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Bess Whipple Hartman Pope Marks Oxtoby In the Garden of the American School, Jerusalem 1959 are Herbert Bess, Dr. Whipple, M.D., Father Louis Hartman, Dr. Marvin Pope, John Marks, and William Oxtoby.

Letter 2: Life at the American School


Jerusalem, Jordan
Saturday, October 10, 1959


Dear Folks:

From early reports, just received, it would seem that my first circular letter of September 22nd did not prove as dismal a dud as I was afraid it would. With this encouragement I am now making bold to send you a second such circular letter. My special thanks to Mrs. Agnes Smith, the office secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, for her kindness in duplicating and sending out these letters.

My first letter ended with an account of my arrival at Jerusalem on September 16th. That was somewhat in the form of a diary, giving more or less a day-by-day account of my journey from New York to the Holy City. This time, instead of such a diary form, a more general account of my life in the Holy Land will probably be more interesting. In any case, I have never kept a diary and I am not keeping one now so my memory for exact dates, which are unimportant anyhow, would most likely be unreliable. It would be unfair for me to talk about giving a blow-for-blow story of my first encounter with Jerusalem. Actually my meeting with this city and its people has rather been a series of ahlan wesahlan, which seems to be the Arabic way of saying "Welcome!"

No doubt most of you know very little about the outfit I am with. Its official title of "The American Schools (in the plural!) of Oriental Research" refers partly to the fact that it has one "School" here in Jerusalem and another one, at present not functioning because of political troubles, in Baghdad. But this title also refers to the fact that there are somewhat more than a hundred "Schools" in America, that is, universities, colleges, and seminaries, which are the "corporate members," whose annual "corporate dues" form a good part of the support of these institutes in Jerusalem and Baghdad. Teachers and graduate students of these corporate institutions who are interested in Biblical and Near-Eastern studies may apply for appointment as "annual professor" or "fellow" at the Jerusalem or Baghdad "School," and if so appointed, their traveling expenses and support here are taken care of by this outfit.

This is hardly a "school" in the sense of a place where regular classes or formal lectures are held. It is rather a center of research where both the "professor" and the "fellows" can study at first hand problems connected with the land and the people of the Bible. To put it more simply, this is mostly a place that serves as the headquarters for travel in Palestine and the neighboring countries for scholars who take more than a mere tourist's interest in these places. The ASOR (the abbreviation for this outfit--figure it out yourselves) during most past years has also engaged on archaeological excavations, or "digs" at some ancient site in Palestine. During the past summer this Jerusalem School took part in a dig at el-Jib, Old Testament Gabaon, some dozen miles north of Jerusalem. Since I had too much to do in Washington during the summer, I could not unfortunately be a member of this expedition. For various reasons this School is not planning another dig during this school year. However, during the winter I may take some part in the dig which a Dutch expedition is to under-take in the Jordan valley.

The "Director" or head of this American School in Jerusalem for the current school year is Dr. Marvin Pope of the Semitic Department of Yale University. His wife, Helen, and two school-age children, Beverly and Mike, are here with him. They are all very nice people, and I get along most happily with them. Under my high-sounding title of "Annual Professor" I am second in command, as it were, though no one, of course, really issues any "commands" around here. Then there is a charming, elderly gentleman from Princeton, who has the title of "Honorary Lecturer." He is Dr. Whipple, M.D.), a retired surgeon, who is now making a study of the history of medieval hospitals and nursing in the Near East. At present he is off on his own in Iran (Persia). Finally, there are two "Fellows," Herbert Bess and William Oxtoby. Oxtoby is here with his wife Layla. Bess left his wife and two school-age children in America, since it was too expensive to bring them here on his rather small grant as a "Fellow." All these people are quite easy to get along with, and I can honestly say that we form just one happy family. There are, besides, several native men and women, with such names as Omar, Mahmud, Waddeea and Miriam, who do the cooking and other household work.

