With the Land as a Classroom

At times, we experience things that affect us profoundly. “It changed my life,” we might even say in retrospect. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

My first encounter with land_as_a_classroom_1-optIsrael was such a profound experience. For the better, that is. As a young theology student, it affected me profoundly to read the stories of the Bible from within its own historical, geographical, and cultural setting. I can even say that I was shocked by how many rich nuances and genuine “aha” moments my student year in Israel gave me. After all, I was midway through my theological training, and just by chance – or God’s good provision – I came to be a volunteer in the Danish church and at the Caspari Center with Bodil and Jens Arne Skjøtt.

“It changed my life,” I can fairly say. I returned to Denmark with my heart and mind on fire for studying the Bible through the lens of its land.

land_as_a_classroom_2-optThis April – some years, a few gray hairs, and a number of exams later – I had the opportunity to revisit this profound experience as a guide in Galilee for the Caspari Center’s study program for Norwegian theology students.

This is one great study program! The students come for a month. They are exposed to a variety of topics: from the history of Israel, to the Bible in its context, to the modern-day challenges of the people living in Israel in the midst of conflict and turmoil. Such things widen our horizons and soften our hearts!

In Galilee, we did our best to get as close to the story of Jesus as possible. We tried to reframe our understanding, especially of the Gospel of Mark, through the smells, the sounds, the heat, and the rain, and by reading – or “walking” – the narrative afresh.

Did we succeed? I hope so! Of course we will always be Norwegian or Danish in our perspectives and readings. We did not, actually, leave this behind. Rather, with the Land as our classroom, we had the great experience of a close encounter between our modern world and the ancient world of the Bible. This “double contextualization” gave us just the right amount of fresh readings and ideas needed to be students of the Bible and followers of Jesus in our world!

Morten Hørning Jensen

Morten Hørning Jensen is adjunct professor at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Oslo, and associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Aarhus, Denmark. His Ph.D. dissertation is on Herod Antipas and Galilee at the time of Jesus. To learn more, visit www.herodantipas.com.