Saint Marie-Alphonsine and the resurrection of Jubra'il Dabdoub

Norris, Jacob (2018) Saint Marie-Alphonsine and the resurrection of Jubra'il Dabdoub. Jerusalem Quarterly, 73. pp. 10-27. ISSN 1565-2254

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In 1909 two worlds collided in Bethlehem. A successful and cosmopolitan merchant from the town was brought back from the dead by a local nun who had never left Palestine. This article presents an experiment in biographical writing by reconstructing the miracle and the lives that unfolded around it. At first glance, the two protagonists could not appear more different. The merchant, Jubra’il Dabdoub (1860−1931), was among Bethlehem’s ‘pioneer’ generation of merchant migrants − young men who boarded steamships setting sail from Jaffa in the 1870s and 1880s, to travel all over the world in a bid to make their fortunes. The nun, Marie-Alphonsine (1843–1927), born in Jerusalem, was a fiercely devout woman who embraced a life of poverty and founded a religious order, the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters (still active today), devoted to serving local Arab girls and women. In 2015 she and Mariam Bawardi were canonized by Pope Francis as the first Catholic Palestinian female saints.Despite the apparently divergent biographies of these characters, they were both products of the same local society. The article below attempts to place the reader within the world views of Jubra’il Dabdoub and Marie Alphonsine, rather than argue through a detached, analytical style of writing. More specifically, it employs a magical realist mode of storytelling to create a mood in which supernatural occurrences are experienced as routine events while the manifestations of global capitalism are looked upon with wonder and trepidation. As a literary genre, magical realism constantly seeks to destabilize the reader’s sense of the mundane and the extraordinary, the illusory and the real. As such it has much to offer historians interested in adapting their writing to mirror subjects who seem unfazed Jerusalem Quarterly 73 [ 11 ] by supernatural events while simultaneously living through great social, political or economic upheaval. In the case of Bethlehem, as with Palestine more broadly, profoundly unsettling changes were occurring at the turn of the twentieth century. The article seeks to capture these upheavals through the eyes of the local inhabitants, especially in terms of migration, technology, and the pull of Arab identity, while asserting the sense of magic and piety that underpinned people’s experiences of these changes. To achieve consistency in style, I have at times embellished historical sources by drawing on wider research to imagine how a person might have experienced a given event. This is particularly the case with Jubra’il Dabdoub who left behind no written reflections on his life, but only fragments of sources relating to his activities as an itinerant merchant. I have indicated clearly in the endnotes where I have gone beyond the empirically available evidence. Jubra’il Dabdoub is also the subject of a monograph I am currently writing that will explore in more depth the potential of fictional and folkloric narrative techniques to capture the lives of these types of historical actors.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Depositing User: Paige Thompson
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2018 15:36
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2021 15:34

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