I had the privilege of presenting in the Nyack Scholars Symposium on Thursday, November 7, 2013. I collaborated with Dr. Stephen Bennett, professor of the Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Nyack College, to produce a paper that we presented together at a breakout session at the symposium. The title of our paper is “Conceptions of Space: The Functions of Nehemiah’s Wall.” Joshua Ortiz, a graduate of Nyack College and a student at Alliance Theological Seminary, served as our responder. Our breakout session had a pleasing turnout, nearly filling a classroom in Boon. I greatly enjoyed being a presenter at the symposium, and I had a good time writing the paper, too.
Our paper explored the functions of the wall built by Nehemiah during the post exilic period in the history of Israel. The details of this building project are recorded in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. When I told people the title of the paper I would be presenting, they did not see why this was a significant topic. I expected this type of response because a wall does not seem to be a very significant focus for a book of the Bible. I thought the same thing at first. As Dr. Bennett and I delved further into the subject matter, though, we uncovered much more meaning and significance behind the wall than can be noticed at a glance.
Along with its function in protecting Jerusalem from military threat, Nehemiah’s wall served to separate the people of Israel from foreign people groups in order to prevent religious pluralism. The first wall was destroyed, along with the rest of Jerusalem, by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C., initiating the Babylonian Exile. One of the theological reasons that God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed was religious pluralism caused by alien influence and foreign marriages. Foreign marriages and worshiping other gods is clearly prohibited in the Torah, and because the Israelites did not obey these commands, God’s favor was removed from them. The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple under the leadership of Ezra signified the reestablishment of God’s favor on the Israelite nation. The reconstruction of the wall around Jerusalem represented both symbolic and physical separation from the people groups surrounding the city. Our paper focuses on the wall’s function of maintaining proper worship by setting the Israelites apart from other people groups.
Since my freshman year I have enjoyed the Nyack Scholars Symposium. Students and faculty get the opportunity to be educated on subjects and topics outside of their field, and presenters can share their research with a captive audience. Being a presenter at the symposium is an invaluable experience in my academic career, and I appreciate the opportunity to research for something more than a class.