Arbez, Edward Philip

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Biblical scholar and Orientalist; b. Paris, May 16, 1881; d. Washington, D.C., Dec. 27, 1967. Arbez began his studies for the priesthood at l'Argentière and for philosophy at Alix (Rhône). He began studying theology at Issy (190001), but came to Washington, D.C., as a candidate for the Society of St. Sulpice on the "American mission" (190103). Studies in Near Eastern languages with Henri Hyvernat at The Catholic University of America ran parallel to his theological formation. Ordained sub deacon by Cardinal Gibbons in May 1903, Arbez returned to Issy where he was ordained priest and formally received as a Sulpician on May 28, 1904.

For a year Arbez taught apologetics at St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, California; then from 1905 to 1928, he regularly taught Old and New Testament and Hebrew courses at St. Patrick's, giving history and other language courses on the side. The year 191718 marked his only break; he spent it in Washington, at the Department of Semitic Languages of Catholic University. Recalled to Washington in 1928, he taught both seminary courses in Sacred Scripture (as late as 1945) and graduate courses in Old Testament (193338). His old associations with the Semitic language program were renewed, informally at first, then with a full-time appointment from 1938 until his retirement in 1951 as ordinary professor and head of the department (from 1943). During his years in California, he had developed an excellent library for his expanding scholarly interests; by long-standing arrangement this eventually went to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, from which he held an S.T.D. (1938).

Arbez keenly felt the strictures placed against Catholic biblical scholarship (Brassac, Dennefeld, Touzard) in the wake of the Modernist ferment. Although he had contributed early to the original Catholic Encyclopedia, the incentive to write came only gradually with his university associations, and most of the scholarly works with which he was connected were published after his 60th birthday. Meanwhile, his critical judgment, humor, and candor, along with his scholarly control of sources, encouraged his students to be ready for and work toward the new era inaugurated by Divino afflante Spiritu. In 1936 he was cofounder, with R. F. Butin, of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. From then until 1951, as chairman of the editorial board, he was a leading figure in the translation work which culminated in the New American Bible.

In the 1950s with M. R. P. McGuire, and in the 1960s, he oversaw the adaptation of the Robert-Tricot and Robert-Feuillet biblical manuals into English. As an associate trustee of the American Schools of Oriental Research, he laid the groundwork for more active Catholic participation in its scholarly undertakings. His talent for language study embraced a variety of modern, as well as ancient, languages (Turkish, the Scandinavian languages, Maltese). He was devoted to his adopted country, working for the Near Eastern affairs section of the Department of State and for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the years 1951 to 1961, he was a consultant for the Bureau and a popular figure with its personnel. He is buried at St. Charles College, Catonsville, Maryland.

Bibliography: w. f. hill, "Rev. Edward P. Arbez, S.S.," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961) 113124, with picture and bibliography to 1960; obituary notice, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 31 (1969) 7275.

[p. w. skehan]