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How King David predicted modern Judaism
Modern Jews are precisely the community King David envisioned, says scholar Joel Baden.
October 12th, 2013
09:05 AM ET

How King David predicted modern Judaism

Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) - Most American Jews consider Judaism to be mainly a matter of culture and ancestry, according to a recent poll. An even higher percentage describe themselves as emotionally attached to Israel. For this we have one person to thank: King David.

The Israel we know today is a nation that David created virtually out of thin air. Before David, there were two territories, Israel to the north, and Judah to the south.

By sheer force of personality—and, to be fair, substantial military strength—David combined these two lands under a single crown (his). Not only had this never happened before; no one had ever thought of it before.

Although the Bible makes it sound as if everyone loved David, and were desperate to follow him, this wasn’t really the case. David took power by force.

The people of Israel and Judah became part of David’s kingdom because he conquered them—they had no choice in the matter. Their only option was to abandon the land that they had held for centuries. And in a tight real estate market—every family believed that they had eternal rights to their property—moving was pretty much out of the question.

We tend to think of Israel in biblical terms: the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land of the 12 tribes. These concepts were created in the wake of David’s reign.

Everywhere that the Bible speaks of Judah and Israel together—the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the conquest—we encounter the ramifications of David’s actions.

The borders of the modern state of Israel today are, roughly, David’s borders, or at least those attributed to him by the biblical authors. (For the record: the West Bank was part of David’s kingdom; the Gaza Strip was not.)

And at the center of Israel, both ancient and modern, is the holy city of Jerusalem. This, too, is David’s doing. Before David, Jerusalem was a long-standing independent city-state, belonging to a long-lost people called the Jebusites.

MORE ON CNN: Why everyone fights over Jerusalem

Recognizing that its central location would be perfect for the capital of his newly united state—the ancient equivalent of Washington—David conquered it and wiped out its former inhabitants.

Because David is credited with founding the Temple in Jerusalem—although Solomon built the actual structure, David chose the site, set up an altar, and laid the conceptual groundwork—it’s natural enough to assume that there was some religious motivation at work.

But, in fact, David’s aim in inaugurating a site of worship in his capital was more economical than spiritual. Temples were sites of commerce—Jesus knew this—and having a culturally significant relic, in the form of the Ark of the Covenant, was sure to draw the people in.

Every lamb sacrificed in Jerusalem meant profit for the sanctuary, and for the king who controlled it. Every pilgrim meant a night’s stay in a local bed and breakfast (all fully taxable, of course).

David used belief as a lure to draw in the masses. But he didn’t care much what his people believed. The creation of the unified kingdom of Israel wasn’t based on shared religion.

The inhabitants of the north had very different practices from those in the south. And none of them was following Jewish law—the laws hadn’t been written yet, and wouldn’t be for centuries.

What united the people of David’s kingdom was, quite simply, that they lived there. It was a political state, not a religious one.

Israel then, like today, was primarily a political entity, and only secondarily a religious one. Those who considered themselves attached to Israel believed and practiced a whole range of things, or not; just like those who are attached to Israel today.

A Pew poll released earlier this month demonstrates the continuing pull of David’s Israel. Millions of American Jews financially support the modern state of Israel, either through donations or through tourism.

MORE ON CNN: Study: American Jews losing their religion

We feel the pull of the land, the sanctity of the ancient streets of Jerusalem. We fly El Al, we stay at the hotels, we eat at the restaurants, we pay to enter various sites.

That is: We’re still doing just what David wanted us to do. We are precisely the Jews who David envisioned—believing whatever we want, just so long as we spend our money in Israel.

Joel S. Baden is the author of “The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero,” and an associate professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. The views expressed in this column belong to Baden.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Israel • Jerusalem • Judaism • Middle East

soundoff (869 Responses)
  1. David L Martin

    Have any of you that are complaining about this article and its author even bothered to look up Joel S. Baden to see who he is and what he does? He is Jewish. He is an Associate Professor of Old Testament. At Yale Divinity School. I am sure he has forgotten more about the old testament than most of us have ever learn about the old testament.

    October 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  2. ancv1992

    Well said!

