Perkins School of Theology in Palestine and Israel 2016

A group of students and alumni/ae from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology is participating in a global immersion trip to Palestine and Israel from Jan. 3-16, 2016. Led by Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, associate professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, participants will experience Palestine and Israel through a different theme, including:
• The World of Jesus
• The Birth of Jesus
• Orthodox Christmas
• Jesus in Galilee, Jesus in Judea
• Contemporary Palestine
• Contemporary Israel
Check back frequently for information about the group’s experiences!


An update from Rod Dennis, second-year Master of Divinity candidate:


Day 13 of a wonderful journey. Thirty five people left American soil for a pilgrimage in Palestine. Many came with questions, some just for a chance to visit the Holy Land. All had experiences that we could not have anticipated.

Visiting the sacred and historical sites provided different sentiments, with some being sobering, others being sacred. And maybe some wondering, why all the fuss?
The one thing I found was that those sites put Scripture in a three-dimensional perspective that the text, though powerful, could not have accomplished.

It was a journey that combined the sacred with the surreal, as visiting with people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raised questions, stirred emotions, and gave much to be considered. Some came with questions seeking answers, most were not knowledgeable enough to truly understand the situation or issues confronting people who have been at odds for over three millennia.


There were some who felt their questions were not adequately answered, for others the answers to complicated to fully process. In the end, at best, we were in a better position to understand their conflict is complicated.

Concluding our pilgrimage was a journey into Jordan to view and visit other historical sites and have a bit of fun. A seventh wonder of the ancient world was experienced, and it was beautiful to behold. That segment also included a trek to the place where Moses viewed the land to which he could not go. The scenery there was breathtaking, which must have been painful for him to see. Yet, that pain would pale in comparison to the pain he would have could he see this land today.

As we now make our journey home, tired, weary, and perhaps profoundly changed, I trust that we are all now better, by the friendship formed, the knowledge gained, and the experiences shared. As to the conflicts that lie in the land of Palestine, there yet remains a myriad of questions, which have answers that are complex and solutions afar. Hopefully I and those that journeyed with me also have questions of ourselves.


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To Petra

An update from Betty Conkrite:

Up early this morning, getting ready to leave Bethlehem, for our Petra visit. We will travel to Jordan, change buses and meet our new guide for our Petra tour. We will visit Madaba and Mount Nebo. We will stay overnight at Petra Panorama Hotel, in Petra. Our trip is winding down. We will have one more night after tonight for our Holy Land tour. I will send you pictures from by phone of the hotels where we have stayed and where we will be staying tonight.

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Jerusalem – Shalom Hartman Institute Lectures

An update from Robert Selvakumar, second-year Master of Divinity student:


Today was like none other day. We visited The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The day’s program was very cleverly crafted by Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles and Dr. Marcie Lenk. From the start to the end of the program, we had a very balanced program, whereby we sat and listened to three eloquent lectures by highly reputable scholars in their fields of interest, with ample of time to pose relevant questions to the lecturers. And we also went on a study tour by foot in the afternoon, in between lecturers, around the new city of Jerusalem, with Ezra Korman playing the tour guide brilliantly.

The Shalom Hartman Institute is a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world. Here are the lectures:

First Lecture: “The State of Israel – Ideal and Real”, by Dr. Leon Wiener Dow, a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and faculty member. He also teaches at Hebrew Union College and Bina. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Bar Ilan University.

Second Lecture: “Challenges of the Jewish State”, by Dr. Ruth Calderon, one of the leading figures spearheading efforts to revive Hebrew Culture and a pluralistic Israeli-Jewish identity. From 2013-2015 she was a Knesset Member from the Yesh Atid Party, and held very key responsibilities, mainly working for Jewish Renewal. She received her Ph.D in Talmud from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Third Lecture: “Holiness and Complexity”, by Dr. Marcie Lenk, a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow, and the Institute’s Director of Christian Leadership Programs. She teaches at Shalem College, Ratisbonne Monastry, Ecce Homo Convent, and the Swedish Theological Institute. She received her Ph.D at Harvard University.