This "American School," as it is commonly known around here, is situated to the northeast of the "Old City" of Jerusalem. The "Old City" is still completely surrounded by strong and mighty walls. On its north side there are two gates in the wall, the main one, called the Damascus Gate, and a secondary one to the east of it, called Herod's Gate. From the American School it is about a five-minute walk to Herod's Gate; another three minutes along the northern wall brings you to the Damascus Gate. My neighborhood, northeast of the walls, has recently become the "modern" part of Arab Jerusalem, with several good hotels, many stores that sell almost anything that can be bought in England or the "States," and innumerable travel agencies. My street, in fact, which incidentally is called Saladin Street, forms the principle thoroughfare in this new Arab-speaking quarter outside the Old City. The other main street, Nablous Road, that runs parallel to it about a hundred yards to the west, borders on "No-Man's Land." This new section has mostly grown up since the Israeli-Arab war of 1948. When I spent four months in Jerusalem in the summer of 1931, this section was mostly open fields.

A much larger part of "new" Jerusalem lies on "the other side." No one here, no matter what his language is, ever speaks of "Israel" or "the Israeli"; we all speak of "the other side" and "the people on the other side." Feeling here against "the people on the other side" is naturally quite bitter. You would only have to see the sad plight of the hundreds of thousands of poor people living in refugee camps, who were driven out of their homes by "the people on the other side," to understand this. However, even though "the other side" can clearly be seen from any elevated spot of this side, it is mostly just ignored. Thank God, there seems no immediate danger of trouble between the two sides. The old inhabitants, who all speak Arabic, though by no means are they all Moslems, have held on to all of the Old City, as well as all the central hill country of Judea and Samaria. The people of the other side have seized the whole coastal plain, with a corridor to their section of new Jerusalem, besides all of Galilee and the Plain of Esdraelon to the south of it. All along the land near Jerusalem there are two high stone walls, with a space of varying width between them, known as No-Man's Land. This space is patrolled by "blue caps" of the UN--snappy-looking soldiers wearing light blue berets. Most of them at present are Scandinavians. Apparently they are free to pass into both sides from the dividing walls. According to present regulations, visitors like me are allowed to make only one trip, either from this side to the other, or vice versa. The permission to enter Jordan once from Israel is a recent innovation, to encourage lucrative tourist trade here. The Arab-speaking part of Palestine is now joined politically with what used to be known as the Kingdom of Transjordan (the land east of the Jordan), and the whole is now simply called "Jordan," though its official title is "The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan." Its courageous young king, Hussein, of the Hashemite dynasty, seems to be very popular, even loved by the natives.

Most of my days during these first three and a half weeks that I have been in Jerusalem have been spent in going about the Old City and the surrounding countryside. I have also have had four whole-day trips by car to more distant places. Once I went to Tell el-Fara, in northern Samaria, to see the archaeological dig that Pere de Vaux of the Dominican School of Jerusalem is conducting there. Twice I have been down in the Jordan Valley, to see the excavations that have been made at ancient Jericho and at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found). One day I went across the Jordan up to Amman, the capital of this kingdom, and to ancient Gerasa (Jerash), which has Roman ruins that are similar to those at Pompei. This Monday, the 12th, we start on a long, three-week tour by car (the School's station wagon--I don't drive it, thank God!) all through Syria and Lebanon. This is the special "long" trip of the year. Formerly this trip used to include Turkey and Iraq and even parts of Iran, but the borders of Iraq are now closed to Americans (they don't exactly like us), and it is too difficult for us to cross the border from Syria into Turkey. The Turks don't like the Syrians. As it is, we have to get police permission for every one of the dozens of places we intend to visit in Syria. The red tape in this part of the world is really out of this world. Fortunately, all educated people here speak English (more or less) besides their native Arabic.

