Category Archives: Dead Sea Scrolls

What I went through to meet a biblical scribe

Hi, all. This October, as many of you know, a small group of us (Terry, Kathy, David, me, Deb, and Rev. Jane) studied the Dead Sea Scrolls in preparation for going to see some of them at an exhibit in Seattle. Below is a little piece I wrote about the experience of seeing actual biblical manuscripts. (I originally wrote it for my co-workers at the Writing Center (where I work), and had posted it on our blog there. This was before we had this church blog!) Anyway, hope you enjoy. Laura


(Parts of Psalm 119, found in Cave 11 and dating to the first century.)

I’ve studied biblical languages, taken biblical studies courses, stared at many a facsimile of biblical manuscripts, but there’s nothing as powerful as being in the presence of original ink on original parchment from two thousand plus years ago. So when I heard that a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls were coming to Seattle (to the Pacific Science Center), I knew I had to go see them. And I was really going just to see them. I actually cared less for what these particular fragments were saying or what they meant to modern day textual critics as much as for simply being in their presence.

If you don’t know already, the Dead Sea Scrolls are almost 900 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, found in remote caves near the Dead Sea in the late 1940s and 1950s. They date from the 250 BCE to about 70 CE* – basically before and during the time of Jesus. Before these discoveries, the oldest extant manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible dated from the early middle ages, around 900 CE (although we do have New Testament manuscripts that go back to the first and second centuries CE). So if you’re a scholar, these discoveries are the finds of the millennium. They do wonders for your ability to tell the accuracy of the received text of the Torah, Prophets, Psalms, etc, as well as for your ability to better understand Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, both of which began just after these manuscripts were placed in these caves.

For me, I’d studied long enough already. So, when I found myself stuck behind clumps of people loitering around the first displays (you know – the ones showing facsimiles of the nearby Qumran settlement’s pottery, textiles, etc), I was frustrated. I figured, “To hec with this stuff! I want to see the scrolls!” So, like a doctor anxious to find the heart attack victim, I weaved my way through the people, hardly glancing at the other exhibits, until I got to the last room — “The Library.” As if I wouldn’t’ve been reverent anyway, the near-darkness told me I was entering a place of ancient human presences. Read the rest of this entry