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LECTURE TOPICS





I went to America for a month in 1986 taking with me "Treasures of the Holy Land", a film I had just made for the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same name, to show to some friends. From that modest beginning, a yearly event developed which took me to the USA and Canada and continues to this day. Below is the list of topics available for presentation.



 

 

I have managed to attend my old college reunion only once, in 2001, our 45th reunion. They invited me to speak to the class about Israel and the Middle East. This is the talk I gave, recorded by a classmate friend. I am surprised to see it now, 10 years later, and to see that there is not one single thing I said then that I would not say now, nor any part of my analysis that I would change or modify in light of the 10 years which have passed. I was surprised at that, and pleased.
Nobody is ever 100% happy with past work, but you will get a fairly good idea of how I view Israel and the Arabs,  of how I present the topic,  and of my relation to the audience. Enjoy!

CURRENT EVENTS

1. THE POLITICAL LECTURE

The political talk (not usually a written lecture) is a presentation of what I see to be the major issues affecting the Israeli body politic at the moment. This talk is very much about "current events" and usually involves a lively give-and-take with the audience.

2. ABOUT TERROR AND WHY IT WORKS

Governments all over the world are re-thinking their military policies because the dangers of conventional warfare -- armies against armies -- have greatly diminished in the past generation. The new danger -- the greatest danger threatening societies nowadays -- is the danger from terror. The enemy is now not an invading army but a lone suicide bomber driving a vehicle, or walking himself/herself into a strategic building or into a crowd and killing whoever is unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. This lecture examines the origins of Arab terror against Israelis and Jews, why this current wave began in 2001 and not before, why it has worked as a successful political tactic by the Palestinian Authority against Israel whereas it might not have worked elsewhere in the world, how suicide bombing has impacted and resonated in European and American opinion, and what Israel needs to do to combat it.

3. THE DESPERATE SHORTAGE OF WATER IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Florida State University invited me to deliver a talk in the Shepard Broad International Lecture Series, and they chose the topic. I knew it would be difficult to write, but never realized how difficult, and how grim the material would turn out to be. This lecture reviews the situation in the Nile river basin, the Tigris-Euphrates basin, and the Jordan river basin, and the effect of un-stoppable development and population explosion on all of the countries who depend on that water. This is a truly depressing talk, but water is by far the greatest problem facing the Middle East.

4. THE ARABS

More than 1,000,000 citizens of Israel - some 20% of the population - are Arabs, and 88% of them are Moslems or Druze (the remaining 12% are Christian). This lecture examines the history of Islam, the way it split into schisms, sects and groups - Sunni, Shiite, Druze, Ismaili, Bahai, etc. - and how these ancient historical arguments are reflected in the Arab population of Israel today. This lecture answers most of the questions you always wanted answered but never knew whom to ask.

THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL

5. PERMANENT CONFLICT IN THE HOLY LAND

A geographical/historical lecture, illustrated by maps. The Land of Israel sits at the crossroads of the world, the place where Europe, Asia and Africa -- continents and cultures - meet each other. The history of the land has thus been one of creativity on the one hand and violence on the other. This lecture has been successful - and not a little provocative – Especially to students of the Middle East, political science and international relations etc. At a time when everyone is thinking politics and economics, I am talking geography.

6. JERUSALEM, CENTER OF THE WORLD

How does it happen that a city with neither population, resources, nor communications has become the single most famous city in the history of the world? A lecture about religion which is startling and unsettling to most American audiences unused to the violence of religion in the Middle East. This lecture is illustrated by maps, and may be followed by a showing of my film on "Jerusalem's Cardo".

7. THE SEA OF GALILEE

The producers of the "Hello Jerusalem" television magazine made a film of several of my programs on and about the Sea of Galilee. The result was a half-hour documentary which won First Prize at the International Festival of Tourist Films in Italy some years ago. The talk explores several unusual aspects of the largest (the only!) body of fresh water in the Land of Israel, starting with the extraordinary fact that the lake is nowhere mentioned in the Hebrew Bible! We may watch the film afterwards.

8. MEN IN THE DESERT

More than half of the territory of the Land of Israel is desert. While one might have thought that the desert would have repelled settlement, some extraordinary groups of people have always lived there. This lecture is about Jews (the Dead Sea Community), Christians (Byzantine monks), and Moslems (the Bedouin); cultures so far removed from ours that they might as well be on a different planet.

