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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Back to the Beginning
Aired December 15, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NARRATOR: Tonight a special holiday event, was the Christmas star real?
BISHOP DAVID O'CONNELL, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: There was extraordinary activity in the skies.
NARRATOR: Did Noah's flood happen?
ROBERT BALLARD, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND: The land that went under stayed under.
NARRATOR: Where is the Garden of Eden?
ERIC CLINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Figure out where all four rivers are, then you've got the location.
NARRATOR: Come along on an epic journey around the world and across time with Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: My gosh.
NARRATOR: A war correspondent who has seen everything that tears us apart.
AMANPOUR: Christiane Amanpour in Israel --
NARRATOR: Searches for what unites us. The danger is real.
AMANPOUR: Our guide is carrying a gun.
NARRATOR: And so are the discoveries.
AMANPOUR: Look at this, guys. Is this cool or what?
NARRATOR: As we trace the spectacular saga of greed, envy, love, betrayal and forgiveness back.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Out here in this vast emptiness, you can really get a sense of how the idea of one all powerful God first started to spread around the deserts of this region.
Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and I'd like to invite you on an incredible adventure, a journey back in time where we explore the history and the mysteries of some of the oldest stories ever told. We start in a place that many of us are thinking about this time of year. Bethlehem. Where the bible tells us that a young woman named Mary stopped for the night and where shepherds, angels and kings were led by an especially bright star to welcome and worship her newborn child.
ROBERT B. CHISHOLM JR., DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: He's the prince of peace, that's what we call him. That's what Christmas is all about.
AMANPOUR: And so, every year, two million pilgrims are drawn here to the Church of the Nativity, where there's a small cave that marks the humble beginnings of their savior.
ALEXANDER DREW, PILGRIM: So I'm really excited to be here.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe this is where Jesus was born?
A. DREW: I do.
AMANPOUR: I met Alexander Drew and his mother Theresa who traveled all the way from North Carolina to try to really connect with their faith.
THERESA DREW, PILGRIM: I believe it's somewhere here, whether it's right at that spot, I don't know. Now when I go down there into the grotto, I may feel like this is the place.
AMANPOUR: But first, we must wait. As the Greek Orthodox caretakers prepare and purify this sacred place.
And down here in this grotto in the Church of the Nativity, is this alter. It's marked by a silver star and it's where Christians and the tradition says that all of this began, this is where they believe Jesus was born.
The faithful gathered in this intimate space, believe that the birth of Jesus here was the fulfillment of a series of predictions and promises that began more than 2,000 years ago. Seventy miles north of Bethlehem is the small hill city of Nazareth, an old Orthodox church marks the spot where it said the Angel Gabriel first told the Virgin Mary that she would bear a savior.
SCOT MCKNIGHT, NORTHERN SEMINARY: I think Mary's response to the angel's words is nothing less than startling. Instead of saying impossible, Mary said, bring it on, let's roll. What took you so long?
AMANPOUR: She had good reason to welcome the angel's news. Mary, like Jesus, was Jewish, and for generations prophets such as Isaiah had been telling the Jewish people that a messiah would come and lead them to their destiny.
CHISHOLM: But many Jews were looking for a mighty king, and Isaiah says well, the Lord himself will give you a sign.
MARK MIRAVALLE, AUTHOR, MEET MARY: For example, when Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive and bear a son.
AMANPOUR: Like her old testament ancestors from Noah to Moses to the prophets, Mary answered the call and she's become an icon to more than just Christians.
MIRAVALLE: In fact in the Quran, she is the only woman who has a chapter dedicated to her. Mary is the most unifying factor within all world religion.
AMANPOUR: Back at the cave beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Alexander and his mother Teresa finally get their turn to touch the Silver Star.
T. DREW: It's unbelievable to think that this is where Jesus was born.
A. DREW: You know, actually being able to go down and touch the stone. You know, every Christmas, this is what we hear about. Before I wasn't really sure about my faith, but now that I'm here, I'm seeing all of this, I love it. It's amazing.
AMANPOUR: The Christmas story is all about stars and light. In the gospels, a star leads the three wise men, the Magi, to the newborn child.
CHISHOLM: At that point in time when new stars were seen, it was usually a signal of the birth of an important, prominent person.
AMANPOUR: But could there really have been such a star on the night Jesus was born?
O'CONNELL: Scientists do indicate there was extraordinary activity in the skies.
AMANPOUR: But for many scholars, looking for proof of the Star of Bethlehem or proof of the nativity itself misses the real point.
MARVIN MEYER, AUTHOR, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS OF JESUS: We don't know very much about the historical birth of Jesus. We know however that the tales that were told are timeless accounts that are powerful and beautiful and still are very moving to the present day.
AMANPOUR: But the story we celebrate this holiday season didn't start here. It actually follows the stories of all our ancient ancestors from the Old Testament.
If you think about it, at its very heart, the bible is the story of a family. A great epic tale that spans and sprawls across the generations. Like most families, they started off by fighting one another and by making peace. They tried to make rules to live by and to keep them, or at least to learn from their mistakes. And like every family, they were convinced that they were special, even when everything was working against them.
So to really understand this great family saga, I brought along my son Darius as we set off on our biblical detective story. Flying high -- look at this. And low above the Nile Delta in Egypt.
What did Moses do up Mt. Sinai?
DARIUS RUBIN, CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR'S SON: He received the "Ten Commandments"?
AMANPOUR: We visited archeological digs.
RUBIN: Isn't it so cool that we're up here?
AMANPOUR: It is so cool.
And even saw unexpected reminders of home.
RUBIN: What's the difference between this and the Washington Monument?
We're on a train to Cairo.
AMANPOUR: In many ways Darius is the reason I'm on this journey. You see my mother is a Christian from England and my father is a Muslim from Iran. I married a Jewish American. And in my son, all three of these great faiths come together.
Christiane Amanpour in Israel.
I have spent most of my professional life traveling from conflict to conflict, where the bloodshed usually had something to do with religion. So we wanted to find out whether these biblical stories that are shared have the power not just to divide and harm, but to unite and heal.
Isn't it extraordinary just staring out of the window and you see all these mosques overlaying churches? And I think one of the extraordinary things is to realize and remember that Christianity, Judaism and Islam have so much in common.
And these three faiths all trace their stories back to the biblical patriarchs. Back to the beginning.
NARRATOR: Coming up, just minutes from now, the real search for the Garden of Eden and what do we really know about Adam and Eve?
The amazing journey around the world and across time when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour returns.
NARRATOR: And now the fascinating search for the Garden of Eden and what do we know about Adam and Eve as BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.
AMANPOUR: In the beginning the bible tells us, God created the heavens and the earth. Then God's wind swept over the surface of the dark waters and God said, let there be light. He separated the day from the night and then he created life. And after all of this, God saw that it was good.
And so it goes, the story of humanity, our story begins.
God created a man and a woman. And gave them a perfect place to live. A garden called Eden.
CHISHOLM: Well, the garden is depicted as an orchard. God gives them this wonderful orchard, tells them they can eat all the fruit they want.
KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR, THE HISTORY OF GOD: And they live in peace with the animals and with one another. It's an image of peace, completion, wholeness.
