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)