Theological education on location

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour listen to Mourad Sedky, an Egyptian tour guide, while gazing at the detailed ancient Egyptian art at the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (27th century B.C.E.). The learning tour is designed to offer o

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour listen to Mourad Sedky, an Egyptian tour guide, while gazing at the detailed ancient Egyptian art at the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (27th century B.C.E.). The learning tour is designed to offer opportunities for participants to learn about Egyptian history and theology from an Egyptian perspective. (Credit: Safwat Marzouk)

“Encountering Egypt” learning tour brings together past and present

“Encountering Egypt: Past and Present,” a learning tour offered by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, gave participants opportunities to deepen their understanding of Egypt’s long history as well as to get to know present-day Christian and Muslim communities in the country. AMBS professors Safwat Marzouk, who is originally from Egypt, and Drew Strait led the Jan. 25 – Feb. 8 tour.

The 39 participants in the tour ranged in age from 28 to 84 and included retired faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of AMBS from both Canada and the U.S. Five students took the trip as a seminary course. This is the second learning tour to Egypt that AMBS has offered; the first was in January 2016.

Safwat Marzouk, Ph.D., associate professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, reflected on the goals of the learning tour:

“Encountering Egypt” learning tour leaders and AMBS Teaching Faculty members Drew Strait, Ph.D., and Safwat Marzouk, Ph.D., at the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. (Credit: Safwat Marzouk)“If you were to ask anyone who has read the Bible, What comes to your mind when you think of Egypt in the Bible?, the likely answer would be that Egypt is a place of oppression and slavery. A whole people with complex and diverse history, theology and politics is reduced to one single image and memory. One of the main goals of AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour is to invite participants into a different posture towards how Egypt is constructed in the biblical traditions and worldview of Western Christians. Participants in the trip are not only called to let Egypt speak for itself, but they are also invited to reflect on the presuppositions that they hold about Egypt’s contribution to the biblical narratives; the flourishing of Judaism, Islam and Christianity; and the contemporary church’s active participation in God’s reconciling mission in the world.

“Walking through ancient Egyptian temples, participants in the tour learn more about the connections between Egypt and the Bible beyond the imagery of slavery and oppression. They learn about ancient Egyptian cosmology, wisdom literature, love poems, hymns and royal theology in relation to Genesis 1-2, Proverbs 22-23, Song of Songs, Psalm 104, and Psalms 2 and 110, respectively.

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour sing together on a felucca ride, enjoying fellowship on the beautiful Nile River in Upper Egypt. (Credit: Safwat Marzouk)“Going on felucca rides on the Nile reminds them of how the Bible talks about Egypt as a place of refuge for Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, the Judeans and Jesus in times of famines and conflict. Strolling through streets, temples, mosques and synagogues that are hundreds or thousands of years old is like a pilgrimage that draws people closer to God as they encounter the ‘other’ in whose complex story God is present and has been at work. The learning tour confronts Western participants with how the Christian minority reads the Bible and asks them to reflect on how they use their privilege and power in dismantling oppression and in using their resources to be a place of refuge for oppressed peoples.”

Drew Strait, Ph.D., assistant professor of New Testament and Christian origins, reflected on his experience of the tour:

“It is no exaggeration to say that going to Egypt with AMBS Professor Safwat Marzouk, along with AMBS alumni, donors and friends, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The trip did not disappoint. For two weeks we were mesmerized by the beauty and sophistication of ancient Egypt’s literary and material culture. Hieroglyphs, temples, mummified crocodiles, dramatic reliefs, and colossal stone papyrus-shaped columns captivated our imaginations.

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour at the Salah El Din Citadel (ca. 12th century) in Cairo; in the background is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali (19th century). (Credit: Safwat Marzouk)“This trip, though, was an ‘encounter’ with Egypt that went far beyond the ancient context. While traveling from lower to upper Egypt — including four days sailing the Nile in the bright sun! — we learned about contemporary Christian identity, Egyptian Muslim culture and the massive population of Diaspora Jews who lived in Egypt during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Many Christians today don’t realize that Christian origins are indebted to Egyptian Jews, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek for a new generation who had been Hellenized by Alexander the Great’s successor kings. This translation, called the Septuagint, became the so-called Bible of the New Testament authors as they wrote the Jesus movement into history. Additionally, Egyptian Jews set an example for how to negotiate imperial power and wrote other texts that likely influenced New Testament authors. Not surprisingly, some of our best manuscripts of the New Testament come from Egypt.

“For me, one of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Evangelical Seminary of Cairo, which is one of the largest theological seminaries in the Middle East. It is here that we heard first hand from professors how important theological education is, especially among women who are serving their congregations along the Nile. These encounters reminded us how much we have to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those who are pushing the church’s mission forward even in contexts where their voices are a cultural minority.”


Images (Credit: Safwat Marzouk)

“Encountering Egypt” learning tour leaders and AMBS Teaching Faculty members Drew Strait, Ph.D., and Safwat Marzouk, Ph.D., at the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt.

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour sing together on a felucca ride, enjoying fellowship on the beautiful Nile River in Upper Egypt.

Participants in AMBS’s “Encountering Egypt” learning tour at the Salah El Din Citadel (ca. 12th century) in Cairo; in the background is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali (19th century).