Theology students at Charles Sturt University (CSU) have returned from a study tour to Israel with an enhanced appreciation for theological archaeology.
Several students and staff from the CSU School of Theology spent three weeks in Israel in late June and July to gain hands-on experience in field archaeology, engage with people from the local Jewish and Palestinian communities, and work alongside volunteers from several other participating universities.
The study tour was led by Dr Gregory Jenks, a senior lecturer in the CSU School of Theology and one of the co-directors for the Bethsaida excavations on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The tour was supported by CSU Global.
"The Charles Sturt University expedition to the Bethsaida excavations project has been running since 2010, and has been a great success," Dr Jenks said.
"On this trip we spent three nights in Nazareth, two weeks on the dig at Bethsaida, and another four nights in Jerusalem. The students and other participants have found the international experience offered by this program hugely enjoyable and personally transformative."
Dr Jenks said that many students plan to return to Bethsaida for a repeat program as soon as they can, and some from previous expeditions already have.
"For several of the Charles Sturt University students the highlight of the dig experience was finding the first-century level in a part of the site where we have been working since 2012," Dr Jenks said.
"The big moment for others was when they uncovered an ancient coin. As it sits in their own hand they wonder about the other people from the past whose hands once held that same coin."
That sense of wonder is confirmed by several of the students who participated in this study tour.
Gold Coast resident Ms Pauline Harley said the Bethsaida dig left her wanting to return to answer the questions left behind. "It's very exciting finding a piece of pottery from the first century, or even older," she said. "The tour brought the scriptural stories alive and gave me a better understanding of geographical locations and the challenges faced by the people who lived these stories."
Ms Adi Mariana Waqa from Sydney said, "The Bethsaida Study Tour Program was a most significant experience because it not only introduced me to the wider field of theological and Biblical studies, but it also allowed time for a lot of personal reflection and spiritual growth."
"The dig was physically, intellectually and spiritually exhilarating," Lismore resident Ms Cathy Ridd said. "It was a lived experience of the truth that for every answer we unearth there are so many more questions."
Dr Jenks said that CSU study tours such as this enrich the participants, motivate their continued study, and contribute to their professional development.
"For theology students, the opportunity to explore the physical context of the Bible changes how they study," he said. "The engagement with local religious communities prepares them for future roles as community leaders."
CSU is the largest provider of theological study in Australia. The ethos of the CSU School of Theology is ecumenical, and staff are drawn from a variety of Christian traditions. Find out more here and here.