With an online course, students can journey to ancient Jerusalem

Is next year in Jerusalem unlikely?

If you're an armchair traveler and you have a computer, you can visit the City of David this year by logging on to the Internet starting June 15.

In one of its first Web site courses, Lehrhaus Judaica will offer "A Journey Through Jerusalem," based on the course its associate director, Jehon Grist, taught in classrooms last year.

A lot of folks don't want to go out of their homes in the evening," says Grist, who is also U.C. Berkeley professor of Near Eastern studies. He figures Lehrhaus may as well take the classroom into the home.

"I just feel this is another tool we can use to reach an audience we're trying to discover," he says, referring to the millions who surf the Net.

Like most Internet courses, this one — a survey of the city's history — will combine text and pictures.

In addition, students can learn a great deal of background information by clicking on key words or themes that aren't fully explained in the main text.

In "Journey Through Jerusalem," Grist explains, "a passage talks about 701 BCE, the year Jerusalem should have been destroyed.

"In the main text and illustrations, 2,700 years ago is a long time ago. If you're curious, click one of the key words and get all the biblical accounts relating to the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE," he says. "Then we discuss which account tells the story differently."

For example, "One story makes the prophet Isaiah look really good. Another version in Chronicles makes King Hezekiah look really good."

Seeing the story from both sides lets the student work toward deciding what really happened.

"That's the kind of thing we like to do," says Grist, who will also be accessible to his students online. To complement the course, two chat sessions will begin at 6 p.m. Mondays, July 7 and 14 on America Online. Keyword is "Jewish."

"Students reading the text…can jump in and discuss with me various issues the course has brought up," he says.

Those who don't have access to AOL may send Grist questions via e-mail to [email protected]

"The underlying principle of Lehrhaus," notes Grist, is that "it's not just instruction, it's dialogue."

Grist and his assistants spent a couple hundred hours selecting for the Web site course 30 slides from among the 200 he uses in the classroom.

With the help of his summer Koret intern, Rebecca Lehner, he transcribed videotapes of himself teaching the course, which Lehrhaus offered last year as part of the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations.

"You can't imagine how many times we had to replay tape segments of me explaining features of Jerusalem's architecture or history," he says.

Grist, who lectures without notes, says the challenge in translating his class to an online format lay in editing his conversational speaking style into sound bites that got straight to the point.

The online course is designed for students ranging in age from young teens to adults and is divided into four parts. "Each segment could be covered in one hour to an hour and a half, if you include sidebars," Grist says, or "not more than two hours of thorough study and checking out references.

"It's not the kind of course where you basically have to devote months of study time," he says, adding that for those who find the idea of long-term study appealing, he can recommend reading materials.

Among the online illustrations students can peruse, after logging on to http://www.jfed.org/lehrhaus/outline.htm, is a picture of a stone just south of the Western Wall.

Grist says the stone is inscribed with a passage from Isaiah that "wasn't perfectly copied, but you can tell the person's heart is in it."

It reads, "When you see this, your bones will become like shoots of grass."

Archaeologists discovered the stone in 1969 and dated it to the second half of the fourth century C.E., says Grist.

"That passage had to do with the revival of the Jewish people" in 361 C.E. when Julian was emperor of Rome.

"He told the Jewish community of Jerusalem that they could rebuild the Temple.

"When a pilgrim came to Jerusalem and saw the foundations of the Temple rising, he inscribed the words because his heart was so full of hope," says Grist.

In the end, Julian was killed in 362 and the dominant Christian community tore down the Temple.

But a knowledge of history, he says, "helps us to understand why thousands, maybe millions, of Jews still pray and still fervently believe in the future with the Temple restored."

Grist has lived in Jerusalem and longs to return.

"When people say, `Next year in Jerusalem,' I say, `Why can't it be this one?'"