Monday, March 2, 2015

Alain Epp Weaver's recent book is the subject of an extensive discussion at the journal Syndicate, at which four authors will engage with Epp Weaver's book. Readers interested in this theopolitical conversation will be richly rewarded. Check back every few days for new essays. After the online versions have been posted, the essays will only be available in the print edition. The editor begins his introduction this way:

"Talking about Palestinian-Israeli affairs is very uncomfortable. It is a practical matter of grave significance for contemporary foreign affairs and a historical malaise of maddening perplexity; the lack of peace has tragically grave consequences as we all learned this last July when escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza led to the deaths of over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza and 71 Israelis. The historical complexity of the political reality is redoubled when the issues therein are discussed as political-theological matters, mostly because political theology itself is inherently awkward. Political theology forces us to discuss topics that are gauche, uncouth, and imprudent: violence, sovereignty, God, rights, and money. And so, one can be forgiven for thinking that, if it is taken up as a political-theological matter, any further discussion of the distance between Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives (not to mention the multiplicities therein) about how to organize and arrange—that is, to map—their collective futures, only promises to deepen the distrust, pain, and dispossession."

Click here to read more

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2016 Dates: Planning Begins!!

Planning is underway for the 2016 tour. Although the itinerary has not yet been set, the dates are more or less firm. I hear from my agent in Jerusalem that in spite of the political challenges in the region, study and pilgrimage tours are still flourishing.

I look forward to leading my ninth tour to the region. During the next year I will be posting a variety of items of interest for participants. I will post links to articles and websites. Some may be items of archaeological interest, and some will have a theological and/or political bent. You are welcome to peruse past posts, although be aware that some of links that I refer to may no longer be active.

Please contact me if you are interested in participating (for my contact information, please go to the tour website at the link on the right side of this page). Although it's not required, you  may participate in the tour for academic credit (undergraduate or graduate).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pilgrims, Students, Tourists

I tell groups that they will experience their participation in a study tour in at least three ways: as pilgrims, students, and tourists. 

Tourists come to gather experiences, photos, and souvenirs. As tourists we are consumers. Of course there are now special ways of re-configuring tourism, like "eco-tourism" or "tourism with a purpose," by which is meant doing volunteer work for a time before savoring some beach time. Being a tourist is great fun. And it has its place. I love being a tourist. I have no responsibilities. And I escape the hectic life at home in exchange for a completely different kind of hectic. And that can be rejuvenating for a time.

On a study tour like this one, we find ourselves immersed in learning. We become students for a large part of every day. We visit ancient historical sites. We listen to our guide explain the historical context of the site. We hear the stories of local people, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We ask questions and hope to learn from their experience of living in this troubled land.

And we are pilgrims who come prayerfully. We hope to enter the biblical story not only in our imaginations, but also with our feet firmly on the ground. I don't always understand the pilgrim ways of some of the people I see. I can't kiss the stones in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as some do. Yet I want to enter the story through the land and through its people today. The land, as Saint Jerome put it, can be a "fifth gospel." But it's not holy just because Jesus or Elijah walked here. What's holy is what happens, wherever we happen to find ourselves, as we are transformed to be agents of peace and reconciliation, in genuine community with others (even enemies).

Somewhere I received this quote about being a pilgrim: "There is a reason why the pilgrim’s journey involves going somewhere else. In order to experience transformation, the pilgrim must become vulnerable—he must expand his edges, crossing borders into new and unfamiliar territory. When the pilgrim journeys to a place beyond what he calls “home,” his senses are heightened, his vulnerabilities are brought to the surface and his perceptions are tested. In allowing these different parts of himself to come to the surface, he is able to be fully present in his journey amidst the discomfort and uncertainty, the mystery and the beauty." - From "Pilgrim Principles" by Lacy Clark Ellman, founder of A Sacred Journey Blog

One of the best resources on Christian pilgrimage to the land of the Bible is Tom Wright's book The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). 

Here is the publisher's blurb for the book: "The Way of the Lord is a book to be read with Christian pilgrimage in mind, whether one is traveling to the Holy Land physically or merely in heart and mind. Tom Wright, a world-renowned expert on the New Testament and the life of Jesus, offers a guide to pilgrimage that also serves as an inspirational introduction to the Christian faith. / Wright explores all the sites that travelers usually visit on a tour of the Holy Land, explaining not only what is to be seen but also the context of faith that makes these sites, and the events associated with them, famous around the world. By weaving together Old and New Testament stories, poetry, and original insights, Wright helps readers enter imaginatively into each scene. He also sprinkles his narratives with reflections on the nature of pilgrimage generally and with discussion of vital contemporary issues related to the Holy Land.  Vividly evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the Holy Land, The Way of the Lord is ideal for both individual and small-group study, for anyone planning a pilgrimage or for those just setting out on the spiritual journey of the Christian life."

