Books | Travel
Take a Biblical Vacation
I love to travel. Exploring new countries and experiencing different cultures stimulates my imagination.
Planning is one of my favourite parts and that usually involves a trip to the library.
I’m interested in other peoples vacations as well.
I really don’t enjoy looking at photos that are endless selfies with exchangeable backdrops. I’m curious to hear why someone chose to visit a specific place and what they found when they arrived.
‘Walking the Bible’ is about a journey through the lands of the Bible.
The author, Bruce Feiler, is a fifth generation Jew who felt disconnected from the Bible and his religion, so he decided to travel to the land where the events occurred and study passages from the Bible as he went. Feiler is a bestselling American author who writes novels and articles on contemporary issues.
He approached his subject in a light and easy to follow style.
As I read, it occurred to me that Feiler had written a travel book even though he’d intended to write an historical book connecting places to passages in the Bible.
He made the journey confusing by starting with the stories in the Bible and then trying to fit facts about the places he visited into the stories.
It would have been fun to have a set of maps that clearly showed his journey or enough information to help me follow in his footsteps.
I scanned the two maps included in the book, enlarged and printed them so I could better visualize each of the cities and holy sites that he visited. At first, the route he took was easy to follow, but then he wandered from site to site and it became more difficult to see where he was going.
At one point, Avner Goren joined him on his quest as a partner and guide. He’s an Israeli archaeologist who was chief archaeologist of Israel from 1967–1982. His understanding of Arab culture, plus his knowledge of history and archaeology, made him a valuable asset on the journey.
Goren speaks 5 languages, knows every verse of the Bible and is familiar with the desert. Having him along gave Feiler more credibility. It also allowed him to make connections he might have missed on his own.
Goren had an interesting view of the purpose of the journey. He understood it wasn’t about proving the truth of the Bible by discovering artifacts such as the Ark. He felt it was about meeting the people who truly believed in the stories in the Bible.
He wants to connect from all faiths and believes in building bridges between them.
Here are some of their many destinations and experiences:
·At Mesopotamia they read from The Book of Genesis in Hebrew, attempting to connect the words to the land considered to be the location of the Garden of Eden.
· They travelled to Mount Ararat, where piece of Noah’s ark was said to have been found. A man named ‘Parachute’ takes them to his village which is halfway up the mountain. He didn’t show them the location where the ark was found but he asserted he had seen it with his own eyes. He felt they should take him on faith. Feiler struggled to believe him because he wanted to physically see and touch the connections to the Bible stories.
· Then they visited Sanliurfa where Abraham was thought to have been born. This is mentioned in Genesis 11. Yusuf, a young man, took them to the cave where they again read from the Bible.
· Next they journeyed to Harran where Feiler read passages from the Bible that he spoke at his Bar Mitzvah. (Abraham embarked from Harran to the Promised Land in Genesis 12)
· They arrived in Shechem, near Bethel in Caanan, 12.5, where Abraham built an altar.
· They visited Dan (Laish)– a tel near the Lebanese mountains, in the Promised Land. They choose it because it is a place that Abraham would have ‘likely’ travelled.
At this point in the book, I started wondering how many other undocumented or unverified places he would try to link to the Bible.
· They journeyed to the Dead Sea, where stories of Sodom and Gomorrah were located. They found pillars of salt called Lot’s wife. The existence of these pillars and their name allow Feiler to make another tenuous connection.
· They travelled to Jerusalem, where God told Abraham to sacrifice His Son in a test of faith. It is believed this occurred in the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.
They also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is believed Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected. They listened to a priest recite in ancient Greek, again connecting words to the place.
Others believe these locations are directly connected to the Bible, so Feiler doesn’t have to argue as strongly to make the connections.
· They travelled to Vedred Ha-Galil, a ranch overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It overlooks the road where Abraham travelled, as well as the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount.
