December 2002

The shared father of three faiths

By Bruce Feiler
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Bruce Feiler, the best-selling author of Walking the Bible, journeyed across time and place through three continents, five countries and four war zones to read, study and interview religious leaders and scholars in search of the man from whom much of the world's population claims to be descended. The result is Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, a compelling look at the common origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

According to the biblical account in Genesis, God changed Abraham's name from Abram because he was "made the father of many nations." Taking his name seriously, Abraham initiated a religious legacy that now encompasses 12 million Jews, two billion Christians and one billion Muslims. Feiler sought out the ancient patriarch to recover and understand the man scholars say is "difficult to interpret." Feiler's book, however, is not. The combination of travelogue, historical research and spiritual journey might seem weighty, but the author's style makes Abraham an intriguing pleasure to read. Feiler adroitly humanizes his subject, who might have remained a flat abstract lost between the pages of ancient documents. He paints a multilayered portrait of a figure who struggles, yet participates in an interactive partnership with God.

Feiler argues that modern world events can be linked directly to Abraham's sons, with the Judeo-Christian nations descending from Isaac and the Arab nations from Ishmael. In trying to discern if the world's three monotheistic religions could ever get along, Feiler discovered that "[E]very clue in Judaism led to some desert hideaway in Christianity, led to some palm tree in Islam, under which was some spring yes! that suddenly cleared up some tangle described on the front page of that morning's paper."

Ultimately, Feiler concludes that both sons received a blessing. So will the readers of Abraham.

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