A Western Dominican in the Holy Land
By Fr. Gregory Tatum, OP
Since 2006, I have been living and teaching at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. This Dominican community is a unique and wonderful place to integrate rigorous study of the Scriptures with prayer, preaching, and practice of the faith. We worship in the Basilica of St. Stephen Priory, on the site where the empress Eudocia built a monastery for the veneration of the relics of the first Christian martyr. The fifth century mosaics are still visible in places.
As a Dominican community, study is an integral part of our religious life. We have one of the finest libraries specializing in the Bible and the archeology of the Middle East attracting students and researchers from around the world. We also possess one of the best photographic collections of the region. Our greatest treasure, however, is the tradition of such giants among Catholic exegetes as Lagrange, de Vaux, Benoit, who are buried in the Basilica and in the tombs in our garden. The brethren of our house excavated the site at Qumran and did much of the early work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Praying the psalms and studying the scriptures in Jerusalem and the Holy Land take on a remarkable experiential depth of meaning.
The Ecole Biblique produced the Jerusalem Bible when historical critical methods were first being introduced into Catholic biblical scholarship. With the present turn toward literary and theological readings among exegetes, our community is inaugurating a new project, the Bible in its Traditions. In addition to up-to-date historical and philological notes, the main body of text will concern the reception history of the text and deal with questions such as: How did the Jews read a given text in antiquity, the middle ages, or the present? How did the Latin, Greek, and Syriac fathers of the Church read the same passage? How did the Scholastic and monastic authors read it? How did the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment influence new readings? What are the salient theological questions raised by a particular text? How has it been rendered in art, liturgy, and literature? This project will take years to complete and will ultimately be encompassed in a comprehensive website.
Currently, I am writing a book entitled Grace in the Letters of St. Paul and the Gospel, Letters, and Apocalypse of St. John. Book reviews for the Revue Biblique are an on-going task. I also teach classes to the graduate students from around the world who come to the Ecole Biblique to study the Scriptures in the Land where Jesus lived. I am teaching a course on Romans to the English-speaking sabbatical biblical program at Ecce Homo run by the Sisters of Sion and the lay community, Chemin Neuf. Four times a year I give lectures in English or in French to the Union of Women Religious in the Holy Land as well as leading them on an annual site visit. And of course I regularly preach at the conventional Mass here (in French) both on Sundays and weekdays.
When I came to Jerusalem, I brought the Western Dominican Province with me and bring my experience at the Ecole Biblique when I come home. I have returned several times to teach summer school at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. Last summer, I started a program for priests of the Province who have been in ministry for a while and whose preaching might benefit from a contemporary course in the Gospels in the Holy Land.
When the Dominicans from home visit and bring pilgrim groups, I try to be of service and share in the joy of praying at Calvary, of celebrating Mass in the Tomb where Jesus rose from the dead, of visiting Peter's house in Capernaum. I inevitably share with such groups some of the complexity of the painful situation of Christians in the Holy Land.
The Western Dominican Province has been especially supportive of the universal mission of the Order of Preachers in supplying scholars and teachers to its prestigious academic outposts in Fribourg, Rome, and Jerusalem. I try to do my part by preaching God's Word from my desk in a foreign land.