Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls

THIS IS BORING TO MANY, I warn you now. Not to me, I love it.

Let me tell you about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brother Skinner spent almost two hours presenting a bit of what he knows about them, and I took pretty good notes that I feel are effective in capturing the gist of the presentation. Cool stuff.

The phrase "Dead Sea Scrolls" has become almost adjectival, synonymous with "incredibly important archeological and historical find" in recent years, i.e. "I just found the dead sea scrolls of Pakistan," meaning "I just found the key to understanding Pakistan's history." They are pretty important, and it was amazing to learn all about why. I think I want to talk a little about the background/geography, the discovery, the people who wrote/maintained them, and then the documents themselves and what they mean to us. I hope to do justice to Brother Skinner.

The region by which they were found recieves less than an inch of rain per year, making it incredibly inhospitable to human habitation, but where there is a will, especially a deeply religious/motivated one, God provides a way, in my opinion. The region is called the Judean Wilderness and it is a rift valley, where the African and Asian tectonic plates have collided and then spread, creating a 'rift' that constitutes the lowest place on earth (above water). The National Geographic magazine said that this area was a geographic near-twin to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.

The scrolls were found ignominiously. A shepard and his buddies were throwing rocks and threw one into a cave. There was a shattering sound, and it scared them and they all ran away. The thrower came back the next day and discovered some of the greatest literary, archeological, and historical documents in the modern era, up there with the Rosetta Stone. There were three original scrolls inside of clay jars (hence the shattering): one Isaiah text, one on the rules of the community, and one that was a commentary on the Book of Habbakuk. They were sold to a document dealer for . . . one hundred dollars. Best deal made in Jerusalem, ever. After someone realized their importance, the cave was searched more thoroughly and four more scrolls were found, one I didn't catch the name/contents of, one more Book of Isaiah, a war scroll describing Armageddon, and a Genesis Apocraphon. The scrolls went to the Syrian Orthodox Church. Further escavation was put on hold as Jews and Palestinians fought in 1949, the Israeli War for Independance. The scrolls were transported first to Lebanon and then to the US for safe keeping.

The son of a reknowned Israeli archeologist who was randomly visiting the States giving a lecture saw an add in the Wall Street journal. Someone was selling some old scrolls that would be a "great gift" for an educated colleague. He checked them out, and a few months of bargaining and underhanded deals (to keep enemies of Israel out of the deal) later, a quarter million dollars changed hands and the scrolls were reunited in Israel, where they still are today.

This man and his father then went back to the cave and to others in the area (11 out of the 200 caves in the area had documents in them) and escavated them, searching for more scrolls. Eventually, 820 documents were found, on more than 40,000 separate pieces of parchment dicovered. It is believed by some that locals, catching on that these scrolls were of great value, tore some of them into smaller pieces so they would be able to sell more artifacts. Sad day, huh?. These scrolls date from 200 BC to 70 AD. All of the books of the KJV Old Testament were found except for Esther, and some scholars believe one of the texts found predates that book; that is, early scholars compiling Esther took material from that scroll to record it. Thus the entire Old Testament, and hundreds of additional texts, was found. 80% of the scrolls were leather parchment, 20% were papyrus, and one of them was copper, which legitimized, in the minds of many scholars, the idea that Semitic peoples would record their history or other things on metal and then bury them, so they would be preserved for another time. But we already knew that, right?

There were three types of scrolls in the Qumran findings; Biblical, Apocryphal, and 'Indiginous.' The Old Testament was there, almost in full (minus Esther) and there were nine additional Psalms, all of which were attributed to King David. Three of them have been found elsewhere, and one in the Septuagint Bible. These people saw King David as a prophet, and treated his writings as on par with the writings of the other Old Testament prophets, something that perhaps Christians do not do. One of the greatest scholarly findings regarding these scrolls is that they are the oldest documents ever found that record the Old Testament, and they are extremely similar to our own Old Testament, something which is completely miraculous in my mind. The previous oldest copy of those books available was from 900 AD, and thses are from 100-200 BC, a thousand years difference and incredibly similar text.

