Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
By Bruce Feiler
I’ve never reviewed an audio book; in fact, prior to this year I didn’t even use them. Why, I would ask myself as I walked past rows of CDs in the bookstore, would anyone trade away the wonderful sensation and tactile delight of a book? The scent of the pages, the crisp snap when you open a hardcover or the gentle ruffle of paperbound pages…only a crazy person would pass that up! But my new job has quadrupled my daily commute and it seems like all my reading time is being spent stuck behind the wheel of my Civic. Suddenly, audio books are looking mighty attractive.
Fiction tends to be distracting, especially when a single actor tries to play dozens of roles. Though he may vary the pitch of his voice and the cadence of his words, it just doesn’t work for me. Memoirs and history, however, are wonderful. Bruce Feiler, whom I first became familiar with from his book Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan (great read, by the way), has always been extremely adept at combining the two genres. When I learned he had written several books while traveling in the Holy Land, I was intrigued. I immediately ordered Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths to entertain me on the road.
Feiler believes that the great patriarch Abraham has the potential to open dialogue between the three monotheistic faiths that found their genesis in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although all three religions have followed wildly divergent paths throughout the centuries, all three claim Abraham as an ancestor. Through his son Isaac he is father of the Jews. Through Ishmael, he is the father of the Arabs. Christians claim him as the spiritual father of all. Surely, Feiler hypothesizes, we can rally behind Abraham and celebrate our three faiths together.
But if we’re going to use Abraham as a meeting point, we’d better get to know just whom he was. Feiler’s quest to know Abraham covers thousands of years of history as he hunts down every Abraham story. He traces Abraham’s role in the formation and mythology of the three religions, only to find that the stories too often conflict: Isaac was the son sacrificed according to Jews and Christians, but Muslims contend it was Ishmael, and the sacrifice only happened in a dream. Feiler also never loses his reporter’s cool, even when extremists push views that run opposite to his own Judaism, and he gives fair coverage to each faith. He even keeps the story entertaining and relevant without sacrificing his scholarship. If you decide to listen to the audio book, as I did, Feiler reads his book clearly and with a clear, even pace.
I’m Christian – protestant with a leaning toward Calvinism – but I have always wanted to know why Christianity became so estranged from Judaism (that certainly didn’t seem to be Jesus’ idea!) and why Islam formed in the first place. By focusing on a single figure that all these religions share, Feiler is able to educate, and celebrate, all three. Whether or not you believe the religions to be compatible – let alone true or false – the revelation of how these cultures are intertwined is fascinating, and well worth the time taken to read – or listen.