Rs-155-1 Geography, History, and Religions of the Holy Land

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RS-155-1 Geography, History, and Religions of the Holy Land

June 2008

Instructor: The Rev. William B. Nelson, Ph.D.

Professor of Religious Studies

Office Hours: By appointment. PC 9; Ph x6167; Fax x7101. E-mail:
Time and Place: June 2-6: (on campus) 3:15-5:15 MG 4

June 8-29 (in Israel and Jordan): lectures on site and occasional class meetings in the evening in the hotels

Course Description
This course introduces students to Syro-Palestinian archaeology, the historical geography of Israel and Jordan, and the history of Israel from ancient times to the Byzantine period. Important regions and sites will be visited and the relevant archaeological, historical, and biblical material will be correlated with those places. Readings, preparatory map studies, and lectures provide the background for the field trips. Regions studied and visited include Galilee, the Golan Heights, Judah, Samaria, the Negev, the Shephelah, the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys, Benjamin, the Sharon Plain, Philistia, and in Transjordan, Gilead, Ammon, the Medaba Plateau, Moab, and Edom. The course will also explore the modern states of Israel and Jordan, the nascent state administered by the Palestinian Authority, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the religious traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in the Holy Land.
The Place of RS 155 in the General Education Curriculum
Thinking Historically
One popular notion of history is that events from the past are known and can be passed on as facts. In such an understanding, the student’s task is simply to memorize the information. This view is seriously deficient. Thinking historically involves studying texts and cultural artifacts from the past and learning to interpret them. Students must use their critical faculties to analyze and synthesize the historical data in order to draw warranted conclusions about what really happened and what the causes were behind the reconstructed events. Scholars must be content with greater or lesser probability rather than with certainty. It is important to read primary sources and to situate them in their proper geographical, historical, sociological, and political contexts. Since students in this course will not have the language background necessary to allow reading the primary sources in their original languages, they will read them in English translations. For the ancient history of Israel and the history of early Christianity, we will largely rely on the Bible, with some reference to ancient Near Eastern texts. We will also pay careful attention to the archaeological remains to help us reconstruct our picture of Israel and the church in the Old and New Testament periods. It is also important to study the geography, topography, geology, and weather patterns of the land because these disciplines help us to frame questions relevant to the life of the people in this region:

  • How did they travel given the existing mountains and valleys?

  • Where were the roads?

  • What kinds of soil resulted from the geological formations and what crops would they support?

  • What was the rainfall in a given area and how did that determine settlement patterns?

  • What were the sources of water?

This course will also survey the modern history of the region from the 19th century to the present, emphasizing key events, such as the rise of Zionism, the creation of the state of Israel, the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973, and various attempts at peacemaking (e.g. the Camp David accords, Oslo I, Madrid, Oslo II, Road Map). Care will be taken to hear all sides (various Arab, Israeli, and U.S. viewpoints) of the conflict.

Thinking Globally

Almost every aspect of this course confronts the student with otherness. When one studies the Old Testament, one becomes aware that the world in which it originated was quite different from ours. It was ancient not modern. It was Eastern, not Western. Its culture was Semitic, not Indo-European. The ancient Israelites were aware of the geography and history of their own land and that of their neighbors (Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, etc.); we often are not. Furthermore, they were aware of the religions and mythopoeic world views of their neighbors. Although Israelite religion was unique in being monotheistic, it also shared some similarities with other religions. This course will consider a) how ancient Israel’s culture was alike and different from its neighbors, and b) how it was alike and different from our own.

Although the New Testament is perhaps not as foreign, since it is more recent and was written in Greek, an Indo-European language, it still comes out of a matrix different from ours: Greco-Roman, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, 1st Century A.D. This course will also compare and contrast the developing mentality the early Christians with a) that of the Greco-Roman and Jewish environment, and b) that of ours today.

By studying Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in the Middle East, students will become familiar with global perspectives on faith which are foreign to them. They will grapple with similarities and differences between these three monotheistic religions. They will be exposed to the historical development and to the key beliefs and practices of each tradition. Perhaps most challenging will be engaging with other Christian traditions, such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian), Maronite, Ethiopic, and Coptic, to see how Christianity has been contextualized in the Holy Land. Some attention will also be paid to local expressions of Protestantism.

By examining the modern states of Israel and Jordan, students will explore the history of Jews and Arabs in the region, the multi-party political system of Israel’s government, the Palestinian Authority and the various Palestinian Arab factions (such as the PLO, Fatah, PFLP, Hamas), the kingdom of Jordan, and the Arab-Israeli crisis. We will have four guest lectures by 1) a Muslim Arab, 2) a Christian Arab, 3) a Jew, and 4) a Messianic Jew. These will help us to hear the perspectives of other traditions by people who live there, in their own voices.
Textbooks: Aharoni, Yohanan, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F. Rainey, and Ze’ev Safrai. The Carta Bible Atlas (CBA). 4th ed. Jerusalem: Carta, 2002.

