They came, they saw, they prayed and they sang. They toured, they tired, and they learned countless lessons during a summer "Bible Lands Study Tour" of Israel and the West Bank July 6-15. The trip, sponsored by Campbell University Divinity School, included 42 students, faculty, alumni, and friends of Campbell University Divinity School. Led by professors Tony Cartledge and Andy Wakefield, along with veteran Israeli guide Doron Heiliger, the group spent four days touring sites along the coast and throughout Galilee before turning south to explore Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
In eight days of intensive touring, participants examined multiple layers of civilization at ancient tells including Megiddo, Hazor, Dan, Sepphoris, and Bet Shean, and saw evidence of first century life through excavations in Capernaum, Korazin, and Jerusalem. One afternoon was spent participating in an ongoing dig at Bet Guvrim near the Valley of Elah, where "factory basement" caves dug into chalky soil beneath houses from the second century B.C. are being excavated. Students found pottery, animal bones, and even a spear point from the late Seleucid and early Hasmonean periods.
Student-led worship was an integral part of the study tour. The group visited a variety of churches, but most worship times were held outdoors at sites such as the traditional Mount of Beatitudes, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, or overlooking the remains of a first-century synagogue atop the mountain fortress of Masada. Several participants publicly reaffirmed their faith through baptism in the Jordan River. In the church of St. Anne's, participants sang so beautifully that the priest came inside to encourage their singing.
While in Bethlehem, participants visited Bethlehem Bible College, an accredited school that serves Palestinian Christians. Students delivered several bags and suitcases filled with donated goods to the 30-year-old school, had lunch with the staff, interacted with founding president Bishara Awad, who explained the school's mission and how Israeli restrictions make it very difficult for students outside of Bethlehem and a few other West Bank towns to attend. A 40-minute wait at a checkpoint upon exit gave participants a small taste of what Palestinians face in having to live behind walls.
Students wrote two papers in addition to making the trip, and received three hours credit for what one student called "a semester's worth" of learning. A packed schedule maximized touring and left little time for recreation, though some did find time for swimming in the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Participants often commented that the experience exceeded their expectations.
CUDS plans to make the "Bible Lands Study Tour" of Israel a bi-annual event, with the next trip tentatively scheduled for the latter part of May in 2011.
Photo Copy: Participants walk through a Bronze Age gate from the Canaanite period at Tel Meggido.