Where Was God Born?

Best-selling author Bruce Feiler finds the answer in his latest exploration of the lands of the Bible.

With his 2001 best-seller "Walking the Bible," author Bruce Feiler became one of the country's most popular biblical commentators. Feiler's unique brand of biblical exploration literally traces the geographic locations of the Bible--where he often puts himself in dangerous situations and war zones--to understand what we can learn from these places today. Beliefnet named Feiler's book "Abraham" the Best Spiritual Book of 2002. In his newest book, "Where God Was Born," Feiler returns to the Middle East--to Israel at the height of conflict with the Palestinians, to Iraq in the middle of war and insurrection, and to Iran at a time of political and religious uncertainty. He visits ancient religious sites and explores what they might mean for the future of relations between people of different religions. He spoke with Beliefnet about the birth of the concept of a universal God, why prophets were more important than kings, and why interfaith relations are today's most crucial topic.

We'll start off with the big question. Where was God born?

God was born in Babylon. By that I mean that the idea of religion emerged in the thousand years between Moses and Jesus, in the ancient Near East. There was just this moment in time when societies were becoming mature enough and wealthy enough, and people were looking for more meaning. The idea of God as a universal, portable, invisible, everywhere being really entered the broadest portions of society at that time.

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Babylon is a place that kind of crystallizes that moment. [Babylon, located in what is now Iraq, was the capital of the Babylonian Empire and reached its height under King Nebuchadnezzer II.] Up to the time of Babylon, there was a God who was attached to a certain place. But when the Israelites were kicked out of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and sent into exile, God became universal and portable. It's a very simple idea in our lives--when we go to church or synagogue, we pray to a universal God--that began in Babylon.

But there was a Temple before Babylon.

Exactly. God lived in that place. Priests would go in and worship to God. What happened in Babylon was that the Temple was gone, so the Israelites had to ask, if the House of God is gone, where is God living? They came to understand that God is everywhere, and you don't only have to go into the Temple to see God, you can find him everywhere. So you can't understand religion today without understanding what happened in Babylon in the 600s BCE.

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