April 28, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jim Fleming taught me biblical geography at Tantur

John F. FinkLast week, I wrote about the three months I spent studying in Jerusalem in 1997 at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. Now I’d like to tell you about some impressive people who were on the staff there.

Jim Fleming taught biblical geography and took our class to places that most tourists or pilgrims never get to visit. He taught in a room equipped with several large maps, one with lights marking various places in the Holy Land and another showing various elevations.

Fleming was a master at using this equipment. A short, slight man with curly orange hair and an orange beard, he used a green board and a long pointer to show things on maps, slides, lights, etc., to get his points across.

Our “notebook” for his course consisted of a large package that contained maps and site diagrams of all the places we would be going, along with Bible readings that pertained to those places. There were 24 maps alto­gether and 40 site diagrams. Two of the maps were touring maps, one for the north and one for the south of Israel, each one three feet long, which made the whole map six feet in depth. It was a tremen­dously impressive “notebook.”

Fleming was an archaeologist who organized a dig in the Holy Land some years before that unearthed a lot of pottery in which they found jewelry and an Old Testament scroll predating the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is now in a special exhibit in the Israeli Museum.

We went to his dig, where we saw 11 tombs from about 500 B.C. Fleming pointed out that they had basically the same floor plan as the homes we had seen when we went to the ruins of the ancient city of Arad, i.e., four areas for storage, animals, cooking and sleeping. The tombs were set up literally as homes for the dead.

Fleming also created the Biblical Resources Scripture Garden on Tantur’s property. It consisted of archaeological replicas of objects from daily life in the time of the Bible. There were 21 of them, running from a threshing floor to a Jewish altar as described in the Bible, goathair tents, tombs, a watchtower, sheepfold, and Roman crosses.

Whenever we went on tours, other guides always deferred to him because he was so much more knowledgeable. In 2013, when I was back in the Holy Land with some members of my family for a quick two days, our tour guide quoted Fleming extensively. When I told her that he had been my teacher at Tantur, she was impressed.

After I was there in 1997, Fleming expanded his scripture garden. Then, in 2006, he moved it to LaGrange, Ga., calling it Explorations in Antiquity. It is now called the Biblical History Center. It’s a museum with numerous exhibits showing what life was like in biblical times, complete with artifacts from the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

My name has always been among the 15,000 names in its database, and I receive its biannual newsletter. Fleming seems to look as he did 20 years ago, complete with his orange beard. †

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