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Monday, June 25, 2007

RevGalBookPals: Walking The Bible

Walking the Bible is more than a travel book. It includes history, geography, archaeology, anthropology, natural history and religion-- all wrapped around the personal spiritual journey of the author, Bruce Feiler. That’s why it was chosen as one of the summer book selections for the RevGalBookPals.

We’ve posted some video clips, courtesy of You Tube, before this discussion today that I hope helped your imagination engage the descriptions of the lands and people Feiler visited. I wish we could sit down together and view the DVD from PBS. That is a wonderful supplement to the text. Most of us will never be able to visit the places Feiler did because of the difficulty of traveling in the strife-ridden Middle East. The armchair journey Feiler takes us on is therefore all the more compelling.

Last week I re-read Walking the Bible in preparation for this book discussion and tabbed many favorite pages with little post-its before realizing that I’d be writing a lengthy essay instead of prompting a lively discussion if I tried to discuss all of them here. So….

To kick off our discussion, here are some questions to ponder.

1. Feiler begins his journey believing that it was “ about me and the Bible, not about me and God.”

Was it?

2. Feiler meets many people who believe that if they could prove the events of the Bible happened by finding Noah’s Ark, or the Garden of Eden, or the Burning Bush, the existence of God would also be proved.

Why do they believe this? Would it affect your own faith and belief if these relics were discovered and proved authentic?

3. Some of the experts the author interviews in the book say that there is no evidence that Moses existed or for the exodus.

Do you think that it is important to prove events chronicled in the first 5 books of the Bible really happened? Why or why not?

4. The premise of the book, and the journey, is that visiting the lands where the Biblical story originated brings a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Bible.

Did the “armchair journey” provided by the book do that for you as a reader?

5. Feiler and his guide read portions of the first 5 books of the Bible aloud to each other that were appropriate to each place they visited.

I would love to read the last verses of Deuteronomy on Mount Nebo, overlooking the valley where Moses was buried:
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34, 10-12.
What verses from the Pentateuch would you like to read in their original setting?

6. If I could read a portion of the New Testament in its original setting, I would like to read Revelation on the Isle of Patmos.

What part of the New Testament would you choose to read and where would you read it?

Don’t be limited by these questions! Feel free to share any opinions, insights and reactions to Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible.

Unfortunately I have to be away from the computer most of the day today, which just kills me because I’m sure this will be a great discussion. I’ll check back later this afternoon and look forward to reading all your comments.

REMINDER: I will also host the next RevGalBookPals discussion on July 23. Our July book is: A Vision of Light: A Margaret of Ashbury Novel (Margaret of Ashbury Trilogy)by Judith Merkel Riley'. A Vision of Light is the first part of a trilogy about Margaret of Ashbury who discovers she has the gift of healing in medieval England. Follow Margaret as she strives to fulfill God’s will despite the limitations that society and the church placed on women. It’s an easy and fun read that is authentic in historical setting and characterizations. Margaret is a great character! Order your copy through the RevGals Amazon store link on the sidebar and RGBP Inc. will benefit.

And now, on to the discussion of Bruce Feiler's Walking The Bible.


  1. I have not had time to read the book. It is on my "to read" list...sigh, sigh...I do like your questions, they invite me into the discussion regardless. I will be back later to read what others are posting and perhaps leave a thought or two. I hope this leads to a great discussion.

  2. I have read this book a few years ago but have not seen the PBS thing. I have a funeral of a dear 90+ year old friend this morning. I want to think on your questions. Will be back this afternoon

  3. I think I have such a different experience of this book and its subject that I am not even sure how to begin a discussion. I read the book while I was living in Egypt and after having done extensive travels in the middle east with a prominent archaeologist. I have been re-reading this week (though I'm only at the top of Mt. Sinai right now!), in the midst of a bout of wanderlust. When I watched the DVD last week, it was like looking at a slide show of my own photos. I have had the privilege of traveling to many of the places Feiler goes...more than once. So my feelings about his book are, in some sense, very visceral. Part of me wants to go back immediately, another part of me is irritated as I remember some of the things that drove me crazy about living in Egypt. A few of his "facts" are wrong (the Valley of the Kings is on the west bank of the Nile not "so pharaohs can have first dibs on the rising sun"--since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West--but because the west side of the Nile is the place of death/afterlife and so they are closer to the portal to the afterlife on the west side of the river.) Sometimes his Zionist overtones make me shout at the book, begging for fair treatment for Arabs who, after all, are both descendants of Abraham AND long-term residents of the land (longer term than the Israelites/Jews ever were!). They too are connected to the land through their history and their religion--maybe even their DNA (as he suggests is true about Jews).