Bickerton, Ian J. and Carla L. Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Coogan, Michael, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). 3rd ed. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Lancaster, Steven P. and James M. Monson. Regional Study Guide: Introductory Map Studies in the Land of the Bible (RSG). Rockford: Biblical Backgrounds, 2000.

Monson, James M. Regional Study Maps (RSM). Rockford: Biblical Backgrounds, 1999.

Monson, James M. Regions on the Run: Introductory Map Studies in the Land of the Bible (RR). Rockford: Biblical Backgrounds, 1998.

Required Readings: There will be required readings in various sources:

Biblical Archaeology Review

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

Colbi, Saul. The Christian Churches in the State of Israel. Jerusalem: The Israel Economist, 1974.

The Jerusalem Post

LaSor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush. Old Testament Survey (OTS). 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Matthews, Warren. World Religions (WR). 4th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. The Holy Land: An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.


Pritchard, James B. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Stern, Ephraim, Ayelet Lewinson-Gilboa, and Joseph Aviram, eds. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. 4 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Video: Students will be required to watch: Richards, Dai, Norma Percy, and Will Lyman. The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs. Boston: Brian Lapping Associates, 1998. This was produced in conjunction with WGBH (a Boston public television station), PBS, and the BBC. It is 5 hours long.
Evaluation: 6 Unit Exams on History, Historical Geography, Archaeology, and Biblical Studies (Introductory Material; Jerusalem; Benjamin; Judah/Shephelah/Philistia; Samaria/Galilee; Negev/Dead Sea/Jordan). The exams will be objective in nature, testing your knowledge of the information covered in the readings, lectures, and field trips. The map studies will also be part of this grade.—30%
1 Exam on Judaism, Islam, and Eastern Christianity. This will be partly objective, testing your knowledge of the different religious traditions we will be encountering. There will also be some short essay questions which will examine your ability to analyze, compare, and contrast the traditions.—10%
1 Exam on the Modern Scene (Israel, Jordan, PA, and Middle East Crisis). Again, this will be part objective and part essay.—10%
Journal and Class Participation—10%

  • Students will be expected to keep a daily journal in which they record their impressions about anything and everything related to the course: the land, history, archaeology, Judaism, Islam, people they see or meet, cultural observations, ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict, etc.

  • Class discussions will occasionally be scheduled on specific topics such as the problem of the conquest (Why does the archaeological evidence not always align with the biblical text?), the controversy of the Megiddo buildings (Are they storehouses or stables?); the Moabite Stone and the Bible. You will be expected to know the primary sources (the Bible, the archaeological evidence, and/or the ancient NE text) and the secondary sources (scholars and how they interpret the evidence). You should be able to discuss the various sides of the debate and you should be able to show the strengths and weaknesses of the different arguments. If you are convinced of a position, you should be able to articulate it and defend it.

Written and Oral Report on One Historical Site—20%

This will be a 6-8 page (typed, double-spaced) research paper on one historical site that we will visit. Each student will choose a different site. You will be expected to show familiarity with the primary sources for the site (artifactual remains, epigraphic sources, biblical material) and secondary sources (discussions in archaeological journals and books). You should demonstrate judicious use of these sources, an ability to interpret the evidence, and skill in drawing appropriate conclusions. You should discuss any controversies connected to your site and present the arguments of the different sides. How would you critique the proponents of each view? If you are convinced of a position, report that and support it with reasoning. Each student will deliver a 15 minute talk on her/his site when we get to it.
Integrative Essay on the Modern Scene—20%
Since you will not all have computers and printers, this assignment will be acceptable if handwritten. After we have heard our guest lecturers, you will write an essay response (5-7 pages, single-spaced). Your essay should show a grasp of the readings we have done on Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in the Holy Land as well as the readings on the history of modern Israel and on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It should also show a comprehension of the speakers and their points of view. Finally, it should incorporate observations from your travels during your three weeks of travel. The following are some questions and concerns for you to consider as you frame your essay. Your paper should be:

  • Descriptive: how would you describe the different religions, peoples, political positions, points of view to which you have been exposed?

  • Analytical: how the viewpoints different from each other and how do you account for the differences? Also, how would you critique them?

  • Comparative: compare and contrast the Middle Eastern perspectives with each other and with your own

  • Appreciative: what do you see in Middle Eastern cultural which you value, appreciate, and empathize with? How has this trip helped you to see the world differently, by perhaps learning to view it through someone else’s frame of reference?

