by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What courses do you teach at University de Strasbourg?
Christophe: I belong to the Faculty of the University of Strasbourg but, through a teachers exchange agreement between U. of Strasbourg and the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem (EBAF), I have been “on loan” to the EBAF for almost 30 years. That means that I belong to the faculty of the U. of Strasbourg, who pays my salary, but I teach at the EBAF in Jerusalem, mainly philology and linguistics applied to the texts of the Bible.
These are the courses that I teach at the EBAF this academic year:
Greek semantics as a tool for exegesis (the whole year)
Philological study of the Prologue of the Gospel of John (first semester)
The symbol of the Tree of Life in the Bible (first semester)
The problem of Pauline pseudepigraphy from a linguistic point of view (second semester).
Gordon: What courses do you teach at Polis - The Jerusalem Institute of Languages and Humanities?
Christophe: This year, I teach the following courses at Polis (all these courses are given exclusively in ancient Greek: no other language is used in the class; even students have to ask their questions in Greek):
Ancient Greek, levels 5 and 6
The Seven Seals: understanding the symbols of the book of Revelation
History of writing systems
Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had upon your students?
Christophe: In April 2020, within one week, we had to move all our courses on zoom. We adapted our method to online courses, and this helped us offering our courses to new students. However, nothing can compare to the in-person experience of the Holy Land. Last October, we started having our academic programs in-person again.
Gordon: What are your responsibilities at Revue Biblique?
Christophe: I am a member of the Editorial Committee and each time an article dealing with Greek or Hebrew philology in biblical texts is submitted to the journal, I am asked to read it and send a report on its quality and accuracy. As an average, we accept a third of all submitted articles, the other ones are either rejected or accepted after substantial changes have been made by the writer.
Gordon: What languages do you speak?
Christophe: It all depends on what you mean by “speaking”. Any person who has lived immersed in different cultures will necessarily become a polyglot. There is absolutely no merit in that. I am fully bilingual in French and Spanish, the two languages in which I grew up: that means that I feel confident to write scientific articles in these two languages without having to ask someone to edit them, even if my written Spanish is worse than my French.
I think my English is acceptable, but it is far from perfect. I am fluent in modern Hebrew and in the Jerusalem Arabic dialect, but I make many mistakes and, especially in Arabic, I lack vocabulary. I can hold a conversation in Italian. I use only ancient Greek in my classes at Polis, but I am pretty sure ancient Athenians would find my Greek funny. I speak some Latin as well, but I must struggle while attempting to speak that language.
Gordon: What is your most memorable experience in teaching?
Christophe: There are many memorable experiences, I will just select one of them. Back in the year 2000, I used to teach teenagers at the Lycée Français of Jerusalem. I prepared them for the Baccalauréat (the official French exam which gives access to college). There is an oral exam in French literature that any teenager must sit in at the age of 16. It is rather challenging for some of them because it is the first time in their life they must speak in public. One of my students was extremely shy and, even if French was his mother tongue, he was absolutely unable to say more than two sentences when facing the examinator. He could not give any speech in front of the class during the fake exams we were having to prepare them for the real one. I spent a lot of time helping him and he slowly became more confident. In the end, his grade was very good, and he became afterwards a tour guide, being able to speak in front of hundreds of people. It is always very rewarding to see that you can help students mature and grow up as persons.
I would add that I am very glad when I hear that my classes have helped some of my students understanding better Scripture and growing in their Catholic faith.
Gordon: Thank you for an incisive interview.