A Trip to the Holy Land Is Coming (December 2022)

I visited the Holy Land for the first time in 2018. It was a transformative experience.

By the second day (at Caesarea Maritima [see picture below]), I was convinced I would be back.

The trip was sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), and our teacher was Monte Luker (current Academic Dean of JCBS).

Even before the trip was over, Monte and I began discussing the possibility of co-leading a trip for Northeastern Seminary (where I am a faculty member). After returning to the USA, we began planning in earnest.

The itinerary was set by the end of 2019 and we had a PDF brochure with all the details finalized early in 2020, ready to do the trip after Christmas of that year.

But then COVID hit. So the trip had to be canceled.

New Trip to the Holy Land

Well, a new trip is in the works. It’s going to happen right after Christmas 2022.

Our dates will most likely be December 29, 2022 through January 11, 2023. Those dates are not set in stone yet (they may shift by a day or two), but it will be a fourteen-day trip (eleven days in Israel with three days for travel on both ends).

We will arrive in Tel Aviv (on the Mediterranean coast) and head north to Galilee to begin our tour through the Holy Land. We’ll visit sites like Caesarea Philippi (where Peter confessed that Jesus was Messiah), Jeroboam’s temple at Dan (where he built the golden calf statues), and work our way down south to Masada (with a free day at the En Gedi resort at the Dead Sea) and Beersheba in the Negev (where Abraham lived). We’ll spend our last days in Jerusalem before flying home.

Along the way, we will learn about the importance of the various archeological and pilgrimage sites, reflect on their relation to events in the Bible, and have time to think about the significance of what we are seeing and learning for our own lives.

You will also have the opportunity to take communion on the Mount of Beatitudes and to renew your baptismal vows at the Jordan River, where John baptized Jesus.

Approximate Cost of the Holy Land Trip

The exact cost of the trip is still being worked out, but is expected to be $4,500-$5,000 per person. This covers airfare from Rochester, NY, all transportation within Israel, entrance fees to all sites we visit, and all hotel stays and meals (except for lunch, which we purchase on the road).

Anyone traveling from a different city will have a slightly different cost. But it will be comparable.

All the logistics (including air travel) will be organized by Educational Opportunities, a group that has a great deal of experience in planning such trips.

Here is a short video from Educational Opportunities about visiting the Holy Land: https://vimeo.com/543713454?ref=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR2672EIrHK6QomJcZO5dI8Usxoue9mqKPLA-ZfVRoh03g7EaQj4FK2PMIQ

The Trip Leaders

Because Monte Luker was already booked for another Holy Land trip after Christmas 2022, our teacher from the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies will be Bobby Morris, a Lutheran pastor and adjunct professor in Hebrew and Old Testament, who has led numerous such trips. Bobby will be the official teacher for the trip and I will be the host and co-teacher.

Current Interest in the Trip

Once the itinerary is set, a PDF brochure will be produced and online registration will be available. It’s a first-come, first-served situation. The absolute maximum is fifty participants, including Bobby Morris and myself (since that is what the tour bus can hold). However, we will probably cap registration before that, since having fifty on a tour of a site in the Holy Land slows everything down considerably. (If the demand requires it, and it looks like it might, we will probably have another trip the following year.)

Registration will be open to Northeastern Seminary students, along with alums and friends of the Seminary and of Roberts Wesleyan College (we are interpreting “friends” quite broadly to include anyone with a connection of any sort to the two schools or to faculty or staff of the schools).

Sixty-five people have already indicated some degree of interest in the trip.

Whether or not you have previously contacted me about the Holy Land trip, I am asking anyone interested to email me to confirm (or let me know of) your interest. That way, you will receive updates on the trip, including the PDF brochure when it is ready, notification about when registration begins (probably February or March 2022), and the online registration link (plus lots more information about what to expect on the trip).

If you don’t have my email address, just use the contact function on this website.

Topics on Location (BIB 735)

There will be an option for Seminary students to take a 3-credit Northeastern Seminary course in conjunction with the trip. Anyone interested in taking this course should contact me and I will fill you in on the details.

Abraham’s Silence Is Officially Released Today

Today is the official release day for my book, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God. However, it’s been available from the publisher by pre-order for a couple of weeks.

My Motivation for Writing Abraham’s Silence

Here is a short article about the book and my purpose in writing it, with a focus on a spirituality that can grapple with God in times of suffering. The article is written by a journalist for the Publishers Weekly supplement for the AAR-SBL annual meetings taking place this week (and next) in San Antonio.

The journalist, Holly Lebowitz Rossi, interviewed me by phone for the article. She also interviewed Jim Kinney, the vice-president at Baker Academic about the book. I’ve been honored that Jim has supported this project from the start and greatly encouraged me along the way as I worked on it.
 
Small correction: the six years mentioned in the article should be thirty-six years (the phone connection wasn’t perfect).
 

