ABC News Global Affairs Anchor Christiane Amanpour set out on a journey to the Middle East to explore the historical and anthropological roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, commonly called the three Abrahamic faiths, and to take in the sites and scenes described in narratives like the biblical flood and the exodus from Egypt.
On her journey, Amanpour visited places Moses, King David and Jesus are said to have walked, traveling to "the remotest corners of Turkey, all across the Middle East and even to the American heartland in search of clues about the biblical stories," the veteran journalist shares in a reporter's notebook.
Amanpour spoke with The Christian Post about her journey. Below is an edited transcript of CP's phone interview with Amanpour, who shared how her own family is affected by faith, startling discoveries unearthed during her journey and why she felt it was important to take her 12-year-old son along for the making of "Back to the Beginning," airing tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC
CP: Share briefly what inspired you to do "Back to the Beginning"?
- (Photo: ABC News)
Amanpour: What inspired me was the fact that throughout my career...I have covered conflicts that are too often based around religious tension, whether it's between Christians and Muslims, whether it's between Muslims and Jews, whether it's between Jews and Christians and Muslims — basically from Sarajevo to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Israel and Palestine, to Northern Ireland. There's been these political/religious conflicts that I have been covering for the last two decades.
I did a very big takeout on that at CNN called "God's Warriors." Now, in the intervening seven years, I've been really thinking hard about the origins of these faiths. And the origins go back to the beginning — hence the title. And we are Christians, Jews, Muslims — all from the Abrahamic faith. We essentially believe more or less in the same things, in the same biblical and Quranic stories, and we have a shared heritage.
Since I now have a son who is 12 and a half and who came with me on part of this journey, it was incredibly important for me to explore not the areas of conflict — because we do that everyday — but the areas of potential conflict resolution...the areas of commonality. There is so much that we all, [these] three monotheistic faiths, have in common — obviously there are differences — but there's so much that we have in common that I was really interested in exploring that.
If you add the personal layer on, my mother is Christian, my father is Muslim, and I'm married to a Jewish-American, so my son has all of those three great faiths running through his veins. I thought it was really important to take him on this journey with me. So it's a journey, a detective story through the Old Testament, it's an exploration of the eternal stories, some of the oldest stories ever told that continue to be so relevant in our lives today. It's how our moral code is based, it's how our faith is based, and it's also how our tradition as a huge, extended family, and our civilization is based. This was the genesis so to speak of doing this special and [although] we're not tackling the New Testament...we start with the Nativity.
CP: What impressed you the most from your experience working on this project?
Amanpour: Many, many things. I'm a great traveler, I love to travel, my son has grown up traveling with me. But this was the first professional trip that I took him on, and it was incredibly impressive watching him delve deeply into this issue with me, obviously from his own perspective … To see his innocence and yet to see a growing boy pick up on these stories that he knows and that he will know forever, and to watch him explore the origin of these stories was fantastic.
On a professional level, it was fascinating talking to spiritual leaders of all three faiths, but also archaeologists. And to explore the interface between the faiths, and to explore the interface between faith and science. And to explore the fact that in many many instances the archaeological evidence is not necessarily there for some of the faith traditions that we believe in, yet how these stories were passed down from our biblical ancestors to today.
I think one of the things that was so fascinating was — I interviewed Robert Ballard...[famous oceanographer who discovered the Titanic in 1995] and he's using an advanced version of the robotic underwater technology to actually explore the Black Sea where the Bible has it that potentially that was where the Noah flood and the whole story of the ark was based. He believed that there was, and he'd be able to find evidence of, a physical flood at about that time in the Bible, and potentially of an ancient civilization. So that is really exciting for archaeologists and religious scholars as well and people of faith. It's a very surprising set of discoveries, it's a very interesting set of journeys that we went on, and what I've discovered and what I now know from having put it all together is that this is a program equally suitable for people of devout faith, for people of no faith, for people of different faiths, and for adults as well as children.
CP: What might atheists or people with very little interest in religion gain from watching "Back to the Beginning"?
Amanpour: I think they will gain an interesting look into the cultural and historical perspective because we talk also to historians and archaeologists, not just church leaders or Jewish leaders or Islamic leaders. We talk to the faith leaders but also to ordinary people who are taking this journey as well to your basic scientist, your basic archaeologist.
We are not seeking to decide whether God existed or He didn't. We're seeking to explore and explain why the stories are still so relevant to our daily lives. And why the code of conduct, whether it's something as simple as what came from the New Testament which is the Golden Rule...or the code of conduct that comes from the Ten Commandments, that is still the basis of common of law these days.
CP: How does faith play a particular part in your life, such as how you view the world, and how has doing "Back to the Beginning" affected your faith outlook, if at all?
Faith has influenced my life from the beginning because I was raised in the Catholic Church, and it is an important part of my life. And going into this journey...it takes it beyond just the personal and just what you learn in Catechism class or in church. It takes it to a broad, cultural level. It takes me to a bigger place of understanding why and how these stories have been passed down — whether or not you believe that they ever existed — how they have been passed down, and the influence they have had...for better and for worse in our history.
"Back to the Beginning" airs in two parts starting Friday, Dec. 21 from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. ET and continuing on Dec. 28 in the same time slot on the ABC network.