Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fragments of Truth: The Dead Sea Scrolls

This morning found us wending our way northward for a Community School field trip; fortunately for all concerned, I did not have to drive, thus averting another Adventure in Missed Directions. Instead, we joined Mrs. L. and Megan in their Caliber where high-tech navigation was provided by "Suzy", the trusty GPS Dashboard Assistant. Just think of all the adrenaline I saved today, not having to stress about which adjacent motorist was most likely to cut me off as I tried to find the correct exit ramp...

The desired destination was duly reached, and we found ourselves at The Milwaukee Public Museum []in good time to begin our tour. The goal of this trip? the January-June 2010 exhibit:"Dead Sea Scrolls[DSS] and the Bible: Ancient Artifacts-Timeless Treasures." [As a footnote, my husband tells me that the nation of Jordan is still contending with Israel to gain possession of these artifacts, which were discovered on territory that is now part of Jordan.]

Editor's Comment: One can hardly expect any reference to the word "Truth" in a public museum these days, and I didn't carry such expectations. However, it was hard not to note that for some of us, this exhibit was about much more than 2,000year-old scraps of parchment discovered by Beduoins in the 1950s.

The content, the preservation, discovery and, most significantly the Source of these artifacts constitute the Real Point. But, somehow, I don't think that was the intent of the curators here...all the B.C.E. and C.E. references were kind of a tip-off there.* [See * footnote below for slightly biased blather about the year-numbering have been warned...]

ANYWAY, after getting our wrist bands and regrouping, we ascended to the second floor of the museum and entered several connected rooms and alcoves of displays. The first two cases contained 'pay slips' issued to Roman soldiers, which had been recovered at sites near Qumram in what is now Jordan. No mention of whether their salaries took the form of currency or salt...

Moving on, we came upon several wall-mounted cases containing unrolled scrolls covered with remarkably uniform, intricate characters. Were we looking at documents that had come down to us over milennia? Well, actually, no, not yet. The first several displays were clearly marked facsimiles, created to approximate the originals in every respect except actual age. There were printed English translations adjacent.

Also helpful were a few "Stop and Learn" stations, staffed by museum guides,which allowed visitors to feel samples of papyrus and goatskin parchments, reed pens, facsimile inkwells, etc. It was also interesting to see copies of manuscript guides, used as comparison references to help identify and date the writing on various ancient documents.

At last, we moved into the heart of the exhibit and found ourselves peering at glass-encased actual fragments of the DSS. I confess to feeling awed by this. Despite not being able to decipher a single character, I find there is something about being in the presence of real evidence that is undeniable. Mr. K., who happens to be Hayden's dad, shared some interesting insights that he had learned as a Biblical theology student.

For example, the largest fragment on display was from the book of Isaiah, and included passages on Messianic prophecy. Prior to the discovery of the DSS, there was little to prevent scholars of liberal persuasion from asserting that such passages were written after the earthly life of Christ, and thus couldn't be considered literally prophetic. With the discovery of these fragments and the gravitas of Carbon-14 dating, this position became much less 'convenient' to maintain, at least if scholarly integrity was factored in...

In these days of rampant revisionism, I find it more and more important to 'know what I know;' the longer I live (and my life is probably 2/3 over now) the more I value the ability to affirm or refute matters of fact based on my own life experience.

For example, when I hear people haul out that tired old line about the Holocaust being a myth, I go back in my mind to the summer of 1979, when I toured the camp at Dachau, and stood in front of blown up photos of the victims. Sorry, not fabricated.

When one of my kids asked me once about the Challenger space shuttle blowing up, I clearly remembered how the air seemed to go out of the office I worked in as we all hurried back to the where one of the graphic artists had turned up the radio for the live know what you've seen and heard in life.

So, I'm hoping someday that John and Cecily will perhaps have a moment when they can access memories from today - when they literally looked through the glass and saw demonstrable evidence that 'the word of the Lord stands forever.'

Other tidbits I learned today:

- The Septuagint (LXX or 70) version of the Old Testament books, written in Greek, was created when Ptolemy II, an Egyptian king, who was persuaded to commission it and include it in his legendary library. But its name comes from the fact that between 70 and 72 scribes created now you's in Greek, by the way, because it was commissioned after Alexander the Great had conquered this region and brought with him Greek cultural influence...

- A codex is a book, as distinguished from a scroll

- The Masoretic Bible is the oldest extant codex of the Torah and is on loan to the US from the British Library.

- The two most significant early German language Bibles are the Martin Luther Bible of 1710, and the Anton Koberger (sp?) of 1483.

- The Gutenberg Bible, of which we saw one actual page, was printed but the unctials, or capital letters were all hand lettered in red ink. I would estimate the page size at about 12 inches x 18 inches...

Note on B.C. v. B.C.E...
[If you haven't been 're-educated', these are the politically correct abbreviations that refer to epochs in human history. When yours truly was a wide-eyed little school girl, we knew that B.C. meant Before Christ and that A.D. meant Anno Domini (year of our Lord)- and for several generations, at least, it was perfectly sensible to use the time that Jesus walked the earth as a reference point to divide history. But in these enlightened times, this is apparently considered non-inclusive, or ethno-centric, or some such infraction. So now we are either Before the Common Era or in the Common Era.

It seems to me that this numbering system still has A Lot in Common with the old system; according to Wikipedia (which, I realize, is not an unimpeachable source)"the numbering of years using Common Era notation is identical to the numbering used with Anno Domini (BC/AD) notation, 2010 being the current year in both notations and neither using a year zero.[3] Common Era is also known as Christian Era[4] and Current Era,[5] with all three expressions abbreviated as CE... (Both the BCE/CE and BC/AD notations are based on a sixth-century estimate for the year in which Jesus was conceived or born..."

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