I’ve been teaching an Introduction to Theology course here at Marquette for many years, and relish the chance to get younger undergrads to see that theological themes and doctrines matter today—i.e., they drive much of what happens in the world around them. Of course, a good bit of what I do in class is to provide a working knowledge of these themes and doctrines to students who may have no idea about them at all. Regarding getting students to care enough about a given theme I’ve long since learned—this coming from the medievalist Thomist—that the best way to make a subject interesting to students is to show its contemporary import. When it came to the Hebrew Scriptures portion of our Intro course, I’ve emphasized that the struggles over land and governance in contemporary Israel, and also the September 11th bombings, have their origin in Genesis 17, where God promises Abraham that “the land in which he was now alien, the whole land of Canaan,” would someday belong to his posterity, whose existence God also took care of by providing Abraham and Sarah the child, Isaac. Abraham would be the father of many nations, and those nations would live in the Promised Land. I tell my students that, for contemporary Israelis and Hebrews, the focus of the people’s attention is fixed upon Israel and Jerusalem directly and for good, and can’t be moved elsewhere, in large part because of the many promises God made throughout history to the Hebrew people about the Promised Land, going all the way back to Genesis 17.
And so when it came time for the first quiz, I had a surefire question to put to the students on the topic, and felt that I had drilled the notion into them well enough. Evidently not. One student, stumped by my question, got creative:
Question: In light of all the war and conflict, why can’t contemporary Israel just relocate elsewhere?
Answer: Well, why would anyone want to leave a place called the “Promised Land”?
I had to give the student partial credit.