Bible Study Week lets visitors walk in the Holy Book’s footsteps

Under the shade and across from a six-meter tall statue of Elijah at the Mukhraka Monastery in Daliat al-Carmel tour guide Shuli Mishkin lays out the scene for the Bible-lovers.

The journey through Megiddo (photo credit: BENJAMIN GLATT)
The journey through Megiddo
(photo credit: BENJAMIN GLATT)
‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” And so they went.
Following in the directive of God’s order to Elijah the Prophet in 1 Kings 18: 1, a group of eight students set out to Mount Carmel to retrace the footsteps of the epic struggle between Elijah the Prophet, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. 
Under the shade and across from a six-meter tall statue of Elijah at the Mukhraka Monastery in Daliat al-Carmel, the site of Elijah and Ahab’s Mount Carmel face-off, tour guide Shuli Mishkin lays out the scene for the Bible-lovers.
Under Ahab and Jezebel’s rule, Israel has fallen into the trap of the idol Baal. The king has built a temple to worship the Canaanite god, and his wife has brought in priests and prophets whose only allegiance is to the worship of idols. It hasn’t rained in more than three years, and the people are suffering from famine. But God has seen enough. He tells his loyal prophet to approach the Israelite king so that the rain will return to the Holy Land. Elijah proposes a challenge. The nation will build two altars on Mount Carmel – one to God and the other to Baal. After the sacrifices are set, Elijah tells the prophets of Baal to pray for a fire to appear on the altar. Prayer after prayer, there is no sign of fire.
Elijah then asks God to send down fire to his altar, which he had ordered prior to be drenched with four jugs of water. God answers, sending flames that consumed not only the sacrifice, but the stones and dust of the altar as well.
Elijah then orders, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape” (18:40). And there they go, the group of eight students, chasing after the prophets until the Kishon River.
Next, the group meets up with Ahab at Tel Megiddo. They explore his stables, the enormous grain pit, and the 35-meter deep (115 ft) and 110-meter long (330 ft) water system that supplied sustenance to all the residents of the ancient city, and all the while wondering how such an evil king managed to be so successful. The final stop of the day was Tel Jezreel, near Ahab’s palace and overlooking Naboth’s vineyard. Tired but satisfied, the group sat under a patch of olive and carob trees admiring the blossoming valley and marveling at the adjacent mountains of Gilboa and Tabor. 
“And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” (Hosea 2:22-23)
Thus ended the first International Bible Study Week, a four-day event featuring three full days of lectures on biblical topics and a trip on the final day to take what was learned in the classroom and see it come to life.
The project, initiated by the Jerusalem Journey educational tourism agency in partnership with the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, brought in more than 50 people from all over the world to study the Bible from Jewish and Christian experts, uncovering the realism, tradition and enduring practice of the Bible while being immersed in the land that nourished the Jewish and Christian faiths.
Lectures covered a wide array of topics. World famous archeologist Gabriel Barkay spoke about the Temple Mount and Solomon’s Temple in light of the Bible and archeology. Prof. Malcolm F. Lowe and dean Clair Pfann, both of the University of the Holy Land, spoke about what ancient Greek historians know about Belshazzar’s Feast and about kinship terminology as an indicator of Jewish-Gentile relations in the first century, respectively. The classes, held at the pastoral Hotel Yehuda overlooking the Malha Valley hosting Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, began at 9:30 in the morning and concluded at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Following the three days of lectures, participants had the choice of following the trail of prophets and kings in the Jezreel Valley, focusing on the conflict between the Prophet Elijah and his nemesis King Ahab, or touring Hebron, the City of Patriarchs and Matriarchs, learning about the unique biblical sites in the city and around the Southern Hebron Mountains. There was also a third option to explore Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem and learn about the emergence of the Christian holy city.
IT ALL started to come together last year. When Oded Peles, the education director of Jerusalem Journey, a tourist organization dedicated to offering Christians the finest specialized educational expeditions in the Holy Land, met Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt, the secretary-general of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, the two quickly realized that they shared the same vision of what a visitor’s experience to Israel should be. “We each had a dream,” Heldt says. “We wanted to bring Christians to study the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
Every year, more than 5,000 Israelis take part in a special week of Bible study at Herzog College, located in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion bloc. It started more than 20 years ago, with only about 15 people attending the first time. As the two discussed plans on how to make their dream come true, Peles knew exactly where to take Heldt to draw inspiration. “She didn’t believe that such a thing exists,” Peles says of their experience at the teachers’ college. “That people from all over the country come to learn the Bible and explore the Land of the Bible from the best rabbis, teachers and professors in the world, and all at a very discounted price.”
The Ecumenicals had no experience in organizational structure for an event like this one, so the partnership with Jerusalem Journey was natural. Peles, who comes from an Orthodox Judaism background and who part-times as a cantor during the High Holidays, says the venture will help to continue bridging gaps between Christians and Jews.
“I had a lot of providence that guided me to the place I’m in now. It’s a mission from above,” he says. “When I noticed that in one of the learning sessions a Christian was teaching Orthodox Jews, there was something about it that was so serene, so joyful, so emotional.”
This philosophy is what guided  the organizations in developing the fine details of the program.
“There are no subjects, no limitations on who can attend, and there are no limits on the type of teaching. As long as it has something to do with the Bible, we’ll accept it,” Heldt says. Indeed, the organizers are very adamant that this type of event is not for zealots or missionaries, and it has no agenda or political motivations. It’s about learning the Bible in Israel at a very high academic level, while making sure that everyone has the means to participate. The full program of 12 lectures and a full-day’s trip cost $190 or NIS 770.
And with the more people they get, Peles says, the more they can lower the prices. When faced with the dilemma of paying for advertising, Peles prefers to invest the little funds he has available for this venture in bringing in the best experts and the most knowledgeable tour guides. “Hopefully, the word will start to get out and more people will sign up in future years, but I’m not willing to compromise on our objective – high-quality biblical study that’s available to everyone.” 
Ten countries were represented during the three days of study and the day-long journey, including those from Finland, Belgium and Brazil. Amongst the participants, there were Lutherans, Baptists, and Catholics, as well as observant and secular Jews, with the ages varying from those in their teens on family trips to seniors living in Jerusalem who stopped by to hear a lecture or two.
“Of course we have different heritages, and I believe that it should stay that way,” Heldt says. “The Bible is what brings us all together.”