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Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths

This 200-page work resulted from Feiler’s journey through time to find the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and to discover whether Abraham can help these monotheistic religions reconcile.

He proves it, again, with his latest book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. This 200-page work resulted from Feiler’s journey through time to find the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and to discover whether Abraham can help these monotheistic religions reconcile.
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The journey, he writes, “was like participating in a giant, three-dimensional scavenger hunt, where every clue in Judaism led to some desert hideaway in Christianity, led to some palm tree in Islam, under which was some spring—yes!—that suddenly cleared up some tangle described on the front page of that morning’s newspaper.”
 
Land, family, faith, violence, modesty—these veins carry blood to this body of work. Pick it up and feel it pulsate.
 
Eight clean chapters—birth, call, Ishmael, Isaac, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Legacy—explore the life, family and legacy of Abraham, the patriarch who will “abandon his father at age seventy-five, leave his homeland, move to Canaan, travel to Egypt, father two sons, change his name, … exile his first son, attempt to kill his second, fight a world war, buy some land, bury his wife, father another family, and die at one hundred seventy-five.”
 
To uncover Abraham, Feiler not only read voluminously about the man and traveled across the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Middle East; he also talked to world leaders, professors, archaeologists and friends. The book includes conversations with roughly two dozen of his interviewees.
 
They include: Sheikh Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of the Masjid al-Farah Mosque in New York City; Bishop Theophanes, head of the Orthodox Greek Church in Jerusalem; Rami Harubi, philosopher, “desert person” and old friend; and Yusef Nadsheh, curator of the Dome of the Rock.
 
At each place and in each conversation, a different Abraham emerges, for in the absence of hard evidence, the stories about him have swelled. “Probably less than 1 percent of the stories told about Abraham appear in the Bible,” Feiler writes.
 
So every generation invents Abraham anew, making his story relevant to current crises and situations. Since Abraham lived roughly 4,000 years ago, that’s easily 80 Abrahams, by Feiler’s calculations. And that’s just one tradition. Combine Jewish, Christian and Muslim notions of Abraham, and one has 240 Abrahams to track.
 
The traditions share certain narrative elements, though. Significantly, “All three monotheistic faiths,” writes Feiler, “force their adherents to confront the most unimaginable of human pains: losing a child.”
 
Yet, is Abraham’s legacy, borne out by his descendants, neatly encapsulated in perhaps his most famous story—the sacrifice of his own son? That is, Feiler wonders, does Abraham teach us to be prepared to kill for God?
 
Feiler shares stories from various traditions, stories claiming it was Ishmael, not Isaac, that Abraham was to sacrifice, or that Abraham actually killed Isaac and that he was resurrected.
 
Feiler also recounts a tense conversation, about killing for God, with an imam in Jerusalem, Masoud El Fassed. The imam coolly and unequivocally told Feiler that Jews and Christians aren’t submitting themselves to God.
 
“And look at what happened,” he told Feiler. “He sent people very strong, who killed themselves, in order to kill you. This is something unbelievable what happened in America, but it came from God.”
 
Such conversations contrast sharply with others, like the ones Feiler had with Hanan Eschel, a leading archaeologist of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
 
“What I’m trying to do, especially in this part of the world, is to teach people to be more modest,” Eschel told Feiler. “To explain to them that they don’t have all the answers. If you’ll be modest, you’ll probably understand the text better, and there’s much less chance that you’ll do awful things in the name of God.”
 
Feiler ends his physical journey to find Abraham in Hebron, where Isaac and Ishmael united to bury their father alongside Sarah. Hebron, 25 miles south of Jerusalem, is now “a gory, embroiled, unrestful hive,” writes Feiler, with a recent history marred by bombing, shootings, massacres and riots.
 
Feiler’s report on Hebron is chillingly and brilliantly climactic, for, as he writes about the patriarch’s burial, “Abraham achieves in death what he could never achieve in life: a moment of reconciliation between his two sons, a peaceful, communal, side-by-side flicker of possibility in which they are not rivals, scions, warriors, adversaries, children, Jews, Christians, or Muslims. They are brothers. They are mourners.”
 
In Abraham, Feiler takes a journey to find a man doing the same. Because Feiler is doing what he does best, readers can join that journey to the heart of their own, and others’, faith.
 
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
 
Buy Abraham at Amazon.com now!
 
Visit BruceFeiler.com.