One reviewer on the website offers a few perceptive comments on pilgrimage, and on the book: Gregory of Nyssa went out of his way to criticize the practice [of pilgrimage], arguing that it is important to be close to God and one's neighbors and that pilgrimage made no contribution to accomplishing either imperative. And in more recent times, C. S. Lewis asserted, "The significance of the incarnation is not that God is a god of one place to the exclusion of others; it is that he is a god of all places, active in his world . . . God is to be found especially in people; namely those in need and in the gathered community of the Church . . . It follows that to set off on a journey to grow nearer to Christ is at best a complex matter. It might be that the true search is among those in need . . ." For the ardent pilgrim, Lewis commends the words of Matthew 28.6: "He is not here; he is risen." There is a certain logic to Lewis's position, but at the same time, it misses an important point. Pilgrimage is not about going to a particular place to find God. It is about putting ourselves in a particular place so that God can find us. For people who struggle with the concept of pilgrimage and who are inclined to side with Gregory or Lewis, Tom Wright's brief, readable work on pilgrimage will be a welcome guide. Former Dean of Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire, England, and the new Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, Wright grew up in the evangelical tradition. He heard little or nothing about pilgrimage early in his life and his first exposure to the practice left him with doubts not unlike those expressed by Lewis. But much to his surprise, he discovered that "one can learn to discover the presence of God not only in the world, but through the world." This growing realization prompted him to write this sage little work that not only serves as an introduction to the practice of pilgrimage but is also, by design, "a refresher course, from an unusual angle, on what might be called `Christian basics'." Using locations in the Holy Land where Jesus walked, talked, and healed, Wright takes the reader on a virtual pilgrimage, combining biblical scholarship with catechesis and inspirational challenge. But Wright is never facile or dogmatic. His closing paragraph provides a taste of the rest: "We do not go on pilgrimage, then, because we have the answers and want to impose them. That would make us crusaders, not pilgrims; the world has had enough of that, and I dare say God has had enough of that. We go on the pilgrim way, we follow the way of the Lord, because he himself is the way - and, as he said himself, the truth and the life as well. We go to meet him afresh, to share his agony, and to pray and work for the victory he won on the cross to be implemented, and for his way to be followed, in Israel and Palestine, in our own countries and in the whole world."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Qumran & The Dead Sea Scrolls

Our first stop on May 6 will be in Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Palestinian shepherds. 

"The Dead Sea Scrolls have been called the greatest manuscript find of all time. Discovered between 1947 and 1956, the Dead Sea Scrolls comprise some 800 documents but in many tens of thousands of fragments. The Scrolls date from around 250 B.C. to 68 A.D. and were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; they contain Biblical and apocryphal works, prayers and legal texts and sectarian documents" (Biblical Archaeology Society).

Photo source

Begin by taking a look: view the 360 degree panorama or here. The Bible Places website also provides a visual orientation along with an overview of various aspects of the Qumran site. There  you will find a short list of related websites, including, for example, links to The Shrine of the Book (which we will be visiting) and its many resources, including an Interactive Virtual Tour, the Library of Congress Dead Sea Scrolls page (Washington, DC), and many others. For photos of the various caves, click here

One of the best websites for information about the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Biblical Archaeology Society's "Bible History Daily" page. Click on the various links on that page to read about the history and controversies surrounding the discovery of the scrolls. For example:

Have a look also at the following:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

PETRA: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Petra, one of our first stops in Jordan, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

We'll have a full day of exploring with an expert Jordanian guide. We expect to be out in the sun more or less all day, which does wonders for resetting the body's clock.

One website I saw recently said this about preparing for a visit to Jordan: "The best advice I heard before going to Jordan was 'don’t read anything about it.' A friend wanted me to be surprised. 'Especially before you go to Petra, don’t read anything.'" I agree that you shouldn't read anything if all you want is to be surprised by everything you see. I think, however, that the best visit is done by preparing ahead of time, immersing yourself in the experience during your visit, and then reflecting and doing more reading after returning.

The website Visit Jordan has a good page on Petra. "Often described as the eighth wonder of the ancient world, is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome."

The links on the left side of that page offer you entry into pages on history & culture, religion and faith, fun and adventure.

The Bible Places website has a good description along with a list of related websites. Of course Wikipedia will also provide a good general overview and photos.

Better yet, peruse these resources:

While in Petra we'll stay at the delightful Taybet Zaman Hotel, which is a restored 19th century Jordanian village.

Petra is a magical place. You will likely be drawn in by skillful Bedu children selling colourful jewelry.

But don't become distracted. Keep your eyes open for that unexpected sight.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Halva Kingdom: One of My First Stops on Our Free Day in Jerusalem!

I have a long list of things to do on our free day in Jerusalem (check out the link on the right side of this page). Since our free day is a Friday this year, it will be important to get to the Machane Yehuda market on Jaffa Road in West Jerusalem fairly early. I expect it to be crowded. I will go straight to Halva Kingdom and I will buy more than I did last time. Coffee Halva is my first pick.

From the website:

"Eli Mamman knows all the family secrets. Rooted in his Moroccan family, his recipes create this well-known Jerusalem-based sweet sesame treat. The halva sold at Halva Kingdom is only available at Machne Yehuda market, and the brand makes over a 100 different flavors and types.

The first Halva Kingdom store opened in 1947 in the Old City. After the Jews were deported from the Old City, the family opened up the store at the Machne Yehuda market. The halva is manufactured at a factory in Mishor Edomim. The process includes imported sesame from Ethiopia, millstone grinding of the seeds, and mixing the blend with sugar until it's as sweet as it gets."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It seems as though this series is no longer available, at least in Canada, via the internet. Still, look for it on CNN or on DVD.

A friend alerted me to this unconventional CNN documentary by Emmy Award winner Anthony Bourdain. He confesses to being "instinctively hostile to any kind of devotion" even though he seems to love food a lot (which is a kind of devotion, I'm sure). For those considering being part of a study tour to Israel and Palestine, this documentary will whet your appetite for good, honest, and difficult conversations, along with good Middle Eastern cuisine. Bourdain is irreverent. The documentary is quirky (meet the Speed Sisters who like to race their Peugot sports car). Watch it here:

This from the CNN website: "In the season premiere of "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown," the host and crew make their first trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. While the political situation is often tense between the people living in these areas, Bourdain concentrates on their rich history, food and culture, and spends time with local chefs, home cooks, writers and amateur foodies."

Click here to watch the entire 42 minutes.