  • Reflective: Can you see how people in the Middle East see things differently because of their cultural origins? Can you see how your upbringing has similarly influenced you and your worldview? Can you see ways in which you have grown and maybe even adjusted your mindset through this encounter with others who are different from you?

  • Christian and Practical: How has this experience exposed you to global issues of justice? How should you respond as a Christian to what you have learned? Are there any changes you would like to make in your life as a result this study tour.

Grading Scale: 95-100=A 86-89=B+ 76-79=C+ 66-69=D+

90 - 94=A- 83-85=B 73-75=C 63-65=D

80-82=B- 70-72=C- 60-62=D-

Academic Honesty: The penalty for cheating or plagiarism will be a grade of “F” for the course without possibility of withdrawal.
Attendance: Expected of all students; missing class may result in a lowered grade.
Tardiness: Students are expected to be on time to class. Two tardies will be counted as one absence.
Classroom Behavior: Students are expected to pay attention to the lectures and discussion. This includes those on the bus and at the ancient sites as well as those in class. During such times, music players will be turned off. Free thinking and expression are encouraged; disrespectful attitudes and expressions are not. Inappropriate behavior may result in a lowered grade.

Course Outline
On Campus

Feb-April Occasional Meetings to Watch and Discuss “The 50 Years War” (PBS Video)

May Students Prepare Map Studies on Their Own using RSG, RSM, and RR (expect to spend about 20 Hours on this)
Jun 2 Mon Geography of the Holy Land
Do the readings before coming to class. An assignment prefaced by “Read” means it is required. The others are optional, suggested readings which help the interested student go deeper into the material.
1. Read “Geography,” in OTS, 619-631.

2. Read “Biblical Geography,” in NJBC, 1175-1195.

3. Read “Geography,” in NOAB, 505-507.

4. Read Maps 1-15 in CBA, 11-21.

5. Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), 3-117.
Learning Objectives: Know the sources and tools for biblical geography, the larger context of the ancient NE, the geographical regions of Israel and Jordan, and some of the main roads. Have some understanding of the geology, soils, hydrology, and weather patterns of the area.
Assignment Due: your Map Studies are due by class time.
Jun 3 Tue Syro-Palestinian Archaeology
1. Read “Archaeology,” in OTS, 641-657.

2. Read “Biblical Archaeology,” 1196-1218.

3. Read maps 16-19 in CBA, 22-24.
Learning Objectives: Know something about the history of archaeology in the Holy Land and who some of the important archaeologists were. Begin to understand archaeological methodology: the nature of a tell, the importance of stratigraphy, how pottery is used in dating, how history and archaeology are related to each other. Be able to identify the archaeological periods.
Jun 4 Wed History of Israel in the Biblical Period
1. Read “A History of Israel,” in NJBC, 1219-1252.

2. Read the sections on canons and methods of biblical interpretation in NOAB, 453-505.

3. Read “Cultural Contexts,” 507-533. This section contains a wealth of material. It is sub-divided into historical periods and discusses historiography for each: what are the written and material sources and how do we interpret them.
Learning Objectives: Know the artifactual remains for the pre-historic periods and what they tell us about people in that time. Know the main historical events from the Bronze Age to the Roman Period.
Jun 5 Thu Judaism, Islam, Eastern Christianity
1. Read “Judaism,” in WR, 275-323.

2. Read “Islam,” in WR, 377-420.

3. Read Saul Colbi, The Christian Churches in the State of Israel (Jerusalem: The Israel Economist, 1974), 1-24.

4. Read various photocopied articles on the Eastern churches.

5. Read El Hassan bin Talal, Christianity in the Arab World (New York: Continuum: 1998), 52-91.
Learning Objectives: Judaism: Understand the following terms: Aggadah, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Talmud, Mishnah, Gemarah, Halakhah, Kaddish, Shivah, Midrash, Shema, Tanakh, Yom Kippur. Know something of the history of Judaism and its main branches today.

Islam: Know the following: the 5 pillars of Islam, muezzin, Qur’an, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock, Jihad, shari`a. Know something of the history of Islam and its main branches today.

Eastern Christianity: Identify the following: Maronites, Uniate Churches, Melkite, Arab Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Monophysites
Jun 6 Fri The Modern Scene: Israel and Jordan; the Arab-Israeli Conflict
1. Read Carta’s Historical Atlas of Israel, 6-63.

