Dead Sea Scrolls
Today, I had the pleasure of being able to go down, with a group of people from a house fellowship I attend, to the ROM to witness the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Rev. Tony Costa was our guide and was great in providing us context to understand what we saw. I am not a huge fan of museums as I tend to need to engage in what I learn but the effect of the texts and the finds was a truly great experience. Looking at the parchment and papyri and realizing the meaning behind the dating of these documents (however inexact) and the message that they communicate about the accuracy of the Bible as we have it today is astounding. To see texts written from the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls covering 100 BC to 100 AD serves as a reminder of the weight of the evidence we have in favour of biblical writings.
I encourage you all to take the time to go down and visit the ROM between now and when the exhibit closes. The exhibit runs from June 27 2009 to January 3 2010.
In order to really get the most out of the exhibit, I would suggest that you read about the various scrolls beforehand to understand the context of it all. Although this is not a requirement as the ROM has done a nice job of organizing the information and communicating key facts and translations. To share a bit of background to either entice you to go or to hopefully make it more enjoyable when you do go I thought I’d provide a bit of information about the scrolls and what I observed today.
Ironically, the manner in which they were discovered is in stark contrast to the significance of the discovery itself. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd. This shepherd had followed a lost goat and had thrown a rock into a cave in pursuit of this goat when he heard the sound of something breaking. He ventured inside and had found his rock had shattered a vase containing scrolls. This first cave, known as Khirbet Qumran, was one of the eleven Qumran caves in which approximately 900 manuscripts were uncovered in a series of discoveries ending in 1956. The texts came down in 3 languages as did the Bible – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek but the majority of the text remains in the first two languages (Hebrew and Aramaic).
The significance of this find rests on three key facts:
1) These are the oldest copies of the Old Testament (OT) we have. They are approximately 1,000 years older than the copies of the Masoretic manuscript we have and contain every book of the OT except the book of Esther (some think this may be because of the perceived lack of piety and/or mention of the name of God – a uniqueness held alone by the book of Esther).
2) They attest to the “rate of transmission” and hence allow us to have confidence in the accuracy of the OT texts that we have today (see “Validity of the Bible” post for more information).
3) The extra-biblical writings also found attest to some key understandings that the Essenes (speculated to be the source of these scripts) had in relation to the Messiah and end of time (Book of War). These views share a common ground with the early Christians and add credence to the views held. An example of this is found, when you first walk into the exhibit you can see at the top of one of the displays text written from the Aramaic Apocalypse that amazingly demonstrates their view that the Messiah would be the Son of God. What an amazing thing to find! The text displayed from this script reads:
“He shall be proclaimed the Son of God and the Son of the Most High they shall call Him.” (sound like Luke 1:35? ;))
- Beyond findings such as these it was neat to see examples of artifacts that served as samples of what would have existed in Jesus’ time. We saw stoneware and learned about how the Essenes in Qumran were a holy people and as such had substantial amounts of stoneware as that was the material used to contain liquids and keep purity. Unlike the porous clay or potentially contaminated metals stoneware was used to keep things pure. The archaeological finds in Qumran of large amounts of stoneware help us gain a key insight into the religious fervour of Essenes and the size of the community living there. Remember where we also hear about stone jars in Scripture? See John 2:6 and we can see why stone jars were used for purity of such a special event as a wedding.
- We also saw ossuaries or “bone boxes” that were used by the Jews. The Jews would bury the body of a loved one and after 12 months dig up the bones (liaqut asa mot – “bone gathering”) and place them in these boxes and then place them in niches in the family tombs. The size of the tombs and intricacy of the design of the boxes was largely dependent on the wealth of the family. More interestingly, this allows us to understand the belief in a bodily resurrection that the early Jews had. When people speculate and claim Christians made up this idea of a bodily resurrection recently or Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the resurrection was always spiritual this is a great example of how we can refute that (along with all the texts the support the idea of a bodily resurrection). Additionally, these ossuaries reminded me of the flash in the pan “documentary” released several years ago entitled “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and how they had thought they found the ossuary of Jesus and His family (see my post on “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” for more information).