· Feiler joined a tour group at the temple of Dendera in Egypt. Joseph was in Egypt after being sold into slavery (Genesis 39) because his brothers were jealous. Joseph overcomes his struggles as a slave and becomes a trusted advisor, then a Prime Minister. Feiler met a man who attested to the truth that certain hieroglyphics confirm the story.
· It was said Joseph embalmed his father; in order to make the connection to the Bible, Feiler visits an expert in mummification.
· Cairo is near the pyramids of Giza and Feiler looked into the legends of biblical history where it is said the Israelites built the pyramids. The Bible doesn’t mention the pyramids, but they are symbols of Israelite oppression so he makes the journey to see them.
· Goshen is where Ramses II built many temples and buildings of mud brick, which was mentioned in the Bible. As slaves, the Israelites likely worked here. Ramses II is thought to be the Pharaoh in power when the Exodus occurs.
· Standing in the ruins of the temples, Feiler imagined how difficult it would be for Moses to stand before the mighty Pharaoh and make demands. God brings the plagues, the Pharaoh relents and Moses leads the people out of Egypt.
· Feiler and Goren begin to trace the Exodus. They find Lake Timsah; the Sea of Reeds, which is a possible location for the Red Sea from the Bible. He finds a connection with the flat fish caught there today. Called Moses fish, they look like they’ve split in half like the Red Sea was.
· In the desert, Feiler travels along several routes and experiences the difficulties of surviving in that environment. He found the desert to be beautiful and not the wilderness he expected. He was surprised it was so cold at night, and didn’t realize how isolated he would feel. The Israelites spend 40 years in the desert, depending on God and on each other.
· Feiler visited The Spring of Moses because the Bible describes a similar place with many springs. He finds the Tamarisk tree there. When plant lice bore into it, it causes it to drop sticky globs to the ground. The Bedouin call this Manna, a miracle from the Bible.
· He stayed at St Catherine’s; a monastery near Mount Sinai. It is the oldest continuously operating church in the world. People come here to walk in the steps of Moses and the Israelites, each making a personal connection to the story.
· He hiked Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
· Feiler reunited with Goren in the Negev desert and they continued in the footsteps of the Israelites, visiting a Bedouin tribal group to see what it may have been like to live in the desert as a member of a nomadic tribe.
· They visited Petra as one of the possible sites where the Israelites lived. Legends of the Israelites are part of Petra, though the ornately carved Treasury was built 1000 years after the time they might have come through the area.
· By the end of Deuteronomy only a handful of the people who escaped from Egypt were still alive. They visited Mount Nebo where God gave final directions to Moses and told him he will not make it to the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 34.5)
Feiler discovered many things during this very personal journey.
He learned more about the complex political situation in the Middle East.
In Jerusalem, he used an analogy of a Russian doll to represent the complicated situation there, where people and cultures reside in different layers and enclaves in the Middle East. He surmised that all of the people are surrounded or encircled by another society and no one has the upper hand.
He begins to realize his relationship to the Bible is changing.
He cannot rely on science to prove the stories are true. He becomes more philosophical and feels he has a deeper understanding of the Bible because of the connections he is making with the land and the people as he travels.
This journey was a great act of faith for him.
He realizes the most important thing isn’t the location or the event; it’s the experience of the Exodus as a journey.
While hiking Mount Sinai, he was unable to find a specific location to represent Moses’ interaction with God. He realized it was not about the physical location on the mountain where Moses was given the tablets; it was about faith and belief that this occurred.
Feiler enjoyed travel in the desert more than he expected.
He felt a strong connection to the land during that part of his journey. He remarked on the noise of the desert, the wind and birds, the sound of the sand and how surprisingly cold it is at night.
As I read, I sometimes found it difficult to follow his connections as they were a bit of a stretch. I became impatient with his technique and sometimes felt it was too contrived.
Feiler’s idea of linking the land to the passages in the Bible is an interesting idea and I’d like to take the concept with me on my next journey.
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