Course: Exploring the Biblical Land of Israel - Online

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  • Course description
    Exploring the Biblical Land of Israel.

    Take a closer look at the locations and sites mentioned in biblical stories, and experience them from a new perspective that will give you a deeper understanding of each story.

    Course Description:

    Develop a firm understanding of the geographical regions that make up the Land of Israel and the unique characteristics of each one and get a new perspective on many biblical stories.

    Course Developer:

    Jonathan Lipnick, M.A.

    Jonathan Lipnick believes that a truly comprehensive understanding of Scripture must be capable of penetrating beneath the printed words to reveal the authentic world

    Syllabus Summary:

        Introduction: The Geographical Regions of the Land of Israel

        This week’s lecture is an introduction to the various regions in the Land of Israel which we will be looking at during this course. This is a course about the physical aspects of the Land of the Bible: terrain, climate, agriculture, roads, borders, etc. To most readers to the Bible, these details might seem boring at first, but you will soon find how useful they are to your understanding of the Bible. The central thesis of this class is that understanding the physical setting where much of the Bible is set will make you a better reader of the Bible.

        Genesis: Abraham and Jacob the Nomadic Patriarchs

        This week we examine the first mention of the Land of Israel in the entire Bible, the migration of Abram from Ur to Shechem in the book of Genesis, chapter 12. This is a very significant passage because it is the beginning of God’s relationship with a particular people and particular land. Abram is the first ancestor of the Israelites. He is also the first person in the Bible to enter the Land of Canaan. We will also examine a similar migration made by his grandson Jacob in Genesis chapters 31-33, which is described in more detail.

        Genesis: Joseph and his Brothers: The Hill Country of Samaria

        This week we examine the story of Joseph’s sale and descent down into Egypt. The last lecture dealt with the entrance of the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob into the Promised Land. Today we will deal with the subsequent departure of the Patriarchs from the Land down into Egypt. The pivotal moment when Joseph is sold by his brothers takes place at the northern edge of Samaria in the Dothan Valley.

        Exodus: The Exodus from Egypt: Part I

        This week’s lecture will focus on the initial stages of the Exodus narrative, from the flight to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. We will look at two geographical areas: the Nile Delta and Sinai Peninsula. Our core story is the famous story of the Deliverance at the Sea in Exodus 14. We will end at Kadesh-Barnea, the site where the Israelites set up their camp after leaving Mount Sinai where they 4had received the Torah. This le5cture covers the first year and two6 months of the 40 years in the wild7erness.

        Exodus: The Exodus from Egypt: Part II

        This 8week’s lecture will cover the remaining 38 years and ten months of the Exodus narrative. As we will see, the trajectory of the wandering will take the Israelites from the Sinai Peninsula across Wilderness of Zin (which in modern Israeli terms is incorrectly called the Negev) and into the region of Transjordan, which includes Edom, Moab, Ammon and Bashan. We will conclude the lecture with Moses surveying the entire Promised Land, standing on Mount Nebo on the eastern side of the Jordan River, opposite Jericho.

        Joshua: Joshua Fights the Battle of Jericho: Jordan Valley

        This week we examine the renowned battle of Jericho, which is found in Joshua chapter 6. The lecture is devoted to the fifth of our six longitudinal strips: the Jordan Rift Valley. This is a small piece of the massive Syro-African Rift, the largest tectonic split on the face of the Earth. In addition to the Rift, which will be our primary focus, we will also review our fourth longitudinal strip, the Judean Desert, which we briefly looked at in Lecture 5. These two regions blend into each other, so it makes sense to treat them together.

        Judges: Deborah Defeats Sisera in the Jezreel Valley

        This week’s lecture is a logical continuation of our exploration of the Jordan Rift valley from last week. Our geographical region is the Jezreel Valley, an offshoot of the huge tectonic fault that runs through the Jordan Valley which we saw last week. The Jezreel Valley (Hebrew = Emek Yizrael) cuts the Central Hill Country into two big pieces: (1) Judah/Samaria/Carmel in the south and (2) Lower/Upper Galilee in the north. Our core story is one of the many biblical battles that took place in the Jezreel Valley, the Battle of Deborah and Barak, found in Judges 4.

