Stretching from its beating heart in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area to the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee and the Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences laboratory in Eilat, Bar-Ilan University has gained a reputation for harnessing fresh, creative energy and spawning start-ups with the potential to revolutionize the world. In this respect, it has garnered acclaim for its

ability to bring Bible and Jewish studies into the 21st century. These subjects might not conjure up the idea of new technology, but two projects are changing this perception. The ‘Tiberias Stylistic Classifier for the Hebrew Bible’, in collaboration with the Computer Science Department, is a project for automatic dating of texts from the Bible. It uses cutting-edge advances in machine learning and computational linguistics and allows users to conduct their own experiments, analyzing the texts and providing verifiable results. Meanwhile, ‘The Equivalent Project’ (The Targums Wordmap) can link every equivalent word in the Hebrew Bible and its targums. The concept for this database was presented before many top scholars in the field of targum studies, and was met with great enthusiasm. “The initial results are outstanding,” says Prof Michael Avioz, a professor in Bar-Ilan’s Zalman Shamir Bible Department. “I’ve performed searches the likes of which don’t exist in any other platform.”

Bar-Ilan University prides itself on the fact that

it combines the study of the land of Israel with archaeology through in-the-field experience. Master’s and doctoral students in the Bible Department can take courses from the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology (LISA), which could include biblical archaeology, historical geography, nature, physical and human geography. All of these courses allow them to dive into the history of Israel and the archaeology of the land going back to biblical times. Excavations are largely at Tell es-Safi/Gath, thought to be the hometown of the biblical giant Goliath — giving students an unprecedented slant on the Bible. The university’s Shamir Bible Department is

the largest program of Hebrew Bible studies in the world, researching subjects ranging from biblical interpretations through the ages and iconography to feminist biblical interpretation. But it’s unique for more than one reason. “Firstly, the faculty was excellent,” says

Dr Dominick S Hernández, who completed his doctorate in Biblical Studies there in 2016. “Secondly, there were plenty of different types of people. People like me who had come from abroad and didn’t speak Hebrew as their mother tongue, as well as people of various different religious backgrounds.”

FROM LEFT: Bar-Ilan University’s campus; students conducting an archaeological excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath NEXT PAGE: Students in a laboratory on campus

Bar-Ilan University saw a 40 percent increase in the number of international students over the past year. There are now students from about 50 countries coming in through the International School

2021 | Israeli Academia 31

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