It follows Bruce Feiler (a secular Jew) as he seeks to find the Holy places that the Bible lifts up, from Mt Ararat in Turkey to Mt Nebo in Jordan and everywhere in between. His 10,000 mile journey is recorded in a wonderful narrative that tells how the stories become real to him. The places make sense and speak to him of God's power and majesty.
In this second go round of his book (I have also watched the PBS special --- we have it at the church), what stuck me, is how dogmatic he becomes. He stops seeing the Bible as a collection of stories, but now sees it as a history book --- and his quest is to find those historical places. I did not notice that before --- maybe it was hearing him read his book and the tone that he used that changed my perception. Maybe it is just that I have changed.
I don't think you can go to the "Holy Places" to prove the Bible or to prove the historical veracity of a place. I believe that you go to be moved by the spirit of the place. The stories are often just that --- stories. They are not meant to be taken historically. Especially the stories that Feiler deals with --- the stories from the Hebrew Bible. We are too far removed, and the Bible writers did not ask the same questions that we do to be able to use them as proof texts.
So why do I keep going back? I have gone on average every two years for the last 16 years. This is my eight trip (I think) to Israel since I first went shortly after I became an ordained minister. I keep going back because every time I am there --- I know it is a place where I belong. NOT because it is where God dwells (like orthodox Judiasm and evangelical Christianity sometimes seems to suggest), but because it is where so much of our religious traditions were formed.
What amazes me is that people are already asking when I am going back. I will plan another trip in late spring or early fall of 2009. If you want to see what I am talking about, let me know and you can help pick the dates.
But in the mean time. Pick up Feiler's book or the DVD's and travel along to the places where Christians and Jews first understood their encounter with God.