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AMMAN – For almost a week, students and volunteers from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem visited Jordan, guided by Father Dominique-Marie Cabaret, who teaches topography, made a stop at Our Lady of Peace Center.  It is a trip into the heart of both biblical and archaeological history, and encountering pre-Christian civilizations and churches of the early centuries.

A Biblical and Archaeological journey from Aqaba to UmmQeis (Gadara)

On Friday, May 18, volunteers and students from the Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem listened attentively to Cassiel, a young student priest, explaining some basic notions about the Decapolis in the center of the ancient ruins of Jerash.  Fifteen joined this trip and their profiles are as varied as their intentions. In the group are nine priests who have taken a year of studies at the Biblical School, some recently ordained, others have been priests for several years.  They were joined by volunteers or students like Mathilde who came to continue her thesis on Melkite Christians.

This trip was organized as part of the topography courses under the direction of Father Dominique-Marie. “This is about entering  into the historical, geographical and archaeological knowledge of the country. This trip to Jordan is one of three made by students during the year.  Going to the sites allow us to understand in what context Biblical narratives have emerged. The founder of the L’École Biblique, Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, had this insight: to study the Bible in the country where it was written.”

While it is true that Jordan has some “biblical” places, it is primarily because of its archeological treasures that the Biblical School gives it so much interest.  “Studying the civilizations that have marked the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan helps us to enter into the understanding of the Scriptures,”  explains Father Dominique-Marie. The city of Jerash offers, through its ruins, an extraordinarily extensive history, from Neolithic to the advent of Christianity.  It bears witness to the establishment of the first Christian communities in the region. It is with great excitement that the students discover, in the midst of the wild weeds, the remains of Byzantine churches, often built over some ancient pagan temples.

On Monday morning, departing from Our Lady of Peace Center, where the group was welcomed , the students were was able to stop at significant places, to  meet the great civilizations that have shaped this land, from the Nabataean city of Petra, the Crusader castle of Shobak , the Roman ruins of Jerash, the Byzantine village of Umm Rasas, the famous mosaics of Madaba and the pre-Constantinian church of Aqaba.  In addition to the information presented by the Jordanian guide, the travel days were highlighted by short presentations by the students under the watchful eye of their priest-mentor who adds more information and details.

“EBAF”: from the art of digging to digital prowess

If this trip is intended to awaken students to the archaeological wonders of this land, it is easy to understand that the School has greatly contributed to the archeological research in Jordan. The Jordan Museum (the new Amman Archaeological Museum) dedicated a small room to the famous “copper roll” found in 1952 by Dominican Father Roland de Vaux’s team, famous for his archaeological excavations at Qumran. The study of the manuscripts, caves and archaeological remains of Khirbet Qumran has greatly contributed to the reputation of the School. Among other excavations of the Biblical School in Jordan –the more recent  were those conducted by the Dominican Father Jean-Baptiste Humbert in Mafrak (Umayyad Palace), on the citadel of Amman or Khirbet Samra (a Byzantine village with 11 churches).

These excavations in Jordan continue in the sense that they have not all been published. “For two months of excavation, it takes an average of five years of work” says Father Dominique-Marie.  “The priority in Jordan remains the treatment of these excavations, which has become complicated in recent years due to political events.”  Recognized for its archaeological expertise, the Biblical School also has a long experience in the transmission of the Scriptures to the general public. During the 20th century, it completed and published the famous Jerusalem Bible (the first bible in French with scientific notes).

Today, it is working on a new project called “The Bible in its Traditions”. It is a new collaborative digital Bible that features in dialogue the historical studies of the Scriptures with the richness of interpretations over the centuries. It is to understand how the Bible has been received and interpreted in every age. Researchers approved by the Biblical School can work according to their competencies (patristic, theology, history of art …), to provide readers with the most enriched perspectives of biblical texts. This extensive project is one of the largest ecclesial digital projects in the world with more than 50 mobilized researchers. The oldest archaeological and biblical center of the Holy Land is not likely to lose its fame.

Claire Guigou

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