Israel-Jerusalem_Old_CityOne of my majors in college was Biblical Literature.

My school was a part of network of colleges that allowed students to spend a semester at another in-network school. One of those schools was in Jerusalem. So I literally had the option to study the Bible in Israel or Indiana.

I loved Taylor, and all of my Hoosier friends … but the choice was pretty easy.

Fall Semester 1995 – Institute of Holy Land Studies (Conveniently located between Jaffa and Zion Gates on the Old City Wall of Jerusalem!)

That experience was deeply influential for me. I often think back about that semester and the lessons that I learned. At the time a few of us wrote up a very funny Top Ten List of why students should study there. I can’t find that list, so I will just write about a few lessons that transformed my thinking. I write this realizing that plenty of people will disagree with me. I may have disagreed before the trip.

It is Not about the Land: My expectation of the semester was that I was going to Biblical Disneyland, a place with spirituality flowing out of the rocks! That was not my experience. The land, air, and water were …well … normal. Initially, this was a disappointment. Eventually, this became an encouragement. I realized that the stories in the bible are about real people in the real world. That makes it all the more relevant to me.

Christianity Did Not Start in Europe in the 1600s: While none of us say it, my experience in church and theological education functioned like Christianity really started in Europe in the 1600s. The language, framework, and debates are almost exclusively from that era. As I studied the ancient biblical world I discovered that many of those things were not on the grid of the original biblical audience. While I think that we can learn from Europe 1600s (or 1000, or America 1950), we have far more information about the ancient world and the ancient biblical texts than any of those eras. We would do well to spend more time focused on the true origins of the faith and our present context. This would eliminate much of our current debate and ineffectiveness.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict is Complex: I went to Israel thinking that I had a good grip on the modern Middle East. I believed that it was playing out ancient “biblical prophecies,” which (somehow) translated into “Israel is good and Arabs are bad.” Those views were quickly challenged and changed. The texts that I had heard so much about on late night religious TV during the first Gulf War, had nothing to do with the modern Middle East (or America). Furthermore, even if (BIG IF) the modern state of Israel has anything to do with the Israel of the Bible, then we should hold them to the standards of justice and mercy which are so clearly described in the Bible. We should call all sides toward peace, which is the actual fulfillment of the biblical prophecies.