As the 21st century began, American author and journalist Bruce Feiler took a 16,000-kilometer journey to the places where the best-known Biblical stories actually occurred. The best-selling book that came out of his adventure has now been adapted for children in a new volume titled Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told.
Mr. Feiler believes parents can use the book to help children relate to the places he writes about and the Biblical characters who lived there thousands of years ago. "It really is a family feud,” he says. “Abraham, of course, is the shared ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. He had two sons, Ishmael, who becomes the father of the Muslims, and Isaac, who becomes the father of the Jews and Christians. So you can talk to the children and say, 'Look at our family. Sometimes we have disagreements but ultimately, we're family. We have to live together and get along well.'"
Mr. Feiler says he never thought much about the stories in the Bible – from Noah's Ark to the ten plagues in ancient Egypt to the exodus of the Israelites - until his first visit to Jerusalem. "A friend of mine took me to a spot overlooking the city,” he relates, “and said, 'Over there is this controversial neighborhood and over there is the rock where Abraham went to sacrifice his son.' And it just struck me, these are real places you can visit!"
So the author set out to see where the events of the Bible actually occurred. He started in Turkey on Mount Ararat – where Noah’s ark is believed to have landed after the flood. Then he went to the Palestinian territories, where Abraham buried his wife Sarah…and to Israel, where the patriarchs raised their families and grazed their flocks. He traveled through Egypt, where Joseph rose from slavery to power…and on to Mount Sinai, where the Bible says Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Guiding him across three continents and four war zones was renowned Israeli archeologist Avner Goren, who says that, over time, the focus of their travels changed. At the beginning, author Feiler “asked about factual things,” he says, “Is there are any proof whether this event had really happened in this place, or happened at all, and so forth. As time passed, both of us started to understand more and more the importance of the glorious story and how it's so meaningful to so many people on earth and the impact of the Bible on history and cultures. It became also a personal, and maybe a spiritual voyage for each of us and for us together."
While many of the places mentioned in the books of Genesis and Exodus can be found on a 21st century map, Mr. Feiler discovered that details of cherished Bible stories didn't always fit with the archeological evidence. "There has been an idea that the Israelites built the pyramids because we know that the Israelites were enslaved and that they were working for the pharaohs,” he says. "Even [Israeli Prime Minister] Menahem Begin, when he went to Egypt to visit [Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat, he said, 'Our forefathers built these.' But the Israelites would have been passing through Egypt sometime in the second millennium BCE, around 1200 and 1300 BCE. The Great Pyramid was built in 2600. So, sometimes the story is just alive but the connections are a little bit weak."
Mr. Feiler first documented their journey in his book, Walking The Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses, which has been translated into 15 languages since it was published in 2002. His travels also led him to write Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.
With his new book, Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told, the author says he wants children to experience that same jolt of enlightenment he felt on his first day in Jerusalem, and realize that the stories of the Bible occurred in real places. “We do know that Abraham was born in Mesopotamia,” he says, “that Mt. Ararat where Noah's Ark landed is in Turkey, that the Israelites were sold into slavery in Egypt, that they passed through Jordan. So I think it's important to say, 'You know what, there are the real stories and they happened in real places. Let's get the map out and look at it.'"
Bruce Feiler and his collaborator, Avner Goren, recently re-traced their walk through the Bible to film a three-hour documentary. Recent world events made it a more dangerous journey than their original trip, but the men feel it was worth it. They say they hope it will introduce a wider audience to the deep connection between Biblical stories and the modern world.