Tag Archives: Walking the Bible

Book Club Discussion and Meeting the Author: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

4 Nov

I had a very Bruce Feiler-filled week last week. My book club met Monday to discuss his book, Walking the Bible, and on Tuesday Nicole and I went to hear him speak about his latest release, The Secrets of Happy Families. I’ll cover Book Club first.

I was surprised that many people in our group didn’t finish the book. Because it’s not a work of fiction, this didn’t hinder our discussion too much and we were able to discuss the majority of the text and explain the last 100 pages or so. This was a book that really made us all re-think our religion. One woman in our group is Jewish and she said that learning so much about the ‘stories’ she had been reading since her childhood really helped her connect with them. She’d traveled through Israel as well and had the same feelings Feiler felt, that there was a connection with the physical place. Feiler’s continuation of this journey, into Egypt and Jordan helped us all connect.

One of the greatest messages of Feiler’s book is that the Bible isn’t a bunch of stories; a lot of them happened. What we’re dealing with is history, not fable. He was able to find evidence of many of the events that seem so fantastical at first glance. Water from a rock? Yep, it could happen.

Two of our overall observances were that Feiler was very well received throughout the lands he traveled. Maybe it was his guide Abner, who we all felt was his most interesting acquaintance. Without the formal title of many other people Feiler met, Abner knew more about the desert than (I think) even Feiler expected.

I was able to categorize the rest of our comments into three groups. The first is the amazement of the Bible we felt while reading Feiler’s words.  With all the fact and history Feiler found in the Bible, we were amazed that this history had been preserved for so long. One member of our group pointed out that many people don’t know what happened three generations back in their families because things were not as well recorded before universal education, yet these stories have lasted thousands of years. The animal skins the stories could have been written on have crumbled, but a combination of record keeping and oral history has allowed the stories to last through the ages. Because of the time gap between event and reading, we feel a sense of skepticism that these things couldn’t have happened, but Feiler’s evidence and account of the physical locations makes them seem even more real. It makes one wonder, is being in the desert the only way to fully connect with the Bible? One of our members argued that the topography of the Near East made the stories and their players into who they are. Had the land been a wooded forest, different things would have happened and those of us visiting Northern Michigan would be able to feel the Bible close at hand much easier. The struggles of surviving in a desert are not something many Americans and Europeans can relate to. One story that resonated with many of us was about a woman from New York City who moved her family back to Israel as a part of the Zionist movement. She said that in New York, her children would go on field trips to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. This was how they got a first hand account of their national identity. In Israel, they go wonder the desert for a few hours.

Our next group of comments revolved around what we learned about religion from Feiler’s book. When God reached out to the Israelites, it was the first example of a monotheistic God as the center of a religion. The rules that this tribe followed helped unite them to each other and to their God. Kosher, for example, was a rule that the Israelites followed that God proclaimed and that kept them safe from forborne illness. People would (and still do) look beyond themselves to a higher power to survive. This is highlighted when the Israelites wonder the desert for 40 years. They had to learn to trust in God to reach the promised land. The first generation betrayed God and the tribe had to wait for that first generation to die off before they could get what had been promised to them. Along the way they learned to trust in God. One of our group members said that faith is accepting what you’re taught to believe, that which you are told but cannot see. To be part of the church, you have to succumb to your doubts and believe.

The last thing I will note here are the facts we learned in Feiler’s book that were memorable to us and that we greatly enjoyed. Translators of the Bible mistranslated the Red Sea (which Moses parts) incorrectly. It is actually the Reed Sea, which does not appear on surviving maps. The body of water many believe it to be is a more shallow marshy land, which may have been parted by a series of waves and tides. (There were many other fun historical facts that Feiler shared and I won’t spoil the story by including them all here.) One member was not very impressed that Abraham’s burial place was known because Cesar’s tomb is known in modern day as well and he lived centuries ago as well. Some of us wondered if the meaning of the word ‘year’ has been changed over time. With Moses’s life span being over 100 years and Sarah giving birth past age 90, maybe a year was measured differently, by cycles of the moon or seasons. Though, of course, these could be divine intervention. Our last point of discussion was on the Bedouin who still to this day life in the desert. With modern conveniences, it’s a conscious decision to live such a lifestyle and in Feiler’s book he makes it clear that for many it is a choice the people are glad to have made. It makes me think how connected they must feel to the desert.

Tuesday I was fortunate enough to attend a speaking event Feiler gave on his latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families. The crowd was relatively small and Feiler chose to speak from the audience level instead of using the stage. I loved the intimate feel. I’ll admit that while what he spoke on was very interesting, insightful, and thought-provoking, I felt like I wasn’t the target audience. My family right now consists of my husband, my turtle and me. I hate to brag, but I don’t have any disciplinary or behavioral problems with my turtle. He has some great advice about raising children from infancy to teenage years. I, however, feel closer to a teen than a parent. (Yes, I know this isn’t true.) So, like any inquisitive mind, I asked a question.

What of your book applies to me?

I told him I was a newlywed and Feiler told me that in his book there’s a section on how to argue. My ears perked up. He rattled off some really interesting facts. Prime arguing time is 6-8 PM so avoid serious conversations with your spouse until after 8. If you’re sitting on a hard surface, you’re more likely to be rigid in your opinions and not come to a compromise. Soft surfaces lend themselves to compromise. Sitting face to face is confrontational while sitting side by side promotes teamwork. When I told my husband he said, “Should we always just argue when we’re in bed right before we fall asleep?” Not a bad idea.

After all the talking and eating baklava (thank you, library!) Nicole and I made our way over to meet Bruce. We waited so that there wouldn’t be anyone behind us so we could ask our question. We introduce ourselves and I might be wrong but I suspect Feiler remembered me from our Twitter interaction (I may have been really excited about this). After he signed our copies of Abraham, we asked our question, “What is your advice to us?” First advice, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. This might sound obvious, but I’ve been given this advice before and it’s not. You need to dedicate time to writing, time to be sitting in a chair. And you have to finish what you start. No one ever published the beginning of a novel; it has to have an end. The other thing he said surprised me a little but the more I think about it, it makes sense. He said to self-publish. Good self-published books can be picked up by traditional publishers and make that jump into print. Even if a book doesn’t, an author’s second novel would have a better chance if it could be shown the first had success as a self-published piece. Feiler recommended publishing on-line to gain followers as well. The site he wanted to recommend escaped him in the moment, but I believe it was Wattpad. This platform gives authors a space to publish their novels chapter-by-chapter and gives them a place to gain a following and get feedback. I’m thinking now I might want to do this with my NaNo!

Feiler had a quote during the night that made Nicole and I look around for pen and paper. It was so beautiful we had to write it down. He said it was the blessing he gave his daughters when they were ten days old.

“May your first word be adventure and your last word be love.”

Until next time, write on.

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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.