Three things we learned from the lectures include:

  • Israel as a Jewish State has the right to exist, but it still has room for improvements, especially in the area of how it treats ‘others’, within and without.
  • Leadership is not the absence of doubts and anxieties. It is the responsibility of the leader to make sure one knows how to contain them within oneself, and work with the subordinates by encouraging, not burdening, as parents deal with their children.
  • The victory of Israel’s seven days war in 1967 should not be a deterrent to stop working at rebuilding its character and conduct, so that it would benefit all people, for sustainable peace and hope.

Sites we saw on our study tour by foot in the new city of Jerusalem include:

U.S. Consulate
The Rabbinate
The National Fund
Yes Harun Central Synagogue
The Order of the Lady of Sion (Monastry)
Baptist House (Church)
The House of the People
Outskirts of a Ultra Othordox Jewish neighborhood
The Tents of Jacob
Open Markets
Prophets Street (Anglican School and Messianic Jewish Church)
Ethiopia Street (Swedish Theological Seminary)


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Jordan River

An update from Georgia Barrett (third-year Master of Divinity candidate):

Going on a trip to the Holy Land has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I have seen so many wonderful sites on this journey. However, the most meaningful site has been the Jordan River. There, I was revitalized as I felt the presence of Jesus. I also realized that God loves me, my parents and my ancestors, in that through His baptism, death and resurrection, I can be washed clean of my sins. I thank God for this experience.

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Images from Mount Tabor

An update from Katherine McCarthy, Master of Divinity student:

Mount Tabor – Site of the Transformation of Jesus. The place where Jesus becomes radiant in glory. Where human nature meets God It is the historical meeting place for the temporal and the eternal. Jesus is the connecting point, as the bridge between heaven and earth.

From left: Leann Ashley, Betty Conkrite, Heather Gottas, Lilyana Pena, and Michele Ashley

From left: Leann Ashley, Betty Conkrite, Heather Gottas, Lilyana Pena, and Michele Ashley

Scripture reading of Luke 9:28-36 was red by Tom Webster in the Benedictine Chapel in the room with Moses picture.

Scripture reading of Luke 9:28-36 was red by Tom Webster in the Benedictine Chapel in the room with Moses picture.

Inside Benedictine Chapel

Inside Benedictine Chapel

Tabor Mountain

Tabor Mountain

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An joint update from Heather Gottas (third-year Master of Divinity candidate) and Michelle Ashley (second-year Master of Divinity candidate):


So far, our pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine has chronologically/thematically followed Jesus’ life and social context. In keeping, today our travels focused around Jesus’ ministry in Galilee including: Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s town), a first-century replica boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, an actual excavated first-century fishing boat, Capernum (where Jesus called some of his disciples and did much of his ministry), the Primacy of Peter (a chapel built literally around the rock where Jesus and Peter had the “on this rock I will build my church” conversation according to early Christian tradition), the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount according to early Christian tradition), and Tabgha (where Jesus fed the five thousand according to early Christian tradition).

We were both deeply moved by our time in Magdala. We arrived early this morning, after nearly drowning our bus in a flash flood, and were greeted by the very archaeologist who, in only 2009, discovered Magdala. (No small thing!) After meeting him, a nun took us around the town sites: a synagogue, mikvehs, etc. In only the last seven years, an entire first century town has been uncovered. We washed our hands in a ritual cleansing bowl that Jesus himself very well could have used, and stood on a stone path coming up from the Sea of Galilee upon which Jesus probably walked. All of this has been hidden for 2,000 years.

