Israel has no diplomatic relations with most Arab and Muslim countries. But this minor detail didn’t stop students from Oman, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and United Arab Emirates from signing up for an online course being given by an Israeli university. It seems love of biblical archaeology truly knows no borders.
The course, “Biblical Archaeology: The Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Judah,” is taught by an Israeli professor from Bar-Ilan University. It includes short video lectures, virtual “handling” of archaeological finds and on-site discussions at archaeological locations.
More than 1,000 students are learning about the complex relationship between archaeology, history and the Bible, and how modern research can connect these often-conflicting sources. In the eight-week course that started December 5, students will also learn how archaeology can be used to understand biblical texts – and vice versa.
Prof. Aren Maeir, the teacher of the English-language course, has directed excavations at Tel es-Safi/Gath, the biblical Gath of the Philistines and home of Goliath, for almost 30 years.
“The format of the course is very different from most standard teaching methods around the world. Today, courses such as this one demonstrate the reform that is taking place in teaching and in learning at universities in Israel and around the world,” says Maeir.
The MOOC (massive open online course) is part of an effort by the Israel Council for Higher Education to make Israeli academia accessible to a large audience of interested people around the world. In this case, the interested people are of particularly interesting nationalities.
According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, 30 UN member states don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. Of these, 19 are members of the Arab League and 11 are Muslim-majority countries. But it seems such formalities haven’t deterred students.
“They see me,” Maeir says, “and they see where I’m from. It’s absolutely obvious.”
“That’s the whole idea of a MOOC, of learning for all,” he says. “Anybody who wills is welcome.”