AMANPOUR: When we imagine the Garden of Eden, most of us think of a paradise like this, the ultimate Shangri-la, better than anything we could ever find on earth. But what the bible actually say about where it all began?
CLINE: The biblical description is actually very short. It just says there were four rivers, Tigris and Euphrates are two of them. And then the other two are actually kind of unknown. That's the problem. If you can figure out where all four rivers are, then you've got the location.
AMANPOUR: And it is the tantalizing mention of these two remaining rivers that has fueled a never ending search for the Garden of Eden. For centuries people have looked everywhere from the depths of the Persian Gulf to rural Missouri. And even the planet Mars.
CLINE: I have a problem with the whole looking for the Garden of Eden because how are you going to know when you've found it? There's no sign post to it because writing hasn't been invented yet.
AMANPOUR: Which brings us back to the bible story and the two rivers that we can locate today. The Tigris and the Euphrates in southern Iraq. They come together in an area known as the Fertile Crescent, where civilization first began. A perfect backdrop for the biblical beginning.
CLINE: You've got the place, the early man and early women could live in kind of idyllic harmony and with the food readily accessible and all that. That's what we're really talking about as an earthly paradise.
AMANPOUR: We're told that Adam and Eve have everything they could ever need, but in order to keep all this, they had to obey one rule.
ESTHER HAMORI, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
CHISHOLM: And God warned them that if they disobeyed they would die. Snake comes along and says once you've got access to the tree of wisdom, you can become like the gods, you can move up the ladder.
AMANPOUR: In a very human moment, we're told, Eve couldn't resist the temptation to take more. So she took a bite. And she passed the apple to Adam. It was the snack that changed history.
HAMORI: The man and the woman hide because they're afraid. Because they know they've done something wrong.
FATHER DAVID NEUHAUS, BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY: When God says, did you eat? It's Adam who points the finger at eve. And not only at Eve but at God, because he says she gave me and you gave her to me.
AMANPOUR: Now an angry god casts his creation out of paradise. And just like Adam, throughout the millennia, everyone has blamed Eve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Women are blamed for lots of things that perhaps they need not. Adam could have said, that fruit, I'm not going to eat it. But he took the fruit and he ate it.
AMANPOUR: Does that trouble you the way it's been portrayed?
RABBI BURT VISOTZKY, THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Of course it's troubling, but it reminds me that the bible, for all that we say it's a divine document, it is written from a man's point of view.
AMANPOUR: Ironically, in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, there's more than enough blame to go around.
ARSALAN IFTIKHA, AUTHOR, ISLAMIC PACIFISM: Both Adam and Eve are to blame equally for eating the forbidden fruit. So they're co-equal human beings and I think that's been lost in today's narrative about the founding Muslims and I think that's something important to keep in mind.
AMANPOUR: But in the end it didn't really matter whose fault it was, they both suffered the consequences of disobeying God. The first lesson of Genesis is cold and hard. For humans sustaining life on this earth is not meant to be easy.
ARMSTRONG: We have to go out into that cold suffering world where we labor by the sweat of our brows and give forth our children in pain and have to suffer and die.
CHISHOLM: And we Christians believe that this is why Jesus came, to solve that problem. To pay the penalty for sin.
AMANPOUR: But maybe, when Eve made the choice that Christians call original sin, it was something more. Maybe it was the first act of original thought.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS, ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH OF NEW YORK CITY: Adam and Eve?
AMANPOUR: Free will?
BUTTS: Absolutely free will. That's the story of you can make a choice. That's the most horrible thing that faces a human being. You got to choose.
AMANPOUR: On our journey, we met believers who say the bible is the literal truth, straight from the mouth of God.
Do you think that it happened?
And we met others, even those of faith who believe that these are stories and have been passed down through the generations.
What brought you to Israel?
A record of a people's struggle with the world and their place in it.
So how are we meant to read the "Book of Creation"?
ARMSTRONG: This is a wonderful myth. A myth is more than history. It's telling you the meaning of history, the meaning of events.
CHISHOLM: God can communicate truth through different types of literature. It doesn't always have to be newspaper style account of what happened.
NEUHAUS: For instance, was the world created in seven days or did it take millions of years of evolution? Both. Both of those languages --
AMANPOUR: So you're saying that as a Catholic priest?
NEUHAUS: Yes. Absolutely.
BRIAN GREENE, PHYSICIST, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Science gives us insight into the how. How the universe works, how particles behave. But it gives zero insight into why. And I mean why are we here? What's the meaning of it all? For some people, religion offers some degree of insight into those very important questions.
AMANPOUR: Important and difficult questions, the bible forces us to think about. Like jealousy and rage. And why some people come to hate and harm each other. A lesson starkly taught in the story of the first children, the first siblings.
Cain is a shepherd and Abel is a farmer. Both offer sacrifices to God. But God likes Abel's better.
ARMSTRONG: This is about life as we know it. And life as we know it is not fair. We feel the pain of those whom God hasn't chosen.
AMANPOUR: In a fit of jealousy, Cain kills his brother Abel.
IFTIKHA: This was sort of the first example that we ever saw of murder and, you know, the gravity with which God holds the taking of another human life.
AMANPOUR: And yet with the passage of thousands of years, human kind is still at it. As surely as Cain killed Abel, the slaughter of innocents continues in the very place the bible tells us this story was set.
Today's Syria. Racked by the most brutal of wars. And in a sleepy town in Connecticut, the horrifying massacre of children in their elementary school.
ARMSTRONG: How do we make sense of our torn world and our torn personalities and the conflicts and the despair we fall into when we see suffering and injustice?
Amy-Jill Levine, Author, The Meaning Of The Bible: What I think the bible does really well is help us ask really good questions. How could we do this better? If I were in this person's shoes, how would I have acted? If I'm judge and jury, what punishment would I assess? And God forbid if I committed that crime, what would I want my peers to do to me?
NARRATOR: Coming up, with all the extreme weather punishing our planet, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, imagining Noah's flood isn't that hard to do. So did it happen? We meet a man convinced it did and he's building an ark of his own.
When BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christian Amanpour returns.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NARRATOR: And now amid hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, meet a modern day Noah who's rebuilding the biblical ark as BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.
AMANPOUR: The story of Noah and his ark is one of the bible's best known and best loved. So we came here to the Netherlands, crisscrossed by canals and sitting below sea level, where people live under the constant threat of flooding. We had heard that a kind of modern day Noah had done something extraordinary.
Thanks for having us to your ark.
JOHANN HUIBERS, BUILT HIS OWN ARK: It's amazing.
AMANPOUR: To be frank, I've never thought I'd say that to anybody.
He built himself his own biblical ark.
So that was a rooster?
HUIBERS: It was a rooster.
AMANPOUR: So what kind of animals do you have in your ark?
HUIBERS: I have plastic animals.
AMANPOUR: Plastic animals?
Not quite like Noah?
HUIBERS: Yes. He had the real animals. AMANPOUR: In fact it was a real flood that inspired Johann Huibers,, a born again Christian, to build this ark. He nearly drowned in a storm surge in 1992. And the next day, a book caught his eye among the wreckage.
HUIBERS: It was a big book, "The Ark of Noah." I bought it and I was looking at the book and I said, oh, wow, I'm going to build the ark of Noah. My children were so excited and they ran to my wife.
