Book Review: Abraham: A Journey To The Heart Of Three Faiths

Abraham:  A Journey To The Heart Of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler

Although I am not particularly fond of the author’s views when it comes to scripture, and there is certainly a lot to find fault with here in those regards, where this book particularly shines is in giving a vivid picture of the intersection of various faiths on Abraham.  What the author has to say about Abraham [1] is true of many areas of faith and belief, and the tendencies of people to fill in the gaps of the biblical story with all kinds of legends and myths tends to create a proliferation of different conceptions of a person that recasts them every generation.  To his credit, the author engages in this proliferation with a good degree of openness and a willingness to listen to others, and as a result this book gives those who like the author are inclined to peace at least some hope that Abraham may be a source of unity and not of conflict between the partisans of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Those of us of a more pessimistic bent, though, are likely to believe that much conflict remains before there is any sort of peace among the professed children of Abraham.

This book is divided in a very straightforward fashion, with the book being divided into a few chapters.  Opening with Jerusalem and the other areas of Abraham’s life, the author moves into the ambiguity of what the Bible and other sources has to say about the early life and call of Abraham by God.  After that the author compares what various sources have to say about the sons of Abraham, namely Isaac and Ishmael, and about how these rival sons prefigured the rivalry that would exist between their physical and spiritual descendants.  The author’s comments on Isaac, it should be noted, are somewhat unkind, viewing him as being easily taken advantage of, instead of perhaps a bit traumatized by his near sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  The author then turns to a look at the people of Abraham and how they have viewed and appropriated him over time, namely the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, before closing the book with a melancholy look at the divided legacy of Abraham among the people of various faiths.  The author’s look at history provides plenty of material for melancholy reflection and a look at the way that God and Abraham are connected in many layered and nuanced and complicated ways that demonstrate that peace and violence, stagnation and generation, loneliness and intimacy, and many more principles are held in tension in the Bible in our lives and in our world.

This is a book whose virtues outweigh its flaws.  The author as a somewhat naive view about the ability of human beings to work out peace on earth, and his view of the Bible is certainly defective.  One of the areas where the book shines is the research the author has done into the history of how Abraham and his sons were viewed throughout history, demonstrating that the primacy of Ishmael in contemporary Muslim thought is a later bida (bad innovation) after centuries of honest understanding that Isaac was the son who was almost sacrificed.  Another strength of the book is the author’s ability to get the people he interacts with to be open and friendly, a skill as an interviewer that greatly improves the material here.  To be sure, this is not a perfect book in any way, but the book is certainly capable of being read with enjoyment, as a way at least of uncovering what authorities our view of Abraham is based on and how others differ based on their own differing authority, and that is not an inconsiderable virtue for an easy to read book of barely over 200 pages.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Abraham: A Journey To The Heart Of Three Faiths

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Abraham by Bruce Feiler (2/5) | Taking on a World of Words

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Heirs Of Muhammad | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s