Two Cruises on the Dead Sea

Photographic Expositions in Amman about  Two École Biblique explorations of the Dead Sea shore (28 December 1908 – 7 January 1909 and 15 – 18 April 1925).

One-hundred years ago, at the end of 1908, after celebrating Christmas in Jerusalem, the academic staff of the French École biblique went out for their very first cruise on the Dead Sea. The scientific project had been prepared by two of the Dominican Fathers, Antonin Jaussen and Félix-Marie Abel. For a new type of field trip, they took their students and a few guests with them for a sailing program of eleven days. Such field trips were customary for the biblical and archaeological research center; they called it “a Caravane”. They went to Sinai, Negueb, Petra, etc., but this year, 1908, presented a novelty: a kind of cruise around the Dead Sea. Up to this date, some other scholars had tried to sail on the Dead Sea, but only on a limited scale, without traversing all round the Sea, and only for a very short time. The occasion was the availability of a new boat, with a single cylinder petrol engine, which was operated on a commercial basis by a Palestinian from the Greek Orthodox community. His boat was regularly serving the line between the Jordanian shore, down of Kerak, and the northern Palestinian shore, as close as possible to Jericho. Father Jaussen hired the boat for two weeks…

The Palestinian staff aboard the boat were six; the foreigners were twenty (sixteen French, a Belgian, a German, and two Americans). The purpose of the field trip of 1908 was to document the region around the Dead Sea, and the entire shore, with archaeological, geographical, and physical descriptions. The boat was used only to get to different points along the shore, not to stay onboard. Actually, the accommodations aboard the boat were very rough, and the number of passengers made it almost impossible to sleep onboard. Thus, every night (except one), they went ashore, with tents, cooking pots, etc. They had also hunting guns, as we see on the photographs. The cruise was well documented in a book by Father F.-M. Abel, and by the private letters one of the young students sent to his family in France, recovered one hundred years later.

The second cruise, illustrated by some photographs in this exhibition, was much shorter and was only meant to show the students the shore all around the Sea – the region was by that time well known, without the mystery of 1908. It took place April 15-18, 1925, with a smaller motor boat.

The photographic material used here is a mix from three sets. The bulk is the gathering of glass-negatives from 1908, kept at Jerusalem at the École Biblique, and recently digitized. They are of different sizes, from 18 x 24 cm to tiny stereoscopic glasses of 4.2 x 10.5 cm. The second set is a few glass negatives from 1925. The third set is again from 1908, a bequest to the École Biblique of tiny stereoscopic glasses from the Belgian student, Mr. Jules Prickartz, given recently by his grandson. These tiny negatives provide a more entertaining, human-interest kind of photograph than the academic images of the professors of the École, mainly Father Savignac.

We express special and warm-hearted thanks to Mr. Kelvin Bown for his splendid work on the digitized files of the photographs, enhanced and prepared for printing with the greatest skill.