Monday, July 8, 2013

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Last weekend, Neal and I took the older boys, Luke and Matthew, to Boston.  Our original reason for going was to see a Red Sox game and tour Fenway Park, but we decided to make jam-packed weekend of it.  One surprise that we shoehorned in was a viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit.  We had originally intended to view them when they were in Philadelphia at the Franklin Institute, but time got away from us and we never got the opportunity.  We also originally planned to take a Duckboat Tour that originated from another location, but there were none available at a time that we would still be able to get to the airport to go home.  Not wanting to abandon that excursion, we chose to take one that originated at the Museum of Science, Boston instead.  As we emerged from the T and walked up the hill to the museum, we saw banners advertising the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit!  A quick calculation of timing determined we would abandon our original plan of checking out some of the other historical sights and we would stay after our boat tour to see them.  We purchased tickets right away - they were timed entry and we were afraid all of the 2:00 tickets would be sold out by the time we got back.   We were so excited we were able to finally see these.  (Someday we will go back and do the history stuff.  I'm going to hope that Paul Revere's house isn't suddenly going to uproot itself and tour the world.)

The Franklin Institute promotion video:



A little history:

Traders of the Dead Sea Scrolls - BBC

(This is 50-minute video about the Qumran and how the Scrolls were found and pieced together by scholars.  It's a fantastic overview of the Scrolls, often in the context of the people of Qumran. If you don't get a chance to watch all of the program, view it from about the 40 minute mark for about four minutes.  Watch the experts coax one fragment to life. You can see ancient text almost literally explode into view.)

One new word can make a difference!  (tweet this!)

In the time before/around Jesus' life, one group of Jews felt there was too much political infighting in Judaism, and they left Jerusalem for the desert, re-establishing themselves at the remains of an old settlement at Qumran. They copied Scriptures for their use in the new community. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd was looking for a lost sheep, and instead found what the first of what have become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Not only do the findings in these caves help augment what archaeologists learn about the history of the Qumranites, but, most importantly, these original scrolls help religious scholars better translate Scripture so we can understand it (and God). A simple word, found in one scrolls but not in prior translations, makes a total difference in perception:

Isaiah 53:11 From the anguish of the soul, he shall see light.

Isaiah 53 foretells the coming of Jesus, and what He will endure to be the Saviour.
He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth;
He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,by his wounds we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way;
But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth;
Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.

Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny?
For he was cut off from the land of the living, struck for the sins of his people.  
He was given a grave among the wicked, a burial place with evildoers,
Though he had done no wrong, nor was deceit found in his mouth.

But it was the LORD’s will to crush him with pain.
By making his life as a reparation offering, he shall see his offspring, shall lengthen his days, 
         and the LORD’s will shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his anguish he shall see the light; because of his knowledge he shall be content. 
My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear.
                                      Isaiah 53 NABRE

The addition of one word - light  - suddenly brought insight into not just the Qumranites, but the words of Isaiah as well.  Light is something tangible, but also symbolic - to "see the light" is to see the way; from the agony that Jesus' experienced, all see the way to God.

 On to the exhibit!

These fragments hold so much information into the history of Judaism and Christianity.  It was so exciting to see these bits of theology and history.  The first part of the exhibit is a narrated showing of how and where they were found.  It was a near 360-degree panorama to envelop you in the experience.
Next was an area where we were able to take photographs.  Hundreds of artifacts were on exhibit.

Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls pottery
 Pottery found in the caves of Qumran. These are believed to have held at least some of the scrolls.

Qumran altars
 Near: Altars found in Qumran ruins, likely used in communal worship.
Far: A bathing tub found in the ruins, perhaps part of a ritual bath area.

temple bathing tub

(Don't worry, we didn't break any rules.  The "No Photography" was a reminder for the next room where the scroll fragments themselves were housed.)

 Pottery vessels used for holding drinking water

 Idolic statues

home altars
 Small altars, likely used in home worship

The third room contained the scroll fragments themselves.  Of course, no photography is permitted in that room at all.  The fragments are laid out in a circle, with the text of the scrolls and an enlarged photograph translated beside them.  Each piece's significance is also explained. 

Also on display is a huge stone from the Temple Wall in Jerusalem.  Around it, other stones are stacked into a wall, and one can write a message to God and tuck it in the wall, with the promise that they will be placed into the Western Wall.  As incredible as it was to view the scrolls, this opportunity was equally exciting.  When Neal and I were married, his parents gifted us with a honeymoon to the Holy Land.  Tradition holds that what is written and slid between the stones is between only God and the writer, so I will not share details of what I wrote then, or at this opportunity, but I will share that part of my prayer this time included gratitude for God granting me what I asked the first time.  It's not quite the same as placing it there in person, but it was a wonderful opportunity for Luke and Matthew to better visualize what we have talked about, and to participate in their own way.  There is also a live-feed camera showing people praying at the Wall.  Luke was amazed at how many people were there - when we were watching, it was nearly 10:00 pm in Jerusalem, yet there were as many people praying there as if it was still mid-afternoon. You can see a similar feed here at Window on the Wall. 

If you have the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls in person, I hope you will go.  Whether you view them from a religious perspective or simply with a secular archaeology eye, they and the other artifacts from Qumran that are on exhibit are really an amazing look at history!


  1. Wow! That is a really neat surprise!

  2. We went last year in November when it was here in Ohio in Cincinnati :) it was awesome. I was trying to find my blog post but I must not have written it like I thought I did :(

  3. That was an awesome trip. Thanks for sharing it. It was a good thing you got photos of the other artifacts. I would have loved to see photos of the scrolls themselves.
    Warmly, Mary

  4. Meg, what an amazing excursion and experience! I wish we could have gotten to the Franklin Institute to see them, as well. :-( Your post was so informative, as well. Thanks for linking up with Field Trip Friday!


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