One of the coolest things about the Dead Sea Scrolls for members of my faith is a certain scroll, the longest found in the set of caves nearby (27 feet, 5 feet longer than Isaiah) called the "temple scroll." It talks about ordinances that go on in our temples, apparently, and indirectly talks about Jacob recieving his endowment or other temple covenants at Beth-el. Marion G Romney also stated that "The temple is to us what Bethel was to Jacob." I have no reference, I apologize, I was writing as fast as I could at that point. The people of Qumran apparently thought of this scroll as the sixth of the Torah; they saw it as on par with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Dueteronomy, and thought of it as having been revealed to Moses on Sanai. Incredible. Temple covenants in the days of Moses, and a record of it. Or, maybe just crazy religious zealots making stuff up. I do not think so.

Yesterday I went to the Western Wall and danced with Orthodox Jews to welcome the Shabbat. Amazing! They are so devoted, and the wall is such a sacred place to them. I absolutely loved the experience of praying against the wall that contains Mount Moriah, on which the temples of Solomon and then Herod once stood. Hmm, maybe an explanation is in order: The temple mount, named Mount Moriah, is a very small hill in Jerusalem. The temple of Solomon was built on it, with the Holy of Holies at the peak of the mount, over a stone. That temple was destroyed when the Babylonians took the nation of Judah into captivity. The book of Ezra talks about the return of the Jews (in the 500's BC) and the construction of the second temple, which lasted until the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD. The second temple was much more modest than Solomon's. It underwent a moderate change that I am ignorant of some time between 500 BC and Herod the Great in 10(ish) BC. But it is called the temple of Herod for a reason: Herod expanded the building, making it more magnificent than any building around, and more than any building many had ever seen. He housed the entire of the Mount Moriah in a retaining wall and put a roof accross the top of the wall to place the temple upon, then expanded the temple on top of this grand, mountain-containing structure. When the Romans destroyed the temple in the siege of . . . 70 AD, I think, they completely sacked the temple. All that is left of the temple mount structure is portions of the retaining wall of Mount Moriah, and the portion of the remaining wall that is closest to where the Holy of Holies was is the current Western Wall. And thus it is the most sacred spot in all of Judaism, even though it was never even part of the actual temple. The Western wall was encorporated into the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, so (ironically) the Western Wall now supports the current structure that houses Mount Moriah, on which sits two Mosques, the Dome of the Rock (same rock of the Holy of Holies in the temples of Solomon and Herod) and the Al Aqsa. Whew. Finished with that. I love learining this stuff :D

That was a lot of boring stuff, wasn't it? I'll add a warning at the top.

Life is exciting. Live it up, no regrets. Haha, do not misunderstand me, that means "don't do anything you will regret" as well as "don't leave out anything you will regret not doing," so I am not going to do stupid stuff here under the guise of "no regrets." Have a great day :D


  1. Okay, I will admit I didn't read alll of it...
    but I read most of it!!!

    Matt, I think what would eliminate the warning of boring text, or at least liven it up... would be PICTURES! YAYAYAYAYAY

  2. You should check out Josephus. He was a Jewish historian that preserved a lot of these events in the history he kept. I will warn you that Brother Merrill's copy was a big book, lots of pages, and some of the tiniest print I've ever seen--but if you're willing to make the investment, I'm sure the return will be great, as you've already seen from the Holy Land itself.

    I'm so glad you've decided to keep a blog about your time in Jerusalem. Do you plan on taking any pictures? Definitely keep us updated :)

  3. Matt, you're so cool.

    I miss you telling me to have a good day!!! But I'm glad you're having lots of fun. :)

    Take care! And keep writing :)

  4. Haha, I would LOVE to add some of the pictures I have been taking (and videos, thosea are the best, because I can add live commentary) but the internet bandwidth at the center is very small and the staff here asked us not to transmit pictures or videos for fear of crashing "the system." Which is sad, because many are really amazing. I'll add them as I can

    I took a look at Josephus once a long time ago, but I was young and naive and it was boring, so I gave up. I'll revisit it. Sooo . . . who are you, Paradox?

    Thanks so much, Emma :D Have a great day:)

  5. Are these pictures going to be up before the middle of July, or will I have to wait two years to see them?

  6. Fascinating. We must be related, I didn't find it boring. In fact it seems right up my alley. Dad used to tell us stories about the scrolls and other records that had been found. You are a good story teller!

  7. Hmm . . . I can post pictures if I use the wireless at Hebrew University next door. I'll try to get over there at some point, but alas, studies call. Two midterms this week, WHOO!