    October 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  3. JM

    “There have been men before … who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but to exist. There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

    October 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • C.S. Lewis

      The Xtian snuggie.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  4. FactCheck

    The current Jewish year is 5774. David lived from 1040-970 BC. In other words, David was born after Judaism had aleady existed for 2721 years. (Because the Jewish calendar years uses a lunar, rather than solar, measurement, there is some variation in measurement in years - particularly prior to 300 BC - but Judaism would have still existed for thousands of years before David came on the scene.). If the purpose of the article is to show that Judaism has long had both cultural and religious components, that would be true. But if the article is suggesting that David was the creator of Judiasm, and that it was intended to be primarily cultural, rather than religious, then the article is a misplaced and inaccurate fabrication (in addition to its clear factual inaccuracy). On the other hand, if the article is merely intended to suggest that David's view of Judaism focused on the cultural aspects of the religion, rather than the doctrinal aspects of the religion - and that this culturally focused viewpoint is prominently echoed in Judaism today (including in Israel) - perhaps there is some truth in this assertion.

    October 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Robert Trout

      "Judaism" did not exist prior to the time of Moses. The term "jew" or "jews" does not even appear in the TANAKH until second Kings, written long after the time of David.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • guaraya

      Well said!

      October 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • ancv1992

      Well said!

      October 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Ron Gibson

      "Dinosaur" did not exist before the 1800"s. According to the argument that is being extrapolated, does that mean that dinosaurs didn't exist until the 1800's? Jew and Judiasm are words that are used today that mean Children of Isreal or Hebrew (which was used back in Genesis, before David).

      October 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Thinker23

      "FactCheck"... Apparently, you're confusing Judaism with the world (Universe) itself.

      October 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Gearoid

      There is no evidence for Hebrew monotheism prior to 650 BCE, while there is considerable evidence opposing it. What you state here is not supported by evidence.

      October 13, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  5. George

    And in the end, they will not put up with sound truth and instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of those purported to have knowledge to say what their itching ears want to hear. That is exactly what this article does. Those who reject any Creator will lap up the lies without questioning anything. Oh... the very same thing they accuse Christians and Jews of doing. Talk about hypocrites!

    October 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      why do people insist on claiming this author, who is 'an associate professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School' is an unbeliever?

      October 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
      • Thinker23

        Probably because those making such claims are convinced that only THEIR beliefs are true and correct.

        October 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

    David sure took a lot of liberty with our story. But at least Bob put me into some fabulous costumes.

    October 13, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  7. David David

    Who really wrote the Bible?

    October 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Robert Trout

      "But, in fact, David’s aim in inaugurating a site of worship in his capital was more economical than spiritual." Professor, I think you mean "economic" not "economical." Also, have you ever heard of King Saul? I think he was king over all the Hebrew tribes at the time, although David appears to have extended his kingdom in several directions.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  8. MoBuckeye

    Kyle is spot-on correct.

    October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  9. MoBuckeye

    This is so offensive and ridiculous I can't even imagine what would bring CNN to publish it. What a joke.

    October 13, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Thinker23

      If you bothered to tell us WHO was offended by this article you would, hopefully, imagine the possible reasons CNN published it.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Whatever

      I'll tell you. Atheists are in abundance in the media these days. Who do they want to offend? Why, the majority of religious folk, of course. Their efforts are usually misguided attempts to shame religious folk into atheistic and/or liberal views, as in this transparent article. They call out religion while normally bashing Christianity and turning a blind eye to Islam, which they seem to claim is oppressed in spite of the fact that there are almost as many muslims as Christians in the world. I'm sure not to be the only one who thinks this so-called belief blog was set up by a group of atheists intent on putting up thinly-veiled atheistic propaganda and causing doubts among the religious.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
      • Pragmatist

        Jesus was a liberal.

        October 13, 2013 at 11:25 am |
        • Evelyn Connaway

          Pragmatist – So far, the only real true comment made about anything, thanks. I keep telling people that over and over, but all those people and politicians who claim to be Christians don't understand what a true Liberal is. All they need to do is follow the life of Jesus Christ as it is taught in the Bible. Of course if they really did and understood what they have read – they would all drop every religious denomination now standing!

          October 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
      • Cedar rapids

        you think the author of this article is an atheist or something?

        October 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
      • Ted turner

        Ted Turner owns CNN. He is an Atheist. Not hard to read between the lines.

        October 13, 2013 at 11:55 am |
        • Ummm

          I am guessing that since you disdain mainstream media that you missed than Turner sold CNN and other properties nearly 20 years ago to Time Warner and then was subsequently forced out.