AMANPOUR: What did your wife say?
HUIBERS: She was not happy with me.
AMANPOUR: No. Women are sensible.
HUIBERS: Yes. It took 13 years to get permission.
AMANPOUR: It took you 13 years to convince her?
HUIBERS: Yes. Exactly.
AMANPOUR: You must have really believed in this?
HUIBERS: Yes. Four hundred percent.
AMANPOUR: It took Johann just over four years to build his ark and he even used the bible as a blueprint.
HUIBERS: Three hundred elbow is the length. Fifty elbow is the wide and 30 elbow is the high.
AMANPOUR: When you say elbow.
HUIBERS: Yes. It's from here until the top of your fingers.
AMANPOUR: The cubit.
HUIBERS: The cubit. Yes. I took my cubit because nobody knows how big Noah was at that time.
AMANPOUR: According to the bible, Noah spent 120 years on his ark and it's every child's favorite story. When the flood finally did come, he was ready.
ADAM SHAFF, LIKES NOAH'S ARK STORY: God sends two of every animal, all of them, two of every single one came on to his ship, from the giraffe to the small little ants and the bears. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and finally the whole entire earth was flooded.
AMANPOUR: Adam Shaff is 17 when he meet him, and as fantastic as the Noah story sounds, even tonight not far from his home in New York, people are still trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It seems that whether it's a devastating storm hitting the present day United States or 7,000 years ago when a wave washes away the home you've built, the children and community you love, the first question we all ask is why?
ARMSTRONG: Life often seems inexplicable and we need to make sense of it. We need something that will help you to assuage your grief and anguish and rage. These biblical stories are the way of finding meaning.
SHAFF: When I was younger, this story was kind of a fairly tale for me. I think that when you get older, you kind of see the sadness and the kind of the sorrow in the story. Because lots of people die in this flood.
AMANPOUR: Destroying the earth, the bible tells us, is the only thing God ever regrets, so he sends a rainbow as a promise.
SHAFF: This rainbow shows that God will never send a flood again to hurt humanity and all the animals that live on this earth.
AMANPOUR: What happens next is left out of the colorful pages of storybooks.
ARMSTRONG: Noah comes out of the ark and he plants a vineyard. And gets drunk. I was remembering a story of a holocaust survivor who went home to his village and found everyone had gone. He said, I could understand exactly why Noah got drunk.
If you imagine what it would have been like after the flood, devastation, all these swollen bloated bodies lying around, terrible.
AMANPOUR: And it turns out that flood stories like this are not unique to the bible. They can be found all over the ancient world.
HAMORI: These stories didn't drop from heaven one day. In a clump of words all sent by God in book forms. These stories developed in a certain place and time.
AMANPOUR: Leading some archaeologists to believe they're based on real events.
CLINE: People do not make these things up. So does this mean that we have got a flood back way back in antiquity? It may well. A story is created to explain something that happened.
AMANPOUR: But in the biblical account the story is layered with new meaning. The flood is sent as a punishment for people's sins.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurricane Katrina was the judgment of God.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I don't know how much God has to do, we've had an earthquake, we've had a hurricane. He said, are you going to start listening to me here?
AMANPOUR: You know that even today some Christians will say that the tsunamis and the floods are retribution from God for sins that are being committed today.
CHISHOLM: Some Christians say that. I don't know on what basis they would say it.
AMANPOUR: On the Noah basis.
CHISHOLM: In the fallen world, sometimes God just allows things to happen. It doesn't mean that he is judging people.
AMANPOUR: But Johann isn't so sure.
Do you believe he'll do it again?
HUIBERS: Worldwide, not anymore. But small ones, yes.
AMANPOUR: So small places might be wiped away.
HUIBERS: Like New York is not a small place.
AMANPOUR: No, it's not.
HUIBERS: It was a big, big disaster at that time.
AMANPOUR: Does that frighten you?
HUIBERS: Yes. But I'm also that the promise of God that it is in his hands.
SHAFF: I feel like the moral of this story, for me, helping others will make the world a better place. And a better place for myself will be a better place for everyone. And for my children and for my children's children. And that's the kind of world that I want to live in. And that's the kind of world that Noah tells us about.
NARRATOR: Coming up, just minutes from now, if you're the scientist who discovered the Titanic, what do you do for an encore? How about proving Noah's flood really happened and where?
See the amazing story when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour returns.
NARRATOR: And now he is the man who found the Titanic, but can he find evidence that the biblical flood of Noah's time happened, too?
BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.
AMANPOUR: A journey to investigate the story of Noah and his ark led us to the banks of the Black Sea in Turkey where we heard that tantalizing clues were being uncovered by Dr. Robert Ballard, one of the world's leading underwater archaeologists.
BALLARD: All right. Let's get down on the deck. Get closer down.
AMANPOUR: We were astonished to learn that he believes the biblical flood could have actually happened and he says he can find proof.
BALLARD: There's something here. What's this? What's this? AMANPOUR: If you were to discover definitively something that could pin science on the Noah story, how fantastic would that be?
BALLARD: Well, it would be pretty cool and I'm confident we can. We just have to look.
AMANPOUR: And Ballard's track record for finding the impossible speaks for itself. In 1985, he and his crew tracked down the world's most famous ship wreck, the Titanic. And the blockbuster movie about the night she went down was based on Ballard's discoveries. Now using advanced robotic technology, he's traveling even further back in time.
BALLARD: I'm putting a lot of money in the lottery and obviously can't wait to see what it's going to see.
AMANPOUR: On a watery archeological dig that might even support the Noah story.
So you're saying as a scientist, that it is not a crazy thing to think that this happened and you can find evidence for it?
BALLARD: It's not a crazy thing to think that the flood stories of the various cultures including ours are based upon true, cataclysmic events.
AMANPOUR: Ballard believes about 12,000 years ago, much of the earth was covered in ice that began to melt. The oceans began to swell, causing a series of devastating floods all over the world.
BALLARD: We talk about the floods of our living history. Boy, they don't compare at all to the floods of ancient time. The question is, was there a mother of all floods?
AMANPOUR: Ballard thinks there was. And he's testing a controversial theory that the biblical flood happened here.
BALLARD: Why the Black Sea? Well, because the Black Sea appears to have had a giant flood. Not just a slow moving advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood and people were living there.
AMANPOUR: The theory goes, this was once an isolated fresh water lake. But then, when the Mediterranean swelled --
BALLARD: At some magic moment, it broke through and flooded this place violently.
AMANPOUR: What did Noah or the people who lived there during what you believe to be this huge flood, what did they see?
BALLARD: They probably was a bad day. And a lot of real estate, 150,000 square kilometers of land went under.
AMANPOUR: And 400 feet below the surface, Ballard believes he's found proof of that catastrophic event.
BALLARD: And I love it. I love it. I love it, I love it. I love it.
AMANPOUR: They unearthed an ancient shoreline.
BALLARD: Well, we've actually dated it, about 5,000 B.C.
AMANPOUR: And that is about the time that the bible says Noah --
AMANPOUR: -- and the great flood happened. I mean, wow.
BALLARD: Wow. So it nailed it.
