Book Review: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

18 Oct

This is yet another book I never would have picked up if it weren’t for the wonder of book clubs.  I’ve decided to drop out of this one, however, so I can spend more time working on the ever-growing To-Read list.  I’ll read one more book for it in December, but that will be it.  This being said, I’ll be doing a book club review of this book in two weeks so if this review piques your interest, go grab a copy and come join the conversation in two weeks!

In addition, Fieler will be speaking in my area at the end of October and I’ll be writing up a summary of what he says about writing as well as picking up a signed copy of one of his books.  I’m a sucker for autographed books.

Book Cover from Goodreads

Book Cover from Goodreads

Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler reminds me of one of my favorite authors, A. J. Jacobs because of his immersion journalism and a style that makes it flow without bogging the reader down in minutia.  This book has been turned in to a series on PBS and this book is considered the companion it is based off of.  I haven’t seen the show, but I doubt it could live up to the imagery of the book.

I hope potential readers will not be turned off to this book from it’s title.  I will admit I am a religious person (practicing Catholic) and it’s hard to deny that the Bible is a central character in Feiler’s book.  However, what really fascinated me was the science and archeology behind the book.  The dating of small burial huts to before the time of the Israelites was fascinating.  If you’re interested in ancient history, this book will interest you for that reason.

Feiler himself is Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household without ever attaching 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.

Feiler and his guide, Avner, travel through Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and other lands of the Near East that I can’t recall.  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.  Feiler comes to find an appreciation of the desert and his faith grows stronger within himself.

Feiler’s talent for detail and imagery made this book worth reading every word.  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.  His description of Petra had me renewing my vow to see it before I die.  And throughout the text, I was able to renew my faith in the Old Testament.  Giving the stories a physical location makes them seem even more real.  Hearing the archaeology behind the sites and locations made me feel like I could reach out and touch them.

Making the Bible tangible was part of Felier’s motive.  I spoke with a woman who has heard him talk before and he was given a large advance from his publisher to make this book happen.  (My jealousy starts now.)  This was a dream Feiler had and he was lucky enough t have the resources to make it happen.  Through the process, he was able to make it real for me as well.

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'” (taken from an Interview found on PBS).  Feiler feels this pull of reasoning a few times through his journey.  If someone has the remains of Noah’s Ark, the floods happened.  If soil evidence of the period shows no record of being underwater, it didn’t happen.  It’s black or white, no grey in between.  The one point where Feiler starts to feel that not everything will be proven with science is while wondering the desert, trying to figure out if God could have sent quail to the wondering Israelites.  This is evidence of large numbers of quail falling to the desert as they are off of the migratory path, but the area where they fall is outside the area where the Israelites were traveling.  It would have taken divine intervention to push the quail off of their course to feed the 600,000 people.  There’s the science and the divine and Feiler is able to combine the two for the first time.

This book really resounded with me.  I realized I didn’t know as much about the Old Testament as I should and this was a very modern refresher course.  I liked Feiler’s approach and I found the text easy to relate to.  For anyone who thinks their OT knowledge is lacking, I highly recommend Feiler.

Writers Takeaway: I don’t know if I’ll ever write non-fiction, but if I ever do I want it to sound like Feiler’s.  As I said before, his does a great job of taking the reader along with him on his journeys.  I would compare this book to A.J. Jacobs, Laura Hillenbrand, or Erik Lawson for its ability to read almost as fiction while at the same time presenting facts.  Very well done.

Recommended for anyone remotely interested in religion or archaeology.  Four out of five stars.

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5 Responses to “Book Review: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler”

  1. Arphaxad October 18, 2013 at 9:52 AM #

    Thank you for this review. I am a fan of some of Feiler’s other books and will have to read this one.

    Like

    • Sam October 18, 2013 at 9:53 AM #

      What of his other books have you liked? I’m trying to decide which one to buy and have him sign when I go hear him speak on the 29th.

      Like

      • Arphaxad October 18, 2013 at 10:13 AM #

        Abraham was my favorite, and I liked America’s Prophet. I will look forward to your report on hearing him speak.

        Like

      • Sam October 18, 2013 at 10:15 AM #

        He talk is about his book The Secrets of Happy Families, so I’m tempted to get that one, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Abraham.

        Like

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  1. Goodreads Challenge: Complete! | Taking on a World of Words - December 20, 2013

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