Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dead Sea Scrolls

I completely forgot to mention this earlier...

Last Friday Andy and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. The journey to the Scrolls was a bit complicated. We tried to see them in December, but did not buy tickets in advance, and by the time we arrived at the Science Center, tickets for that day were sold out. So, with only a few days left in the exhibit, I called ahead to purchase tickets. The only ones still available were for 10:30PM! So we called our friend Denny, who graciously agreed to babysit so late at night. On the night of the exhibit, all went well. Denny arrived, Elise went to sleep (thus never knowing we were gone), and we drove to lower Queen Anne. We arrived early, as instructed, and at first we were able to stay warm inside the Science Center as we waited for our tour to begin. Then, at 10:00, all of the Center except the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit closed, forcing us to wait outside. It was bitterly cold and the wind was amazing. (Not surprisingly, later that night we lost power due to the wind.) There were some people waiting with very young children, even infants, and I felt just terrible for them. At any rate, we finally made it into the exhibit, and it was worth the late hour, the cold, the expense, everything.

I was surprised by how small and how fragmented the scrolls were. There were ten scrolls on display, and most of them were broken into several pieces, with large sections missing. No wonder scholars are still working on them after 60 years. The lights in the exhibit hall were very dim, and the lights directly on the scrolls were turned off every few seconds. They take no chances with 2000 year old sacred writings. The script was just beautiful, and - oh, I can't even describe it. It was truly awesome. One scroll was from Exodus and included the Ten Commandments - the oldest known copy. Another, the most well preserved and beautiful scroll, included parts of the Psalms, some canonized and others not. This scroll was tremendous. It was quite large, probably about 20" long and 8" high. One of the more interesting things about it is that you can clearly make out where the name of God is written. In ancient Israel - and actually among Orthodox Jews still today, I believe - the name of God was never said aloud. It was considered too holy, too sacred for a human to utter. So oftentimes a scribe would write the name of God in a hand distinct from the rest of the writing, so that when it was read aloud, the reader would see the name coming, and would not mistakenly say it. I don't read Hebrew, of course - although I would just love to learn how - but it was really intriguing to look at that scroll and be able to tell which word was the name of God. I'm not sure which name it was, but kindled a sense of reverence and awe.

The other thing that was interesting to me was how precisely the translation of the scrolls matches our modern translations of the Bible. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is considered to be the most significant evidence of the validity and accuracy of the Bible. It really is exact, word for word. Pretty amazing.

The Scrolls have left Seattle now, and I'm not sure where they are headed next. I hope you got to see them while they were here, but even if you didn't, I encourage you to read up on them. They are fascinating.

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