AMANPOUR: Ballard and others who agree with the so-called Black Sea theory believe the survivors of this traumatic event passed the story down from generation to generation and eventually inspired the biblical account.
BALLARD: Here's the problem. When people read the story, they say, well, did it cover the whole planet in water? No, but it covered their world.
AMANPOUR: So that explains the stories that were handed down.
BALLARD: Correct. Remember, you have to take it from the perspective of the storyteller. I mean they didn't know there was a North America and a South America. So as far as they were concerned, it was the whole world.
AMANPOUR: Scientists disagree with the details of the flood, but Ballard is confident that he's on the right track.
BALLARD: I feel lucky, don't you, Dwight (ph)?
AMANPOUR: And they have been finding things.
BALLARD: Something here, what's this? What's this? What's this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that?
BALLARD: That's it, baby. Come on in.
AMANPOUR: Like ancient pottery.
BALLARD: The big one. Big one.
AMANPOUR: And even more.
So what are we looking at?
BALLARD: You're looking at what you shouldn't be looking at. That shouldn't be there. That is a perfectly preserved ancient shipwreck and all it's wood. Looks like a lumber yard.
AMANPOUR: This shipwreck dating back to 500 B.C. was in surprisingly good condition, preserved because the Black Sea has almost no oxygen and that slows down the process of decay. They even found an ancient mariner.
BALLARD: If you look closely, you'll see the femur bone right there.
AMANPOUR: You found human remains from 2,500 years ago?
BALLARD: Correct. And we have just begun. So imagine what's waiting for us.
AMANPOUR: Ballard is now convinced that he will find evidence of a civilization from the time of Noah 7,000 years ago that was completely washed away.
AMANPOUR: I think perhaps most people other than the true, true believers would think that it was a fool's errand to try to retrace Noah, to try to find the arc.
BALLARD: Yes. It's foolish to think you'll ever find a ship. But can you find people who were living? Can you find their villages that are underwater now and the answer is yes?
NARRATOR: Coming up, so many adventurers, true believers, even a former "Baywatch" star believe this is where Noah's ark came to rest.
Journey there with us when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour returns.
NARRATOR: And now the search for Noah's ark. Adventurers, astronauts, ministers, even a "Baywatch" star can't resist the pull of one of the world's most forbidding mountains. What icy secrets lie atop Mount Ararat?
BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.
AMANPOUR: The bible tells us that when the great flood finally began to recede, the ark holding Noah and the earth's only other survivors came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And today a mountain by that very name can be found towering 16,000 feet over the bad lands of eastern Turkey.
BRUCE FEILER, AUTHOR, WALKING THE BIBLE: From their history of the bible, it's really the first place that can be located with any degree of certainty.
AMANPOUR: And we're sure it's there?
FEILER: You know what? All I can say is Ararat is the tallest mountain in the Middle East. If there was a flood and if there was a Noah and if there was a boat, and if the water started to go down, this would have been the first piece of land to emerge.
AMANPOUR: Pinpointing Mount Ararat on a map has for centuries inspired true believers and treasure hunters from all over the world to climb the mountain's jagged peak in search of the biblical boat. Among them, some very unlikely pilgrims like Donna D'Errico, a former Playmate and "Baywatch" star.
DONNA D'ERRICO, ACTRESS: I'm here on Mount Ararat, up there, and that's one of the areas that we're interested in that we think two pieces of the ark are.
I know it sounds ludicrous and I know that most people out there don't think that Noah's ark ever really happened and they don't believe in that stuff.
This is where the rocks fell, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
D'ERRICO: But that's not how it is for me. You know, for me, I'm looking for something that is there. I wasn't there on vacation, I was there to fulfill my dream. It was very frightening climbing up there.
AMANPOUR: Exhaustion and a couple of close calls took their toll. D'Errico risked life and limb scaling these heights driven on by her renewed Catholic fate.
D'ERRICO: We were all raised in the church and, you know, I fell away for a while. And I did some things that today I would never do. But I have returned to the church and I'm living my life more like I used to.
AMANPOUR: And she's recording this experience to spread the message of a story that so deeply affected here.
D'ERRICO: The entire human civilization was wiped out except for the eight people on the ark and we all came down from them. I believe the bible, and I believe it happened, I believe it landed on Mount Ararat and that it's still there.
The last cave have (INAUDIBLE) riding.
AMANPOUR: She also made videos to send to her children at home.
D'ERRICO: I miss you, guys, and I love you. We're going to be going up to the Ed Davis site. I can't tell you exactly where we are because we're kind of keeping that a secret.
AMANPOUR: Ed Davis was an American World War II soldier, who had also braved this rugged terrain. D'Errico's strategy is to retrace his steps to the top.
D'ERRICO: I found, I think, one of Ed Davis' caves that he stayed in. He's one of the witnesses of the ark.
AMANPOUR: Davis claimed to have seen the ark while on a mission to deliver supplies to the Russian front. The artist Alfred Lee later made this drawing based on Davis' description.
D'ERRICO: You see the rock slide?
AMANPOUR: Shifting rocks under foot were a constant danger, and just days into the ascent, she nearly fell to her death from 10,000 feet.
D'ERRICO: I stepped on a rock that wasn't secure and the rock gave way and all of them started moving with me on top. I was headed towards the edge of the cliff. My feet were dangling. I would have been a goner.
AMANPOUR: A fellow climber pulled her to safety, and despite her injuries, D'Errico pressed on.
D'ERRICO: My injury is much better. You can see. Here's the view from inside my tent. Yesterday we climbed up there. It was a really tough climb.
AMANPOUR: It just so happens that right here the Turkish army and Kurdish separatist guerillas are always fighting and a flare-up of tensions between them ultimately forced D'Errico off the mountains.
D'ERRICO: The dangers just got too great on the mountain. And I look really awful.
I'm really happy and excited to be going home.
AMANPOUR: With Ararat's mystery still shrouded in snow and ice, she left empty handed, badly injured, but undeterred.
D'ERRICO: I'm so drawn to there, and I feel like I didn't finish what I set out to do because I had to cut it short. I always said that I would do it before I die. Yes, I'm going to go back.
AMANPOUR: Over the years, there have been many claims of success, but archeologists think the discoveries have more to do with faith or fraud than actual fact.
CLINE: You have to think scientifically. There's probably not going to be anything left. The ark is made out of wood. It's going to have disintegrated. The story is from the early part of Genesis. We're not sure it actually happened.
AMANPOUR: If nothing has ever been found, Bruce Feiler wanted to know what keeps drawing people back year after year? So he decided to climb the mountain himself, and he brought along a film crew to capture what, if anything, was hidden beneath the snows of Mount Ararat. And on his journey, he spoke to a man whose family has lived on the mountain for generations and he has no doubt the ark is there.
FEILER: He's a Kurdish man and he's claimed to have fallen into this hole on the top of the glacier and found this piece. And I asked him if he would show it to me.
You believe that what you found indicates that the ark came to rest on this mountain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
FEILER: Will you take me there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
FEILER: I said my mother is dying, which is a lie, and if you show it to me, my mother can live in peace. He wouldn't show it to me.
AMANPOUR: Why wouldn't he show it to you? Because he didn't have it.
