Visiting an Israel of checkpoints and suicide bombings, Feiler (Walking the Bible, 2001, etc.) gracefully explores how the ancient Middle Eastern exile and childless husband became the father of many nations—and the progenitor of religious conflict.
Though lost in the mists of history (probably only a few Jews had heard of him by the time of King David), Abraham made an indelible impact as the first monotheist. Indeed, the lack of documentary evidence encouraged myriad reconstructions of his life. Talking to scholars and religious leaders, Feiler ponders how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam “took a biblical figure open to all, tossed out what they wanted to ignore, ginned up what they wanted to stress” to create an exclusionary symbol. During the Babylonian captivity, Jews saw in Abraham another exile who had experienced countless trials. St. Paul adopted the patriarch as an example of faith preceding Mosaic law, a useful device for opening Christianity to the Gentiles. Muhammad identified Abraham as a precursor of himself, someone strongly associated with Arabia, yet ready to break with his polytheist forebears. Taking account of centuries of these reinterpretations, Feiler insightfully reconsiders the central episodes of Abraham’s saga: the initial call by God; Abraham’s passive acceptance of Sarah’s demand that he cast out his offspring Ishmael (now viewed by Moslems as their ancestor); his challenge to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah; and, most chillingly, the sacrifice of Isaac, which poses the question of whether devotion to God requires killing. In the end, Feiler embraces another Abraham: “a bridge between humanity and the divine, who demonstrates the example of what it means to be faithful but who also delivers to us God’s blessing on earth.”
A vivid and discerning tour through a land that reflects this epochal figure’s life of exile, questioning, family misunderstandings, and faith.