        Ruth: Ruth and Boaz: The Hill Country of Judah

        This week we move to the southern half of the Central Hill Country plateau: Judah, or as it was later called by the Romans, Judaea. This is the “heartland” of the Land of the Bible. It does not get more central than this! The cities in the hills of Judah - Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Gibeon - are the epicenter of Israelite identity. Our core story today is the story of Ruth, which is situated (for the most part) in Bethlehem, a small town five miles south of Jerusalem. Despite its small size, this became one of the most prestigious cities in the Land of Israel, because it was the hometown of David, and therefore, of all the kings of Judah. Naturally, it makes sense that this would later become the birthplace of Jesus.

        Samuel 1: David Slays Goliath: The Shephelah Foothills of Judah

        This week we explore the second of our six longitudinal strips: the foothills region known as the Shephelah. In Hebrew, this means “lowland” and it is characterized by small, rolling hills. Geologically, it is a chalky buffer zone separating the sandy Coastal Plain from the hard limestone Central Hill Country. Politically, it was a buffer zone separating the Philistines on the coast from the Israelites in the hills. We will read the famous story of the Battle of David and Goliath that takes place in the Elah Valley, one of the large basins that bisects this region.

        Samuel 1: David Eludes Saul in the Judean Wilderness

        This week we move eastwards to our fourth longitudinal strip, the Judean Desert, which is located between the Central Hills of Judah and the Jordan Rift Valley. In the second half of the book of 1 Samuel, David finds himself in a predicament. After slaying Goliath, he becomes a famous warrior, and his popularity with the people grows. But he is increasingly despised by Saul, the father of his beloved friend Jonathan and the very king that was responsible for his initial rise. David is forced to flee the court of Saul and to find refuge in the Judean wilderness. This is a very unhospitable region, almost entirely devoid of basic resources (water, food, shelter). As a result, throughout time it has been a place of escape for revolutionaries, fugitives and religious solitaries.

        Samuel 2: The Imperial Capital of David: Jerusalem Part I

        This week we return to the Central Hill Country of Judah (which we visited in Lecture 8), but our focus is on a single city: Jerusalem, which eventually became the most important city in the Land of the Hebrew Bible. How did this happen? Today, Jerusalem is sacred to the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but it would never have become such a hub were it not for its original biblical history. The importance of Jerusalem begins with our core story: David’s decision to move his capital here in approximately 1000 BCE. We will be focusing on Jerusalem’s history during the period of the First Temple: 1000-586 BCE.

        Samuel 2: David Moves the Ark to Jerusalem: Jerusalem Part II

        This week we examine the Temple Mount, which served as the religious hub of the Israelites for over a millennium. Once again, the history of this site begins with King David. After conquering the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, David’s first order of business is to bring the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem. That is to say, once the new Israelite political identity of the city has been safely secured, its new Israelite religious identity can be fixed as well.

        Jonah: Jonah in the Belly of the Fish: The Mediterranean Coastal Plain

        This week’s lecture examines the opening of the Book of Jonah, one of the shortest books of the Hebrew Bible (only four chapters). The reason that we are reading Jonah now is because it is situated in the period of the Divided Monarchy. Given that this story begins in the port city of Joppa, the geographic area which we will be focusing on is the Mediterranean Coastal Plain, the first of the six longitudinal strips we have been dealing with in previous lectures.

        The Land of Judea in the First Century: The World in which Jesus Lived

        This week we are beginning our study of the Land of the New Testament, which will take us through the next 16 lectures. The second half of the course, naturally, builds upon the geographical and historical insights we learned about the Land of the Hebrew Bible in the first half of the course. Today’s lecture is historical and methodological background to lectures 15-30. Today will be an introduction to the culture and history of the Roman province of Judea in the 1st century CE. This is the world into which Jesus was born.

        The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judah

        This week’s lecture begins our chronological survey of the narrative of the Gospels in earnest. We begin at the beginning with the birth of Jesus. Although there are many differences between the two Gospel versions of the nativity, both Matthew and Luke fundamentally agree that the birth took place in Bethlehem. This is primarily due to the Hebrew Bible’s insistence that the true Messiah must emerge from the Davidic line and therefore from the Davidic city of Bethlehem.