FEILER: He said -- well, you can tell your mother that in all the world, there's one person who's seen the Noah's ark, and the story is real. Even if he's got a piece of wood, and even if there's a sign on it that says Noah built me, there is still not going to be evident that God called Noah to do this. We're not going to find some lost voice of God like some lost Beatles song that we can digitally re- master and put on the Internet.
AMANPOUR: So instead, Feiler believes, people will continue to search for the ark and anything else from the bible stories that they might be able to see or touch or feel.
FEILER: There is this desire to reconnect with the story. And that continues today. To think if you can prove that one screw existed, you can prove that the whole machine existed.
NARRATOR: Next, we dig through the sands of Egypt and track across the ancient deserts to unravel a seething family saga of jealousy, faith, and betrayal, when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour returns.
NARRATOR: Tonight, an amazing journey around the world and across the centuries. To the lands of pharaohs and angels, Moses and Abraham, as we investigate the mysteries behind stories of the bible.
AMANPOUR: Would any of this being Israelites?
NARRATOR: And a war correspondent who has seen all that tears us apart.
AMANPOUR: Christiane Amanpour in Israel.
NARRATOR: Asks what is it that unites us? What would they tell us if these stones could talk?
The special holiday event BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues now.
AMANPOUR: I'm Christiane Amanpour and we're on a journey back to the beginning. We've set off to try to unravel some of the history and the mysteries that lie behind the stories of the bible from Genesis to Jesus.
We're overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, where so many of those stories are said to have unfolded. But our journey is taking us to cities and deserts across the ancient world so come along with us. After the great flood, the bible says that God made a promise to never again destroy the earth. Noah's family prospered and their descendants spread across the world, but Noah's drunkenness and the bad behavior of his sons had greatly displeased God. Still unsatisfied with his creation, he set out again to find the one man that he could trust above all others.
FEILER: He tries Adam and Eve, and that fails. He tries Noah, and that fails. He is searching for a human partner. It's 20 generations after Adam and Eve that he first meets Abraham.
AMANPOUR: When we first meet Abraham in the "Book of Genesis," we're told that he had settled with his father and his wife Sarah in a town called Herron. A place where people were known to worship many different gods. And then out of the blue, this lowly shepherd received a call from the god of the Hebrew bible summoning him to leave his home for a new life at once.
LEVINE: God says to Abraham, go to this land that I will show you and I will make of you a great nation. It would have been helpful if Abraham had said to God, which land, and by the way, does it have oil?
AMANPOUR: But Abraham did not question God's promise, and this one man's unflinching devotion to only one god reverberates throughout the bible. It is the foundation of three great monotheistic faiths.
FEILER: In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, you can't get to God without going through Abraham.
AMANPOUR: Obeying God's call, Abraham quickly left behind the trappings of city life and set off with his family on a journey toward the promised land of Canaan.
DAVID LANDIS, AMERICAN: It's a decision to leave everything that's familiar to you. I mean, it's letting go of everything and embracing the unknown. It's life-changing.
AMANPOUR: Here in southern Turkey near Herron, we met Anna and David Landis, an American couple raised Christian, they're writing a guide book that will allow people of all faiths to follow the same path that Abraham took.
ANNA LANDIS, AMERICA: I think there's something always powerful about going to a place from the bible, from the stories you heard as a child. I think that makes the whole story feel more real.
D. LANDIS: Abraham took this journey 4,000 years ago, and now we're just dusting off his footsteps and inviting people to experience that story today.
AMANPOUR: Anna and David are part of an unprecedented initiative called Abraham's path. Its mission is to break down barriers and foster communication in this, one of the most divided regions of the world. Because attempts to lay claim to the man who first worshipped one God and his legacy have been the source of constant conflict and bloodshed among the three faiths. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Monotheism wants to say our religion is the only one. Therefore, yours is wrong. And it's carried far enough, it means you have no right to live.
AMANPOUR: But for those following in the path of the biblical patriarch, there is hope that the lessons of Abraham's story can bring these same groups closer together.
D. LANDIS: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?
D. LANDIS: Very good. You?
A. LANDIS: People are very enthusiastic about the story of Abraham. People would stop us and say, have you heard about Abraham? I think there's something special there where I can say, yes, this is part of my story, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you tell us about the story of Abraham?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abraham, he was born --
AMANPOUR: But the truth is there's no ark logical evidence of Abraham or where he traveled. There's a centuries old tradition in Turkey that says Abraham's birth place is here in this cave. But it's not the only place to make such a claim. Could it instead of been here in Syria, or here in southern Iraq? At a place some call the house of Abraham? But the architect behind it was Saddam Hussein, so that timing is just a little off.
Was he born in Mesopotamia? Was he born in Turkey? Where was Abraham born?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I mean.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was born in Mesopotamia, travels to the promised land, goes down to Egypt, and comes back. So, the story is trying to connect him, I think, to the entire ark of the region.
AMANPOUR: It's a story that's shared by about half the world. Abraham's path will eventually wind through ten countries. Our next stop is in the biblical land of Canaan, in what is now Israel and the West Bank. My guide on this part of Abraham's path is (INAUDIBLE), an Israeli archeologist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If somebody is thinking for getting back to roots, coming back to being in touch with God, the visit is always the place.
AMANPOUR: It's almost kind of shocking to me that these immense stories that more than, you know, two, three billion people believe in, Christian, Jew, Muslim, there's not a rock that connects them. You're an archeologist. Doesn't that sort of trouble you? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, I would love to have much more concrete remains for Abraham, but the meaning is so strong, I think that I can cope with the fact that archaeology's poor's here.
AMANPOUR: On the path, we met a young shepherd, and as it so happened -- what's his name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abraham.
Abraham, the name of the biblical patriarch remains popular with all three faiths today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have so much in common, believing in the same father and being from the same family and sharing a lot of the values.
AMANPOUR: The story of how this extended family came to be begins with heartbreak. Although Abraham and his wife Sarah had tried for years, they were unable to conceive a child.
RABI BURT VISOTZKY, SCHOLAR OF MIDRASH: Sarah married to Abraham ten years, was barren. She offer Hagar, her maid, to Abraham, for surrogacy.
AMANPOUR: Once Hagar had given birth to a boy named Ishmael, Sarah told them she wanted both of them out for good.
KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR: You see Hagar's extreme dist distress, and then God appears to her and said fear not, from this child, I will also make a people, and this is the Arab people.
AMANPOUR: Arabs today trace their lineage right back to Abraham through Ishmael. Every year, millions of Muslims make their pilgrimage called the Hajj to the place where they believe Ishmael made his home -- Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Here, Muslims also believe that Abraham came to visit Ishmael and together they built Islam's first house of worship, the Kabah.
The bible doesn't mention Mecca. Instead, it tells us Abraham finally found a permanent home in Canaan. He and Sarah had settled into their old age, perhaps at last enjoying some measure of tranquility after all they had endured. Then, unexpected visitors appeared and changed their lives again.
VISTOZKY: Abraham looks up. He sees three men. He greets them, he welcomes them. Sarah hurries to make them a meal. Hospitality is quintessential.
AMANPOUR: In nomadic cultures, travelers in these barren landscapes could never have survived without the kindness of strangers.
D. LANDIS: When you're out wandering into a new village and you meet someone and they offer you a cup of coffee or tea, those are the moments that define Abraham for me. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: What do we have here? I'm Christiane. Very nice to meet you.