2. Review your notes on The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs.

Learning Objectives: Be able to discuss the following: the British Mandate, the UN partition of Palestine, Israel’s War of Independence, the 1956 war, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Intifadas, Camp David, the Oslo Accords, the Road Map. Identify the following: David Ben-Gurion, Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority, PLO, Hamas, Fatah.
Assignment Due: Research Paper on Archaeological Site
Jun 7 Sat Exams on Introductory Material; Judaism, Islam, and Eastern Christianity; and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Off Campus

Jun 8 Sun Bus to LAX; fly from LAX to Tel Aviv on El Al

9 Mon Arrive in Tel Aviv; transfer to hotel in Jerusalem; Class: Lecture on Jerusalem (Jerusalem)

10 Tue Walking Tour of Jerusalem I: Jaffa Gate; Ramparts Walk; Damascus Gate; St. Stephen’s Gate; Church of St. Anne; Bethesda Pool; Via Dolorosa; Antonia Fortress; Church of the Holy Sepulcher; Western Wall; Western Wall Tunnel; Temple Mount; Upper Room (Communion Service)(Jerusalem)

11 Wed Walking Tour of Jerusalem II: City of David; Gihon Spring; Hezekiah’s Tunnel; Old City; Southern Wall Excavations; Madaba Map Replica; Caiaphas’ House (Jerusalem)

12 Thu Sunrise Service on Mt. of Olives (Communion); Back to Hotel for Breakfast; Church of All Nations/Garden of Gethsemane; Yad Vashem; Second Temple Model; Israel Museum; Shrine of the Book; Garden Tomb Private Worship; Free Afternoon; Evening Class: Exam on Jerusalem; Lecture on Benjamin (Jerusalem)

13 Fri Benjamin; Mt. of Olives; Bethany; Jericho; Nabi Samwil; Beth Horon; Gezer; Gibeon; Aijalon; Emmaus (Communion Service); Western Wall for Shabbat (Jerusalem)

14 Sat Western Wall for Shabbat; Bethlehem; Shepherd’s Field; Herodium; Haas Promenade; Afternoon Free (Jerusalem)

15 Sun Free Day in Jerusalem (Suggested but Optional Group Activities: Worship at the Garden Tomb; Rockefeller Museum); Evening Class: Exam on Benjamin; Lecture on Judah, Shephelah, Philistia (Jerusalem)

16 Mon Judah; Shephela; Philistia; Ein Kerem; Beth Shemesh; Beth Guvrin Valley; Moresheth Gath; Eleuthropolis; Beth Guvrin; Bell Caves; Lachish; Azeqah; Overlook Elah Valley (David and Goliath Story); Ashkelon; Evening Class: Lecture on Negev (Jerusalem)

17 Tue Negev: Beer Sheva; Avdat; Maktesh Ramon; Evening Class: Exam on Judah, Shephelah, Philistia (Arad)

18 Wed Arad; Dead Sea Swim; Masada (Arad)

19 Thu Ein Gedi; Qumran (Jerusalem)

20 Fri Guest Lectures on the Middle East: 8:00-9:20 AM A Muslim Arab’s Perspective; 9:30-10:50 AM A Christian Arab’s Perspective; 11:00-12:20 An Israeli Jew’s Perspective; 12:30-2:00 Lunch; 2:00-3:20 A Messianic Jew’s Perspective; 3:30-5:00 Discussion; Evening Class: Exam on Negev, Dead Sea, Jordan; Lecture on Sharon Plain, Galilee, Samaria (Jerusalem)

21 Sat Caesarea; Megiddo; Mt. Carmel; Beth Shearim or Beth Alpha; (Tiberias)

22 Sun Chorazim; Bethsaida; Kursi; Tabgha; Sea of Galilee; Mt. of Beatitudes (Worship Service); Capernaum; Boat Ride in “Jesus” Boat Replica from Capernaum to Nof Ginnosar; Ancient Boat at Ginnosar; Arbel (if time permits: bus up; hike down) (Tiberias)

23 Mon Qatsrin (Talmudic Village in Golan); Hatzor; Tel Dan; Caesarea Philippi (Banias); Mt. Hermon; Integrated Essay Due (Tiberias)

24 Tue Nazareth; Nazareth Village; Cana; Gan Hashloshah; Ein Harod Valley; Yardenit Baptism Site; Evening Class: Lecture on Jordan (Tiberias)

25 Wed Beit Shean; Cross the Border into Jordan; Pella; Jerash; Evening Class: Exam on Sharon Plain, Galilee, Samaria (Amman)

26 Thu Amman; Mt. Nebo; Madaba (Petra)

27 Fri Petra; Exam on Negev, Dead Sea, Jordan; Journal Due (Amman)

28 Sat Cross the Border into Israel at the Allenby Bridge; Free Time in Jerusalem; Hotel Provided Before Evening Flight Home; Transfer to Tel Aviv; Fly from Tel Aviv to LAX

29 Sun Arrive at LAX

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