In the high mountains of northern Lebanon, a museum dedicated to the writer Gibran Khalil Gibran in his hometown this year commemorates the centenary of the Prophet, the best-known work of the author who became famous across the Atlantic.
Since his death in 1931, the remains of the man who was the pride of the small town of Bcharré have been kept in a cave in the basement of the museum which perpetuates his memory and where copies of his major work can be consulted in several languages . A true bestseller, The Prophet has become the bedside book of millions of readers around the world, his flagship work published in 1923 in the United States and translated into 115 languages. The book was so popular that it is often cited at weddings and funerals in the United States, where Gibran conceived most of his work, written in both English and Arabic, and where he led the New York Pen League , the first Arab-American literary society.
The work, composed of 26 poetic texts “approaches the spirituality of each individual, addressing the themes of death, life, friendship, love, children and others”, declares to the 'AFP Joseph Geagea, director of the Gibran Khalil Gibran Museum. During an evening of readings of the Prophet, recently organized as part of the Beirut book fair, the Lebanese writer Alexandre Najjar, recalled that in the 1960s, the book had been adopted by "the hippie movement" particularly for the famous phrase: “Your children are not your children (...) they come through you and not from you”.
Leaders and celebrities from around the world, such as former Empress Michiko of Japan, the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and John Lennon of the Beatles were attached to the book, according to Mr. Geagea. Elvis Presley “annotated it, he was in love with this book so much that he gave it to his friends every birthday”
In The Prophet, “the biblical style is omnipresent,” he emphasizes, notably through the use of the phrase “truly I say to you” with which Christ addressed his disciples. The book, said to be among the most widely read after the Bible, is also close to the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, but Gibran seems “more poetic and less philosophical,” Mr. Najjar says, noting “borrowings from Sufism” .
On a table in the Bcharré museum, where Gibran was born in 1883, are displayed the 11 translations of the book The Prophet, published from 1923 to 1931. His library, spread over four rooms, includes Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, stories by Sherlock Holmes , as well as books on History of Theology and Philosophy. The museum, surrounded by an oak forest overlooking the holy valley of Qadicha, was created in what was previously a monastery built in the 18th century, which Gibran Khalil Gibran attended as a child.
Gibran, who was also a painter, went there to draw the abbot of the monastery in charcoal. According to Mr. Geagea, his 440 paintings, of which 150 are exhibited at the museum, carry within them “his deep spiritual vision of existence, death and life at the same time”. Many nudes are also on display.
Born in Mount Lebanon during the Ottoman era, “Gibran had a strong desire to return to Bsharri, which he left at the age of twelve with his mother, brother and two sisters. But he died in the United States,” he adds, before this wish came true. After his death, the monks agreed to sell the monastery and the land surrounding it to his sister Mariana. It was transformed into a burial site in August 1931, then into a museum for its works and collectibles, which welcomes 50,000 visitors per year from five continents, according to Joseph Geagea.
To mark the centenary of the Prophet, the Museum's management participated in an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York in April. Mr. Geagea explains that the museum “selected 23 paintings, with reference to the year 2023 (...), representing in particular people who played a fundamental role in The Prophet, such as Gibran's mother, his main support” .