(INAUDIBLE) brought me to one stop where a Baudoten (ph) named Nasser welcomes travelers of all faith to share a meal with him. Nassar's meal is much like the one Sarah and Abraham might have offered to strangers who came to their home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that meal, they announce that Sarah now almost 90, will have a child. She laughs with incredulity.
AMANPOUR: What Sarah and Abraham didn't know, the bible tells us, was that the visitors were actually angels bringing them a message from God. And it did come to pass. Sarah gave birth to the child she had wanted for so long, a son named Isaac. His descendants became the Jewish people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Next, a family feud that stretches back a millennium as our journey around the world and across time continues when "back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" returns.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: And now, a father's love, a terrible secret, but did one man of immense faith go too far? "Back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" continues.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The landscape of the bible is as brutal as it is breathtaking. Here, it's easy to imagine the suffering and the patience it took for a family to survive in Abraham's time, and why it's here that God would demand a sacrifice so stark and so unforgiving that he would never again ask for anything like it.
I'm standing under the rock where Muslims believed the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. And this is holy in all three religions because Jews and Christians believe that this is where God demanded Abraham bring his son Isaac for sacrifice.
Today, this place is marked by the familiar gold dome of the rock that dominates the old city of Jerusalem. And it sits on one of the most contested sites in the world. Even the name of this site is complicated. Jews call it the temple mount. While Muslims call it Haram Al Sherif (ph) or noble sanctuary.
On one side is the western wall, the holiest site the Jews come to pray at. And nearby, the Christian church of holy (INAUDIBLE). In just one square mile, the most revered places of each of the three religions. And this is also the place where the bible tells us that God had finally demanded too much. Abraham had waited into very old age for the children God had promised. He had already been told to send his first son, Ishmael away. Now only Isaac was left at home.
VISTOZKY: Abraham, for better or for worse, is used to hearing God's voice. And one day, as the Torah tells us in genesis 22, God decides to test Abraham. And he says, take your son. Your only son. Whom you love, and offer him as a sacrifice at the place that I will show you.
AMANPOUR: God was telling Abraham to kill his own son.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would think that that story is so barbaric that it would have died out over time. Instead, Jews read it in their holiest week of the year on Rosh Hashanah. Christians read it, the same story, in their holiest week of the year, on Easter. Muslims read it, the same story, in their holiest week of the year.
AMANPOUR: To this day, the story is commemorated by Muslims all over the world on a holiday called Aid Ah Atta (ph). The Hassan family are American Muslims living in New Jersey. One son, Youssef, is about the same age Abraham's son would have been, and he's trying to imagine how he would have felt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was probably extremely scared at what was going to happen and he was very worried for his dad because he knew his dad was going through a long trouble just getting over the fact he had to kill his son. But I'm sure he understood that it is coming from a higher power.
AMANPOUR: For Jews and Christians too, the story of what happened next was the same. Abraham's faith was absolute. He didn't argue with God. He tied up his son and laid him on the rock and then he drew his knife.
VISTOZKY: As the story goes, Abraham literally lifts the knife before God says to him, Abraham, Abraham, you don't have to do this.
AMANPOUR: So the son was spared, and a lamb appeared to take his place.
VISTOZKY: One of the abiding lessons we're meant to learn from genesis is obedience to God. That if you are obedient, that in the end, you are rewarded.
AMANPOUR: Muslims believe Ishmael, not Isaac, was the son Abraham was called upon to sacrifice, but the essence of the story is the same across the three religions.
Is it heartbreaking to think this patriarch, this person who we believe is the father of our religions, was this close to committing murder, killing his son?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if it's heart breaking or not, but I know it's eye opening and it's important, because Abraham introduces the idea. You can kill in the name of God. And I think it's important for everybody to understand that this idea is embedded in these biblical stories. This is not all, you know, Kumbaya and can we all live in peace and say you like butterflies and love your children, and therefore we can all get along.
AMANPOUR: And yet, the story is not an endorsement of killing in the name of God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's a test. God is testing him. He doesn't really intend for him to kill his son.
AMANPOUR: At a time when offering human sacrifice was common, this story was a call to end that barbaric practice. Still, here and in so many places around the world, so many thousands of years later, the sacrifice of sons and daughters in the name of God and faith goes on and tragically on.
God may have been demanding total submission, but he also decided in the end that a human life has more value than blind obedience.
VISTOZKY: In the end, of course, Ishmael lived, Isaac lived.
AMANPOUR: And taking this journey with my own son, Darius, brought these stories to life in the most profound and visceral way. It was a reminder of how personal the stories of our ancient religious texted can feel, and why they can remain so powerful even to this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Coming up, from the holy land to America's heartland. So why are we headed for Branson, Missouri? And what did we uncover there about the spectacular story of Joseph?
The answer when "back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" returns.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The Holy land to the American heartland to learn more about the story of Joseph and his amazing dreams. "BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR" continues.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Our journey through the old testament has taken us from the Barren deserts of the bible lands to the lush farm country of the bible belt. Just outside Branson, Missouri, we took a turn on shepherd of the hills expressway.
So now, we're approaching this massive building, it is the sight and sound theater. It is a replica of something that might have been in the ancient, ancient east during biblical times. This is what they tell us is Christian Broadway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get him!
AMANPOUR: And nine times a week, every week, thousands of people come from across the country to watch their favorite bible stories come alive. When we visited, Abraham's great grandson Joseph was center stage. What most people probably immediately would think is Joseph and the amazing techno-color dream coat. Is this that?
JOSH ENCK, SIGHT AND SOUND THEATER: This is that same guy, that same coat, but this is the true biblical account.
AMANPOUR: So less coat, more Joseph?
ENCK: The show is not about the coat. It's a universal message of forgiveness. And forgiveness is right at the heart of salvation itself.
AMANPOUR: At Sight and Sound, they say the mission is selling this message, not just tickets. Although when we visited, Joseph had grossed almost $40 million that season alone.
ENCK: We don't do it for the pocketbook. We do it because we believe in the message of Jesus Christ.
AMANPOUR: Is it evangelizing?
ENCK: Absolutely. It is very evangelical.
AMANPOUR: And everyone here from the stagehands to the leading actors is Christian. Before every performance, they pray together.
ENCK: What we do is seek the lord in prayer. What's the story you think is relevant to today, but also, they're relevant to the twists and turns and drama we're looking for, particularly the stories of the old testament. You can take a seat. Our rocks are cushioned here at Sight and Sound. So, that is always nice to watch.
AMANPOUR: That's good. These are the most comfortable rocks I ever sat on. I got a behind the scenes tour from Joseph himself. You're not just plain Joseph. You name is Joseph, right? Joey?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
AMANPOUR: Joey believes like Joseph from the bible, God has a plan for him, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom had a child, and he passed, and my mom woke up in the middle of the night and said that God had told her that she would restore the son she had lost and that she should name him Joseph. And now I'm in my first sight and sound show, playing Joseph. Yes. Definitely one divine appointment after another that I believe God set up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blessed be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and -- me.
AMANPOUR: Joey didn't play Joseph every night. Sights and sound has multiple casts for their multiple productions. But they all perform with equal passion and faith. The biblical Joseph is one of Jacob's 12 sons, and he is clearly his father's favorite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night my precious Joseph.
