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What I did in the summer... "Others merely hear, but we see and touch”

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Summer Biblical Study Session at the “École Biblique”

Ten English-speaking Dominican students came from all over the world to Jerusalem to the École Biblique et Archéologique Française for a summer biblical study program organised by Fr. Gregory Tatum at the request of the Master of the Order.

Fr. Ronan CONNOLY (Ireland), Fr. Philip SOREH (Burma), Fr. Joseph Mary Nhan Cao DO (Canada), Fr. Art Vincent PANGAN (Philippines), Fr Gregory TATUM (U.S.A.), Fr. Dominic Tuan NGO (U.S.A.), Fr. Leo CHECKAI (U.S.A.), Fr. Dominic Chukwudi OKOYE (Nigeria), Fr. Alan Jan DELY (Slovakia), Fr. Gaston BERTERO (Argentine), Fr. Laurent MATHELOT (Belgium).

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to read the Bible in the land in which it was written, to study the history and topography of Jerusalem and the Holy Land on the field. And for each of us, it is also a pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine, a journey on the steps of the Lord.

During three weeks, from Temple Mount to the Olive Garden, from Qumran to Bethlehem, from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, landscapes, fragrances, atmospheres are to enliven and enrich our reading of the Scripture and our future preaching.

It is also for us an opportunity to meet an important institution of the Order dedicated to the study of the Bible as a “book of stones”.

Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange in 1890.
The history1 of the ÉcoleBiblique began with Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange OP (1855-1938) who landed in the port of Jaffa on 9 March 1890. He had been ordered to found a school for biblical studies in Jerusalem, where the Dominicans had a small monastery but he had no funds, no professors, no library and no students – and none were promised.

It took him two days’ hard walking, across the coastal plain and up into the mountains, to get to Jerusalem. In that short time everything changed. He subsequently wrote, “I was moved, seized, gripped by this sacred land, and I abandoned myself to the delightful appreciation of distant and historic times. I had so loved the book, and here I was gazing at its setting! Not a single doubt remained in my mind about the aptness of pursuing biblical study in Palestine”.2

At that time in the Catholic church the historical background of the Bible had effectively been ignored with the result that a body of interpretation had developed that had little contact with the reality of the text. Research in a number of fields of Orientalism had shown that traditional interpretations were to a great extent defective. Those, such as Lagrange, who were aware of the implications of such discoveries, wanted to bring the interpretation of the Bible up to date. 

Fr. Roland de Vaux at Qumran.
The second generation of Dominican professors began arriving at the Ecole Biblique in the 1930s. The first was Roland de Vaux OP (1903-1971) who was one of the last scholars to master both the Old Testament and field archaeology. He published on the history of the Old Testament, but he was the first professor at the Ecole Biblique to conduct a major excavation. He identified Tell el-Farah near Nablus as Tirza, the first capital of the Northern Kingdom, and excavated it thoroughly. Subsequently the Jordanian government invited him to undertake the excavation of Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It was the third generation to which belonged Marie-Émile Boismard OP (1916-2004), a world-renowned specialist in textual criticism and the Gospel of John that produced the Bible de Jérusalem. Most of the professors at the École Biblique were directly involved in this ground-breaking project. The principles it embodied – translations from the original texts, each done by a specialist in that book, detailed introductions and notes reflecting the best in modern critical research, layout distinguishing prose from poetry – have now become standard practice, but in the late 1940s they were revolutionary. This was a new dawn in Catholic biblical studies; for the first time in the church’s history the Bible was made accessible to non-specialists. 

Excavations at Qumran.
The current major project of the École Biblique is The Bible in its Traditionshttp://www.bibest.org. It is designed to take those who grew up with the Jerusalem Bible a step forward by exhibiting complex aspects of biblical studies that have been considered beyond the ability or interest of non-specialists. Thus, where there are different (and irreconcilable) versions of certain books, e.g. Jeremiah and the Acts of the Apostles, both will be displayed with the same prominence. The enriched annotation will be divided into three main registers. The first, ‘Text’, will include all the notes dealing with the linguistic and literary description of the text, from points in textual criticism to more literary remarks. The second, ‘Contexts’, will group notes dealing with archaeology, history, geography, realiaor texts of the ancient world and cultures, relevant to the production of a Biblical text. The third, ‘Reception’, will be the largest zone of annotation; it is to comprise the most important readings of the text throughout history, starting from intertextual echoes in parallel texts (in the canonical Bible, in Jewish tradition, or in apocryphal works), and continuing to some of the most important readings, including the Church Fathers, medieval Latin and Orthodox theologians, Syriac and other Oriental writers and Protestant Reformers. See for example : http://www.bibest.org/bible/Jas5.13-18. The main actual concern of The Bible in its Traditions' project is to find translaters and contributors.

Soldiers at the Via Dolorosa.
One is not a Dominican if not also deeply rooted in the actual world. Realities of the socio-political situation between Israel and Palestine echo in the refectory of the ÉcoleBiblique. And of course on the ground the military and police presence is impressive. From site to site we have to cross checkpoints, and if sometimes we have to wait one hour for the control of our vehicle, we do not forget that for the Palestinians this happens daily. The security fence that disfigures landscape and isolates people acts on us as a reminder.

Title : St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (349-386), Catech. 13:22.
1 parts of this text are quotations from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor OP, Reading the Bible in the Land in which it was Written: A Dominican Vision.
2 Henry Wansbrough (trans.), Père Lagrange. Personal Reflections and Memoirs. 

Laurent Mathelot OP


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