          October 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  10. Kyle

    How could someone write such a twisted and blatantly incorrect view of David, Israel & Jerusalem? There are so many false revisionist claims in this article, it is sickening. Read the Biblical accounts for yourself!

    October 13, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Thinker23

      When you accuse someone of writing "such a twisted and blatantly incorrect view" you're expected to SHOW the "untwisted and correct" alternative and PROVE that the alternative you've offered is indeed "untwisted and correct".

      October 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
      • George

        And where is Joel's proof that this is the correct version? You only approve of it because it gives your unproven notions some sort of justification.

        October 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
        • NK

          like he said, read the bible for your self

          October 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
      • christian fai

        (such a twisted and blatantly incorrect view): Is any view that does not take into account any writings of those who lived during King David era in order to elaborate a personal opinion of how King David "predicted modern Judaism." (SHOW the "untwisted and correct" alternative): 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel in the Bible is the most accurate description of how King David united ancient Israel under a single government under his authority. (PROVE that the alternative you've offered is indeed "untwisted and correct): The alternative to the one given here was is written in the Bible in 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel in the Bible. To give a different story to that one would be the equivalent of a college student in Iran explaining how John F. Kennedy became president without any knowledge of how the American political system works and coming up with conclusions that is not supported by anything that has been written or said by those who knew JFK before he was elected US president.

        October 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
        • Thinker23

          christian fai... What makes you believe that 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel in the Bible is indeed the true and correct description of the events? (Hint: Can you show at least one INDEPENDENT source supporting it?)

          October 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  11. Jesus was a space alien

    Religion is the source of much of mankind's suffering. David was more interested in profiting from tourists and taxes then their religious beliefs. That is closer to the truth.

    October 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • Tim

      You're looking in the mirror again aren't you? Your morality-bereft atheism is the cause of all human evil and suffering. Eradicate atheism!

      October 13, 2013 at 11:02 am |
      • Anthony

        How exactly do you propose we "eradicate" atheism? Forcible conversion?

        October 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
        • Evelyn Connaway

          Oh dear, not another Inquisition!

          October 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Atheism is not morality bereft. Atheims is merely a lack of belief in god. No morality is involved anywhere in such a lack of belief.

        Besides, god's morality is subjective and "might makes right." He tells us to "love our enemies," while he fries his forever in a pit of eternal fire. He says, "Don't murder" but he slaughters an entire planet full in a world-wide flood (giggle).

        October 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
        • General Right

          You are correct only in that atheism lacks belief in an all-knowing God. The obvious implications are that there is no ultimate meaning to life and there is no being who knows what you really are and what actions you do in secret. The implication is that there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with murder, theft, incest, you name it. In fact, there is no such thing as right and wrong, only selfishness and what makes you happiest in your brief and meaningless life. I despise atheism, and I feel sorry for those who merely drop their beliefs. without thoroughly examining the new ones they adopt.

          October 13, 2013 at 11:35 am |
        • Cedar rapids

          sorry general right but that is such a total load of crap, it really is.
          your 'implications' are actually 'assumptions' made from a viewpoint of looking in from the outside.
          we dont need a diety to determine morality. Its actually worse that you think you need a diety to give you instructions of how to behave because you cannot make that determination on your own.

          October 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          @General Right

          I can tell that you are very tied to your reasoning and believe that your perspective is THE only way to see things. However, much of your reasoning is faulty and your logic is fallacious. You should be concerned where your beliefs are based on faulty thinking.

          Atheism is only a disbelief in god; therefore, it does not touch on the issue of "morality.'

          Morality (right/wrong) are concepts designed and maintained by the human mind. I don't know about other atheist, for sure (though I suspect that many might agree with me), but a disbelief in god does not concern itself with some "ultimate meaning" for the universe. Just because you can formulate a question does not mean that the question has any meaning itself; the question may be complete bunk. For example: "What is the correct way to pour water out of a cup?"

          Morality, as I understand it, deals with individual decisions within a context of other decisions. Thus, the more about the context and the individual decisions we understand, the clearer "the right" decision becomes. But, the question remains: By what method do we always determine a correct decision. (With biblegod, you never know what the fvck that evil d!ck might decide. Hell, torture, drowning, baby killing, you name it. It's all up for grabs).

          I have a method by which to make the best moral decision possible. It is simple, effective, and so powerful that I have never found a way to administer it where it would not prove the best tool possible. I will share it with you when you share your process with me. Of course, this process must be applicable in all situations, so consider that when explaining your answer.

