Abraham is a hugely important figure in the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Indeed, these three religions are often referred to as the ‘Abrahamic’ religions, which shows the great importance attributed to this figure who lived around the year 2000 BCE.
In Bruce Feiler’s enthralling book, we are taken into the heart of the Holy Land where the author talks to many learned figures from these three religions and explores shrines, tombs, and important places of worship, many of which are linked to Abraham and have been fought over for centuries in religious conflicts.
The central themes of the book are Feiler’s attempt to uncover why Abraham is such as important figure and also to see whether there is any common ground between the monotheistic religions that might make Abraham a unifying figure. The book is divided into separate sections which each focus on a different religion and its understanding of Abraham.
This book would have taken a lot of time, and courage, to write. Conflict in the Middle East at the time of writing (conflict which is of course ongoing) means that as the author explored the Holy Land he was never far away from conflict and danger. For instance, he describes having to go through six different check points on a visit to Abraham’s tomb in Hebron, encountering armed guards along the way.
Feiler discusses the great deal of confusion that exists about Abraham’s life, and the life of his children. Perhaps the most famous story related to Abraham is where he is instructed by God to go up a mountain and offer up his son as a sacrifice. However, it is a point of contestation amongst the Abrahamic religions which son was with Abraham, and also the reasons why and the manner in which the imminent sacrifice was halted by an angel from God. The event is generally regarded as being a test of Abraham’s faith in God, but there are differing interpretations among the religions which are discussed in the book.
The book is relatively short (224 pages) and not heavily academic, although there is a lot of detail and a lot of depth. For me, it’s one of those books where you feel you want to read it at least twice to absorb all the information contained within its pages. And I mean that in a positive way – I found it to be an excellent read.
Despite major differences in the theology of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, the author’s contention is that Abraham offers a glimmer of hope for interfaith understanding, unity, and most importantly of course, peace. In a world where peace seems so unlikely, I found it refreshing to read about a figure who could perhaps be at the centre of a coffee table discussion between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. I would recommend this book to people of all faiths and no faith for it’s detailed exposition, insight, and readable style.