        The Childhood of Jesus in Nazareth

        This week’s lecture examines the life of Jesus following his birth in Bethlehem (ca. 6 BCE) but prior to the proclamation of his ministry (ca. 30 CE). The major problem with studying this approximately thirty-year period of Jesus’ life is a lack of information. This is because the Gospel authors, our main source for the historical Jesus, were much less interested in Jesus as a commonplace person and much more interested in Christ the divine savior. Thus, they essentially skipped over the first thirty years of his life and devoted the majority of their energy to telling the story of his final two years: the Ministry and the Passion. Nevertheless, we will do our best to investigate the surroundings of Nazareth in an attempt to get a better understanding of the geographical setting in which Jesus grew up and came of age.

        John the Baptist in the Wilderness of Judah

        This week’s lecture examines the places associated with John the Baptist’s life, ministry and death. Having looked last week at the childhood of Jesus in Nazareth, we now turn to the figure of Jesus’ cousin John, who was born six months before him. The crucial thing to recall is that in his own lifetime John the Baptist was a far more famous prophet and attracted the attention of the Romans due to his anti-imperial teachings. John was prominent enough that he was discussed in several texts outside the Gospels, most importantly by Josephus. Jesus, by contrast, was a more private, less famous figure in his own lifetime. But in the New Testament, the situation is reversed. John is merely the “forerunner” who prepares the way for the arrival of Jesus.

        The Galilean Ministry of Jesus Part I: From Nazareth to Capernaum

        In today’s lecture, we continue the Gospel narrative in linear order. From the Judean Desert, Jesus returns home to Nazareth, from which he is soon banished due to his radical messianic sayings. He relocates 30 miles east of Nazareth to the village of Capernaum. We will survey the beginnings of the independent public ministry of Jesus, which was focused around the fishing villages of the Sea of Galilee. Intriguingly, in the Gospels Jesus is never depicted as going to the two major Roman cities in this region: Sepphoris and Tiberias. The period of the public ministry lasted approximately two years, concluding with the arrest and death of Jesus. Because this is the period of Jesus’ life to which the Gospels devote the most attention, we have lots of information.

        The Galilean Ministry of Jesus Part II: Around the Sea of Galilee

        This week’s lecture is a continuation of many of the themes we began to look at last week. We will remain within the same geographical area, but our focus will be on the Sea of Galilee itself. We will examine some of the most famous public actions performed by Jesus during the period of his Galilean ministry. Many of these stories become much more comprehensible once we have a better grasp of the daily life of Galilean fishermen in the 1st century. Our core story is the “Feeding of the Five Thousand”, taken from John chapter 6.

        The Galilean Ministry of Jesus Part III: Miracles and Teachings

        This week’s lecture is a direct continuation of the subject matter we discussed last week. We remain in the area of the Sea of Galilee, looking at the famous events during the period of Jesus’ public ministry. Our core story today is the opening section of the famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) which, according to local tradition, was delivered on a prominent hill overlooking Capernaum. We also examine Magdala, the hometown of one of Jesus’ most important female adherents, Mary Magdalene.

        The Gentile Ministry of Jesus Part I: Tyre and Sidon

        As we have seen in the past three lectures, the ministry of Jesus was first and foremost directed towards his fellow Galilean Jews. He was a prophet, miracle-worker and teacher of Jewish fishermen in the region of Lower Galilee. But despite this dominant tendency, he ministered to Gentiles outside his home region as well. This week’s lecture takes us away from the Sea of Galilee, outside the boundaries of the Land of Israel to the northern Mediterranean coastal plain. Our focus today is Jesus’ contact with non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) in the region of Tyre and Sidon, located in Lebanon.

        The Gentile Ministry of Jesus Part II: Caesarea-Philippi and the Decapolis

        This week’s lecture continues to explore the theme that we looked at last week: Jesus’ departure from Jewish Galilee and his forays into Gentile territory during the period of his public ministry. Last week, we headed northwest to the Mediterranean coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. This week, we head northeast to the city of Caesarea-Philippi as well as the league of ten pagan cities known as the Decapolis. We will read several famous stories, including the Confession of Peter at Caesarea-Philippi and the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

        Jesus’ Early Journeys to Jerusalem: The Pools of Bethesda and Siloam

        In this week’s lecture we return to Jerusalem after a long hiatus. The last time we discussed Jerusalem in depth was in Lectures 11 and 12, which were devoted to David and Solomon, that is the First Temple Period. Today we will be looking at Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, roughly 1000 years later than when we left it. Presumably, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem numerous times in his life, as was customary for Galilean Jews to do on the three pilgrimage Jewish festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot). We will be examining two stories that only John tells which recount Jesus’ early visits to Jerusalem. First is the healing of a blind man at the Pool of Siloam (John 9), and second is the healing of a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5).