    Overall, though, I think he does a really good job of transporting the reader to the (at least, he does for me--but I can visualize the places and have memories of my own experience, so I may not be a good judge of that!) and of bringing the biblical stories alive in their geographic and historical context. I also think he is pretty honest about his own inner journey throughout the external journey--it's fascinating to read about the changes in his relationship with God and the Bible throughout the book.

    As to the questions...I'll modify a little bit. If there was one Biblical passage I could read in its "place" that I haven't already, I would probably choose the story of Jesus and the syrophonoecian (sp?) woman (the one he calls a dog). I would love to visit the coast of Lebanon and read there.

    This was the longest comment ever...sorry....I'll be quiet now.

  4. I am about a third of the way through the book, and find it fascinating how he has broadened my view of where the locations are.

    I can usually visually locate in my mind where things are on a map, but this has been more of a challenge since my familiarity of the geography over there is sketchy.
    I really enjoyed watching the video excerpt on Youtube of St. Catherine's and looking forward to getting there in the book. I really think that watching the video AND reading the book for us armchair travelers would be of benefit.

    Quotidian Grace, thank you for leading this book for our discussion. I'll answer more of these questions later today!

  5. This is a quick stop to answer one question, then I'll be back later. I would like to go to the place where Jacob wrestled with the angel and read the story there.
    More later, I promise.

  6. I saw the PBS series and loved it. Great choice for a book!

  7. I'm about a third of the way through this book...It's going with me on my vacation this week and next! I am enjoyng immensely.
    If I could pick one place in the Pentateuch-it would the location of Dinah's story--Shechem.

  8. I'm waiting for my book to arrive in the mail. :-( Hopefully it will be here later today.

    I'd like to sit in the Garden of Olives and read about the hours before the crucifixion. Also would like to visit Bethany and read about Lazarus and his sisters.

    And ditto on the Mt Sinai/Moses one!

  9. I am struck by the point made in the introduction: that with God's words to Abraham, human beings were given the power to create a nation, a power which previously had belonged only to the rivers.

    I have been teaching world history for the past several years and, once we get human beings established in the form in which we know ourselves today, we move on to the river civilizations -- Tigris & Euphrates, Yellow, Indus, and Nile -- and then to the Agricultural Revolution. Everything developmental is motivated by geography, ecology, economy. How fascinating to think about that late Neolithic period in human history as characterized not by human settlements emerging from agricultural development but by human community emerging from relationship with God. A conceptual and religious framework for the transitions of humanity rather than a biophysical and economic one.

  10. Gannet Girl, so interesting. There is something holistic about a mix that includes the tangible and the transcendent, and aren't we all made that way, more than the sum of our parts?

  11. Thanks so much for your questions, Jody. I love the archaeological discoveries that help explain some context for our faith stories, but I don't think finding "proof" of one thing or person or another would make a substantive difference to my personal faith. Even things some people might call facts are subject to interpretation, as we see all the time in doctrinal arguments!
    What I love about the book is the journey, both outer and inner. I think that's what our holy texts are all about: giving us a guide to walk through life accompanied by God and the ancestors.

  12. SB, I think you are right when you say that our scripture is really about the journey, and that's what I appreciate about Feiler's book as well. He's candid about his inner journey, and most of the time it doesn't feel fake or forced--it's like he's actually discovering things as he goes along. I really like that.

    In some ways, I wish I had read the book before traveling the places, but in other ways I'm glad that I got to have some of that inner journey myself before finding parts of it mirrored in a best seller.

    Personally, I think I answered the "historically factual" question the same way he ultimately does: the cloud of witnesses is more important to me than the "facts" (which are, according to one professor I had in college, nothing more than "truth claims."). The mere idea of climbing a mountain that, for thousands of years, people have been climbing in search of a closer relationship with God (from Moses to Elijah to the hundreds of people I climbed with) is what made the sites meaningful to me, not whether we climbed the right mountain or not.

  13. I did't get very far on the book, and not because it isn't interesting... I'm reading too many things right now... but this is a cool discussion, and I'm learning from the comments! It's a shame because I've wanted to read this book for a couple of years. I'll skim some things and be back later.

  14. I'm trying to decide what I think about whether events are "real" in a factual sense. It's not a question that usually troubles me.

    If Noah's Ark were found and proven beyond a doubt to have somehow survived intact? I dunno, I probably would remain skeptical. Do I think there was a flood? Of course; Feiler even recounts exactly how many ancient flood stories there are. Do flood stories say something about an ancient sense of catastrophe, of the divine, of justice and retribution? Absolutely. Was there a Noah and Family? Who knows. Was there a point at which human beings began to develop a broader understanding of our relationship with God, and did that happen because some of said humans had direct encounters with God? That I can easily believe, and do.