My Upcoming Ted-Talk on Genesis 22

I will be giving a presentation on the core argument of the book as an “unscripted” seventeen minute Ted-type talk, at the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), which meets just in advance of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in San Antonio.
 
 
I’ve given multiple presentations on this topic over the past ten years, as I’ve worked on the book. But this is the first time I will present entirely without notes. 🙂
 
 

Reconfiguring Abraham’s Test—What Is the Aqedah (Genesis 22) Really About?

In four previous blog posts, I summed up various aspects of the argument of my new book Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God.

My Blog Posts on the Argument of Abraham’s Silence

1.  Abraham’s Silence—Why Genesis 22 Has Been a Puzzle to Me

2. The Importance of Lament for Understanding Genesis 22

3. The Contrast between Job and Abraham—From Vigorous Protest to Unquestioning Silence

4. Abraham’s Shift from Protest (Genesis 18) to Silence (Genesis 22)—What’s Going on?

This post is the fifth in that series.

Here I want to address—head on—the question of what the test in Genesis 22 is all about.

Does Abraham Love God More than His Son?

It is traditional to think that Abraham is being tested to see if he loves God more than Isaac, his son.

However, a careful reading of Genesis reveals that while Abraham loves Ishmael (his first son, born of Hagar), it is doubtful that he cares at all about Isaac (the covenant heir that God promises will be born to Sarah).

Evidence for this is that he passes Sarah off as his sister after God announced the coming birth of Isaac (while Sarah is likely pregnant with him). The result is that the Philistine king of Gerar takes Sarah into his harem (Genesis 20), so that God has to rescue her.

Abraham Is Being Tested for His Discernment of God’s Character

A better interpretation of what is going on in Genesis 22 is that God is testing Abraham for his discernment of God’s character. Is this the sort of deity who demands child sacrifice on the part of his faithful followers? Or is this a God of mercy? After all, Abraham is a man from a pagan culture (Mesopotamia) with no prior knowledge of this God.

This question of merciful character was also the point of the episode in Genesis 18, where God revealed his plans to Abraham about Sodom. The point was so that Abraham could learn about YHWH’s “way” of righteousness and justice, in order to be able to pass this on to his household and descendants (Genesis 18:17–19).

And God revelation to Abraham about the cry of Sodom did lead to Abraham’s passionate intercession on behalf of the city, because Lot (his nephew) was living there.

But (as I discussed in the previous blog post) Abraham stops his request for God to save Sodom too early. And so he never fully plumbs the depths of God’s mercy.

So God gives him another chance in Genesis 22. But this time it won’t be his nephew Lot (who lives in Sodom) who is in danger; it will be Isaac, his own son. And it won’t be God who will do the act; Abraham himself will do it.

If anything would cause Abraham to speak out, this would be it.

God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his own son ought to generate protest on Abraham’s part and intercession behalf of Isaac.

But he doesn’t speak out. Instead, he goes silently to obey.

God sends him on a three day journey to a distant place (Moriah) to perform the sacrifice, intentionally giving Abraham time to think about it and gather the courage to speak out. But Abraham never gets to that point.

God Might Also Be Testing Abraham’s Love for Isaac

It is possible that there is a second dimension to the test.

Perhaps God wants Abraham to positively develop a love for Isaac. After all,  when God describes Isaac as the one “whom you love” (Genesis 22:2), this isn’t necessarily a statement of fact. It could be an encouragement, as in, “you love him, don’t you?” Then show it, by your response. Testing can bring out what is only potential, if we rise to the occasion.

Three Chapters on the Aqedah

So far I have just given the barest outline of the position I develop through three chapters in Abraham’s Silence. There is a great deal in those chapters that I haven’t even touched on in the above sketch.

For example, I have one chapter specifically devoted to the question of whether it is right to question the traditional interpretation of the Aqedah and whether it is appropriate to question God (since my alternative reading of the Aqedah is that Abraham should have questioned God’s command to sacrifice his son). This is the burden of chapter 5: “Is It Permissible to Criticize Abraham or God?”

Then I have an entire chapter examining clues in the text of Genesis 22 that all is not right with Abraham or with Isaac in the story. And then I examine connections between the Aqedah and the book of Job, which suggest that Job leads to a critique of Abraham’s response to God in Genesis 22. This is chapter 6: “Reading Rhetorical Signals in the Aqedah and Job.” 

Chapter 7 is the climax of the argument, where I explicitly address the question: “Did Abraham Pass the Test?” Beyond looking at the earlier Abraham story as context for Genesis 22, I examine the effect of the test on Isaac (including evidence in Genesis of trauma he suffered).

In this chapter I also take a look at what most readers think is God’s affirmation of Abraham through the speeches of the angel from heaven (Genesis 22:11–18). By careful attention to what the angel says, I show that it is entirely possible that God is actually showing his displeasure with Abraham.

I’m aware that this claim will seem incredible to most readers of this blog post. But I won’t defend it here.

For that, you will need to read the book.