Seeking Answers (and Adventure) in Bible Lands ; How the Old Testament Might Speak to Today's Conflicts

Article excerpt

On his first trek into the deserts of the Middle East, Bruce Feiler says, he went seeking adventure but came back craving meaning. Fortunately for his readers, the bestselling author has a knack in his writings for delivering both.

Where God was Born is his third book exploring the roots of monotheism and their implications for today. It is at once a riveting journey through contemporary conflict zones in Israel, the West Bank, Iraq, and Iran, and a provocative analysis of the Bible considered in the broader context of its times.

Feiler asks if religion can help us to live together in the 21st century, or whether it is more apt to foster violence.

As a Jew, he turns to the Old Testament. But as he travels, he seeks insights from historians, archeologists, religious leaders, and ordinary folk of various faiths.

His last book, "Abraham," explored the possibility that the patriarch might serve as a bridge between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This time Feiler follows the paths of the prophets who fill the second half of the Hebrew Bible. With Bible always in hand, he travels the ground from Joshua's entry into the Promised Land, through David's kingship in Jerusalem, to the Israelites' exile in Babylon and Persia.

"My goal was to replant the Bible stories into the ground from which they sprang and see if viewing them in the context of their time changed the lessons I gleaned," he says.

Feiler soon finds that some biblical themes are less unique to the Israelites than he had assumed, as sources reveal common ground with other cultures. He encounters adventures along the way, climbing ziggurats, dodging Iraqi bandits, plunging into Jerusalem's underground water tunnels.

After a dramatic airlift into Baghdad amid the Iraq war, he explores the cradle of civilization, from the purported site of the Garden of Eden, to Ur of the Chaldees, and the locale of the Babylonian captivity. There he determines that it was only when forced into exile that the Israelites realized that God was everywhere - and came to elevate the word of the text above rituals. …