Where God Was Born

Bruce Feil­er
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
Bruce Feiler’s lat­est title, Where God Was Born, almost flirts with the irrev­er­ent. Didn’t God exist before time for Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam alike? Still, the title almost sug­gests that God’s birth” sprang from the mind of man, not the oth­er way around. Was God born? 

How­ev­er, there’s noth­ing irrev­er­ent about the book. Clear­ly, it is writ­ten by some­one who doesn’t claim to be a tra­di­tion­al” (ortho­dox) observ­er of Judaism — in the sense of pray­ing thrice dai­ly, eat­ing only glatt kosher and the like. Nonethe­less, the author’s trav­els through the Holy Land and time demon­strate the agile strength of Feiler’s ties to his past along with his com­mit­ment to our present and future. He beau­ti­ful­ly merges the three tens­es of his cul­ture and reli­gious beliefs into a uni­fy­ing vol­ume — dan­ger-rid­den expe­ri­ences of the present along the way that lend insight into what life might have been like in ancient times too for our forebears. 

No Jew who has ever vis­it­ed the West­ern Wall hasn’t been drawn to touch and rub his palm against it in some long­ing way to link him­self to the past. In doing so, he, if only in his mind, trav­els to the pre­cise place where, in tra­di­tion, the world began — where Abra­ham offered up Isaac and where God’s spir­it resided when the Tem­ple stood. In oth­er words he trav­els” to where, for Israel at least, God was born! 

True, one must rely on his faith alone to believe these things, just as both Jews and Mus­lims must rely on faith alone to believe that Abra­ham is actu­al­ly buried in what is accept­ed by both as the Mach­peleh. But even those who don’t pos­sess that blind, immov­able faith dur­ing their pil­grim­mage to Hebron rec­og­nize the impor­tance of the tra­di­tion that says It is so!” In a word, it’s the stuff that makes them Jews or Mus­lims, respectively. 

And it’s the stuff of Feiler’s excel­lent new work — the lat­est in the fine pat­tern of Walk­ing the Bible and Abra­ham before it. With­out brag­ging, it presents the mag­i­cal Mid­dle East, where all the earth­shak­ing events of the three monothe­is­tic reli­gions occurred, in terms both ancient and mod­ern, by telling the read­er of what­ev­er denom­i­na­tion that we’re all in this togeth­er: that God was, indeed, born” there for all of us. We just hap­pen to see Him differently. 
Joel Cohen is a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, prac­tices white-col­lar crim­i­nal law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and teach­es Pro­fes­sion­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty at Ford­ham Law School. He has writ­ten Moses: A Mem­oir (Paulist Press, 2003) and David and Bathshe­ba: Through Nathan’s Eyes(Paulist Press, 2007).

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