Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Although I wrote a little about seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls below as part of the events of the past week, I wanted to write a more detailed version of the experience. It was sooooo amazing. If you want to see the information at the Natural History Museum website or purchase tickets, you can click here.
The San Diego Natural History Museum is halfway through its six-month exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1947 in caves just outside of Qumran, an ancient city sixteen miles from Jerusalem. In total, eleven caves were found containing thousands of parchment fragments that date from 250 BC to 68 AD when Qumran was destroyed by the Romans. In fact, some of the fragments show the evidence of being hacked by swords, most likely by the Romans who destroyed Qumran in 68 AD and the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Because these scrolls are so delicate, they can only be on display for three months at a time, and then under special lighting and in cool temperatures. Last week the first display of scrolls was changed out, and a second collection put on exhibit, including the best preserved of the Deuteronomy manuscripts which include the Ten Commandments. (Amazing!!!!)
Once we entered the museum and showed our pre-purchased group tickets, we were directed to the second story of the museum for the first portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit which was entitled "Journey to the Dead Sea." This portion of the exhibit consists of amazing enlarged photographs (around 5' by 5' or so) of the Dead Sea region, including flora, fauna, and landscapes as well as geological formations, all captured by Israeli photographers. The similarities between the climate and landscape of the Dead Sea region and our own dry San Diego area was well demonstrated. We were also able to see original archaelogical tools, artifacts, and photographs of the people involved in the discovery and the study of the scrolls, from the Bedouin man who first threw a stone into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery to the tremendous scholars who first realized the original age and rarity of the scrolls.
After completing that exhibit, we traveled to the basement to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves in the second part of the exhibition. Once we entered the cave replica that opened the exhibit, we were immediately transfixed by a computer-generated timeline that showed who had occupied the area of the Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent (including the Dead Sea area) from 3000 BC to 2007 AD -- fascinating, especially since we're just now studying Alexander the Great in our home school world history lessons. We also saw fragments of shoes, hair combs used for picking lice (eeewwww!), and a variety of coins found in the caves surrounding Qumran, including a coin that almost exactly matched the "widow's mite" pendant I often wear, a gift from Keith. According to the exhibit, it's a bronze coin from the time of Herod the Great which exactly matches the information we were given when Keith bought it. I felt like part of the exhibit!
Then we came around a corner into a darkened area, and there were the scrolls! Each scroll was in a protected glass-covered box set into the surface of a table-top exhibit. On the wall above the table was a photo enlargement of each scroll as well as a placard with the translation, information regarding where the fragment was discovered, who had pieced it back together, what kind of work it was, etc. I had not known that less than a third of the scrolls discovered were actual Scripture; the rest consisted of Scripture commentaries, extra-Biblical works, and even legal documents and other business "papers" dealing with life in Qumran.
I was quite surprised by the size of the scrolls. Most were only three to four inches high, and the length varied from just a couple of inches to several feet. Some of the highlights were the amazing copper scroll, the gorgeous Psalm scroll, and the Leviticus and Isaiah scrolls. Also, at the end of the exhibit were illuminated manuscripts and Scriptures in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English, including modern manuscripts written in stunning calligraphy with stellar illustrations, all dated since 2000 from the St. John Project, I believe. I had to be dragged through the last of the displays because we had to attend a reception further down the Prado with my dad's Rotary Club. While we refreshed ourselves with vegetables, cheese, crackers, bread, and warm artichoke dip, I was anticipating the lecturer whom we would be hearing at 6:30 PM.
Dr. James Sanders teaches at Claremont Colleges and was the first scholar to open the Psalms scroll and to work on it; he had the scroll completely translated within four years. In addition to a several-page paper written by Dr. Sanders, I took notes in small cursive, covering an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet (the back of the scholarly paper) completely. Dr. Sanders gave us the information about the sword evidence among the 10,000+ fragments, plus a good idea of the different theories regarding the Qumran site: Essenes, Sadducees, male-only, a copy center for Scripture and other literature, etc. He also discussed the impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the history of early Judaism and Christianity, plus the impact on the concept of canonicity in Scripture and textural criticism. Dr. Sanders also informed us that all the scroll fragments have been pieced together and translated at this point. For me, the most interesting point was that in examining the extent of the Scriptural fragments, there is only a 5% difference between the Dead Sea Scroll Scriptures and the much newer copies, most a thousand years more recent, that have been the basis of Biblical translation for centuries. God has protected His Word throughout the millennia -- so amazing!
The Dead Sea Scrolls provided a powerful experience in history, antiquity, Scripture, and faith. It was so mindblowing to see these ancient writings, learn about them, and to experience a taste of life over 2000 years ago along the banks of the Dead Sea.