Exkursion nach Jerusalem, Massada, Beit Alpha, Beit Shearim, Sepphoris/Zippori 2012
The Fieldtrip to Jerusalem and to the North of Israel of the Hauptseminar/Vertiefungskurs „Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Perception and remembrance of Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages“, 18th-27th November 2012, with Prof. Dr. Eva Haverkamp
An Account by Veronika Nickel, Hannes Pichler, Esther Pütz, and Josef Prackwieser
In the course of our advanced seminar which focused on different perceptions and memories of medieval Jerusalem among Jews and Christians, 16 students of Medieval Jewish History under the guidance of Prof. Eva Haverkamp elaborated on an array of questions orbiting the role assumed by the city in Jewish and Christian religious tradition: How was Jerusalem described in the widespread pilgrim accounts; how was its holiness reflected in artistic, monumental or liturgical testimonies? And, foremost, in which way did these two groups refer to each other?
On our excursion to Israel, which formed an integral part of the seminar, we were able to address these questions in great detail and vividness. We visited various sights in Jerusalem, Masada, and the North of Israel, guided by occasional guest lectures but most importantly by eight student presentations; in these discussions which often lasted into the late evening hours we intensively studied biblical and medieval sources relevant to each excursion. On November 18th 2012 our plane departed from Munich to Tel Aviv. It was the beginning of an intensive journey, not just to the medieval crusaders and Mamluks but also to the First and Second Temple Period, the Hellenistic Era and Roman occupation and, in addition, to the cultural aspects of our host country. As student Veronika Nickel pointed it out: "The large amount of medieval sources which accompanied us from the very beginning - squeezed in a thick booklet that due to the frequent use was losing its shape quickly - was not just an essential part of broadening our knowledge about medieval thinking and writing: the texts of Benjamin of Tudela, Felix Fabri, Obadiah of Bertinoro, Ernoul´s chronicle and the many others cited whenever referring to the proper spot we were passing by or standing on also transformed the mere printed letters to treasured and unforgettable companions of our travel through history."
On the first day we visited the Israel Museum and entered more than 2000 years of the Holy Land’s narrative. From famous manuscripts as for example the Dead Sea scrolls or the Aleppo Codex to numerous archeological exhibits and various city models, e.g. the reconstruction of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, we were able not only to study the topography and the settlement strata of Jerusalem, but also to discover the historical variety and richness of this city. A special exhibition on the past and present of Chassidic Jewry complemented our visit. “Probably the best experience was our visit to the great exhibition at the Israel Museum of Jerusalem”, assumed therefore student Léonie Rey.
In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to explore the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University. Prof. Israel Yuval, director of the Scholion Research Center, and Prof. Reuven Amitai, dean of the Faculty of Humanities, welcomed us warmly and gave an overview over the development of university studies over the last decades.
The following days we explored the ancient and medieval sights of Jerusalem. A guided tour through the Western Wall Tunnel revealed the monumental size of the Second Temple (of which the nowadays Wall constitutes merely a fraction) and introduced us to the architecture and its several phases. We visited the excavations at the “City of David”, the oldest settled part of the city, descended to the Valley of Kidron and its numerous tombs, and inspected the unique water supply system built by King Hiskja in the 8th century BCE. A tunnel that leads from the elevated Gihon spring situated outside the former city walls to the Pool of Siloam, which is mentioned several times in the Bible.
The visits to the holiest places of Christendom, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dormition Abbey on top of Mount Zion, the Via Dolorosa and Garden Gethsemane showed us once again just how important Jerusalem as a religious city is. The many confessions that jointly manage these places revealed to us further the manifold ramifications of Christianity und what difficulties (e.g. at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) accrue from it.
One of the highlights of our journey was the massive fortress of Masada. As Hannes Pichler experienced it: “By sunrise we immersed into the world of 74 CE and together with the historian Flavius Josephus into the last days of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The overwhelming surroundings of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea together with its archeological remains not only illustrated Jewish autarkical life on top of the desert hill, but also linked us seamlessly with the history itself. Reading Josephus’ De bello Iudaico and the medieval account of Josippon while wandering along the antique walls of palaces and housing units, we got an impression of what life must have been like, when collective suicide was considered a better choice than being held captive by the Romans.”
We spent the last day of our journey in Israel's north. The ancient synagogues of Beit Alfa, Sepphoris and Capernaum as well as the necropolis in the Bet She’arim National Park impressed with mosaics and relics of medieval Jewish spaces and contemporary cultural identity; we could, for example, compare the different symbolic illustrations of the Temple and the binding of Isaac, which performs a central role in Jewish historiography. Discussing funeral rituals at Bet She’arim made us realize that Jewish communities were deeply influenced by their surroundings. As Sophia Schmitt saw it: "I especially enjoyed the wide range of covered periods on our study trip, starting from the time of the First and Second Temple up to the Middle Ages. Our visit to the excavations of Beit Alfa and Sepphoris was very impressive, mostly because of the interesting explanations by Dr. Shalev-Eyni, art historian at the Hebrew University. Analysing the mosaics of the two synagogues presented us with the opportunity to discuss the impact of the Jewish - Christian theological dispute on the art of the 4th and 6th century."
The beautiful landscape made of green plains and mountains all around the Sea of Galilee that accompanied us during this last day was a very suitable completion of a whole week full of numerous impressions and academic input, which in turn were a valuable enrichment not only for our future studies, but also for our personal growth.