Lutherans in Minnesota

Augsburg College alums travel to Israel, Palestine to see holy sites

Calling the land now occupied by Israelis and Palestinians the crossroads of civilization is likely not an overstatement. What empires have passed through that thin strip of land? The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and British empires have all significantly influenced the territory.

And, of course, at least three major world religions claim this area as the centerpiece of their tradition as well. Indeed, there is much “history” in Israel and Palestine, and the historical realities also play a large role in modern geopolitical realities.

Augsburg College religion professor Phil Quanbeck; photo provided by Augsburg College

I learned the value … of mining the depth from a smaller number of particular places.”

Into this setting, New Testament scholar and Augsburg religion professor Phil Quanbeck is leading a trip sponsored by the Augsburg College Alumni Office January 3-14. Given its context, Quanbeck is calling this “college-sponsored study trip” a pilgrimage rather than a tour.

“I borrow the word ‘pilgrimage’ from a Franciscan experience my wife and I had about 10 years ago,” he explains. “I learned the value of not racing through a trip running everywhere, but of mining the depth from a smaller number of particular places.”

Participants will still experience Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Caesarea, Capernaum, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Galilee. But, as Quanbeck explains, his goal is for people “to find meaning in a place,” a deeper meaning that requires reflection in addition to sightseeing. (If the “pilgrims” went home with full digital photo cards, but hadn’t really thought about what they were experiencing, Quanbeck would likely feel like the trip had not been as successful as he hoped.)

“People are interested in sites that are mentioned in biblical texts, which is good. But rather than just saying ‘I was there,’ I would like participants to reflect on what they are observing and what that means for them spiritually,” he explained. “Take an hour to soak it all in and savor it.”

Quanbeck himself had one such “aha moment” on a trip to the Holy Land. As a biblical scholar, he knows the “wheres” and “whens” of the stories in the Bible. But, one day, while studying on the Mount of Olives, he realized why the texts are so clear that Jesus entered the city from the east. “If you enter from the east, coming from Bethany, you see the Temple as you come over the crest of the hill.” So, the approach would set up the significance of the arrival. “That shapes the narrative,” concludes Quanbeck.

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