Adventure Awaits Those Willing to Study Bible Critically
I grew up in a “mixed” religious family in Israeli terms, with an Orthodox mother and a secular father. My parents agreed to enroll their children to the Orthodox education system, where I had always felt like a secret agent trying to cover up the many gaps in my day-to-day religious background: I had no firsthand knowledge of rituals such as Shabbat prayer or weird conventions all my friends wore as second skin like the prohibitions to cut toilet paper or squeeze a wet towel on Shabbat.
This feeling of otherness probably shaped my academic persona as well. I never felt obliged to belong to a specific “school,” and am always wary of disciplinary “truths” and prevalent common ideas.
In high school, I was directed to study “serious” subjects like math and physics, since subjects in the humanities were considered by my betters to be inferior subjects meant for those incapable of succeeding in the sciences. Growing up in Rehovot – the city home to the Weizmann Institute of Science and the faculty of agriculture of the Hebrew University where my father worked – I always thought I would become a scientist.
The turning point happened during my military service, when I served as a guide in a field school, which was under the umbrella of the Society of the Protection of Nature in Israel. The groups I guided were mainly high school students, but also younger children, adults, tourists (individuals, but also groups from abroad such as USY), etc. I would take them on hikes in the Judean lowlands, hills, and desert, and I would teach them about the land – its geography, history, plant and animal life. I found myself drawn to precisely those “second-rate” subjects: history and Bible. That is why I chose them for my academic studies.
During my first year of study at the department of Bible of the Hebrew University, I experienced an intellectual sense of revelation. Until then, I walked around as if with blinders on, and once they were removed, I noticed that the scenery was much wider and more diverse than I had ever thought possible. This exciting sense of awe and wonderment, the adventure awaiting anyone willing to enter the field of critical biblical study, accompanies me to this day, and I find it very rewarding to pass it on to my students.
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Prof. Nili Wazana is a Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she heads the Bible Department and also teaches in the department of the History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Judaism. She is also the academic head of the Rothberg School’s graduate program, “The Bible and the Ancient Near East.” She holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University, is the former editor of Shnaton: An Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and the author of All the Boundaries of the Land: The Promised Land in Biblical Thought in Light of the Ancient Near East.
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