Why visit Israel and Palestine?

Yesterday I was asked by a journalist for a couple of lines about why I visit Israel so often, and what it means to me as a person of faith?

For me, the most important thing about taking students to work on the dig at Bethsaida is the transformation that happens in their own lives, and in their appreciation of Scripture.

I teach Biblical Studies, but to take a busload of students with me to Israel is to teach in the best possible classroom. The Bible comes alive for people who have been to Israel, walked by the Sea of Galilee, and stayed overnight in Nazareth. The outer realities of the experience are the study tour requirements, but the heart of the experience is pilgrimage: a risky journey to a new place from which we return but are never quite the same!

On an even more personal level, I love the Galilee, and simply feel very much at home in Nazareth. Jerusalem is the great holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; but Nazareth is the town of Jesus and very much my alternative home.

As a Palestinian Jew from the Galilee, Jesus lived in the border lands at the edges of the Land of Israel. My Jewish and Palestinian friends live on the contested borders of their ancient homeland and their contemporary identities. As a boy from Lismore (on the northern rivers of New South Wales) who has now lived most of my life (across the state border) in Brisbane, I resonate with those ancient and contemporary borderland dynamics.

I wrote about this in an essay for a collection of studies—about the intersection of Bible, borders, and belonging—being published early in 2014. “The sign of Jonah: Reading Jonah on the boundaries and from the boundaries.” in Bible, Borders, Belongings: Engaged Readings from Oceania, edited Jione Havea, David Neville, and Elaine Wainwright, 223–38. Semeia Studies. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014. (The front matter, with table of contents and details of the contributors, is already available online.)

As an Anglican Christian, I live in the religious no man’s land between Catholics and Protestants, and as an Australian Anglican I belong to a church seeking to find a fresh identity far from the ancient privileges of England. I live in some pretty edgy places. So do my Jewish and Palestinian friends, and so did Jesus.

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