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École Biblique


The École Pratique d'Études Bibliques (The Practical School of Biblical Studies) was founded on Nov. 15, 1890 by Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, OP (18551938) in the premises of the Dominican Monastery of Saint Stephen in Jerusalem. Its name underlines its distinctive methodology. The combination of text and monument should ensure that the Bible was studied in the physical and cultural context in which it had been written.

The name was modified in 1920 when the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Paris, decided to honor the achievements of the École Pratique d'Études Bibliques by designating it the École Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. The first part of the original title was condensed with the result that the official title became École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. Alone of the national archaeological schools in Jerusalem it has a developed teaching program, and since 1983 it has been accredited by the Congregation of Catholic Education to confer the Doctorate in Sacred Scripture. A grant from the European Commission (19992001) brought its celebrated library up to fully professional standards.

Faculty. With the exception of Lagrange, who had studied oriental languages at the University of Vienna, none of the original staff had any professional qualifications. Very quickly, however, from the Dominican novices forced to study in Jerusalem by the French anticlerical law of July 15, 1889, he selected and trained a faculty envied by all academic institutions. Marius Antonin Jaussen (18711962) became a pioneering ethnographer. Louis-Hugues Vincent (18721960) developed into the preeminent Palestinian archaeologist of his generation. Antoine Raphael Savignac (18741951) made his mark as a semitic epigrapher, particularly for his work during the three dangerous expeditions with Jaussen into northern Arabia (1907, 1909, 191012). The acute critical judgment of Felix-Marie Abel (18761953) focused his vast erudition into unrivalled mastery of the Greek sources for the history and geography of Palestine. Eduard Paul Dhorme (18811966) became a noted Assyriologist, and was the first to decipher Ugaratic. Lagrange himself concentrated first on the Old Testament, and then on the New Testament, producing the most authoritative Catholic commentaries of their day on the four gospels, Romans and Galatians. The research generated by the close interdisciplinary cooperation of these scholars appeared primarily in the periodical Revue Biblique (1892) and in the monograph series Études Bibliques (1903).

In addition to intense productivity, they also trained their successors, all French Dominicans, who began to appear in the 1930s. Bernard Couroyer (190092) published extensively in Egyptology, but also taught Coptic and Arabic. Roland de Vaux (190371) was noted both for biblical scholarship and field archaeology. Raymond Tournay (191299) produced the best translation of the Psalms in any language. Highly significant work in the New Testament was done by Pierre Benoit (190687) and Marie-Emile Boismard (1916). It was these, together with the survivors of the first generation, who gave Lagrange's ideal its ultimate expression with the publication of the one-volume Bible de Jérusalem (1956).

Only in the third generation did the faculty of the École Biblique become international. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (1935) was the first non-Frenchman to be appointed (1967). Others soon followed, and eventually non-Dominican professors were added to the staff. In 2000 there were professors and administrators from Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, and the USA. The multinational student body averages some 30 men and women from as many as 20 different countries and many different religious traditions.

Activities. The École Biblique concentrates it activities in two sectors, textual and archaeological. In the first the principal focus is on the text of the Old and New Testaments, which are studied according to the historicocritical method. The troubles that this approach created for Lagrange in the Modernist period no longer exist. More modern approaches are not excluded, and are catered for by invitations to visiting professors, but in fact the interest of the permanent faculty lies in the evolution of texts and the reliability of their historical information. The Dead Sea Scrolls are taught by one of the editors, Abbé Emile Puech of the CNRS, who also edits the Revue de Qumran. All the relevant ancient languages are taught.

Because of the lack of funds for excavations the École Biblique first concentrated its archeological activities on highly fruitful surface exploration of the entire biblical region and on the study of monumental complexes. The latter included the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (1914), the Haram al-Khalil in Hebron (1923), and above all the city of Jerusalem (191255). A series of small excavations (Amwas, Abu Ghosh, En el-Mamoudiyeh) prepared the École Biblique to attempt a major site. Between 1946 and 1962 de Vaux spent nine seasons at Tell el-Farah (11 km NE of Nablus), which he identified as Tirza, the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His work there was interrupted by the need to excavate at Qumran, En Feshkha and Wadi Murrabaat (194958) in order to provide an historical context for the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose authenticity was disputed at the time of their discovery in the late 1940s.

The École Biblique became responsible for the publication of the Scrolls by default. The fledgling Jordan Department of Antiquities had no textual expert, and the political situation excluded Jewish cooperation. The task fell to Dominique Barthélemy (1921) and Josef Milik (1922), a Polish secular priest studying at the École. They coopted Abbé Maurice Baillet when he arrived as a student in 1952. It soon became apparent that the three could not cope with the mass of material. De Vaux won the assent of the Jordanian Government to the formation of an international and interconfession team of experts, of which he became the coordinator (1954). At his death in 1971 he was succeeded by Pierre Benoit until 1986.

The war of June 1967 brought the École Biblique under Israeli jurisdiction, but after excavating in Israel (Tell Keisan), the École went back to Jordan with Jean-Baptiste Humbert, OP (1940) as field director (Khirbet es-Samra 198185, 199393; the Citadel in Amman 198689), and subsequently moved to Gaza (199599).

One of the treasures of the École Biblique is the photo library of some 20,000 glass slides, digitalized from photos taken at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to archaeological sites that have been destroyed they portray a world that has completely disappeared. To bring them to the attention of scholars Jean-Michel de Tarragon, OP (1945) organized a series of exhibitions, accompanied by detailed catalogues, at the Institut du Monde Arab, Paris: "Itineraires Bibliques" (1995), "Périple de la mer Morte 19081909" (1997), "Photographies dArabie: Hedjaz 19071917" (1999), which also went to Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and "Al Quds al-Sharif" (2002), which also went to the Emirates of the Gulf.

Bibliography: p. benoit, "French Archaeologists," in Benchmarks in Time and Culture: Essays in Honor of Joseph A. Callaway, ed. j. f. drinkard et al. (Atlanta 1988) 6386. o. betz and r. riesner, Jesus, Qumran and the Vatican (New York 1994). f.-m. braun, L'oeuvre de Père Lagrange. Étude et bibliographie (Fribourg 1943). m.-j. lagrange, Personal Reflections and Memoirs (Mahwah 1985). j. murphy-o'connor with a contribution by j. taylor, The Ecole Biblique and the New Testament: A Century of Scholarship (18901990 ) (NTOA 13; Fribourg and Göttingen 1990). j.-l. vesco, ed., L'Ancien Testament. Cent ans d'exégèse à l'Ecole Biblique (CRB 28; Paris 1990). b. t. viviano, "Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem," Biblical Archaeologist 54 (1991) 16067.

[j. murphy-o'connor]

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