Theology in Israel and Palestinian Territories

22 students from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology — led by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of the Perkins Global Theological Education Program — are participating in a Palestine-Israel immersion course from Dec. 29 through Jan. 13, 2014. Their itinerary includes lectures and interaction with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and scholars, and travel throughout the region, including to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah, the Sea of Galilee, and more.

Follow Dr. Hunt on the Perkins Facebook page at and the blog of Perkins student Scott Gilliland at

The Perkins Global Theological Education Program helps prepare students, pastors, and other Christian leaders to guide congregations into more culturally sensitive, competent, and effective mission both within and outside the United States. The program offers significant hands-on immersion experiences, grass-roots inter-religious dialogue, and exposure to cross-cultural ministries. Learn more at

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Struggles with space

An update from Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of the Perkins Global Theological Education Program:

Let me start with a map. The distance from the Jordan River (border of Jordan) to the Mediterranean Sea in the center of Israel is just over 40 miles. Everything is compressed. There isn’t a lot of physical space. And that space holds a lot of history.

Almost anywhere you dig, literally anywhere, you will find layer upon layer of different cultures and civilizations. And that space holds a lot of different peoples. The distinction between Arabs and Jews doesn’t begin to express it. There are many kinds of each, including not only theological divisions but essentially ethnic divisions as well.

But it isn’t just different peoples. It is different worldviews and viewpoints. And these struggle with space and for space; social, psychological, and spiritual. We have heard about the difficulty for politicians to “remain within the consensus,” meaning the current multi-party government, when a large part of the constituency wants to break out over sometimes minute ideological issues. But issues critical to their sense of community identity. We have heard of how women struggle to stay within orthodoxy because they do not want to suffer the dual punishment of facing both misogyny and exile from their community and tradition.

And all of this takes place in actual spaces, neighborhoods in which some Jews want to stop all cars from disturbing the Sabbath and others don’t want their freedom impinged by religious laws they find ridiculous, for example. Or at the Western Wall divided by gender, with women having less space and reformed and conservative Jews even less. Or in the head-space where Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians live when the national anthem, specifically Zionist and therefore explicitly excluding them, is sung.

And no place has all of this tension more compressed than Jerusalem, where a couple of hours’ walk can traverse them and encircle them.

And perhaps that is why our hosts expressed quite openly how the 30-mile trip to Tel Aviv is a million-mile trip toward feeling relaxed. One said he went to Tel Aviv at least once a week “just to breathe.” We all felt it as well.

Jerusalem is a straitjacket in a padded cell, Tel Aviv a spacious garden. Both cells and gardens are features of a lunatic asylum, but I suspect the latter is the path to sanity. Our discussions leading up to the Sabbath can be summarized as the efforts of scholars to see how Jerusalem can also be a garden.

. . . .

Tradition of the rabbis. First note that there are two different versions of the Ten Commandments – one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. With regard to the Sabbath, two different words are used: “remember” and “observe.” They don’t mean the same thing. But there the rabbis will not allow precedence based on either chronology or anything else. So they say that God revealed all of the Commandments, in both of their different forms, at exactly the same instant to Moses. Now it is up to us not to resolve the contradictions by exclusion but by inclusion.

Jerusalem market a few hours before the Sabbath begins.

Jerusalem market a few hours before the Sabbath begins.

Perkins students enjoy lunch at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Perkins students enjoy lunch at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

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