But I wish I could speak a little Arabic. It would be much nicer in dealing with the ordinary people here. There were times when I had the time of my life trying to bargain with a merchant in the suuq of the Old City. Among the few things I know in Jerusalem Arabic are the numerals. The prices are generally not "fixed." If you ask what something costs, you are told, "What you wish." That's just the starting point, of course, for long haggling. The suuq or suu (the natives are inclined to omit the final q here) is the old market in the heart of the Old City. It consists of several narrow streets, lined with stalls selling mostly native food and native wear. Parts of these streets are arched over and roofed, so that they are rather dark even at noontime. They are always jammed with people. When I was here before, camels and donkeys also forced their way through the crowds. Now you never see a camel near Jerusalem; you have to go out to the desert to see them. The trucks have put them out of business for long, heavy hauling. Yet there are still plenty of the poor little long-suffering donkeys, with their heavy loads, here in Jerusalem. But now they are not allowed on the more busy streets of the suuq. In fact, I saw a sign on one street in the Old City, near the church of the Holy Sepulcher, which said in English (I don't know what the Arabic meant), "For people only". I love the little children in the Old City. When they are about three-years old they all, absolutely all of them, know the English word "Hello," which they say with the cutest singing tones. Since they hold out their hands with the palms up when they say "Hello," they must think it means the same as the Turkish word "Bakshish," which means "gift," but is generally used in the sense of "tip". "Bakshish" is the first foreign word that any visitor in Jerusalem is bound to learn.

Not all my wandering around Jerusalem has been mere sightseeing. After all, this is "the Holy City," as the Arabs themselves call it, el Quds. Yesterday afternoon, when I made the Way of the Cross in the streets of the Old City, I could not help feeling, as our large procession had to edge its way through the crowded suuq, that Jerusalem must have been something like that on the first Good Friday too. But I must say that even the Moslems were respectful towards us. They even had swept up the remarks which the donkeys had dropped, so that we could kneel down with relative safety on the stones of the street. Every Friday afternoon of the year the Franciscans conduct this public Way of the Cross through the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem, ending up at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There is always a good crowd of people in the procession, not only priests and religious of various orders, but many lay people, both natives and visitors. Even the non-Catholic tourists who go along out of curiosity share in the sense of devotion. Yesterday afternoon I had all the members of my American School--all of the Protestants--making the Way of the Cross with me! And they liked it too!

Sad to say, the Church of the Most Holy Sepulcher, which should be the most beautiful church in all Christendom, is one of the most disreputable ones. The grand basilica which Constantine the Great had built in the 11th century on the site of Calvary was destroyed by the Persians in the 7th century. Partly restored, it was again completely demolished by the Moslems in the 11th century. Later in this same century the Crusaders erected a more modest structure on the site. During the centuries this has been falling into ruin. At present it is shored up inside and outside with a maze of iron and wooden scaffolding, to keep the whole thing from falling about. It is just plain ugly. The trouble is that the various "rites," the Greeks, the Latins, the Armenians, the Copts, the Syrians, and so forth, have certain age-old rights to specific parts of the building, and they won't agree on erecting a new building, even though the Latins, that is, we Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite, have offered to pay all the expenses. But on the outskirts of the Old City we Latins have some lovely new churches, mostly under the care of the Franciscans, such as those on the Mount of Olives (Gethsemani and Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), at Bethany and at the traditional site of the House of Caiphas (St. Peter in Gallicantu-where the cock crowed at peter's denials).

I am the only Catholic at my interdenominational American School. All the others are devout Protestants who attend their various churches, as far as they can find their own special variety here, every Sunday, and who say grace before lunch and dinner. Sometimes the Director asks me to say grace, and I give the standard Catholic "Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts . . ." But he generally says the grace himself in some such short form as "Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for Thy mercies." I don't think that I am participating in "false worship" when I say Amen to such generalities.

Every morning I say Mass at the nearby Dominican Church of St. Stephen, a beautiful large basilica erected at the end of the last century over the ruins of a church that had been built in the fifth century on the earliest traditional site of St. Stephen's stoning outside the walls of Jerusalem. It is less than a five-minute walk from my house to this church--across a long, stony, dusty lot that is still unbuilt between my Saladin Street and the Nablous Road on which is St. Stephen's. Connected with this church is the Dominican Biblical School, which has produced some of the best archaeologists in Palestine. I have already worked in their fine library, and will often do so again during the coming year.