    Great questions, QG.

  15. One of the questions you asked about was the possibility of finding the physical evidence of some of the Biblical stories and how would it impact our faith.

    I've always said that even if they found Jesus's physical remains in the tomb, it wouldn't affect my belief in the resurrection since faith and belief is so much bigger than that -- and so much of this is story that paints a much bigger picture than the actual occurence itself to me. I hope that makes sense.

  16. I found reading Feiler's book difficult but in someways heartwarming. I found that it was not about walking the bible, but a journey to come to faith. It was not intended to be that, but for a modern Jew who didn't know his own faith too well, it was a marvelous journey.

    The Bible in my opinion is about Truth and less about Fact. If the facts don't jibe with the theology, I don't worry. The God I know has manifested God's self in the stories of the ancient Near East. The stories of Daniel and the Lions' Den, Ruth and Naomi, Judith, etc. give me hope and a sense of community. The do not need to be factual for them to be true to the relationship between God and humanity.

    I have never had the chance to go to the Holy Land. I would like to see Mecca just as much as I would Jerusalem, Antioch as much as Rome, the churches of Ethiopia as much as the Via Crucis. It interests me how faith is passed on--How Christ has made Christ known over the centuries. Yes, there are untruths in all those places about Jesus, Paul, Peter, Abraham. But there is just as much Truth there also.

    What strengthens my faith is when people are willing to live together no matter what they believe personally so that the acceptance that Christ showed the world can be seen.

  17. I just got back and eagerly read all these good comments! Thanks, everyone, for your contributions to the discussion.

    I'm jealous of Teri's personal experience with some of the places Feiler writes about. She gives us the perspective of one who has her own memories and first-hand impressions. Thanks, Teri!

    Now back to the discussion...

  18. I haven't read the book but watched part of the video series. It was fascinating for me, since I'll probably never get a chance to travel there. It sounds like the book explores more of his personal journey than the videos, so I'll have to check it out some time.

    I'll just pick one question to answer: #2. I don't think proving or disproving events as recorded in teh Bible would change my faith. As much as I'm interested in Biblical history and archaeology, faith is still faith. Scripture is just one dimension upon which my faith is built.

    It would be great if someone did a similar series on NT events and places. Maybe they have...I'll have to search.

  19. Now it's time to answer a couple of my own questions.

    I don't think that finding Noah's
    Ark or the Ark of the Covenant or the undisputed grave of Moses will be enough to convince skeptics of the truth of the Biblical message. It might cause some of them to investigate it further, but it's the transformation of the spirit through the grace of God that brings faith--not historical relics. Skeptics will always find ways to discount their validity.

    So I also believe it is not important to prove the historical accuracy of every event chronicled in the first 5 books for the same reasons. I do believe that there are historical, factual events underlying the Biblical story even if we can't "prove" the veracity of each and every one and that the meaning of the events is what is important for us today.

    I love Gannet Girl's description of human community emerging from a relationship with God in history. That's it, exactly.

  20. Kievas, Peter Jennings did a short series -- I think it is called Peter and Paul and is no doubt available from Netflix. I don't remember whether it was PBS or ABC.

  21. Hey, thanks for the tip on the Peter Jennings series.

  22. Not an accurate tip in terms of title, I'm afraid. But there are Peter Jennings shows on the NT. I will have to ask someone what it was we watched on P&P.

  23. For those with the money and the inclination, there is a program for seminary students and laypeople that travels to the Middle East for 3-4 weeks each summer. There are six southeastern US seminaries that participate, and laypeople can come from anywhere--though I'm not sure if you have to be recommended by a past participant or not. Anyway, it was my first exposure to mid-east travel and was FANTASTIC. You can find it at I highly recommend it if you can get in. (just 10 laypeople and 30 seminary students per year are accepted.)

  24. There's another DVD available that takes you to the places Paul visited. It's called "Paul The Apostle of Grace" and you can get it through I haven't seen it so can't vouch for it.

    This site has several other DVD's that go to New Testament sites: Galloping Through The Gospels (sites identified with the life of Jesus), Paul in Greece and The 7 Churches of Revelation. Again, I haven't viewed these and can't tell you if they are good or not.

    I am confident that none are as good as Walking The Bible, though. I've ordered a number of DVD's for CE classes from Vision Video and found the quality varies from good to poor.

  25. I SO want to read this .. it sounds a great gift for others too.

    ENJOYING everyone's comments too (haven't read them all yet) Teri's especially. Zionist overturns? Here in Finland there is a big renewal movement about Israel and I just don't get it.

