By: FW Mag Staff
By: Kyle Whitecotton
When a Bedouin at Qumran, Israel, went in search of a lost goat in 1947, he found much more than a missing animal. Tucked away in a cave along the rugged, western shores of the Dead Sea, he uncovered what scholars around the world now call the greatest archaeological discovery of modern times.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, named for their place of discovery, include copies of fragments of every book in the Old Testament with the exception of Esther. Dated between 250 BCE and 150 CE, they are the oldest copies of the Bible in existence. Eight of those fragmentary scrolls have found a permanent home at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and are planned for exhibit July 2 through Jan. 13.
“What we have is a picture of what the Bible looked like 2,000 years ago and what Judaism looked like over 2,000 years ago,” said Dr. Ryan Stokes, assistant professor of Old Testament for the Seminary. “This is history that we can look at, see, touch and feel.”
In addition to the eight items owned by Southwestern, eight others on loan from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities will also be on display at the Seminary in what will be the largest exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls ever seen at one time. The public has never before seen seven of the 16 fragments planned for display.
“It doesn’t get any better than having physical remains of that period of history and ancient Judaism,” Stokes said. “These are priceless artifacts from over 2,000 years ago that people of all backgrounds will enjoy. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are 1,000 years older than previously discovered Old Testament texts, contain biblical and non-biblical Jewish literature believed to have been written or copied by a Jewish sect called the Essenes, who may have hidden the scrolls for protection during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, 66-70 CE, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The Herodian fortress Masada, near where the scrolls were found, was the last outpost of that revolt and fell to the Romans in 74 CE when the Roman 10th Legion breached the walls only to find almost all of the defenders dead by their own hands.
Written mostly on parchment paper and dried animal skin, the Dead Sea Scrolls offer valuable insight into the daily lives of the Essenes and answer the previously debated question of the accuracy of later Biblical copies.
Dr. Steven Ortiz, associate professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds for the Seminary and director of the Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology, says that while the Scrolls may not prove the Bible to be true, they do prove the degree of accuracy and faithfulness with which it has been copied over the past 2,000 years.
“You can take the Bible you bought from Wal-Mart and compare it to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they say the same thing,” Ortiz said. “Scholars are no longer debating the accuracy of the Bible. It’s no longer a question since the discovery [of the Scrolls].”
Dr. Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, said many scholars once believed that things were added or changed as the Bible was transcribed. Since the discovery of the Scrolls, however, that debate has been laid to rest.
“What we have is a snapshot of the text of the Old Testament as it was shortly before Jesus’ time, during Jesus’ time and after Jesus’ time,” Fields said. “Essentially what the snapshot shows is that changes to the text have been very minimal.”
The Scrolls have also made a significant impact on the study of Judaism and Christianity.
“The scrolls have reminded us about the extent to which Christianity was originally a Jewish sect and how influenced it is by Judaism,” Fields said. “They changed some ideas such as what were the major languages used by Jews at the time of Jesus, which helps us better understand the Old Testament.”
The exhibition, made possible by Seminary trustees and premier sponsors Gary and Stephanie Loveless, is unique from previous Dead Sea Scroll exhibits.
The 16 fragments planned for display include facsimiles of the Habakkuk Commentary (an interpretation of scripture), the Manual of Discipline (rules for the community), along with fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Daniel, Ecclesiastes and Psalms. A facsimile of the Copper Scroll, the only scroll written on metal, will be on display, along with a piece of the scroll itself.
One of these 16 fragments, however, is especially valuable to the exhibit. That is the Genesis scroll fragment, never before on public display, and on special loan for this exhibit.
“It is a beautiful, unbelievable piece that’s totally readable by the naked eye,” said Dr. Dorothy Patterson, First Lady of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of theology in Women’s Studies. “Scholars will come from all over the world for no other reason except to lay eyes on that Genesis document. No one, I don’t care what exhibit they’ve been to, will have seen anything like that.”
Visitors will also see artifacts from the first century BCE, including writing utensils, pottery, coins and other household items. A goat hair Bedouin tent, Middle Eastern music and Arabic coffee and bread made by a Bedouin from Jordan will offer visitors a truly authentic Middle Eastern experience. An archaeological dig site has been established for children of all ages to uncover and take home with them pieces of pottery from 2,000 years ago.
The prestigious archaeologists and Dead Sea Scroll scholars will give lectures to help explain the importance of the fragments and the details of their significance. The exhibit’s high-tech scriptorium will allow visitors to view high-resolution images of some of the fragments with the same infrared technology used by scholars.
“It’s the total package,” said Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “It gives our Old Testament faculty recognition around the world, it calls a great number of people to the Seminary to see the documents first hand, and it’s an educational experience that the whole family will enjoy.”
“It’s important for people to know that there will never be another exhibition like this,” Dorothy Patterson said. “This opportunity is one of a lifetime.”
By: FW Mag Staff
By: Kyle Whitecotton