Where God Was Born: A Daring Adventure Through The Bible’s Greatest Stories, by Bruce Feiler
A friend of mine with someone questionable taste in books  loaned me this particular volume to read, and it generally matches with many of the other books I have read from this source. If this book was interesting and well-written, which it was, it was by no means a perfect book, nor did I find the author’s perspective to be all that impressive. This is a book that seeks to understand God and the Bible from the point of view of a self-sufficient human being, and like Henry James falls into the wrong viewpoint of religion as being for people who fancy themselves well rather than admit themselves to be otherwise. This is a book by a smug person who thinks themselves to be moderate and tolerant and who has insufficient respect and honor for God and a strong and lamentably common tendency to lump together extremists with those who take God’s word seriously, having a certainty about scripture that differs in content but is the same in moral result as those extremists whom they view with condescension and contempt. In short, I found much to annoy me about this book even where I found it well-written from the point of view of style.
This volume contains about 400 pages of material in three parts. The first part looks at how this Southern-raised liberal American Jew examines life in Israel, the second part concerns his travels in Iraq, and the third part looks at his travels with his wife in Iran. The author’s claim to look at the Greatest stories in the Bible focuses, perhaps a bit predictably, on the New Testament, except that the author of course fails to come to grips with the Gospels. At least somewhat admirably he shows some interest in the Torah and a high degree of skepticism about the value of the Talmud. At least a few of the stories are immensely entertaining and it is clear that the author has developed quite a few connections that allow him to travel to places despite the intense dangers he is sometimes under in the course of his journeys. Throughout his travels the author meets with other adventuresome people and even attempts to get a grasp for history and theology by talking to scholars, as well as a grasp of culture by talking to various ordinary people. Even if the author is not really a religious authority, nor certainly wise enough to avoid speaking about that which he does not remotely understand, he appears to be reasonably good as an interviewer and the book has a high degree of excitement and interest.
As might be expected, the title of the book gives away its fundamental failure. As a travelogue it is a reasonably good book, and the author certainly knows how to write. Unfortunately, this is a book that fundamentally fails to give God what He is due, and rather seeks to view God as having been created by man rather than being the creator of man. And at its heart, this fundamental error makes the book meaningless as theology even if it is at least somewhat entertaining as an account of the author’s self-professed daring adventures, at least a few of which are against the laws of the lands the author travels to. This volume is sufficiently entertaining for me to want to know more about the author, but not sufficiently worthwhile for me to think highly of the author’s view of the Bible. Those who fancy themselves to be progressive believers in Christianity or especially Judaism will find much that is congenial here, but those readers who take their faith more seriously will likely find the author’s illusion of certainty about various biblical matters and the origins of certain doctrines and beliefs to be woefully inadequate.
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