          October 13, 2013 at 11:56 am |
        • Evelyn Connaway

          It does give one food for thought – but I always felt that the different men who co-wrote the Bible, stated these were God's words, but I have this strong feeling those various men who did the writing, used statements like these as fear tactics, in their lies, much as politicians do today – and they make it sound to real, that it is hard to tell the truth from the lies. We are all God's children – having children of my own, they is no way I would torture them by hell fire, no matter what they did. So I wonder why anyone would accuse God of such a thing, when he has a greater capacity for love, than we do!! He said, if you believe in him and follow, you can have everlasting life. Or as some of us believe you can go back to the dust from which he made you. Since there is no way to prove any of the pro's and con's of the Bible, we will have to wait until the Judgment Day when he brings all back to face him and he makes the decision to keep you or send you back to your hole in the ground. All I know is my belief in God and Jesus Christ, satisfies my soul, sinner that I am, I have to wait like the rest of the world to find out what he has in store for us.

          October 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Ahmad

      You are right the author is another Jew promoting religion for his own profit as well. I wish there where no religion on earth people could live more in harmony and happiness.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
      • Tim

        Are you serious? Are atheists even capable of comprehending English? The author is quite obviously making fun of "cultural Jews" as well as Jewish and Christian believers for supporting Israel. Typical liberal.

        October 13, 2013 at 11:20 am |
        • Brett

          If that wasn't bad enough, he's creating his own speculative history to do it. There are no primary sources for his views, there are only his machinations and the Bible, which he so conveniently dismisses. By the way...where is any mention of Saul?

          October 13, 2013 at 11:27 am |
      • Thinker23

        The fact that you see the author of the article as "another Jew" proves that the problem is NOT religion but RACISM. Frankly, I do not think that the proportion of racists among the atheists is lower than their proportion among the religious people.

        October 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  12. William Bellah

    In one breath we use the Bible to authenticate our theories, in the next we use our theories to discredit the Bible.

    October 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • sybaris

      It would be folly to validate theories utilizing a single source. That is called circular logic

      October 13, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  13. Gheorghe Gheorghe

    Typical liberal rewriting of history. Even if much of the Hebrew Bible is late (let's say Persian) – it was still written well ahead of Joel Baden and much closer to the events.

    But leave it to Joel to rewrite it 3000 years letter, more accurate and certain (notice the assured tone in all his affirmations) than the Bible itself.

    ISRAEL existed well before David (see Merneptah Stela) as a people. Now it became a looser federation during the time of the Judges (as even the Bible makes it clear), but what united these people was the worship of YHWH (see the old Song of Deborah in Judges 5).

    What is funny/sad about these re-writings (historical and scientific) of history is that most of the time they disagree with each other and (sometimes vehemently) criticize each other.

    Easy to explain – when you throw away the Biblical view you have to make up different scenarios and speculate quite a bit. Hence the diversity of views on the formation of Israel, David etc...

    October 13, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Whatever

      Right on. I don't know whether to ignore Joel S. Baden's revisionist history now or whether to pay attention to it. Unfortunately, sometimes it is good to know the latest loon's populist and politicized theories.

      October 13, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  14. Kris in AL

    I'm not very interested in ancient Middle East history. My limited focus is on the plight of the Jews starting in 1933 through the present.

    Two words........ NEVER AGAIN!!!

    October 13, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • tony

      Which had nothing at all to do with the Palestinians, but somehow they ended up in an even worse situation.

      October 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
      • zeteboy

        The "plight" of the 'palestinians" is completely of their own doing. If they were trustworthy and could live with everyone else the would not be doing so badly.
        Their own arab "brothers" do not even trust them. Thats why they are kept in camps in all the arab countries.

        October 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
      • Thinker23

        As long as the Palestinians are willing their war against Israel to continue it will continue and tthe Palestinians will continue enjoying its fruits...

        October 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  15. steven.ferzacca@uleth.ca

    blogs are sources of "opinion" only - that's the problem today - everybody is some kind of expert, truths are personal, the article is just another person spouting their own personal beliefs as if they are fact... the foundation of the Tea Party.

    October 13, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Chris

      Thanks for sharing your opinion and, as an aside, I recommend you look up the words irony and hypocrite.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  16. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    "Not only had this never happened before; no one had ever thought of it before."
    -where is he getting this from ?

    assyria was around since the 24 century BC. they had an EMPIRE. how do you have an empire if you aren't combining city states ? and this all happened WAY before King David was even born !

