Shahar Shilo, the former head trainer of tour guides who now gives VIP tours, lectures at the Ben Gurion University and is an internationally recognized expert on the City of David, is showing our group a recent, not yet open to the public, excavation of a Canaanite spring deep below the City of David. http://(http://allaboutjerusalem.com/tour_guide/shahar-shilo)
As part of the introduction he says (yet again) “Know your Bible.”
“Read your Bible,” Shahar repeats.
“I do!” I want to reply, although using my inside voice because any pretence that I might know a great deal about the Bible has been laid waste by spending the first couple of days with our guide Abdelkareem (Abbey). True I have been reading the book for close to six decades but in the presence of Abbey and Shahar I feel like a beginner.
I wonder why.
Certainly I have grown too familiar with the passages over time and so do not pay enough attention. For too long, I have read the Bible for other purposes: to find something that “preaches,” to test an idea, to “listen” for the voice of God. Using the practices born of a spiritual or homiletical need I have, unintentionally, fallen into the habit of abstraction.
Put another way, I do not pay enough attention to place names and chronology.
When people like Shahar and Abbey read the text their first question is usually “Where did this take place?” For the location greatly impacts the meaning of the story.
I have grown accustomed to skipping the place names, primarily because I did not know where they were or appreciate the meaning attached to them. Unless Abbey or Shahar was there I easily could have cruised by Beer Sheba, Megiddo, the City of David, even Jericho without appreciating why Joshua fought the battle there.
I have read Brueggeman’s “The Land” http://(http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B000V809NY?keywords=Brueggeman%2C%20The%20Land&qid=1454261420&ref_=sr_1_sc_2&sr=8–2-spell). And I have listened to dozens of First Nations leaders lecture on their unique relationship to the land.
But somehow the deep importance of place in the narratives of the Scriptures never went beyond my head.
In my own life, I know the importance of place. When a new acquaintance identifies themselves as being from Toronto, Manitoba or the States, something clicks within me. With respect to the Bible though I had become inoculated.
A significant loss.
I am grateful for this opportunity to see the places of the Holy Land and meet people for whom the correct identification and appreciation of the depth of place casts a floodlight on the story.