Synopses & Reviews
They start walking just after dawn. They stream through the streets, begin climbing the hills, and drop a few coins in the outstretched palms of the poor. They leave their houses, their lives, their neighbors, and come by themselves or in groups of two or three. Their heads are covered, their eyes downturned. They are alone. But when they pass through the gates and lift up their eyes, suddenly they are in an illuminated place, a familial place. They are home. No one is alone in Jerusalem: even the stones know your father.
Once inside, the stream divides. Christians turn north. Today is the last Friday before Christmas, and this afternoon monks will lead a somber procession carrying crosses down the Via Dolorosa. Jews turn south. Today is the last Friday of Hanukkah, and at sunset rabbis will hold a jubilant ceremony lighting six candies at the Western Wall. Muslims turn east. Today is the last Friday of Ramadan, and at noon clerics will hold a massive prayer service with two hundred thousand bending as one. Today is not rare. Jerusalem is a touchstone of faith, and has been since before time began. The legends of monotheism are clear on one thing. Before there was time, there was water, and a darkness covered the deep. A piece of land emerged out of the water. That land is the Rock, and the rock is here. Adam was buried here. Solomon built here. Jesus prayed here. Muhammad ascended here. And Abraham came here to sacrifice his son. Today that rock is a magnet of monotheism, an etched, worn mask of limestone, viewed by few alive today, touched by even fewer, hidden under a golden dome, and made more powerful by the incandescence that seems to surround it at everyhour. The legends say God issued the first ray of light from the Rock. The ray pierced the darkness and filled his glorious land. The light in Jerusalem seems to fit that description perfectly. Washed by winter rains, as it is this morning, the air is the color of candlelight: pink, saffron, rose; turquoise, ruby, and bronze. It's a poignant irony that the light is all these colors, and yet the worshipers wear mostly white and black, as if they've yet to achieve the richness of the source.Which is why they come in the first place. The Rock is considered the navel of the world, and the world, it often seems, wants to crawl through that breach and reenter the womb of the Lord. As my archaeologist friend and traveling companion Avner Goren says while we hurry through the streets and climb to a perch overlooking the city, "To live in Jerusalem is to feet more alive, more yourself It's an honor, but it's a burden, too."Stand here, you can see eternity. Stand here, you can touch the source.Stand here, you can smell burning flesh.At midmorning an explosion sucks life out of the air. I turn to Avner. "A bomb? A sonic boom?" "It's not a plane," he says. Gunfire riddles the air. A siren wails. The steady gait of worshipers becomes a parade of nervous glances. Every accessory is a provocation: a talit, a kaffiyeh, a kippah, a cross. Every stone is a potential threat. Men with machine guns hover, with walkie-talkie plugs in their ears, cigarettes dangling. Avner stops to hug an Arab shopkeeper. "We are nervous today," Abdul says. "We are worried the Israeli police will provoke some young boy and fighting will erupt. Ramadan is always the worst."Upstairs, on the balcony of a Jewish high school wherewe settle in to watch the day develop, a teenage Hasidic boy named Joshua, dressed in black, has come to observe the Muslim throng. "I appreciate the fact that they're religious," he says, "that they worship the same God as us. But that their prayers should put my life in danger-rocks and knives, killing policemen, fomenting blood and hate and murder. just the other day I was walking in town when I heard an explosion. I turned and ran and there was another explosion. I started running in the other direction and then the car bomb went off. I was holding my stomach. I thought I was going to vomit. It was the first time I truly thought something was going to happen to me."The legends say that wisdom and pain are the twin pillars of life. God pours these qualities into two symmetrical cones, then adjoins them at their tips, so that the abyss of pain meets the body of knowledge. The point where the two cones touch is the center of the cosmos. That point is the Rock, and it's where King David ached to build a Palace of Peace. But David made a mistake: He moved the Rock and in so doing unleashed the Waters of the Deep. "You cannot move me," the Rock announced. "I was put here to hold back the abyss.""Since when?" David asked."Since God announced, 'I am the Lord thy God.'"David inscribed God's name on the Rock and pushed it back into place. The deluge subsided. The touchstone is actually a capstone: remove it and death rushes forth.By late morning a jittery calm prevails. Avner and I are overlooking the thirty-five-acre flagstone plaza of the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount. On the southern tip is El-Aksa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam. To the north is the Dome of the Rock, thesplendid, cobalt blue octagon built over the Rock