9. THE MONA LISA OF THE GALILEE

The city of Zippori (Sepphoris) was the largest city in the Galilee in the days of Jesus, yet is virtually unknown today. Archaeological excavations have revealed a treasure-trove of Second Temple and Roman ruins, including the most exquisite Roman mosaic floor ever found in the country. More surprising, Zippori has shown that Jews, Pagans and Christians lived in the same town, sometimes in the same house!, and seem to have done so peacefully. A remarkable place. The lecture may be followed by a screening of the film I wrote about the lady on the mosaic floor whom they call "Mona Lisa”.

10. VIOLENCE AND HOLINESS IN BIBLICAL DAN

The Bible knew that the Land of Israel went "from Dan to Beer-Sheba." Dan was the city that anchored the northern end of the country. It was a large and wealthy trading center, strategically located at the pass which separated Israel from the Lebanon. There is more to the place than archaeology and natural beauty, however. As we trace the journeys of the tribe of Dan, we find not only that there was something unpleasant and indeed violent about the people of Dan, but something deeply religious about them and their city (why did Jeroboam put a Golden Calf THERE?). This lecture, examines how it happened that Dan was a city of God, or the gods, for nearly 1500 years.

11. THE SCENERY AND ARCHAEOLOGY OF TEL DAN

Dan was a large and wealthy trading and manufacturing center, strategically located at the pass which separated Israel from the Lebanon. The archaeology of the place is very interesting and some of the finds - especially the "house of David" inscription -- are among the most important ever found in an archaeological excavation in Israel; In addition, the site is located in the middle of a Nature Reserve and our walk to archaeology brings us through forests and rivers. We have come on a visit, illustrated by slides, of this beautiful and interesting place, and found ourselves, at the very end, dealing with one of the most controversial issues of contemporary Biblical research.

12. FROM DAN TO BEERSHEBA

The Bible defined the Land of Israel as extending "from Dan to Beersheba". We have spent time exploring Dan, to the far north of the country, and now we turn our attention to Beersheba in the south. There are several ancient sites in the area of southern Judah which might have been the town of Abraham. This place may even have been it. But whether it was or not, Tel Beersheba is a fascinating city which was definitely an Israelite administrative, cultural, and military center. More tightly built than any other Biblical city, with houses, streets, palaces and fortresses packed into the town walls, beautifully preserved and re-constructed by the Israel Parks Authority, and blessed with an extraordinary water system only now being uncovered, Tel Beersheba offers us a unique picture of life and governance in Biblical Judah. This talk, accompanied by slides, will take us to the edges of civilization and the borders of the desert.

13. MASSADA: THE CONTROVERSY OVER HEROISM AND SACRIFICE

The Bible defined the Land of Israel as extending "from Dan to Beersheba". We have spent time exploring Dan, to the far north of the country, and now we turn our attention to Beersheba in the south. There are several ancient sites in the area of southern Judah which might have been the town of Abraham. This place may even have been it. But whether it was or not, Tel Beersheba is a fascinating city which was definitely an Israelite administrative, cultural, and military center. More tightly built than any other Biblical city, with houses, streets, palaces and fortresses packed into the town walls, beautifully preserved and re-constructed by the Israel Parks Authority, and blessed with an extraordinary water system only now being uncovered, Tel Beersheba offers us a unique picture of life and governance in Biblical Judah. This talk, accompanied by slides, will take us to the edges of civilization and the borders of the desert.

14. "THE SECRETS OF THE TOWN"

Ein Gedi is an oasis in the Judean Desert on the shores of the Dead Sea. David hid from King Saul there. Best known today as a Nature Reserve, there has been settlement on the oasis on and off for the past 6000 years. The town reached its zenith during the first few centuries of the Common Era, and from that period comes the synagogue recently excavated, restored, and opened to the public. This lecture is about the mosaic floor in the Ein Gedi Synagogue and its extraordinary inscription threatening Divine punishment of anyone "..who reveals the secrets of the town to the Gentiles." What could they have meant by that? We find ourselves telling a tale of secrecy and mystery connected with the production of...ah, but that would be revealing the end of our story. "The Secrets of the Town" is a walk -- illustrated by slides -- through a place of stunning natural beauty, complicated & interesting history, political intrigue, desperate fighting, and mysterious manufacturing.

15. THE CRUSADERS IN THE HOLY LAND

Kings and princes, priests, monks, knights and soldiers, farmers, peasants and city merchants; for 175 years the Europeans poured into the Land of Israel to "save" the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Crusaders were not at all "Nice People". They inflicted terrible atrocities upon the inhabitants of the land (and the Jews whom they met on the way!). In the end the whole adventure was a failure and by the close of the 13th century the last of them had been driven out of the Middle East. This slide lecture reviews some of what they left behind. We will visit a remarkable collection of castles, towns and fortresses. The Crusaders were not "nice", but they certainly were energetic.