On my first day in Jerusalem I went into the Old City to pay my respects to the Latin Patriarch, who is my bishop while I am here. When he found that I could speak Italian (after a fashion), he had a long chat with me, asking me about the American School in Jerusalem and about the Catholic Church in America. You'd think I were an American bishop making his official visit to the Pope. The Patriarch seemed greatly impressed by the fact that during the past half dozen years there has always been a Catholic priest attached to the American School. To my complete surprise, he offered to give me faculties to hear confessions and to preach in his jurisdiction, which I presume is all of Palestine. I had never even thought of asking for this, but I gratefully accepted his offer. The very next day I heard my first confession after my Mass in St. Stephen's, and I have heard several there since then. There is only one Dominican there who speaks English as his mother tongue, and he is often not available. Yet there is quite a nice little colony of English-speaking Catholics in the neighborhood--Americans, Englishmen, Irish and Canadians, who are mostly employees of the UN in Jerusalem. The one English Dominican here, father Joseph Burke, O.P., told me a few days ago that he is going to start a special eight-o'clock Mass on Sunday at St. Stephen's with a short English sermon, and he asked me if I would take turns with him at this. I said I would, after my return from the Syrian trip, God willing.

One of the surprising things about my first few weeks in Jerusalem is the amount of friends from America whom I've met here. One day when I was walking through one of the narrow streets of the Old City, whom should I run into but Most Rev. William T. McCarty, the Redemptorist bishop of Rapid City, S. D., with whom I was closely associated for a good part of my life! He had a little time left over after his official visit with the Pope, so he and the monsignor with whom he was traveling flew to Palestine for his first trip here. I had lunch with him twice at his hotel. He said about his trip to Jericho that even the Bad Lands of his South Dakota are not as bad as the desolate hills that form the Desert of Juda, that you pass on the road that goes down from Jerusalem (over 2,000 feet above sea level) to Jericho (almost 2,000 feet below sea level.)

On another day at the Damascus Gate I met Father Robert North, S.J., from the Jesuit Biblical Institute of Jerusalem, where I had stayed 27 years ago, but which is now on "the other side." Fr. North has UN permission to cross the border. On still another day Father David Stanley, S.J., of Toronto, Canada, called on me. He is one of the more illustrious members of my Catholic Biblical Association. After successfully passing his exam for the doctorate in Scripture at Rome, he took a trip to Palestine before going back to Canada. Finally, Monsignor John Dougherty of Darlington Seminary (Newark, N.J. diocese) was with me here for a couple of days. He was on his way to the centenary of the American College at Rome, of which he is an alumnus. Since he also teaches Scripture and is a member of my Biblical Association, he naturally took in a trip to Palestine on the way. With several "teas" and cocktail parties that I had to attend, life in Jerusalem, I must admit, is not without its social side.

This would hardly be a proper letter if I would not say something about the weather. As far as these past few weeks are concerned, you could not find more agreeable weather anywhere else than I have been having here. It has been sunny all day long every day. The rainy season, when Palestine gets a good deal of rain, won't begin till November, and it will be over in March. All spring, summer and autumn no rain falls here. Jerusalem lies right on the peak of the ridge that gets the Mediterranean rains in the winter on its western side, but hardly any rain at all, even in the winter, on its eastern side. Since my part of Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level, it now gets rather chilly at night, but the sun gives a comfortable warmth, not heat, in the daytime. I don't look forward with relish to the cold rainy winter, but at least it will be a good time then to stay home and do some serious work for a change.

We have hired a native speaker of Arabic to make recordings for us of the conversations in the book on Jerusalem Arabic put out by Georgetown University, and I listen faithfully to his recordings in a hopeless effort to get a smattering of the awful jargon they speak here. From the first lesson I learned that the Arabs have a long litany of responses that should be said on meeting or leaving a friend. Thus, the host says to the departing guest, ma' assalaame, which means, "(Go) in peace"; and the departing guest says, Allah ysallimkum, which means, "May God give you peace." So with many such salaams, I now say goodby, wishing you much peace and happiness.

Devotedly,
Louis F. Hartman, C.SS.R.
American School of Oriental Research
Jerusalem, Jordan

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