and topped with the twenty-four-carat dome that towers over Jerusalem's ecumenical skyline. Up above is the Mount of Olives and a cluster of churches marking Jesus' last steps. Down below are the sheer remains of the Second Temple perimeter, revered as the Western Wall. The defining spiritual fact of Jerusalem is this: Any panorama, any camera angle, any genuflection that encompasses one of these holy places will necessarily include at least one of the others.But that doesn't prevent people from trying to blot out rival sites. On any day, one can meet worshipers with destruction in their hearts. Joshua, the devout Jewish boy who sits with us, munching on half-moon chocolate cookies, confesses to a fantasy. "We believe the messiah will come and rebuild the Third Temple and all the Jews will come. I look at the Mount, and all those Muslims, and try to envision that."As a result of dreams like this, we are not alone on our perch. Four burly men in jeans and leather jackets have pushed us back from the rail and set up a table to survey the scene with Pinocchio-like binoculars and Uzis. A quick glance across the rooftops, sprouting television antennae and geraniums, reveals countless sentries like them. Every holy day is a possible holy war.But the rhythm of prayer prevails. As noon approaches, hundreds of thousands have overflowed the Haram al-Sharif and lined the plaza under cypresses and palms. The muezzin makes the call, and just as he does the bells at Gethsemane Church begin to sound, ringing out a Christmas carol. No one seems to notice the clash, and maybe it's not a clash at all: Harmony, after all, is controlled dissonance. Theimam, the chief cleric of El-Aksa, begins his sermon, and the leader of the security personnel translates the incendiaries. Today is Jerusalem Day, when mosques around the globe profess allegiance to this fractured city, al-Quds, the Holy.Finally the climactic moment arrives. The sermon complete, the cavalcade of worshipers stand in single rows. The imam reads the opening lines of the Koran, and they bend, stand, kneel, touch their foreheads to the ground, touch again, then rise. The tidal effect is awesome, like waves in a sea of milk: more people assembled in one place to pray than occupy most hometowns. A brief pause ensues, then the second tide begins: bend, stand, kneel, touch the ground, then the recitation of the holiest words of all. There is no God but God and Muhammad is the mes
"An exquisitely written journey that takes readers by the hand and guides them through the worlds most volatile region...100 percent engaging."
"A winning mix of insight, passion, and historical research...provides a basis for fostering genuine communication."
Christian Science Monitor
"Fascinating...an intriguing page turner."
St. Petersburg Times
"This is a joy to read."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A vivid and discerning tour through a land that reflects this epochal figures life of exile, questioning...and faith."
"Quietly brilliant...passionate and prayerful."
"A compelling read."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Feilers pluralistic view of this pivotal figure is intriguing."
Washington Post Book World
"A thoughtful combination of theology, history and travel writing."
"An engaging, timely book."
"A heartrending journey...fascinating."
Colorado Springs Gazette
"Feilers book probably couldnt have come at a better time."
Raleigh News & Observer
"Scrupulously fair in reporting the thinking of all of the traditions...appealing."
"Captures the beauty and desolation of the landscape, the tension of its shared holy places..."
"His account is neither naive nor biased; he portrays each religious tradition fairly...His accepting eye recognizes the religious depth and cultural wealth of each."
National Catholic Reporter
"Feilers combination of journalism, commentary and self-discovery tells the reader volumes about humankind."
Both immediate and timeless, Abraham tells the powerful story of one man's search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traveling through war zones, braving violence at religious sites, and seeking out faith leaders, Bruce Feiler uncovers the defining yet divisive role that Abraham plays for half the world's believers. Provocative and uplifting, Abraham offers a thoughtful and inspiring vision of unity that redefines what we think about our neighbors, our future, and ourselves.
In this timely, provocative, and uplifting bestseller, Feiler searches for the man at the heart of the world's three monotheistic religions--and today's deadliest conflicts.
About the Author
Bruce Feiler is the New York Times bestselling author of Walking the Bible, Learning to Bow, Looking for Class, and Under the Big Top. A frequent contributor to NPR's All Things Considered, and contributing editor for Gourmet he writes regularly about American music for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications, and recieved international acclaim for his influential cover story in The New Republic, "Gone Country." A native of Savannah, Georgia, Mr. Feiler is a graduate of Yale and Cambridge Universities, and now divides his time between Nashville and New York.