16. THE SEA

The sea was a barrier—a taboo—in ancient Israel. The Jews didn't go out to the sea, didn't understand the sea, and mostly ignored it. Which is why you find only three cases in the whole Hebrew Bible of a Jew going to sea (Noah doesn't count because he wasn't a Jew and he never went anywhere; the sea came to him!). Once in a foreign boat, once with foreign technical assistance and once an expedition that ended up in a big shipwreck. Who DID go to sea? The Greeks (the Bible calls them Philistines) and the Phoenicians. This lecture examines the whole issue of the sea: to whom it was important, at what periods of history it was important, and how the opening of the sea affected Israel and the Jewish people.

HISTORY AND RELIGION

17. MYSTERIES OF THE BIBLE

The writers of the Bible preferred shadow to light. The stories they told are stripped to the bare essentials, and sometimes not even that. We need help in understanding this ancient people and its ancient book. But our generation now has the benefit of two great sets of discoveries that our fathers and grandfathers never knew about: the work of archaeology in the Land of Israel over the past 75 years, and the discovery of the library we call Dead Sea Scrolls. This lecture deals, on the one hand, with the effect of archaeology on our understanding of the Hebrew Bible (do we get answers, or just more questions?) and, on the other hand, with the effect of the Dead Sea Scrolls material on our understanding of the New Testament. The lecture, like the subject, raises as many questions as it answers.

18. JEWISH WORSHIP/PAGAN SYMBOLS

Everyone who had read the daily horoscope in a local newspaper knows about the zodiac, that group of 12 constellations used by the ancients to measure the seasons of the year. They believed - some people still do - that there is a connection between what the stars are doing in the heavens and what we are (or should be) doing on earth. Christianity traditionally rejected this pagan idea, of course, and we do not find one single ancient church with a zodiac in it before the Middle Ages. How astonishing, therefore, that we have found seven (!) ancient synagogues in Israel with zodiacs set in mosaic tiles in the floor. What on earth (or in heaven!) can the zodiac have meant to the Jews--those most devout of monotheists--of the first centuries of the Common Era? This lecture, accompanied by slides, examines that question.

19. THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS

For more than 40 years the scholarly world has been absorbed with deciphering the Scrolls. Now the matter has moved out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace of world opinion. This lecture is meant to be a clear and systematic survey of what the Scrolls are all about, to whom they are important, and why the whole thing matters. A lecture to set the story straight, especially as to how the Scrolls affect our understanding of the New Testament.

20. THE BROKEN MOSAIC; A HISTORY OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY

A few years ago I was invited to write the script for a documentary film on Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. It transpired that there were Christian communities worshipping there--Copts, Chaldeans, Armenians, Jacobites, Assyrians, Greek Catholic, etc.--that very few people had ever heard of and fewer still could identify and/or describe. This lecture is about the first 650 years of the Christian church, its heresies and schisms. It is illustrated by a unique flow-chart, and a screening of the Bethlehem film may follow the presentation. This lecture has been of great interest to church and student groups.

21. TREASURES FROM THE HOLY LAND

A lecture about art, and what it teaches you about the soul of a people. This lecture stems from a film I wrote to accompany an exhibition of archaeology from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 200 choice pieces illustrated the life of the Land of Israel, from the pre-pottery Neolithic age of Jericho to the end of the Byzantine era. My lecture tries to show how Israel differed from all the other peoples who ever lived in the Land. It may be followed by a showing of the film.

22. THE HOLOCAUST: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING

The Holocaust is being forgotten. The Nazis, the Jews, and the world at large have all contributed to this process. (The Demanjuk trial illustrates my point very well). This lecture describes what I see is happening to cause this forgetfulness on all sides. It asks what can be done to keep the memory alive, and suggests what I see to be the place of Israel in this equation. It is a sad and uncertain lecture.

23. THE KABBALISTS OF SAFED

Sometimes a nation gets lucky. The Jews had suffered unspeakable misery for centuries: battered by the Crusades, by the Black Death and, most recently, by the expulsion from Spain in 1492. The good news was the newly formed Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jews fleeing from Spain. Thus it happened that a remarkable group of talented men gathered in Safed in the 16th century. Guided by the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari, they found a way to deal with the evil which had come upon them by re-interpreting the kabbalistic vision. Potent ideas—ideas which still move Jewish (and non-Jewish!) Zionists—came from the Kabbalah of Safed. This talk tries to explain, through the example of Safed, what the Kabbalah is all about.