On the archaeological site (still in progress!), a church called “Duc in Altum” (translated from Latin “into the deep”—a reference to Jesus calling his disciples to follow him) has been erected. The church is beautiful, with multiple chapels and even an altar made to look like a fishing boat. But it had us at narthex. The narthex (or entry room) into Duc in Altum is dedicated to women in ministry. The domed ceiling is covered in the hands of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Around the dome are pillars with the names of women in the Gospels. One pillar is left blank to honor all the unnamed women—those in the Bible, and those throughout the history of the Church, and through today. Without those pillars, as poetry would have it, the building would collapse. Under that blank pillar—a representation of strength, beauty, and dignity—we stood with all the women on our trip preparing to serve or currently serving in ministry. We stood among giants.

There are moments when this trip is merely historical or archaeological, and then there are moments when we feel like Jesus is literally with us, looking at each of us like he did at Mary Magdalene—not as an object for his pleasure, but as a unique creation of strength, beauty, dignity, and purpose. It reminded us of the moment at the tomb, when the Marys stood perplexed that the tomb was empty and the young man dressed in a white robe told them, “Stop being afraid.” (Mark 16:6) We cannot be effective in ministry if we are operating in fear. These pillars, these women, and these fellow pilgrims remind us that we can, and will continue, in faith, to bring the Gospel to the people of this world.


We then continued our tour of the church into the basement area where we found a magnificent painting interpreting the story of the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25-34). We all gathered in the room, sitting along the outer edges, on benches constructed from rock. As we took in the amazing painting, our guide explained to us the construction of the room, and how the floor we stood on was actually a first-century Roman road, one that Jesus likely walked during his ministry in Magdala.


The archeologists had carefully picked up the road, laid a foundation, and placed the road back as they found it, recreating it in more stable form, and then built this amazing church around it. There was an audible gasp among our fellow pilgrims in the room and the atmosphere was immediately transformed. Classmates removed their shoes and prostrated themselves on the floor. It was as if you could close your eyes and hear the cacophony of voices as the mob of people surrounded Jesus, shouting and calling out to him. And then as if in slow motion, one woman, who was told she would never be healed from her illness, risking everything by being in public with the men of her small sea-side town, reaching out in faith, through the barrier of people, hoping for healing if she could only- Touch. His. Cloak. “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus said. Her story reminds us that our calls are not always socially or culturally acceptable, it may be dangerous, or challenging. But our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the courage and strength to stretch our arms out and allow Jesus Christ to work through us in a broken world.

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Caesarea to Nazareth

an update from Rev. Karan Young, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Tulia, Texas:

We are heading north today on our third day of exploring Palestine and Israel. As we made our way by bus, I observed a great deal of change as we left the arid climate around Jerusalem and headed to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Pine trees, cedar, fruit trees, and other lush green foliage made me forget that it is the middle of the winter.

Our first stop was Caesarea Maritima, another massive building project of Herod the Great. He built a harbor and built a palace. Herod enjoyed all the trappings of wealth and power. Two pools provided swimming—one fresh water pool and one salt water pool. The ruins of a Roman theater and a Hippodrome frame Herod’s home. It is clear that long after Herod’s death, this city remained a pivotal point in history. After Herod died, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Crusaders all made Caesarea an important starting place. Caesarea is important to our study because it was here that Peter baptized the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and all of the centurion’s family. This baptism ensured that Gentiles could become Christians and is the beginning of the Christian church.

The greatest evangelist to the Gentiles is Paul, and Paul also plays a part at Caesarea. After his arrest, Paul spent a long time imprisoned in the Roman dungeon located at the palace. It was there that Paul made an appeal to the Emperor and was eventually sent to Rome where he lived until he was put to death. Herod had the foresight to realize that this magnificent harbor and town would be the central point of departure whether by land or by sea since it is located between Asia Minor and Egypt. Via Maris or King’s Highway — all ships and roads led to Caesarea.

We continued to travel along the coast as we headed to Mount Carmel. At this place the prophet Elijah defeated the priests of Baal. At the observation tower we could see a panoramic view of the northern country stretching out more than 100 miles. We ate lunch there and enjoyed a quick sandwich as we headed to Megiddo. We arrived around mid afternoon. The overcast skies struck an ominous mood where so many battles have taken place in history. The name for this area is Armageddon. In Revelation, John sees the final battle between good and evil at this place.