        Jesus’ Final Journey to Jerusalem: Jericho and Bethany

        This week’s lecture is the prelude to our in-depth investigation of the final week of Jesus – known as Passion Week in the Christian liturgical calendar – which will take us through the next six lectures. Today we examine Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem for the Passover festival of the year 30 CE. The route that Jesus followed from Galilee was the Jordan Valley road, which followed the Jordan River south. At Jericho, it turned west and ascended the steep road to Jerusalem. He would spend his final week living in the village of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

        The Final Week of Jesus in Jerusalem Part I: The Triumphal Entry

        This week we begin our investigation of the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem, which is commonly referred to as Passion Week: from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Because the Gospels provide a very detailed account of the events of this week - particularly from Thursday night to Sunday morning - we will be devoting several lectures to this subject. Today, our focus is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from Bethany on the first Sunday morning, which is commemorated in the Christian liturgical calendar as Palm Sunday.

        The Final Week of Jesus in Jerusalem Part II: The Cleansing of the Temple

        This week’s lecture examines one of the most decisive incidents that took place during the final week of Jesus: the overturning of the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple courtyard. This is popularly known as the Cleansing of the Temple, a problematic term. More than anything else that Jesus did during his final week, it was this act which got him in trouble with the Jewish authorities, paving the way for his eventual arrest and execution. In this lecture we will focus on the physical properties of the Second Temple, examining archaeological remains. We will attempt to visualize how the Temple looked during the lifetime of Jesus, having recently undergone a massive Herodian renovation just a few years before.

        The Final Week of Jesus in Jerusalem Part III: The Last Supper and Arrest

        This is our third lecture of five devoted to the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem. In the previous two lectures we examined the events from Sunday to Wednesday. We saw that for the most part these were festive days during which Jesus taught in the Temple precincts. He was a popular prophet who the authorities were very suspicious of, particularly after the Cleansing of the Temple. But he managed to move unimpeded during the first half of the week. In this week’s lecture, we will discuss the physical circumstances surrounding the arrest of Jesus on Thursday night. This is the formal beginning of the Passion narrative - the suffering of Jesus from arrest to trial to crucifixion (Thursday night – Friday afternoon).

        The Final Week of Jesus in Jerusalem Part IV: The Trial by Pontius Pilate

        This is our fourth lecture of five devoted to the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem. Last week, we examined the events of Thursday night, ending with the nighttime trial of Jesus by the Jewish authorities (Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin). This week, our focus is the trial by the Roman authorities which took place at daybreak on Friday morning. In particular, we will discuss the role of the procurator of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. The main issue which we will be exploring today is the historicity of the Via Dolorosa, a street in Jerusalem’s Old City which is the traditional route leading from the site of Jesus’ trial to the site of his crucifixion. This route assumes that the trial of Jesus by Pilate took place in the Antonia Fortress. How likely is it that this is the actual route walked by Jesus?

        The Final Week of Jesus in Jerusalem Part V: The Crucifixion of Jesus

        This is our fifth and final lecture devoted to the final week of Jesus in Jerusalem. Last week, we examined the events that took place at dawn on Friday, including the trial of Jesus by Pilate and Jesus’ journey through the streets with the cross. This week, our focus is the crucifixion itself, which took place around 9:00am on Friday morning. We will explore how crucifixions were conducted by the Romans. The main site which we will look at closely is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (this word means “burial chamber”), located within today’s Christian Quarter. It contains the traditional sites of the Rock of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus.

        Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus and Course Conclusion

        In this concluding lecture we have two main objectives. Firstly, we will bring to a close the chronological survey of the story of Jesus by looking at several incidents that take place following the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In particular, we will focus on the appearance of the risen Jesus to two disciples on road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Secondly, we will wrap up the entire course by reviewing some of the most important places seen during the past thirty lectures.


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        A weekly teacher session for Q&A and discussion groups.

    Exploring the Biblical Land of Israel

    • Weekly Hours: 2 hrs
    • Duration: 9 Months
    • Language: English

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