    DD was discussing it last night (she's 15) with someone ... (yeah it was heavy!) and she pulled a wry little face and said what my heart was saying "but what about the people who live there now?" ...

    sorry this is probably off track but it's where I am early this morning. What does God think of the people he made the OLD Covenant with? What is the appropriate response of Christians to Israel? How much of it is connected to the 'end times' ... etc etc.

    My head is about to burst ---and my heart too for different reasons

  26. (an aside)

    PS want to say that it's great that the future books are being advertised earlier.

    Cathy's trying to set up a revgals amazon account for the UK - so that those of us this side of the pond could also contribute some pennies towards RevGals ... ordering from the states is not the most sensible (money and time wise) or environmentally friendly option.

    but this isn't jsut about me ... but ANYONE who doesn't hoard books (is there anyone?) and who wants to donate any Christian /theology books to the theological library in Tallinn ... do let me know (email on my blog, or leave a comment)

    ... they are desperate and grateful for almost anything and these books we are discussing would be a great start!

    ... earlier this month 7 out of the 9 graduates were women from ex soviet lands. Better still though it's a Methodist (UMC) seminary - the graduates are from a range of denominational backgrounds - and of the two men who graduated one is already working as a chaplain in the prisons ...

    your prayers for the seminary are also really appreciated - for spiritual, economic and other matters.

    I'll blog more about it all soon ... but we have 2 new-ish students from inner Russia from an area called Komi. It's an ethnic group and they have recently translated Mark into their own language ... the very first book of the Bible - one of the women will become a pastor there ... and trust me it's good news!!! Pioneering spirit :) and a lot of love and care being extended too. But not easy! no surprise there.

    These women have nothing and yet wonderful smiles ... they KNOW God's provision and love and protection and inspire me such a lot!

    (end of the aside - apologies for hijacking the thread)

  27. I was aggravated when I went to the library to pick up my reserve copy on Saturday (at the last minute) learn that if the reserve order expires 6/23, you'd better be there on 6/22. :P

    My excuse for why I haven't read it, but I did watch and enjoy the videos and look forward to reading it when my name comes up on the queue again!

    To a few of the questions anyway...Woo, Revelation on Patmos! That would be cool. I would like to read about the parting of the Red Sea AT the Red Sea. And then sing and dance like Miriam.

    And from the NT, I agree with reading about Gethsemane there. What a powerful place to meditate and pray.

    Thanks for this great discussion!

    RE literal truth of OT books: I must not be a literalist because it is not important to me whether every single thing recounted in the Bible happened exactly as written. I'm pretty sure it didn't. Of course this sends me down the slippery slope with the great unwashed masses of LIBERALS.

  28. Splendid book, but I suggest reading his Abraham as well.

  29. I continue to read Feiler's book while at the beach --- it's not a fast read, but it keeps you coming back for more.

    I also want to add that I am looking forward to the next book A Vision of Light: A Margaret of Ashbury Novel (Margaret of Ashbury Trilogy) -- our book group at church finds that some of our best discussion comes from fiction. I'll be ordering my book later this week!

  30. I am so sorry I missed the discussion. I had a preacher's meeting, and a church meeting. Then I got home to a meeting of the minds with my family. I never got on the computer last night or yesterday to follow it.

    I do know this, I also will most likely not get to go to the Holy Land and that's become okay with me. I did enjoy the book, I thought his descriptions were excellent and made me want to go again. I would love to see the videos.

  31. I would love to read the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain somewhere on a hillside in the Gallilee, if there are such things anymore. I would like to read the last 6 chapters of Mark looking across the Valley to the Temple Mount. I would like to see the Jordan where the Israelites entered the Promised Land for the first time.

  32. Just ordered the next book.

  33. Mary Beth, you're welcome to join the Moderate Christian Blogroll anytime :)

    And thanks to the others who suggested the Peter Jennings videos...I do remember catching a few minutes of one on TV at some point. I'll have to check the library.

  34. muthah+, there are indeed hillsides and plains still in Galilee! In fact, the hill said to be the one where Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount is a gorgeous place, with an incredible church and a convent on top, and with a kibbutz growing bananas near the bottom. It takes some getting to, but it's worth it. It's called the "Mount of Beatitudes." You can see some pictures here.

    I wish I could link to my own photos of the place, as they come from different angles, but it would be time consuming for you to find them in the plethora of other pics from random places...

  35. Thanks for the link, Teri. I had been thinking that's where I'd like to go, too.

  36. I don't know about anyone else, but I was reading this book late last night before going to sleep last night and I got to a section of the book (I am close to page 200) and I realized how little I know about ancient history. I could tell that it would have much more meaning if I had a better understanding of the times.
    However on the flip side, I thought Feiler did an excellent job documenting the information on the pyramids. I knew they were big, but it still boggles the mind. I knew they were full of history, I had no idea of the depth of that information.


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