by Walter Prescher (MDiv/Middler)
This January, I had the privilege of joining sixteen pilgrims from Austin Seminary as we departed on the "Lands of the Bible" seminar. We journeyed to Israel as the seminar, led by Professor Whitney Bodman, offered an introduction to the history and geography of the biblical period, and allowed us to gain a new perspective and form a deeper connection to many of the locations mentioned in scripture. There is something special about being at these different sites, reading the scripture, and allowing the site to tell its own story, and to let our hearts be transformed.
Capernauman, an ancient fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, stood out among the many splendid landmarks we visited. There we saw the ruins of the fourth century synagogue, and the ruins of the house tradition asserts belonged to Simon-Peter. The opportunity to visit and walk around these places has changed my perspective in terms of how I view the current lectionary texts from Mark. It is one thing to read the text. It's another to personally witness the same landscape that the Disciple viewed while writing the verses.
In addition to experiencing these amazing and life changing places, we had the opportunity to hear from some amazing lecturers who talked to us about the current state of unrest in Israel and Palestine. These speakers allowed us to bear witness to some of the struggles current to those living in the West Bank. We also had opportunities to make new friends while taking a class on the Talmud at a Conservative Yeshiva, then attended Shabbat services and shared the Shabbat meal. This trip had a profound impact on all who went. Students' lives were undoubtedly transformed, whether through the majesty of the sites we visited, the powerful lectures we heard, the interfaith experiences, or new friends made. Thanks to Professor Bodman's class, we all came back as better people than when we left.