Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Next Year in Jerusalem?

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

I’m writing this during my first trip to Israel. I’m here at Jerusalem University College (JUC), auditing their three-week course on Historical and Geographical Settings of the Bible, which is being taught by Dr. Carl Rasmussen (author of the Zondervan Bible Atlas, who lived here for 16 years and has an exhaustive knowledge of the land). This has been a wonderful experience. JUC has many years of experience in teaching these courses and their faculty (as in the case of Dr. Rasmussen) really know their stuff.
Although the course has more of an emphasis on Old Testament contexts there is plenty of New Testament context in the course as well. We have walked all over Jerusalem multiple times (I’ve done so a few more times in my free time). Just thinking of things relating to New Testament times or events, I/we’ve been to the pool of Siloam, the pool of Bethesda, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial and, hence, resurrection), the “Garden Tomb” and “Gordon’s Calvary” (alternative sites for the same, promoted by some), the traditional site of the garden of Gethsemane, the Temple Mount, sat on the steps to the Hulda Gates (gates in the southern wall of the Temple Mount), and more. Outside Jerusalem we’ve been (among other places) to the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem (and the traditional site of Christ’s birth), Masada, Qumran. Tomorrow we leave for a four-day trip to Galilee and then a day in Samaria. So far each day has given me clearer images and understandings of biblical things and events and why things happened they way they did or were done the way they were.
Does someone have to come to Israel to understand (most of) the Bible? Of course not. Most of the readers of the Bible throughout history never lived in or visited the places mentioned within it. Most of the original readers of the New Testament had probably never lived in or visited the places mentioned in the Bible. (Of course most of the original readers of the Old Testament did live in the land and knew these places.) But seeing these places and learning about the geology and geography helps one not only visualize what took place but understand more clearly the strategic importance of many of the places mentioned and how they relate to other places mentioned in the biblical narratives.
Visual perception and how maps, pictures and diagrams don’t do the same (at least for me) as actually seeing the places and things and recognizing their sizes, proportions, physical relationships with other objects, etc. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you take a course like the one I’m doing right now. For the JUC course see their website and check out the short-term programs. Gordon-Conwell will be offering its own “Study Seminar in Israel and Jordan” in January of 2011, led by the highly competent Dr. Jim Critchlow. You can see his excellent syllabus. If you are interested in going along I suggest you contact the GCTS Hamilton registration office as soon as possible to see if there are any slots left!
If you are a student at GCTS you might speak with the chair of the division of biblical studies about how you might include one of these courses in your program. If you are an alumnus/alumna of GCTS and in full-time ministry, I recommend you consider coming for one of these courses during a sabbatical break from your ministry if possible. If you find yourself in a different situation you may have other means of or better times for coming.
For those who may not be able to come, I can recommend Dr. Carl Rasmussen’s website, “Holy Land Photos,” as a source of wonderful pictures about just about any place of interest in the lands of the Old or New Testament.
The words “Next year in Jerusalem” are usually recited by Jews at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder. But perhaps it would be an apt phrase to keep in mind when you think of your plans for biblical study, spiritual renewal or professional development as well!

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