Scholars, Leaders to Meet in Israel
Bible conference will discuss biblical anthropology, tours highlight historic sites
Mark A. Kellner, news editor
More than 300 Seventh-day Adventist Bible scholars, university and seminary professors, and church leaders from around the globe will converge on two locations in Israel in June for an international Bible conference. The periodic meetings, previously held in 1998 and 2006, are designed to promote theological cohesion in the global Adventist movement, active in more than 203 countries.
president Ted N. C. Wilson, presidents of the 13 world church divisions, and other leaders are expected to join the conference and tour. General Conference
“This is the largest international Bible conference ever, with more than 330 theologians and top administrators from more than 60 countries,” said Clinton Wahlen, an associate director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI), which is organizing the event. “There are 70 presentations on human nature, death, and the growing influence of spiritualism, many of which will ultimately be published in a major scholarly volume on the subject. This conference represents another important step in building theological unity worldwide.”
Delegates will also tour a number of historic and Bible-related sites in Israel, and with good reason, Wahlen said. “Adventists are a people of the Bible, and it is important for us to be better acquainted with the land of the Bible.” Noting that “in the past 15 years a number of highly significant archaeological and epigraphic [inscription-related] discoveries have been made,” Wahlen said that the opportunity to see history firsthand will likely enhance participants’ understanding and presentation of Bible truths.
The conference is expected to begin June 11 at Kibbutz Ginosar, which is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and conclude 10 days later in Jerusalem. The group will celebrate the Sabbath on June 16, not far from where Jesus and His disciples would have worshipped in Jerusalem.
The BRI has issued a call for papers to be presented at the conference, with biblical anthropology as the theme: “A total of 12 plenary sessions are planned, some exploring the theme [of biblical anthropology] in connection with the ancient Near East, the Old and New Testaments, Greek philosophy, Judaism, Christian history, culture, and contemporary theology. Other plenary sessions will deal with ministry in an age of spiritualism, creation, evolution, human nature, and death and hell in Scripture. There will also be 54 additional papers, presented in six parallel sessions,” the group’s Website stated.
Along with the conference, as noted, will be the opportunity to visit many biblical sites, which this reporter was able to do in September 2011 on a press tour organized by the Israel Ministry of Tourism and El Al Airlines. Kibbutz Ginosar’s location on the Galil, as Israelis refer to the Sea of Galilee, was key to the 1986 discovery of the remains of a first-century fishing vessel now called the “Jesus Boat,” which is on display at the kibbutz. Behind the display is a rather amazing tale, as visitors to Ginosar discover.
The Jesus Boat story began with a rusty old nail, poking up in the dried-out bed of the shore of the Galilee. Usually, high water levels would obscure that patch of land, but 1986 was a bit dry. The nail caught the attention of brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan, fishermen who lived on the kibbutz, and they kept probing the moist earth. One step led to another, and, finally the discovery of the remains of a fishing boat seemingly from the first century A.D. Careful excavation (by hand) was undertaken, and eventually the boat was sealed in polyurethane and transported to the Yigal Allon Museum at the kibbutz. Carefully preserved under wax, it’s now on display.
Carbon dating authenticated the boat’s history: it really is from the first century. No one can prove who owned the boat, or who sailed in it. But there is one interesting fact: there are 12 different kinds of wood used in this boat, a number that corresponds to the 12 tribes of Israel.
There are, of course, numerous other sites to experience in northern Israel, where Ginosar is located. Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home, offers the chance for a look at the “first-century village” re-creation there.
The BRI group is likely to visit Capernaum, which is the Roman (Latin) name for K’far Nahum, or the Village of Nahum. Capernaum was home to Simon Peter and his family, and a place in which Jesus performed several miracles and from which He and His disciples went throughout the Galilee region. “Nahum” was a common name in Israel, so there’s no known connection between K’far Nahum and the prophet Nahum, whose book is in the Old Testament. But it is helpful to remember the Hebrew name of this village, and the fact that by the fifth century A.D. (and earlier) it was a Jewish town, despite the Roman name by which it is widely known.
Why is that important? It helps us understand why the fifth-century synagogue in Capernaum was so large a structure. A few columns, walls, and rows of seats (along the wall areas and not arranged as modern pews) remain, and the site draws thousands of visitors annually. The fifth-century structure sits atop ruins of older, similar buildings, which leads many to believe this was also the site of the first-century “house of meeting,” or beit knesset, where Jesus worshipped. Before its destruction in A.D. 70, there was only one place where Jews worshipped—the Temple in Jerusalem. Local assemblies were houses of meeting (beit knesset) and/or houses of study, known as beit midrash.
Jerusalem, where half of the Bible conference events will take place, is naturally a focal point for Christians worldwide. During this reporter’s visit in 2011, our tour group first went to the Mount of Olives, overlooking the eastern side of the “Old City” and the Temple Mount. Both Jewish and Muslim cemeteries line opposite sides of the Kidron Valley looking down from the mount, and the Dome of the Rock, part of a centuries-old Islamic complex atop the even older Temple Mount, dominates the skyline.
From here, Jesus looked out at Jerusalem and wept, knowing, as He did, its fate. You can read it in Luke 19: 41-44: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes’ ” (NIV).
And on this large hill Jesus prayed before His betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion, as we read in Matthew 26: “He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’ ” (verse 39, NIV).
In the church site designated as the “Garden of Gethsemane” there’s a lot to see, including a fenced-off section of the garden in which some very old olive trees can be found. As they age, olive trees grow thicker in their trunk, not taller. Just how old are these olive trees? No one can say for sure. But it’s nice to imagine that perhaps one tree on this mount may have witnessed the agony of Jesus.
Our tour group also visited the Israel Museum complex, which includes a model of Jerusalem as it looked in A.D. 66, some 33 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and four years before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. The model, which is displayed outdoors, gives a tremendous perspective to historical views of the Old City, because one sees the whole area, spread out, in a way not possible while walking the streets.
Inside the Shrine of the Book, fragments of many of the Dead Sea scrolls found in Qumran, Israel, are on view, as well as a complete scroll of the book of Isaiah. The scrolls were copied by the Essenes, a Jewish sect, and are remarkably consistent with later manuscripts of the Old Testament books represented. This can give believers even more confidence in the authority of God’s Word.
Numerous other sites await visitors, from the “Kotel” or “Western Wall” remains of Solomon’s Temple to historic places linked to events in Jesus’ life. The very atmosphere of the Old City evokes a time and tempo vastly different from the hard-charging life of much of the modern world.
Many Christians describe their visit to Israel as a “transforming” experience. While each attendee will have their own personal reactions to what they see in Israel, the fact that this Bible conference is placed in the land where Jesus walked and taught will doubtless provide educational opportunities lasting far longer than the 10-day conference and tour itself.
—portions of this article appeared in the author’s “Israel Sojourn” blog, online at http://bit.ly/wVIJni