Local theologians, historians and professors are anxiously anticipating the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition from June 29 to Dec. 31 at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. The exhibit will be the largest, longest-lasting, and most comprehensive exhibit of the scrolls. The scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves near Khirbet Qumran on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. More than 200 of the scroll¹s biblical manuscripts are more than 1,000 years older than any previously known copies of the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were the greatest archeological find of the 20th Century, according to Mark Strauss Ph.D., professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego. Strauss, who will give public lectures on the exhibit, said the scrolls provide a unique glimpse into the world in which Jesus lived and the Jewish belief systems of His day. Since many books of the Old Testament were found among the scrolls, this discovery also helps establish the age and reliability of the Old Testament text.
Strauss said the scrolls are the ³library² of a Jewish group known as the Essenes. This group left Jerusalem in protest against the ruling Jewish priests and what they viewed as the corruption of Jerusalem temple worship. They formed their own separate community where they studied Scripture and waited for God to return with His angels and destroy the ³children of darkness² (the Jerusalem leaders and the Roman rulers) and save the righteous ³children of light² (themselves).
³The exhibit is a wonderful gift from the time of Christ to experience first hand the Jewish material culture,² said Dr. John W. Wright, Ph.D., who is excited to encounter face-to-face the scrolls he previously studied by photograph. Wright, professor of theology and Christian Scriptures at Point Loma Nazarene University, will teach classes on the scrolls this summer and next fall at the university. He studied at the University of Notre Dame with some of the Dead Sea Scroll lecturers who will speak at the museum.
Lectures to help people understand the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit began in February at Point Loma and will continue through December in various locations, including the museum, churches, Bethel Seminary and Point Loma. The university¹s partnership with the museum also includes providing students as tour guides, developing and providing curriculum, and sponsoring a clergy reception to be held right before the exhibit opens.
The exhibit offers a unique opportunity to glimpse some of the earliest evidence available for the Jewish faith and for the texts of modern Bibles, according to Brad E. Kelle, Ph.D., associate professor of Old Testament at Point Loma and director of the university¹s master¹s program in religion. Kelle said that the scrolls have opened new dimensions for the study of the past and present, and must be taken seriously by all students of the Bible.
³Persons will encounter directly the material processes by which God in God¹s providence preserved ancient Jewish texts to become witnesses to Jesus Christ in the Christian Scriptures,² Wright said. ³The Scrolls evidence the liveliness and depth of first century Jewish life and devotion in which the church, as a Jewish messianic movement, began.²
Ten of the 27 scrolls on exhibit have never been shown before, and scrolls from Jordan and Israel will be united for the first time in 60 years. The exhibition will include panoramic photography revealing geographical similarities between San Diego County and Israel, and re-creating the Jewish sect community of Qumran, where the scrolls were created and copied and then hidden from the Romans, who invaded in 68 AD.
Perhaps the exhaustive content of the exhibit is due to the fact that Southern California is home to more Dead Sea Scroll scholars than Israel, according to museum curator Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, who also is professor of Hebrew Bible and Judaism at San Diego State University. The first two American scholars who, as students, saw the Dead Sea Scrolls when they were first discovered in the 1940s ended up living in Southern California.
Although they are deceased, Kohn has been working with their families, who are still here, to obtain film footage and archives. She also is working closely with two local scholars – from University of San Diego and UCSD – who have worked directly with the Dead Sea Scrolls internationally. Four other scholars live and work in other areas of Southern California.
³The story of the way in which they were discovered and the time it took for people to recognize the significance of the discovery is amazing in and of (itself),² Kohn said.
It is believed that a young Bedouin herder came across the first scroll in the late 1940s in a cave near Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in Israel. The modern state of Israel was being founded and the political situation was unstable and travel dangerous. The first seven scrolls discovered were in such great condition that people thought they were not really that old. It was thought they either were forgeries or taken from an old synagogue.
Bedouins, who discovered the scrolls, sold or gave them to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. A Syrian Orthodox Priest with a church in Jerusalem bought some of the scrolls, thinking they might be important. Eleazar Sukenik, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem recognized immediately that the scroll probably was 2,000 years old. He and subsequently his son Yigael Yadin, a famous archaeologist in Israel, ended up with all seven scrolls. Two American graduate students took the first photographs and mailed them to their mentor at Johns Hopkins University, who determined they were 2,000 years old.
The first seven scrolls technically belonged to the Hebrew University, which put them in the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where they stay. Later, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 900 fragments and scrolls were discovered in 10 caves. The majority of the scrolls in the exhibit came from Cave 11 (discovered in 1956) and Cave 4 (discovered in 1952), where three-quarters of the scrolls were discovered. Some never have been on exhibit.
The full library of the initial discovery was only made public since 1990, Kohn said. The original editorial team worked very slowly, and unless you were one of their graduate students, you couldn¹t even get your hands on their photographs, according to Kohn. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, due to public outcry, the team was reconstituted, the project sped up and everything came out into the open.
Scrolls include manuscripts from almost every book in the Hebrew Bible, hymns, prayers and apocryphal writings previously known only in translation if at all. The non-biblical texts include religious legal writings, biblical commentary and apocalyptic prophecies, and trace the transition between the ancient religion of the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.
An unusual addition to the exhibit is the Copper Scroll, the only one inscribed in copper, not parchment. Discovered in Cave 3, the scroll¹s contents seem to be a list of hidden treasures. The copper scroll belongs to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities in Amman.
Kohn said the museum is expecting many school tours in the fall because the scrolls are a whole body of archaeology, an important story of human discovery, and very big for social studies and the sciences applied to authenticating, deciphering and dating them.
Point Loma¹s professor of education, Enedina Martinez, Ph.D., is serving as the exhibition¹s consultant to help develop the museum¹s educational materials into curriculum for schools to use before and after visits.
The museum¹s website is a wealth of information on the exhibit, including a video and detailed listing of lectures. See www.sdscroll.org or www.sdnhm.org/scrolls.