- Another item we came across was a few silver coins from that era. It was a great reminder of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:21 and provided a real illustrative example of the coin with the Caesar’s portrait emblazoned on its side. The coins serve as a backdrop to several passages in Scripture such as Judas being paid 30 shekels to betray Christ and Jesus overturning the tables of the money changes in the temple. It was interesting to learn about how the Jews viewed the Roman/Gentile currency as unclean and as such Jews would have to convert these monies into acceptable forms of payment (I guess a religious foreign exchange (from unholy to holy).. I wonder what the exchange rate on that is ;)) in the temple courts. In effect, this is one of the practices that moved inside the temple along with selling animals for sacrifices that Jesus so objected to. This was another great example of these archaeological finds providing colour to the picture of what we have read over and over in God’s Word.
- Another portion of the exhibit that was quite interesting was the relics related to the temple. We saw pieces of the temple that fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13:2 as no stone was left upon another. The Romans made sure of that as they took it down and as the flames melted the gold in the temple they would take the stones one by one and scrape the gold off them leaving the stones behind as mere rubble. We saw videos that showed the structure of the temple. I never had appreciated how massive the temple was and why it was widely considered a wonder of the world at the time. The accurately made 3D rendering depicted the “Dividing Wall” that contained a stark warning to all non-Jews as they were not allowed to pass that point and enter the temple’s inner courts as they would face a death penalty. It was amazing to realize how this wall fell as they all did and Jesus does the same as stated in Ephesians 2:14 when he broke down this dividing wall that separated the Gentiles from God that culminates in the wonderful passage in Galatians 3:28.
- One of the other interesting scrolls that stood out was the “Messianic Apocalypse” text. Scholars clearly attest to the fact that the Essenes had a view of 2 messiahs (a priestly one from Aaron and a kingly one from David) and the Christians view Christ as THE one and only Messiah to have come to fulfill 3 roles – Prophet (as He was God’s messenger), Priest (as He died on the cross to become our High Priest), and King (as He is King of Kings). This view of a messiah clearly does state a diversity but also a consistency to the view of the coming messiah. An interesting notation on the side of the display stated: “Although some people speculated in the 1950’s that certain scrolls might refer to Jesus, it soon become clear that view was mistaken. What the scrolls do reveal is that hopes for a messiah were more widespread and diverse than scholars had formerly believed. The identity of the messiah in this scroll remains a mystery. Is he Davidic, Priestly, or something else entirely?” Upon my inquiry at the ROM and subsequent research it is clear that the only significance of this time period (“1950’s”) is that some Christians had thought that the Essenes may have actually been Christians because of this Messianic focus. That was proven false but has nothing to do with proving that Jesus is not the Messiah. On the contrary, when you look at the 2 copies of the only complete books in the Dead Sea Scrolls collection we realize they are the book of Isaiah – how amazing is that? Why? Because Isaiah 53 is the most prominent messianic passage in the OT and prophetically lays out the description of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Unfortunately, this scroll wasn’t at the ROM and only a commentary was present or else I’d like to see the notation on the side of that display ;).
- Even the seemingly insignificant artifacts were amazing when put into context. We observed a sample of a “scroll wrapper”, a cloth that was used to (as you would guess) wrap around the scrolls to preserve them. It was these wrappers and the climate in the Qumran caves that helped preserved the scrolls for us today. When we saw the wrapper, it was a small simple piece of cloth that wasn’t anything ornate or spectacular, it stood in parallel to the shroud that covered Jesus as He lay in the tomb before His resurrection – how amazing is that?! The Word of God in scroll form was preserved in the cloth and the Word of God made flesh was preserved in cloth!
I could go on and on and on but I’ll stop here if you’ve made it this far and do two things:
1) Thank you for reading this far
2) Hope that I have peaked your interest enough to have you research these scrolls and/or visit the exhibit yourself.