that came more from lack of hope than from lack of sleep. Arlet was also a tour guide with no tours to guide. For three years she hadn't worked. Her father is old, she said, her mother ill. They are one of only one hundred Palestinian Christian families left in town. "We are living in a cage," she said. "But living means having a life. I have no life. Would you like to see where Jesus was born?"

"Actually, on this trip, I'm interested in King David."

She brightened. "He was born here, too!"

We headed toward the center of town. The cobblestone streets, repaved when Pope John Paul II visited for the bimillennium of Jesus' birth, were deserted, shops boarded up, few people in sight. Though Christmas was still months away, a pale plastic wreath and faded star dangled from the side of the road.

Bethlehem is one of the few cities that appears across the entire two-thousand-year arc of the Hebrew Bible, from the patriarchs to the prophets. The city is first mentioned in Genesis as the place where Jacob's wife Rachel died after giving birth to Benjamin. A tomb marks the spot, which we passed on our way into town, fenced in, empty. Joshua later assigns the area to the tribe of Judah, and it's frequently mentioned during the period of the kings, most prominently as the birthplace of King David. The story of the boy warrior who becomes the king of Israel lords over the early books of the Prophets and introduces what will become a major theme of the second half of the Hebrew Bible: the Israelites' quest to find proper balance between their spiritual identity as an ethically minded people of God and their political identity as a nation strong enough to survive in a region of superpowers.

After the lightning conquest described in the Book of Joshua, the biblical story quickly becomes diffuse, even chaotic. The Book of Judges describes an awkward transition as the people settle the land and try to determine their political leadership. The preeminent fact of the Israelites' existence is that, unlike their neighbors, they don't have a monarch. Four times the text says, "In those days there was no king in Israel," adding, "every man did what was right in his own eyes." For two hundred years, their leaders are judges, including Ehud, Gideon, and Samson, from the Hebrew word sopet, which adds the theological element of divination to the more legalistic English term. The authority of the judges comes from God, the ultimate sopet, and their principal task is to ensure that the people uphold the Laws of Moses.

But the people are not satisfied, especially as they are repeatedly trounced by the Philistines, the new power along the coastal plain. Samuel, the reigning judge at the time, gathers the Israelites and leads a comeback. But the people still feel insecure and, around 1020 B.C.E., parade en masse to an aging Samuel: "Appoint a king for us, to govern us like all other nations." In a classic case of "Throw the bums out!" they declare they are not happy being ruled exclusively by God; they want more competent, secular leadership based on sound economics and a strong military.

We have reached a familiar moment, when the crabby wandering people of the desert become the surly settled people of the land. The Israelites are never happy. In the Sinai they gripe about the lack of food and poor leadership and demand to be sent back into slavery; in the Promised Land they gripe about their lack of power and poor leadership and demand to be subjected to a king. In both cases, Israel lives up to its namesake, Ysra'el, one who wrestles with God.

And God, as he has done before, lashes out: "Me they have rejected as their king." Still, he grants the request but asks Samuel to warn them of their mistake. Samuel's speech is one of the most prophetic in the Bible. A king, he says, will take your sons and sacrifice them in battle, take your daughters and make them perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will seize your choice . . .


Excerpted from Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler Copyright © 2005 by Bruce Feiler.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : be strong and very courageous 1
Bk. I Land
1 Man of blood 35
2 Your throne shall be established forever 60
3 The house of the Lord 91
Bk. II Exile
1 In the Garden of Eden 125
2 Come, let us build us a city 157
3 By the rivers of Babylon 181
4 City of peace 210
5 A future with hope 239
Bk. III Diaspora
1 Let there be light 267
2 His anointed one 294
3 A crown of beauty 320
Conclusion : with gladness and joy 343
O give thanks 383
Words of peace and truth 387
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2005

    A Look Inside the Very Definition of God

    Where God Was Born got me at the title. Wow, what an amazing concept, God being born. I had never stopped to ponder such a question. Bruce Felier did ponder it, and he took that question and he traveled thousands of miles to find the best way to explain God's birth...God's purpose for all of us. The way he blends travel and history with religion and emotion is incredible. Feiler is Jewish and I am Catholic, yet I found his message to be one that should be shouted from every roof top: Respect and Admiration for ALL of God's people is essential for a harmonious world, God's world. We have heard such a message before, but rarely in such an eloquent and documented way. Feiler traveled through Israel, Iraq and Iran places that are virtually off limits to the western world in the modern day. Through words, he showed us the land of the stories, the land where God showed himself and first spoke his word, a word that would spread throughout all the nations. I enjoyed this book very much and will read it again soon. Hopefully Feiler's message of fighting religious extremists with religious moderation will enlighten the people who think that violence is the only way, and that one religion and one ideal is better than all others. I believe that moderation is the key. I for one do as much research as I can about every religion. I also read about science biology, astronomy, archaeology, etc. because i believe it all ties together. I find that poetry, music and art all tie together as well and lead to one conclusion: There IS a God, he made everything, and he is in everything. From there, I am able to keep God as the highest, most important thing in my life, and have him with me every day while I sort through all the rest of life's details. Recent books with similar messages, like Michele Geraldi's book Calling in the Night, are also good to add to any spiritual collection. It is different than Where God Was Born, in the respect that it is more fictional and storytelling than it is travel and antiquity. Nonetheless, Calling in the Night is a good companion for Where God Was born because Calling in the Night has the same subtle message of God being in everthing. I also think that reading the bible will really help you with Where God Was Born. Read the bible first. That way, when you read this book you will feel familiar with it and the places Feiler visits will feel very special to you. Where God was born is an excellent book, and I hope people will give it a chance even if their morals, relgion, political views or whatever tell them otherwise. So often we hear that people of religion are not 'open minded.' In fact, the people who will not give religion a chance because they have prejudged it as being fantasy or something else, are indeed the one's with the closed minds.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2006

    Choices made on the journey

    A must read especially those who are interested in Religion, God, and biblical things. Edmond Davis Instructor of History Pulaski Technical College

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006


    The idea is interesting enough. Where God Was Born will hopefully give you a better understanding of your own moral progression. An excellent find!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A tour guide of biblical locations with intriguing annotations

    As he did with the prequel WALKING THE BIBLE: A JOURNEY BY LAND THROUGH THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, Bruce Feiler combines a tour guide of biblical locations with intriguing annotations and ¿sermons¿ lifted from ancient times but also includes modern events. WHERE GOD WAS BORN: A JOURNEY BY LAND TO THE ROOTS OF RELIGION starts with Joshua and continues on through to the Babylonian captivity and the Diaspora written by a fine author who describes what he observes first hand. Well written with incredible insight somewhat thanks to archeological companion Avner Goren, readers will appreciate this fabulous journey that goes way beyond just Israel¿s¿ borders as the author finds greatness in the non-Jewish Semite cultures of the region as much as he embraces being a Jew. Because he and Mr. Goren are not armchair travelers, but instead visit the locales described, this superb reference work and his previous excellent nonfictions are inspirational for us religious moderates who believe in tolerance for all suicidal extremists or intelligent designers who share in common their faith is the divine one need to pass as these groups will reinterpret the simple underlying moral message of Mr. Feiler¿s strong belief in the words of the bible................... Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2005

    Enlightening and wonderful

    Bruce Feiler is a rare and exceptional writer who has again created a masterpiece. He was given some help by a fabulous archeologist named Avner Goren. Together they take the reader on a truly wonderful journey. Don't pass on this writer's works.

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    Posted August 21, 2010

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    Posted December 26, 2011

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