Today we are at the Seminary all day for lectures. Julia and I are really looking forward to it. In the morning session Azar is talking to us about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the afternoon session Alex Miller is giving us an Introduction to Islam. This is primarily why we have come back to Israel this time – why we have come for an extended month’s stay – because we want to get under the surface and learn about what is really happening here.
After breakfast some of our group get a taxi to the Seminary but others of us decide to walk. We know the way now having walked to church yesterday, and the Seminary is not far from the Baptist Church. It is downhill most of the way with just a short climb up to the Seminary itself. My knees are holding up well after having them both cleaned out in the last year or so, nevertheless the weather is very hot and sunny and I am feeling pretty tired by the time we arrive. A couple of glasses of ice cold water … and a couple of cups of Arabic coffee and I am raring to go again, however!
David leads us very helpfully in a short devotional time … we really do have a great little group of people on this trip … and then Azar gives us an extremely helpful and unbiased (he is after all an Arab himself) survey of the events that have shaped this land and brought it to where it is today. He covers such things as: the rise of Zionism; the early solidification of Palestinian identity; the British, the Jews, and the Palestinians; the British Mandate in Palestine; the birth of the State of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war; the Palestinian refugee problem; the early years of Israeli independence; the post-1948 formative years of the Palestinian community; the 6 day war; the rise of Palestinian resistance; the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the years of the peace process. It is fascinating stuff and we learn so much that we did not know or understand before.
We have a decent break for lunch … and more Arabic coffee of course … and then we are introduced to another member of staff, Alex Miller. Alex is a young American who lectures in church history at the Seminary and who is also the Academic Dean. By all accounts he is a brilliant scholar and communicator who is destined for great things in the academic world. Phil speaks very highly of him, and Phil is no slouch academically himself. Alex has almost finished a PhD with Edinburgh University to do with the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. He is an expert in Islam, speaks Arabic fluently, and knows the Qur’an almost as well as the Bible. His subject for this afternoon is ‘Islam and Christianity: Narrative and Meta-narrative’.
Alex lives up to his reputation. He is brilliant, and he is only 32 years of age! It makes you sick! I comfort myself in the fact that, for a few months at least, I am academically more highly qualified than he is?! Alex gives us a superb overview of the journey that both Christianity and Islam have taken right up to the present day. He reveals a tremendous spread of knowledge on all kinds of related subjects and it is such a joy to hear someone talking so intelligently about these things from an evangelical Christian point of view in a sensible and comprehensive way. You can read his stuff on his blog – duanemiller.wordpress.com if you wish.
The discussion about Christianity and Islam goes on for so long that we are late leaving the Seminary. Some of our group get a lift back, some walk, but Rosemary, Julia and I decide to catch the number 15 bus. Julia now knows the Nazareth bus system perfectly so she marches us off to the relevant bus stop. Forty-five minutes later we are still there and there is no sign of a number 15 bus. We are just about to give up and walk when we see one coming in the opposite direction. Knowing that it is a circular route we run across the road and just catch the bus in time. The journey takes for ever. We are caught up in the Nazareth rush hour … or perhaps it is just always like this? We promise ourselves that we will definitely walk back next time, even if it is uphill.
This time the bus driver doesn’t take the unofficial route and drop us off right outside Saint Margaret’s like yesterday. We have a bit of a walk to the hostel but we discover a really nice fruit shop on the way back and buy lots of nice fruit … including some of the largest, sweetest, most flavoursome dates you have ever tasted. We arrive back just in time for dinner. The rest of the group are just about to send a search party out after us. We don’t even have time to change for dinner. We go down just we are. And guess what we are having for dinner tonight? Yes, you’re right … it’s chicken again!