AMANPOUR: And this makes Joseph's brothers hate him. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to take my place at the first born, are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're already his favorite.
AMANPOUR: And it gets worse when Joseph has dreams he thinks a message is from God and brags about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was raised up, and then all of your sheep bowed down to me.
ENCK: All these inner family dynamics at work that really created this kind of boiling point with the brothers.
AMANPOUR: Like many modern families.
AMANPOUR: And like in so many modern families, the brothers give in to their jealousies and fears.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God has delivered Joseph in to our hands. We can kill him now.
AMANPOUR: But in a distinctly biblical way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lied and used God to do it.
JEFF BENDER, WRITER, SIGHT AND SOUND THEATER: While they've got Joseph in that pit, screaming help, help, help, they're eating lunch. You know, pass the goat cheese. They could care less. They're happy as can be. That's why I love the bible because it's warts and all, you know. It's not a book that glosses. It just tells it as it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, we come in peace and with the great bargain for you.
AMANPOUR: The chance to get some money makes the brothers think twice, so instead of killing Joseph, they sell him to the slave traders who take him off to Egypt. And this is where sight and sounds pulls out all the stops, to transport their audience to a bible-based storybook version of an ancient Egypt with everything you might imagine there to be, deserts, pyramids, and of course camels, even though no one is quite sure when camels first came to Egypt.
My goodness, there they are.
ENCK: We have two of our camels right there.
AMANPOUR: See the camel? I want a camel. Can I give him a kiss? He won't bite my face off? Those are serious teeth in there.
ENCK: Yes. They can clamp down.
AMANPOUR: Let me see. Let me see your teeth.
The performance vividly captures the sweeping and melodramatic twists of faith of Joseph's story in the bible. He goes from being an Egyptian slave and prisoner to the pharaoh's second in command.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.
AMANPOUR: That's because he correctly interprets the pharaoh's dream, and thus saves Egypt from a devastating famine. And being a man of God, he forgives the brothers who left him for dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brothers, I forgive you.
BENDER: The truths and the principles of the story are so powerful and so basic to humanity.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe this really happened?
ENCK: Absolutely, I do. Faith is believing in something that you cannot see.
AMANPOUR: But as we're about to discover, there may be some parts of the Joseph story that you can see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Coming up, just minutes away. In a land of the pyramids and pharaohs, clues that reveal what Joseph dreamed may have indeed really happened.
Travel to Egypt when "back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" returns.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: And now, we travel to ancient Egypt, buried beneath the sand, is there evidence for the biblical story of Joseph?
"Back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" continues.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Egypt, land of the pharaohs, home to one of the world's greatest civilizations. A kingdom that dominated this vast region for 3,000 years. At the same moment as the stories of the bible. The Egyptian landscape is littered with the remains of its ancient past, and in dusting off these ruins, archeologists have found a treasure-trove of clues, about the empire's captivating culture and about the truth behind the stories of the bible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question really is how much historical information is there in the bible? The story behind the story is what we are trying to get at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I get your imprints?
AMANPOUR: My son, Darius, and I journey to Egypt to see what if anything about Joseph is grounded in fact. We decided to start our search with a bird's-eye view.
AMANPOUR: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I can't believe it. Ancient ruins practically hit you in the face. But what's truly stunning is the impact of water.
So here you can see absolutely clearly what water does. The whole of Egyptian civilization, the story of the bible, everything, revolves around water.
And not just any water, the great waterway that is the River Nile. Crops, livestock, transportation, riches. The mighty Egyptian empire would never have been possible without it. On east and West Bank fertile, green as far as the eye can see until you hit the desert. There's life and then frankly death.
AMY-JILL LEVINE, AUTHOR: The bible has an enormous concern for natural resources, but what happens when we get into history is history is chaotic. We find famine. We find flood. We find plague. How do we understand life when the ground won't yield? Or our children are flooded out of their homes? The bible allows us to raise those questions.
AMANPOUR: And the story of Joseph answers one of those questions. He interpreted the pharaoh's dream that a great famine would sweep the land.
VISTOZKY: Indeed, Joseph and Egypt, was able to predict a cycle of famine and prepare for it during a cycle of plenty.
AMANPOUR: The Nile's ability to provide for humanity is as abundant now as it was in biblical times. Today, 95 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million people lives along its banks. This is what you can see from space at night. Lights show life clinging to the desert river. Plenty of reason for the Israelites to venture into Egypt from the vast surrounding deserts where they lived.
BETSY BRYAN, AUTHOR: We do know that in early times, by 2,000 B.C., the people from southern parts of modern Israel would be crossing the Sinai with their herds and residing in the eastern delta, which is exactly the area called Goshen in the bible.
AMANPOUR: They came for the water, and they came for the trade. But they also came against their will. We saw etchings and hieroglyphics depicting Egyptian conquests and a flourishing slave trade that may have brought Joseph here to Egypt after his jealous brothers sold him.
BRYAN: You see the pharaoh sitting here. This is Ramses himself. Notice that these people are under his feet.
AMANPOUR: Now we're at the temple of Luxor. Magnificent ruins that date back before the time of a great pharaoh called Ramses. Would any of these have been Israelites? BRYAN: Some were from the area that would be modern Israel today or Sinai.
AMANPOUR: So, if there is evidence of Israelites in bondage here at about the time of Joseph's story, what about evidence of his rise from lowly slave to the pharaoh's right-hand man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The story of the boy who ends up first in slavery in Egypt and then rises to the position of prime minister sounds fantastic, but it's not at all. Joseph fits remarkably well of what we know of Egypt around 1500 B.C.
AMANPOUR: There's evidence at that time of the Egyptian empire starting to weaken, when the pharaoh couldn't control every last corner of his vast empire. And a group of newcomers from the east was able to gain some power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That story, despite the miraculous elements, probably is grounded in actual events.
AMANPOUR: And what about that special gift of Joseph's that enraged his brothers so much and impressed the pharaoh?
Joseph attracted the attention of the pharaohs because of his talent in interpreting dreams. And in fact, he even interpreted the pharaohs' dreams. And just as they are today, dreams were incredibly important to ancient Egyptians as well. We know that because of the sphinx, and between his paws is what is known as the dream stealer.
It recounts a pharaoh's dream that he had a divine right to rule. It indicates something else that's important as well.
DONALD REDFORD, PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY: The writer or whoever it was who composed the Joseph story knew of Egypt in the 7th through 4th century B.C.
AMANPOUR: Even clues about Joseph's famous many colored coat can be seen in these carvings.
BRYAN: You see people coming from Canaan coming as traders and the Egyptians obviously were fascinated by them because their clothing which reminds us of the coat of many colors in the Joseph story were painted with the most care.
AMANPOUR: These ruins helped build a clearer picture of Joseph's time, even if they don't prove that Joseph ever lived. They also set the stage for a dramatic struggle against the mighty Egyptian empire. The bible's greatest story of the fight for freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Coming up, what do we know about Moses? His birthplace, his childhood in a pharaoh's palace? Who really built the pyramids, when "back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" returns.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: And now, we sail down the Nile. What new information did we find about the pyramids, and does it have anything to do with Moses? "back to the beginning with Christiane Amanpour" continues.