    "Assyria was originally one of a number of Akkadian city states in Mesopotamia. In the late 24th century BC, Assyrian kings were regional leaders only, and subject to Sargon of Akkad, who united all the Akkadian Semites and Sumerian-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire, which lasted from c. 2334 BC to 2154 BC. Following the fall of the Akkadian Empire c. 2154 BC,[5] and the succeeding Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, there were a number of other competing Amorite states, such as Isin and Larsa, but Mesopotamia eventually coalesced into two distinct nations: Assyria in the north, and Babylonia in the south"

    how does a simple google search out-think an ivy league phd ! ?

    October 13, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Protinga

      Good point! I wonder whether Baden meant no Jewish leader every thought of it before. I bet he's familiar with the history you outline.

      October 13, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Whatever

      Because Ivy League is for rich, white know-it-alls who are educated beyond their intelligence. They are worthless bastions of post-modernistic thought.

      October 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • David L Martin

      Ask him. A simple Google search will get you his email address on the Yale Divinity School web site.

      October 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • Evelyn Connaway

      Ind3p3nd3nt – A simple research on Google, when one is looking for the truth about any subject, place, person or thing. To bad people don't spend more of their time looking for the truth, instead of watching sports and playing games. If our country had been researching our real history instead of the made up version by religious leaders and government leaders who have been trying to put the fear of God and our countries power of using the military and justice system laws to control the masses by fear, we wouldn't be in the the place we are today. We have had some evil presidents in the US, to bad we didn't have Google all those years ago, and men who actually believe in freedom of speech and actually would tell the truth – we would be in a different place.

      October 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  17. tort

    Shine you light, shine your light on me
    Ya know I just couldn't make it by myself
    I'm a little too blind to see.

    My so called friends have fallen under a spell
    They look me squarely in the eye and they say, "Well all is well'"

    Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
    When men will beg God to kill them and they won't be able to die.

    October 13, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  18. stjamesmontreal

    This article is an opinion piece summarizing the point of an entire book. So to those up in arms about where's the proof, admittedly a fair question, you should probably check out the footnotes of the scholarly book he's summarizing.

    What really stuns me is all the people who just don't agree with the article who are attacking the author as being some how undereducated or anti-semitic. He has a PhD in Hebrew Bible from Harvard, is a professor of Old Testament at Yale, and is Jewish. You can disagree with him, but random interneters claiming to be more "qualified" than Joel Baden is a bit ridiculous.

    Also if you were familiar with leading scholarship in Bible and ancient Israelite history right now, you'd be stunned to know that Baden's belief in the historical existence of David actually puts him somewhat on the conservative end of the spectrum!

    October 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      and yet the author doesn't seem to know anything about Gilgamesh or Assyria

      October 13, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • metzitzat b'peh is so gross

      There is ZERO "historical" evidence of the King David as described in the Old Testament. Just add there is zero historical evidence of any Israel or Judaism going back to an "ancient Israel". No exodus, no crossing the river and slaughtering the locals, no Abraham (unless we are speaking of Akhenaten), no Moses, ........

      Seems Jews who've worked so hard to destroy Christianity in America will soon have their turn to realize their basis is simple myth.

      October 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  19. DODO

    Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these." And He said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

    stolen. originally what hercules said to horus

    October 13, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • tort

      spiritual warfare
      flesh and blood breakin down

      Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief
      and there ain't neutral ground

      The enemy is subtle, how be it we are so deceived
      When the truth's in our hearts and we still don't believe?

      October 13, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • rs1201

      This author has absolutely misinterpreted the bonds that bind Jews to Israel and to its capital, Jerusalem. As a Jew, the feelings I have when I'm in Israel are indescribable...I'm home...with my family...with people whose backgrounds are similar to mine...who have lost family members in the ovens and gas chambers of Dachau and Auschwitz...who have experienced the pain of antisemitism sometimes in silence and always by people we thought we knew.
      I don't think of David when I'm in Israel...I think of Ben Gurion and the other Zionist giants who built Israel and died to keep it safe. Every Jew knows deep down that every leader of Israel has had at the heart of any policy the good of Israel and its people. It's a Jewish thing...our love for Israel and its safety is untouchable. Only a Jew would understand those feelings I'm describing!

      October 13, 2013 at 9:19 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.