Learning in Israel

Learning in Israel

By Dr. J. Carl Laney, Professor of Biblical Literature

Western Seminary students don’t just meet in campus classrooms; occasionally, they meet in the land of the Bible. This past May, thirty-two Western students and three of Western’s faculty traveled to Israel for a three-week intensive class, “Historical and Geographical Settings of the Bible.” Joining our group were seven students from Denver Seminary, making forty-two students in all. The class was offered by Western’s associated school in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem University College (JUC). Dr. Carl Laney served as the teacher for the class and Dr. Jan Verbruggen served as group leader. Dr. Rob Wiggins, Western’s Dean of Faculty, and his wife Pat also participated.

The  JUC, formerly known as the Institute of Holy Land Studies, was founded in 1957 by Dr. G. Douglas Young. The school serves both graduate and undergraduate students and offers degree programs as well as short-term programs like the three-week class our Western students participated in. The JUC campus is located on the southwest corner of Mt. Zion, just a short walk from the Old City of Jerusalem. The campus buildings were constructed in 1853 and served as the Bishop Gobat School for boys until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. The JUC acquired the use of the property in 1967 and began updating the facility to house visiting students.

web Carl teaching

Western Seminary began sending students to the Jerusalem University College for short-term studies in 1992. Since that time fourteen groups of Western Students, including a dozen Western faculty, have traveled to Jerusalem to study at the JUC. The earliest groups were taught by JUC staff. More recently, the class has been taught by Western’s own professor, Carl Laney, who studied at the JUC during his student days and specializes in the historical geography of the Holy Land.

I have never been on a trip that has refreshed me for continued ministry or has pushed me to want to return and get back to kingdom work like the Israel trip did. And on top of all that I have a physical context for my Bible reading. -Aeric, Student

The class for which the Western students are enrolled at the JUC focuses on the physical settings of the Bible including the geography, history, archaeology and culture. Students prepare for the class by doing 20-30 hours of map work to familiarize themselves with the cities and regions of Israel and the events associated with the Bible lands. After their arrival in Israel they attend lectures in preparation for field trips. Before the field trips, students learn about the regions and sites they will be visiting and how the physical settings helps our reading and study of the Bible.

The field trips provide opportunity for students to become thoroughly acquainted with the city of Jerusalem and surrounding regions including the Hill Country, the Coastal Plain, Negev, Wilderness, Jordan Valley and Galilee. At each of the biblical sites there is an orientation to the physical setting and description of the biblical events associated with the location. It is a joy and a privilege to read the Scripture in the places where the biblical events actually occurred! Sometimes the students assist the teaching by participating in mini-dramas to illustrate the biblical events. Those who have had the privilege of studying the Bible in the land of the Bible will agree that it is a life-changing experience.

web Students on a wilderness hike

Western’s next Israel Study Program is scheduled for May 2018. (Our Turkey Study Tour, taught by Dr. John Johnson, will be held May 2017.)  This is a seminary class for students by which they can earn four hours of academic credit. But we are sometimes able to include interested Western alumni. If you are interested in receiving further information about this opportunity, please contact Dr. Jan Verbruggen (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). If you can’t travel to Israel, but would like to learn more about the land of the Bible, you can read Dr. Laney’s book: “Concise Bible Atlas: A Geographical Survey of the Bible” (Hendrickson Publishers) and the “Discovery House Bible Atlas” (Discovery House) by John A. Beck.  

My association with the Jerusalem University College takes me back to 1973 when my wife Nancy and I studied for the summer at what was then known as the Institute of Holy Land Studies. Our teacher, Dr. Jim Monson, shared his passion for the Land of the Bible, and I “caught the bug!” Returning to Western for my Th.M. studies, I wrote my thesis on “The Geopolitics of the Judean Hill Country.” My doctoral dissertation was on “Selective Geographical Problems in the Life of Christ.” The passionate teaching of Jim Monson gave me a love for the study of the land of the Bible. My goal in taking students to Israel is to pass on what I learned from Jim to the next generation of Western Seminary students. -Dr. Carl Laney

web Students at the Sea of Galileeweb Jan teaching web Cooling off with popsicles


 Photos courtesy of Dr. Carl Laney.