This year, 2011, Brother Jacques Fontaine will celebrate his 90th birthday. A Dominican priest with Israeli citizenship, he was the founder of the “BST” (Bible on the Land) at the time of Isaiah House, consisting of a summer of preaching on the Bible in the Land of the Bible and a winter of lectio divina (meditative Biblical reading) in Hebrew, known as “Bible below the Land”.

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The life of Brother Jacques is quite simple, Biblically simple. It is the love story between him and the Word of God as it is heard in the Bible and as it surges forth from the Land of Israel. He was born in the north of France in 1921, the last child in a family of eight children. After studying law, he entered the Dominicans and was ordained in July 1948. At the seminary, he had studied with Fathers Congar and Ferret, who were engaged in the renewal of theological studies, putting at the forefront a more dynamic dimension of Christ in history, showing the progress of the people of God toward the fullness of time.

After a year spent at the Ecole Biblique, the Dominican school in Jerusalem, a voyage on motorcycle through the Holy Land and then going further in the footsteps of Saint Paul, he returned to France. He organized a travelling exhibition based on lectures in which he narrated the Old and the New Testaments, illustrated with slides. During a long and unexpected hospitalization, he had the chance to study Hebrew, remaining faithful to the words of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “If I had been a priest, I would have studied Hebrew and Greek in order to understand the divine thought, as God saw fit to express it in our human language”.

At this point, the Provincial of the Dominicans, Father Avril, discerned the possibility of the establishment of a new institution: a center for the study of Judaism in Jerusalem. He called Father Bruno Hussar, already living in Israel, and Brother Jacques Fontaine was willing to join him. In 1960, they moved into a part of the house of the Lazarist Fathers on Agron Street in Jerusalem, baptizing the foundation “Isaiah House”. They soon felt the need for a third brother and they had the good fortune to welcome Marcel Dubois almost immediately and then, in 1967, Gabriel Grossman and later Abraham Shmueloff.

In 1975, Father Dubois, writing the preface to the book, “The Bible taken from the Professors”, wrote: “It was when attending tour guide school, after twenty years of studying the Bible, that he had the impression of first really discovering the Bible, reading it on the terrain. It is this fervor and this blossoming that he tries to communicate to pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Pilgrimage indeed but to the living sources of faith. This means going back to a “theological locus”. If one is invited to take the road from Dan to Beer Sheba, it is not in order to take stock of ancient stones nor even to venerate the Holy Places but rather to renew body and soul. This is the itinerary of the Patriarchs, in order to go up to Jerusalem, by the ways of the Gospel, listening to the Word of God in the very landscapes in which it echoed, by way of the liberty and availability that this Word necessitates. The discovery of the Bible takes place then under an open sky.

They shall wander from sea to sea… seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it (Amos 8:12). Brother Jacques is convinced that today, just as it was at the beginning, in this Holy Land the proclamation of the Word of God will be renewed and will echo forth with new vigor until the ends of the earth. Having perceived the thirst of innumerable believers, he wants to contradict the Prophet Amos (Amos 8:11-13)”.

- In summer, geography becomes theology. He went off in a jeep, and then there were two and then three and then when the requests started coming, it was a bus. As a plan for his preaching*, he proposed: In the name of the “Father” in the south of the country, in the name of the “Son” in the radically different countryside of Galilee and in the name of the “Spirit” on going up to Jerusalem.

- In the winter, with a small group, he read the Bible in Hebrew, five hours a day, with a liturgy connected to the reading. “Through repetition, the vocabulary penetrates and one begins to think Biblically”. Also during the winter, over a period of four years, he encourages Abouna Shmueloff to make a recording of the Bible in Hebrew**. He would say: “this continuous listening and reading of the Bible was a revolution for me. I was immersed in it existentially… There was something in it that was enchanted and many historical critical problems disappeared. One can take note better of the homogenous nature of revelation… one experiences the Bible’s extraordinary harmony”.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Life without limit, all at once and entirely, a full and total possession”. Brother Jacques continued: “We are made for this, in our body and in our soul, Christ and the Virgin already reached the limit of the human adventure. It already exists! We are marching towards life. We do not believe in it enough, it makes one giddy.

It is in this Faith, in this Hope that is contained the foundational spirituality of Baptism, of Martyrdom (Witness), of the Witnesses. Everything converges here; everything comes to this. For this reason we continue to walk towards Jerusalem, even if we take leave of one another, no one can leave Jerusalem once he or she has sensed the mystery. One takes leave without leaving it behind.

There is still the road to Emmaus in order to learn that all roads of existence can be roads to Emmaus where the celebration of the Word and the Eucharistic celebration are indissolubly united”.

* One can listen to 25 hours of teaching of Brother Jacques on the site “Bible on the Land - Bible Sur le Terrain – at the time of Isaiah House” on this site.

** Recordings that one can listen to on this site