Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible: I am doing research on Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible. Anyone read it? What impressed you?
“How would you like to take a trip where supposedly where some great biblical personalities voyaged?”
Although WALKING THE BIBLE: A JOURNEY BY LAND THROUGH THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES authored by Bruce Feiler certainly does not qualify as a scholarly treatise, it nonetheless merits reading. For many of us it will initiate a new appreciation of the Old Testament as well as man’s relation to God.
The author, guided by the Israeli renowned archaeologist, Avner Goren, attempt to retrace the Bible through Africa and the Middle East. Their travels are not only geographical in character, but also spiritual, that invariably piques our curiosity. Using the FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, also called the Pentateuch (from the Greek word meaning five-book work), as a kind of road map or compass, we voyage to Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Sinai and finally to Mount Nebo in Jordan where supposedly Moses dies.
From the very onset we are informed that there is no archaeological evidence to relate any of the events in the Five Books to specific places. In other words, if we use the Bible as a map we would be facing often-contradictory claims of history, myth, legend, archaebiology, paleozoology, and faith. For example, there are many theories as to where exactly Mount Sinai is located. Moreover, the exact path the Israelites pursued through the Sinai has never been determined.
However, even with all of these shortcomings, the author and his guide undertake a “topographical midrash, a geographical exegesis of the Bible.” As pointed out, “in Judaism, the traditional process of analyzing scripture is called midrash, from the Hebrew meaning search out to investigate; in Christianity, this process is referred to as exegesis.”
The voyage kicks off in Turkey, and from the very onset the author perceives the land of the Bible as reaching up to him and touching him, “elbowing aside my preconceived views of the Bible as a sterile collection of stores set in places I couldn’t see, involving characters I couldn’t relate to, experiencing desires I didn’t have. What emerged was a vibrant view of the Bible as a collection of living tableux, set in actual places, involving genuine people, experiencing the most basic human desires: the longing to live in a place, with their own beliefs and their own aspirations.” The author arrives at the realization that he actually is part of the story and he casts aside the notion of the Bible as something of a metaphor. The actual experiencing of the scenery of the dessert, the mountains and the Sea, as well as the interrelation with the peoples inhabiting the various countries visited serves as a reinforcement of this insight. The viewing of ancient sites such as the Pyramids and coming into contact with the Bedouins, definitely can invoke powerful emotions.
One of the shortcomings of the book is that from time to time I found the author wandering in his thoughts in the same manner the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years! In all probability the book could have been shortened with less of the author’s introspection and self-questioning that at times I found irritable and monotonous. There was also a tendency to resort to trite descriptions of landscape features that should have been avoided. However, notwithstanding these deficiencies, the book is informative as it briefly touches on many disciplines including geography, history, religious study, sociology, anthropology and archaeology. If you are planning a trip to this part of the world or if you are an armchair traveler, the book will prove worthwhile and enlightening.
Reviewed by Norman Goldman
Posted July 14, 2002
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