Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told

Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060511180
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2004
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 7.25(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range: 7 - 9 Years

About the Author

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.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

October 25, 1964

Place of Birth:

Savannah, Georgia

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.

Table of Contents

Introduction: And God Said
Go Forth3
Book IGod of Our Fathers
1.In the Land of Canaan39
2.Take Now Thy Son63
3.A Pillow of Stones93
Book IIA Coat of Many Colors
1.On the Banks of the Nile123
2.And They Made Their Lives Bitter147
3.A Wall of Water165
Book IIIThe Great And Terrible Wilderness
1.A Land of Fiery Snakes and Scorpions199
2.On Holy Ground227
3.The God-Trodden Mountain249
Book IVThe Land That Devours Its People
1.Wandering277
2.And the Earth Opened Its Mouth304
3.The Land of Milk and Honey328
Book VToward the Promised Land
1.The Wars of the Lord351
2.Half as Old as Time373
3.Sunrise in the Palm of the Lord394
And the People Believed429
Take These Words431
Index437

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Walking 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.

  • Interviews

    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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