AMANPOUR: We start the next leg of our journey with captain Ahmad at the helm and a warm wind at our back. As this (INAUDIBLE) sails up the River Nile, the modern world seems to melt away, and I'm struck by the power and the history of Egypt's majestic waterway. We're here because this is the backdrop for the bible's timeless story of freedom and redemption.
This is where the Moses story begins. His mother had put him inside a reed basket and placed him on the Nile to save him and to protect him from the terror of the pharaoh at the time, who was having Israelite children murdered.
A prophet and a teacher, a leader and a lib rarity, Moses is revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews the world over. She is really, really fast. His story has touched so many lives, like captain Ahmad's. He's a devout Muslim.
What do you think Moses looked like? What does his face look like? Beard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Without a beard.
AMANPOUR: Without a beard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Little, but not big.
AMANPOUR: Not big. What's the most important thing for you about Moses?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He served humanity and the oppressed. God sent him to free the people from the pharaoh.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS, ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH IN THE CITY: Well, if I'm a slave and I've got a brutal master, and somebody is telling me about a guy who set his people free, I like that guy. I really do.
AMANPOUR: The bible tells us the Israelites were enslaved because the pharaoh was worried they had become too mighty in the land of Egypt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a certain point, the Jews became so numerous that the pharaohs said we're going to have a demographic problem soon. There are going to be too many Jews.
AMANPOUR: Pharaoh then ordered the women, whose job it was to bring Israelite babies into the world, to immediately kill any boys they delivered, but two refused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is supposedly the first written instance of any civil disobedience.
AMANPOUR: So it's really important what the midwives did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, it allowed Moses to be born and it set into action the story of Moses, and as Martin Luther King wrote in a letter from a Birmingham jail, there are just and unjust laws and when we encounter an unjust law, we must disobey.
AMANPOUR: Like Moses' mother who disobeys his pharaoh. She hides her infant son as long as she can. But then she has to make a desperate decision.
As you look at the modern Nile, it's hard to imagine this heartbreaking scene from a story set more than 3,000 years ago. But just across the river, we find a more accessible window on this past.
What are we doing here? It's kind of kitsch, isn't it?
LORI LAWSON, AMERICAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR: A little bit, but the educational value of this place is significant.
Lori Lawson is an American biblical scholar who lives and works in Egypt. We met her at Cairo's Faronic village. It's a theme park of sorts, a place where tourists can go to see the Moses story come to life. The Moses story happened along somewhere that looked very much like this.
LAWSON: Right. Right.
AMANPOUR: Most of us picture ancient Egypt with its huge monuments and grandeur, but Lori said most people lived simple lives as farmers and fishermen.
What is he doing?
LAWSON: He's fishing. He's trying to scare the fish to the right place.
AMANPOUR: Are they real?
LAWSON: They're probably plastic.
LAWSON: Plastic, yes.
AMANPOUR: Despite the low-budget special effects, Lori Lawson tells me it's fairly accurate in its depiction of the world Moses was born into.
LAWSON: The text tells us his mother made a basket and put him in it and pushed him off, undoubtedly in just the right place so someone would find him.
AMANPOUR: Well, guess what --
LAWSON: Ah, here he is.
AMANPOUR: As if we had planned it.
LAWSON: Very nice.
AMANPOUR: In a twist of feat typical of the biblical narrative, Moses winds up at the home of the very man who ordered his death.
VISTOZKY: He's rescued by none other than pharaoh's daughter. Pharaoh's daughter adopts him, raises him in the palace.
LAWSON: The text does tell us that he was educated in all of the ways of the Egyptians, so he was educated as a warrior, in reading and writing, as a scribe, everything.
AMANPOUR: As Moses grows up in the palace among the Egyptian elite, we're told that his people, the Israelites, labor rigorously with bricks and mortar. And of all the building projects from the time of the pharaohs, one stands alone.
We're driving through quite a bleak part of Cairo. Really very un- grand, if you like, and yet we're about to happen across one of the greatest feats of human engineering ever, ever contemplated. What everybody thinks they know about the pyramids is that the Israelites built them. We're going to find out whether that's true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to show you a very interesting discovery.
AMANPOUR: (INAUDIBLE) man is a famous Egyptian archeologist. He says a massive amount of manpower would have been needed to build these pyramids. Whose pyramid is that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the period of Khufu.
AMANPOUR: And that took 10,000 people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10,000 workman actually lived here in this place.
AMANPOUR: Next to the ruins of the village where the workmen lived, there's an ancient cemetery. The tombs of the pyramid builders are a significant discovery that's answered many questions about who they were.
OK, were the builder of the pyramids Israelites?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At all, no.
AMANPOUR: Come on. Everybody thinks they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not true. This is an idea that maybe you think about it because you never studied anything.
AMANPOUR: While he's setting me straight -- my son Darius is checking out one of the tombs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's his son, who wants a bird. And he gets a bird. See now the story's over.
AMANPOUR: Maybe we should leave the hieroglyphics to the experts, but before the doctor takes me into the tomb, a friendly warning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This tomb, it has a curse.
AMANPOUR: I don't want to go in then.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will take you, because if you will switch what I'm talking in this program, the curse of the pharaoh will rest on you. Come with me.
AMANPOUR: Inside the tomb, he shows me evidence that the pyramids were not built by the Israelites.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at the name of this guy, it's an Egyptian name. And all the names that are found in every tomb here, completely Egyptian.
AMANPOUR: And (INAUDIBLE) says the way the workers were buried also provides evidence that they were not slaves. He believes they were simply poor laborers who paid their taxes by toiling for the pharaoh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A tomb of a poor man who has nothing. He built a mud brick tomb, and beside him, he put a jar to have a beer in the afterlife. Beer were invented in ancient Egypt. They had (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: The idea that the pyramids were built by Israelite slaves is a popular misconception, but the doctor says there is evidence that the Israelites did work on other building projects in ancient Egypt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they were participating in the structure of temples.
AMANPOUR: When was that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Later, like 900 years from now.
AMANPOUR: The bible tells us even though Moses is learning to be an Egyptian, he can see that his people are suffering, and he never forgets where he came from.
VISTOZKY: He sees a moment in which an Egyptian task master abuses an Israelite slave.
ESTHER HAMORI, PROFESSOR: Moses has some anger management issues. He beats an Egyptian to death. And he sort of looks around and hides the guy in the sand. Right? He thinks he's gotten away with it.
AMANPOUR: But the pharaoh hears about what happened and he tries to have Moses killed.
VISTOZKY: Well, now he's a wanted murder. He flees far from his family, far from Egypt.
AMANPOUR: Moses heads into the unforgiving Sinai desert where he has a date with destiny. Little does he know he's about to get the call- up of a lifetime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us. There are still so many stories to tell and adventures that lie ahead.
We're off to look for evidence of the exodus. We follow the Israelites' path through the wilderness, staying one step ahead of a notorious desert bandit.
Our guide is carrying a gun. We visit the real Armageddon, and we climb Mt. Sinai, where the bible says Moses received the ten commandments.
So join us again as we continue our journey back, back to the beginning.
Until then, I'm Christiane Amanpour. Good night from Jerusalem.