Last week was our first full week of classes. They all went really well, but they also made it very obvious that this is most definitely not a vacation. I usually try to only take three or so classes that are going to require lots of work, and then fill the other credit hours with more manageable classes so that I don’t spread myself too thin. However, here we are all taking a very full fifteen hours. As hard as that might be, it will definitely be worth it. I can already tell that I’ve learned a lot, and things are still just starting.
More than just dealing with the hard classes, though, is the issue of time management. Sitting down to read 50 pages on Orientalism is a lot more difficult to do when you know Jerusalem is just down (and then up) the hill. Thus, I’m finding there is an art in balancing trips to the city and finishing homework.
In Old Testament we finished the book of Genesis, and we’re now wading our way through Exodus. Genesis is a book I’ve always felt like I’ve read a thousand times (every New Year’s Resolution to read the Bible cover to cover starts there…), but going through it in an academic setting revealed to me that I had much to learn. What’s been really interesting is the parallelism and mirroring between the Old Testament and New Testament, which Dr. Huntsman has been pointing out for us. For instance, the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering to the Lord. However, at the last moment, God stops Abraham and provides a ram to be sacrificed instead.
There are many interesting things we’ve learned about this. The first being that Mount Moriah, where this occurred, is the Temple Mount, where Dome of the Rock is currently located. Which means that it’s right out our balcony view, and a 30 minute walk from the JC. What’s also interesting is a kind of foreshadowing that this has of the New Testament and the Christ story. Abraham was going to have to sacrifice his son, but instead offered a ram. Heavenly Father sacrificed his only son, the Lamb of God, so that we would no longer have to offer sacrifices. The last insight (and, in my opinion, the most interesting) is that Isaac would not have been a young boy when this happened. Imagining Abraham pinning his small son down on a rock to slay him has always bothered me. However, we’ve learned that Biblical scholars put Isaac at 35 or so. This means he would have easily been able to overthrow his elderly father, if he chose to do so. Rather, Isaac realized the will of God and was willing to give everything to fulfill it. This fact colors the story in a whole new light.
We watched Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments on Friday as part of the Friday Night Film Series here. I was amazed by how many new little references I was able to recognize after just being here for a week and a half. It made the whole film a lot more enjoyable (which is good, when you're sitting through four hours of a movie... :)
My two other favorite classes are Israel/Judaism and Palestine/Islam. Each of these classes is taught by a professor from here, and is, respectively, an Israeli Jew and an Arab Muslim. In these classes we go through the history of the struggle of the groups, as well as getting a basic versing in the religions. It’s one thing to read about the facts of the issue, but quite another to have a passionate, educated individual who is actually affected by the situation teach it to you. Not that we don’t have fun in there too. In our Israel class on Tuesday we were going over the basics of Judaism. Professor Yarden asked us to say some phrases that came to mind when we thought of Judaism. After various suggestions of Hanukkah, kippahs, etc., someone raised their hand and said, “I don’t really know how to describe it, but it has to do with doing something over and over again; like handing something down…” and Professor Yarden said, “Tradition?” Suddenly 80 renditions of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof rang out through the forum. Then in our Palestine class on Thursday we were all feeling rather exhausted after a day full of classes. So, right after our break in between the two hours of the class, Professor Bashir asked us if we liked to dance. We replied (like most BYU students would) with many enthusiastic cheers. So he told us we could have two minutes to have a dance party. We stared blankly at each other before volunteering Sterling to beatbox. Then commenced the most legit impromptu dance party I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. I promise I’m learning lots too – but the point is that everything is enjoyable in so many ways.
Random trips into the city are one of the best parts of being here. We ventured out in between classes a few times last week. When time is limited we usually just go into the Old City, which is a twenty minute walk (or a three minute bus ride) away from the center. There we wander through street vendors and talk to locals. Once last week we skipped lunch at the JC , and went into town to get fresh falafel, before rushing through the rain back to class. It still seems surreal.
Sunday was our free day (after the most intense game of Mao I've ever played on Saturday, including ninja poses and nose goes), and so Sarah, Crystal, and I went all over the city, starting at the Dome of the Rock. Wow- what a magnificent building. It’s beautiful from far away, but it’s breathtakingly beautiful up close. There’s blue mosaic all over the bottom, and the grounds are peaceful and beautiful. We then started a day of wandering through the city. Rather than do the kind of exploring strictly governed by a map, we took whatever streets looked interesting to us. We ended up venturing out of the Old City and into West Jerusalem (the nicer, safer part of town). There we ventured up Ben Yehuda street, down to the Artist’s house, and ate lunch in a random park. We also got some awesome gelato on Ben Yehuda street. We made our way back to the Old City and found hidden little parks and cool galleries on our way, before making our final stop at the “Arab Costco.” It was fun to explore the city without the pressure of schedules.
Okay, well this turned into a much longer entry than I had expected. Thus, I will write about today (Monday) later, maybe tonight, or maybe tomorrow.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9