The times in my life when I’ve experienced the greatest potential for growth have often been times of change. Times when my circumstances are no longer the same and life, as I have come to know it, ceases to make sense. At least these are the moments that never fail to get my attention. True in our personal lives, it is also true for human communities. Social scientists use the technical term “crisis” for shared seasons of political, economic, emotional and/or spiritual upheaval. They are defined as times when the identity of a people may be threatened unless guidance is found and correct decisions are made about how life will be moving forward. Our word “crisis” comes to us from a Greek word meaning “to reach a decision” or “to alter a course.” Indeed, these are moments that do not allow us the option of business as usual, nor can we retreat from the challenges they bring and still find significance in changing times.
How does this relate to BibleSettings? Well, it may surprise you to learn that the Hebrew Bible emerged in just these sorts of times. In fact, we argue that each of the books in the Christian “Old Testament” was crystalized around one of four crises in the collective life of ancient Israel. To understand the Bible then as it was intended to be understood, one must be able to identify the crisis occasion that each particular book addresses, the guidance it offers and the decision it advocates. The idea of crises underlying the Hebrew Bible forms an important core of our study experience in Israel, as each of these crises have historical and geographical components to them.
The crises are: (1) Sedentarization: Socio-economic change from living pastorally to living agriculturally with the responsibilities and obligations that go along with it. (2) Nationalization: Political change from sedentary life oriented locally to national life oriented in central structures of religion and government. (3) Urbanization: Spiritual challenges for living faithfully within a system that no longer seeks the good of its citizens. (4) Colonization: The all-embracing challenge of finding the reality of God when all societal mediation has been forfeited.
At a practical level, in a land that has known its share of crises throughout history, our Israel Study Trips are designed for more than just teaching about the past, although that we do. In identifying crises, we try to offer guidance and provide direction for the path ahead, your path. Curiously, one of the earliest terms (still used!) for our Bible is Torah. And the central idea of Torah is “movement forward.” That is where we intend to end up when we visit one of the most ancient of all lands: ahead of where we were when we came.