Timely and thought provoking, Bruce Feiler's ABRAHAM explores not only the person of Abraham but his role in the history, theology and contemporary thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If Abraham is the heart of the three faiths, then, Feiler asserts, it is helpful and perhaps necessary to examine how his life and relationship to God is interpreted in each. This examination can illuminate the current religious, cultural and political situation of these religions and their relationships to each other. Feiler demonstrates just what he means by calling Abraham the heart of the Western religions, both historically and contemporarily, by travelling far and wide, and discussing Abraham with leaders and lay people of each tradition and perhaps most importantly, by honestly questioning all of them and the scriptures which are the tales of the life of Abraham. Feiler brings to life the emotion, the mystery, the contradictions and the faith which Abraham exemplifies.
Feiler divides the book into five sections, each dealing with a broad idea concerning Abraham and each examining how Judaism, Christianity and Islam understand this aspect of the story of Abraham. For example, "God of Abraham" explores Abraham's life according to scripture and scriptural interpretation. Feiler's conversations are with experts or with any thoughtful person he can strike up a conversation with, from rabbis to taxi drivers. These conversations are intimate and emotional, and, in the post 9/11 landscape, often uncomfortable. But it is this occasional discomfort that makes ABRAHAM so poignant. Feiler does not downplay or exaggerate the tensions that exist between the religions (and their often disparate understanding of Abraham is just one point of contention). However, it is the book's hopefulness that makes it so inspiring. Feiler is a realist balancing negatives and positives, but still an optimist in his belief in the human spirit and in faith to be an ultimately powerful force for the good. Feiler captures the spectrum of religiosity: deep intellectual conversations are balanced here with moments of quiet faith.
Feiler's ideas about Abraham are interesting, if not always profound, and they are easily understandable for those with little or no religious background. Full of broad political and cultural implications, history and good conversations, ABRAHAM is both well-written and well-timed. Without preaching or promoting any political agenda, the book provides opportunity for reflection on differences that seem insurmountable at times. As a comparative exercise, Feiler's work is fair and balanced. Recommended for those interested in religion, culture, history and world affairs, ABRAHAM is quite unique in its scope and readability. Yet, it is also a very personal tale of one man's spiritual journey delving further into the origins and meaning of his own religion. Feiler's journey, like the story of Abraham himself, has no clear beginning and no discernable end; it is an ongoing search for both commonality and personal and cultural identity.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 17, 2004