Living the Tanach with Google Maps and Archeology

November, 2020

Nachliel Selavan, MA, originally from Jerusalem’s Old City, is back in Israel after seven years of teaching full-time in the United States, developing his unique and engaging method of learning Torah through tour, travel and archaeology. Nachliel created and delivered an integrated learning and museum tour program for both school and adult educational settings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and has hosted similar pilot visits to a dozen museums in North America, and a few museums in Europe and in Jerusalem. He also teaches and engages audiences through virtual tours and social media, podcasts and video education.

Covid-19 changed everything. Text-based Jewish education feels the brunt of this change, as educators seek creative ways to engage with students; many already zoomed-out. And that’s just the logistical aspect, which school administrators are meeting with acumen and originality.

As an entrepreneur roaming the halls of the great museums, teaching Tanach and Jewish History in many cities on-site, mine was a particularly hard challenge. All my teaching moved to Zoom, the Met closed, and Amtrak cancelled my imminent Rhode Island School of Design visit..

Surprisingly, this led me in a new direction: reaching more people and showing them more museums than I could have imagined. No need to wait to travel to Boston, Atlanta, Toronto or London to guide a Tanach tour in their museums, and only for locals. Google Earth and Street View open the world’s great museums from the comfort of your chair. I now sit in Jerusalem and explore museums and sites I explored in the past, from London to Jordan, and travel to many more, from the Nile to Mesopotamia to the Pantheon.

Combining visual presentations and museum guiding experience engages students and adults alike. Two examples of many: Whereas in 2018-2019 National Chidon Tanach USA participants came with me to the Met, to see the places and objects they would be challenged with, in 2020, all things being virtual, I gave them virtual tours: Assyria and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah,  and Persia and the Jews of Babylon and Elephantine.  

The Jewish Agency for Israel wanted virtual booth format tours for the Jewish Teen Festival - sure, easy - Through the Eyes of the Enemy: The Kings You Thought You Knew; and An Unlikely Alliance? The King of Judah and the Black Pharaohs.

How can we better employ maps, archaeology and history to bring Tanach to life, and keep our students engaged? How can we provide meaningful content to communities who cannot travel to the museums, the repositories of the buildings, artifacts and inscriptions that make the text come alive? How can you enrich your own classroom experience and student engagement?

I offer here some useful tools and information to enhance your lessons without much effort, while focusing on Tanach. In preparation, I review the text with different colored highlighters to mark locations, dates, personalities and important objects. Students pick this up quickly.

Herzog’s Tanach Map (check out my video tutorial in English | Hebrew) is an absolute must! While Google Street View is not well-integrated yet, once a location is known, you can explore it in a separate tab. Herzog Site founder, Rabbi Dr. Shuki Reiss, also runs al hamapa - “on the map” on Facebook, where educators explore and share their map-related ideas.

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel - Exodus, and The Koren Israel Humash with color Index are “tools” to be familiar with.

Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman recently published Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith offering helpful approaches. I also regularly use Dr. Yitzchak Meitlis’ Parashat Derachim - archaeological highlights by Parasha, and Prof. Yoel Elitzur’s Makom ba’Parasha (available online in English) dealing with Biblical geography.

These are just a few of the simple tools that can enhance our classes and involve our students, and there is much more where that came from. So let’s make the difference we want to see, and bring the Biblical text to life!

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020