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Touching History
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Bruce Feiler

      . . . writer. In Walking the Bible, Mr. Feiler recounts his visits to Middle Eastern locations of stories told in the first five books of the Bible.  His previous widely acclaimed books include a recounting of experiences in Japan (Learning to Bow) and the country music scene (Dreaming Out Loud). He is a frequent contributor of NPR‚s „All Things Consideredš and has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Gourmet.  Native to Savannah, GA, Mr. Feiler now lives in New York City.

Excerpts3:49 secs

      Travel is the great gift of our time, says Bruce Feiler, author of _Walking the Bible_ and a number of other books. Travel goes hand in glove with creativity, he believes, both taking us into the unfamiliar. This is also the power of the desert, of rivers and of stories, says Mr. Feiler, declaring himself an ambassador for the imperatives: Leave! Go forth! Trust what you will find! These same imperatives ring from the Bible‚s stories, Mr. Feiler believes, drawn as he was to the location of the Israelites‚ stories, eager to feel what they might have felt.

      The Bible happened in real places, Mr. Feiler wants us to remember, in the Fertile Crescent. We forget, he says, that it was also the site of the agricultural revolution, the most important revolution in the history of the world. Mr. Feiler read 150 books about the Bible before setting out, but it was in sharing the desert experiences of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and others that Mr. Feiler felt his own vision clarifying. Universal truths began to show themselves: everyone is both an insider and an outsider; people are inseparable from place; we need each other.

      Not everyone can take a year journeying by land though Biblical territories as Mr. Feiler did. In fact, he wrote the book in part so that he could share that experience with people who will never feel grit in their sandals. But much as his own journey attests -- growing up in the lavish greenness of Savannah, Georgia, and the twin story-telling traditions of the American South and Judaism -- he feels the Bible‚s stories have an enduring ability to open the desert experience to all comers, wherever we live.

      The desert and the act of wandering itself educated Mr. Feiler, he says, as it did the children of Abraham. They humbled him in the face of how much he did not know, reminded him how dependent we all are on each other, revealed to him that the essentials of the desert experience have always been there for him and in him. Mr. Feiler‚s companion, the accomplished Israeli archaeologist Avner Goren, said it differently:  You cannot spend three days in the desert and not believe in God. You realize how dependent you are. And how small.

      Bruce Feiler felt it was his task to take the Bible out of its black covers, re-root it in the ground from which the stories sprang.  Doing so took him face-to-face with ancient truths about creation, destruction and re-creation. But like a river flows to the sea, his found his journey complete only when he moved his knowledge from his head to his feet, rooted in the places that became his teacher.

[This Program was recorded April 10, 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Bruce Feiler offers Paula Gordon and Bill Russell examples of experiencing the world then reporting back.  Mr. Feiler describes his life as a writer and recalls what led him to write Walking the Bible.

Conversation 2

Reminding us that the agricultural revolution was the world‚s greatest, Mr. Feiler sets the stage for his Middle Eastern adventure. He considers what a synthesis of his own five books might be, using personal examples. He suggests what he thinks is universal about his own experiences as an insider/outsider. People and places are what fascinate him, says Mr. Feiler, who expands, reflecting on the profound impact increased mobility has in the current era. He focuses on the transforming power of deserts, using stories from the Bible. He quotes his archaeologist companion on the desert‚s religious imperative.

Conversation 3

Intent on taking the Bible out of its covers and re-rooting it in the ground from which the stories sprang, Mr. Feiler compares the experience of people who are pastoral and those who are agricultural. He then compares stories from his travels to those told in the Bible. He remembers his own progress, trying to cross the Red Sea, and connects it to the story of the Israelite‚s fleeing Egypt.  Mr. Feiler returns to the power of the desert, remembering his amazement that the problem there is not heat but cold. He talks about the literary challenges in writing about subjects which are sacred to many.

Conversation 4

Mr. Feiler re-tells the story of seeing the world‚s earliest written alphabetic inscriptions, connecting what he has learned about Abraham‚s children being led into the desert by Moses. Mr. Feiler brings the powerful oral tradition of the Bedouin people to life in his own stories of the lives of these desert people and the land they inhabit. He gives examples of what he calls the Bible‚s remarkable ability to remain perpetually „Now.š He remarks on the impact and effect of a range of academic inquiries about the Bible. He talks about the many different kinds of people with whom the Bible brought him in contact and summarizes what he believes are modern and ancient similarities and differences. The power of travel is examined, with Mr. Feiler confident the Bible is a „literary moon rockš which allows many access to a land most will never see, a desert experience most will never have.

Conversation 5

In the industrialized West, says Mr. Feiler, our god is self-reliance. He expands, taking us back to Bible stories where self-reliance must give way to reliance on others in the community. He compares his other adventures to the Middle Eastern one, remembering the literary and cultural power of feeling at one with its soil. He compares his experiences of discovery and re-discovery. Responding to a question about textual analysis, Mr. Feiler agrees that he and his companion wanted to create a geographical midrash, confident that these stories enhance us all. He suggests how and tries to understand the sudden and remarkable popularity of Walking the Bible.

Conversation 6

Confident he learns best by immersing himself in a place and experience, Mr. Feiler describes many of the experiences he‚s subsequently shared in his books. Travel, he declares, is the great gift of our time and tells why.


Two remarkable publicists get an extra „thank you!š for bringing this program to pass: Esther Levine, literary escort extraordinaire, alerted us to Bruce Feiler‚s anticipated trip to Atlanta, long before the explosive popularity of Walking the Bible. Her instincts continue to impress us.

Camille McDuffie of Goldberg McDuffie Communications made it possible for us not only to have an advance look at Walking the Bible, but also to have enough time to enjoy Learning to Bow and Circus.

We enjoyed having a preview the night before we came together for this program. Bruce‚s brother, Andrew -- also Bruce‚s editor -- welcomed us to his home for a lovely evening. Thanks to all.

As always, it is a pleasure to bring people together at The Commerce Club in Atlanta, where we recorded this program with members of Bruce‚s family as part of our audience. The Commerce Club‚s staff and surroundings always make an occasion memorable.

Related Links:
Walking the Bible is published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins
You can visit Bruce Feiler at his website.

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