Our final stop today was at Nazareth. I was expecting a sleepy little village but instead found the largest home of Muslims in Israel. One of the central features in Nazareth is the home of Mary. The Church of the Annunciation is built over a natural cave that has been used as a home. Graffiti from early Christian pilgrims indicates that this is where Mary lived and receives the news from Gabriel that she will become the mother of God’s son. Countries from all over the world have provided icons of Mary to spiritually decorate the walls. Each country depicted Mary in such a way that she took on the racial identity of the donor. Croatia’s icon with its burst of color and light was very impressive. Inside the church, the grotto shows the original cave and the altar used by the Catholic monks who care for the church. The sanctuary is massive; yet, there in the midst is a painting of Mary as a young, innocent girl. It took my breath away as I realized just how young she was when she accepted God’s proposal. Peter and Paul helped to create the Christian church, but Mary helped to create Christ himself.

Church of the Annunciation

Church of the Annunciation

We are now located at a hotel in Tiberius. Tomorrow we begin our travels around the Sea of Galilee. I have felt God’ presence so strongly at two places so far: the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and in the Church of the Annunciation. Baptism and incarnation assure us of God’s great love for each of us. Have a blessed day.

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An update from David Rangel, a second-year Master of Divinity student:

We gathered at the Jordan River for baptism and renewing our baptism covenant. The moment was very significant for all of us as we remembered the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

One person was baptized and 34 others renewed their baptisms. It was a very emotional time for everyone, knowing that at this very spot our own Savior had, too, been baptized.




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Mt. Herodium

An update from Craig Howard, second-year Master of Divinity student:

What an AMAZING experience today was. This morning we woke up in the hotel with a moving view of Bethlehem on the Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve. We had a great traditional Palestinian breakfast – including hummus, of course. The coffee tastes a little different here.


Our first stop on our tour today was Mt. Herodium. This was the mountain in the heart of the Judean wilderness where Herod the Great built his summer palace and was buried. Mt. Herodium was not high enough for Herod’s liking, so he had the hill beside taken down and added to his mountain before he built his fortress. From this sight, we could see Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, the Judean wilderness and more. We also got to cruise the tunnels within the mountain where the aqueducts were located.


We then returned to Bethlehem, where we toured the Church of the Nativity. Here, we witnessed a Greek Orthodox and Catholic service while they prepared for Greek Orthodox Christmas tomorrow. The Church of the Nativity is built upon the cave that is traditionally thought to be where Jesus was born. It was a moving experience for the entire group.

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Travel to Palestine

An update from Kaela Patterson Burdge, a third-year Master of Divinity student:

Today has been a big travel day for many of us. I went to early service for my Perkins internship in Ada, Okla. There, the senior pastor, Rev. David L. Daniel, prayed for me, committed and blessed the Perkins Israel/Palestine group. Immediately following this service, I drove down to DFW praying for peace, safe travels, and knowledge to grow more in my understanding of where Jesus walked.

Rev. David L. Daniel (M.Div. ’95) prays for Kaela Patterson Burdge, third-year Master of Divinity student at Perkins, and commits the Perkins Palestine/Israel trip team at First United Methodist Church, Ada, Okla.

Rev. David L. Daniel (M.Div. ’95) prays for Kaela Patterson Burdge, third-year Master of Divinity student at Perkins, and commits the Perkins Palestine/Israel trip team at First United Methodist Church, Ada, Okla.

As soon as I got to DFW, I got to see my fellow travelers whom I have missed while on internship. On our flights, we caught up and also talked about what we hope to learn. One of my anticipations is to understand more deeply the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what is the best thing I can do as a Western Christian. I am looking forward to build connections and learning from the people of Israel so that I could possibly lead groups here in the future.

Our contingent, ready to depart Dallas.

Our contingent, ready to depart Dallas.

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