Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book Review - Walking the Bible: A Journey Through the Five Books of Moses (2001) by Bruce Feiler

Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses (2001)
by Bruce Feiler

This is not a theological book, not by a theologian or Christian pastor, not a textbook for seminary students. This is an adventure by a seeker, a quest for truth (or the remaining of the truths), a personal pilgrim that may or may not lead to the divine. This is not a spiritual quest… at first.

"In the Middle East," writes Feiler, an award-winning journalist, and writer, "I realized, the Bible is not some abstraction, nor some book gathering dust. It's a living, breathing entity unencumbered by the sterilization of time. If anything, it's an ongoing narrative: stories that begin in the sand, get entrenched in stone, pass down through families, and play themselves out in the lives of residents and visitors who traverse its lines nearly 5,000 years after they were first etched into memory. 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, the embodiment of old-fashioned knowledge, 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, live in its canyons, meet its characters, and ask its questions in an effort to understand why its stories had become so timeless and, despite years of neglect, once again so vitally important to me."

From there, Bruce Feiler writes this 435-pages book with immersion journalism and a style that makes it flow without bogging the reader down in minutia. It is easy and fun to read (for me). It was like reading a novel but with real characters, real places and historical events. I hope potential readers will not be turned off to this book from its title. It is not written from a religious perspective but from a (fairly) objective perspective. Even though Feiler himself is Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household, he didn't attach himself to the Jewish Bible.  When visiting Jerusalem, he was shocked by being able to see the physical locations where so many stories from the Bible take place. That experience inspired him to take the journey through the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Together with Avner Goren, his guide, Feiler travels through Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and other lands of the Near East. They visit as many confirmed biblical locations as possible and some suspected sites. Along the way, they will read aloud the passages of the Bible applicable to that place. Slowly, Feiler's faith grows stronger and comes to find an appreciation for the biblical places. Feiler's talent for detail and imagery made this book worth reading (although I wish he can trim down the volume). I felt like I was in the desert on a camel with him. I could see myself walking deeper and deeper into the pyramids of Egypt especially (wow!). His description of Petra almost convinced me to see it for myself before I die. The characters of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses are told in the most interesting way. And throughout the book, my faith in the Old Testament is ever increasing. Even though that wasn't his intention at first, I thank God the Father for this book because it rekindles my trust in His Word. By the way, I also enjoy the science, archaeology, history, and traditions behind this book. Reading a book about the Bible without religious lingos is very helpful and refreshing for me.

One of the biggest questions that Feiler explores is this: "If these places existed, does that make the Bible true? If they didn't exist, does that mean the Bible is lies?" The analogy used is from "an archaeologist I met in Jerusalem who said to me, ‘You know, Americans seem to think if you can prove that two screws existed, you prove the entire machine existed.'" It's black or white, no grey in between. Feiler feels this pull of (false) reasoning a few times through his journey. At the end of the day, something in the Bible can be proven, something is not, said Feiler. Not everything will or can be proven with science! For this, I respect Feiler for leaving some questions open, without answers. Maybe that's why I like this book – its honesty and integrity. I don't agree with everything that Feiler writes. That's okay. A good book (I said it over and over again before) will make you think, challenge your beliefs or assumptions, and spark your imagination. This book has done all three! Superb!

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