“A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses”
The title of this book drew me in from the moment I saw it on the sales shelf. As I delved in, I felt as if I were sitting shotgun with Bruce Feiler and his guide Avner as they bounced along the dirt roads of the Middle East in search of sites named and described in Scripture. The more I read, the more interested I became, and the more I felt like I was a part of the ride and conversation. Bruce Feiler is an excellent writer, so that’s not why I put the book down after my requisite 68 pages. I gave up on this book for one main reason: Bruce Feiler’s agnosticism destroys his credibility.
“At the end of high school, I lost touch with the religious community I had known as a child,” Feiler writes early on. “I separated myself from the texts as well. And ultimately I woke up one morning and realized I had no connection to the Bible” (10). This is a common experience for people who’d grown up un religious homes, but then moved on to make their own life decisions. I can’t hold this against him as a person, of course, for he’s got every right to disbelieve whatever he wants. But as a reader, I hold the right to judge an author’s credibility on a subject, and for Feiler with the Bible there’s simply none. His contradictory beliefs about God, the Bible, and history support his work like paper cups under a Chevy, and the prospect of joining him through 433 pages of depressing agnosticism makes by head hurt.
Several things annoyed me most about Feiler’s understanding of the Bible and history, so I’ll just name a few in broad terms:
- The historical Abraham. On nearly every page and at every site that he and Avner visit together as they follow the steps of the grand historical Patriarch, Abraham, Feiler consistently rejects the power of God, the validity of God’s Word, and its accurate records of history.
- The biblical sites. Feiler consistently refers to The Pentateuch as simply a collection of stories. Whenever he reaches a particular site mentioned in the Word, he admittedly feels part of the story, and yet he denies that these “stories” ever really happened. It’s very difficult to get an accurate bearing on the man and his beliefs or why in the world he’s taking this venture. He calls these travels and this book “a geological exegesis of the Bible” (40), yet its entirely couched in skepticism and doubt.
- Creation. Why would anyone want to follow a man through Genesis, when he believes that the first several chapters are “clearly…allegory” (21) and that the world developed through evolution millions and millions of years ago? Genesis 1-2, and I’m already off his wagon.
- The Word of God. Each of the above annoyances stems from one major flaw in Feiler’s thinking, that he simply doesn’t believe in the Book about which he’s writing. God has very little to do with it, he believes, as the following quotes suggest:
“The Bible is not some abstraction, nor some book gathering dust. It’s a living, breathing entity encumbered 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 five thousand 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 out was to talk along those lines myself.” (11)
“Keep it real, keep it concrete, keep it safely removed from spirituality. ‘This is a literary quest,’ I kept telling myself. ‘This is about me and the Bible. This is not about me and God.'” (14)
“The Bible, like The Iliad, combines large amounts of ancient texts.” (21)
“The Bible may or may not be true, it may or may not be historical, but it is undoubtedly still alive.” (26)
Feiler’s belief that the Bible (at least 39 books of it) is alive and yet somehow detached from God is as blasphemous as it is heretical. Hebrews 4:12-13 accurately describes God’s Word as alive and yet as intimately a part of God as anything: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Had Feiler truly dealt with the Word of God rather than a mere collection of legends and stories, he too might have felt this power. But instead, he chose to ignore the advice of fellow-Jewish writer Paul, who says in Ephesians 4:17-18, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
I knew early on that I wouldn’t be tagging along with Bruce and Avner for the full ride through the five books of Moses. While Feiler’s book is filled with excellent insights and information (for example his entire section on the Dead Sea section, p.55-57), his unbelief makes me doubt even his facts. There is so much good out there in the genres of both non-fiction travelogues and biblical history that I needn’t waste my time on cynicism like this. I would much prefer books on biblical history written by people who believe in history as history and not as merely legends passed down and tampered with through the ages. That’s not something Feiler can give me, so thanks but no thanks.