Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Negev Field Trip

I’ll confess right now that biblical geography has never been a strong point for me. Maybe it’s because I got kicked out of seminary one day early in the Old Testament semester, or maybe it’s just general laziness. But one thing I have loved about being in the Holy Land is having some of the geography come alive.

A scripture as simple as Genesis 20:1, “Abraham journeyed toward the south” became exciting when I realized that we were traveling south, and that the Hebrew underlying Genesis 20:1 means “negev” the exact region we were going to on this field trip. This was the southern border of ancient Israel; you frequently find in the scriptures the phrase “From Dan to Beersheba,” which marked the territory of the Israelites (see Judges 20:1, 1 Sam 3:20).
The first place we visited was Beer Sheva (“Beer-sheba” in the Old Testament), a site with a rich biblical history. This is where Abraham lived for many years and built a well in Beer Sheva; he also left from this spot to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. This is likely the vicinity of the story of the mess of pottage and Jacob receiving Esau’s blessing. Jacob traveled from Beer-Sheva all the way into modern-day Turkey so that he could marry somebody who believed in the same God that he did. Samuel’s two sons (1050 BC) were corrupt judges who took bribes in Beer-sheba (1 Sam 8:1-3) and Elijah stopped here while on the run from Jezebel after the destruction of the priests of Baal. To discuss these scriptural events with students while in the vicinity that they happened was a choice experience. As we contemplated the experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we together sang, “Faith of Our Fathers.”

One interesting feature of the site is a deep cistern that was built around the time period of Hezekiah. Students enjoyed walking through it.

Our second site turned out to be the favorite for many students. We visited the burial place for David Ben-Gurion and, after paying our respects to him, looked out over the wilderness of Zin. The children of Israel wandered here and many important stories (Numbers 13-20) took place in the general area we could see from the overlook. Specifically we talked about Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it. Some clever students had arranged to act it out and were able to make some water come forth from the rock as part of the dramatic special effects. From there we hiked through a section of the wilderness of Zin. It was a great hike!

We drove from their to Avdat, which was part of the ancient spice route and home to the Nabateans (fun fact - Herod the Great’s mother was a Nabatean). We talked a little bit about how the wise men may have traveled along this route and Dr. Grey showed students the connection between Matthew 2 and Isaiah 60:6 “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (NRSV).

While on site we also saw an impressive winepress. Although this particular winepress post-dates Christ, it was a good spot to ponder his statement, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isaiah 63:3).

Our final stop of the day was Tel-Arad, a city that dates to the Canaanites. We read, “When king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south [Negev], heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners” (Numbers 21:1) and learned what happened after that. We also talked about the interesting ostraca that are day with writings in both Hebrew and Egyptian (see 1 Nephi 1:2). Perhaps the highlight of the site was the temple that mirrors the pattern of Solomon’s temple. It was interesting to reflect on the worship practices of ancient Israelites and ponder various possibilities (e.g., that acceptable worship practices changed over time, that the people of Arad were engaged in idolatrous practices, etc.).

By the time we arrived home we had been gone for about 12 hours -- a long field trip, but a great one!

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