Nicole Brandt explores setting of the Bible in ancient Near East
Camping near the Dead Sea on the other side of the globe is nowhere near like home for a lot of people, but for Nicole Brandt, it might have been the next best thing.
“I was somewhere that it just felt right to be,” Brandt said about one of her week-long hikes in the Judean desert with a newfound friend. “The majority of our hike was uninterrupted by the presence of other people, which meant that I had time to think and really get a feel for the land and an understanding of the region.”
Brandt, a 2010 Holyoke High School graduate, has recently returned home to Holyoke after four months of adventuring and volunteer work in Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Setting out on her journey in early January, she was aiming to better understand some of the areas where events in the Bible took place.
She graduated in May 2014 from Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Neb., having majored in biblical studies with a concentration in biblical interpretation. During her studies, she maintained a strong emphasis on biblical languages and context of the Bible.
During college, she had spent an exciting week in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. After graduation, Brandt began finalizing plans to make this latest journey to the ancient Near East region.
Nicole Brandt is pictured with one of the Egyptian pyramids in the background. Brandt recently returned from a four-month adventure through the landscapes of the Bible in Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
To supplement her explorations, she connected with a host farm through wwoof.net. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — or some prefer Willing Workers on Organic Farms — and is a network of national organizations that help place volunteer workers on organic farms all over the world.
Her trek around and through the mountains near the Dead Sea, nestled along the Israel/Jordan border, came during some time off between two such farms.
On the first farm, “Goats with the Wind,” she, of course, tended to goats, assisted with cheesemaking and helped in the on-site restaurant that the family runs. She noted the highly Arab lifestyle and how her stone and plaster room was exposed to the outside elements and made for a true native experience.
“It’s such a good way to learn something new,” Brandt stated. “The work helped me to appreciate herding culture’s place within the land.”
The second farm she stayed at, named “The Tender Way,” was a preserve for rare and medicinal plants in the area. At this farm, hundreds of plants were closely tended in greenhouses, and she did a lot of gathering, drying and preserving herbs and making tinctures.
“I kind of got stuck there because everything was so interesting to me,” Brandt reminisced. “I definitely want to be able to use natural methods to help myself and others.”
Beyond working with the herbs of the farm, she also learned to use a scythe and how to make bread and soap, both of which she noted are important and “pretty exciting.”
Several other field trips easily fit into Brandt’s schedule. She visited places like the ancient cities of Tel Dan, Masada and Qumran. Qumran is an archaeological site in Israel’s West Bank and is best known as the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
“It was pretty cool seeing a place where peo0ple dedicated themselves to the study and preservation of the Word of God and other texts,” Brandt said. “Everything about Qumran was amazing.”
Brandt also ventured from her “home base” of Israel and traveled into Jordan to the areas of Petra, Wadi Rum and Amman. Later, she also made her way farther south into Egypt, hitting Cairo and Alexandria, exploring everything from libraries and museums to catacombs.
Nicole Brandt stands above the Treasury at Petra during her recent
journey to the ancient Near East. Petra is a city hewn of sandstone in
“It seemed like on every hill you find ancient cities, lots of caves, remnants of city walls and various Greco-Roman preservations that groups are working to keep up,” Brandt described. “I also saw a lot of destruction — places that had been bombed and the aftermath that followed.”
Brandt shared details about how she would often make “friends for a week” with whom she would travel for a while before parting ways. A particular aspect that she keenly observed was how many people were genuinely concerned for her well-being.
“I stood out in some places, but lots of people were crazy chivalrous,” Brandt added. “It really taught me a lot about acceptance and being open to differences. Interacting with Muslims, Jews and Christians — people surprised me.”
Despite standing out in appearance, she otherwise fit right in.
“In Egypt, I was fortunate to get to ride horses out by the pyramids at night,” Brandt excitedly explained. “That’s something the locals do, not a touristy thing. It was a spectacular experience. I felt like I was in a movie.”
Undecided on what the next chapter of her life story will contain, Brandt is looking into a few Chicago-area seminaries as well as graduate schools in California and Washington, D.C., where she might possibly study ancient Near East history.
“Part of me thinks traveling forever would be wonderful,” she mused cheerfully. “But part of me is strongly considering grad school and the desire to contribute to a program in that way. I will certainly look to go back to that region. Someday I would love to return as a professor and lead groups.”
There is no way to fit four months of incredible adventures into one newspaper story. More thorough depictions of Brandt’s journeys can be found on her blog, “Can I Tell a Story?,” at canitellastory.wordpress.com.
Holyoke Enterprise May 28, 2015