Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Offers Glimpse at History
Chicago Tribune 3Mar00 D3
By Rob Smith: Special to the Tribune
NAPERVILLE, ILLINOIS -- Brigham Young University will be hosting a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit
Friday and Saturday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in
Napperville, Illinois. The exibit will feature replicas of several of the
scrolls, models of the Qumran community and artifacts of the area where the
scrolls were discovered. The exibit in Napperville follows a recent
Schaumburg exibit and will be followed by an exibit at the Field Museum in
Chicago from March 10 to June 11, where actual manuscripts from the Dead Sea
Scrolls will be featured.
Richard Harley, director of Outreach for the Foundation for Ancient
Research and Mormon Studies at BYU said, "People of Chicago should go see
this." "It's very difficult to get these documents out of the Middle East."
BYU originally became involved in studying the scrolls for a 1997 exhibit
at the Provo, Utah school. Researchers at BYU were the first to catalog the
scrolls onto CD-ROM.
First uncovered in 1947 by a shepherd boy in a cave near the Dead Sea in
Qumran, the initial discovery sparked a series of finds in 11 caves over a
30 mile area along the sea. This vast treasury includes several complete
scrolls and tens of thousands of fragments representing more than 800 works
written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. The scrolls are best known for their
Biblical and religious documents. Yet, they also contain legal texts,
contracts and lists of names. About one-fourth of the scrolls are copies of
nearly every book in the Old Testament.
DNA analysis was performed at BYU and this information was important in
piecing together and organizing the documents, which Hartley described as a
big jigsaw puzzle. With many of the manuscripts being written on animal
skins, recent DNA testing advances allowed scholars to group fragments. "If
they came from the same animal, they are probably the same text," said BYU's
Shane Heath, who was in town for the exibit.
Ultimately, BYU was able to offer a scanning technology that was able to
turn an illegibly burned document into a readable manuscript. Many of the
documents were burned and thought worthless. "It's really pretty amazing,"
Hartley said of the charred manuscripts' transformation. "This is a time
period where a lot of Jewish activity and sects were claiming to be the true
The age of scrolls are estimated to be between 164 B.C. and 1st Century
A.D. The manuscripts predate previous records by more than 1,000 years.
Before their discovery, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts dated from
1100 to 1200 A.D. Some of the Biblical texts from the scrolls differ
significantly from conventional wording, while some manuscripts are close to
the Hebrew Bible. The inconsistencies have led scholars to believe that the
transcription process wasn't consistent and scribes apparently felt free to
alter the texts.
One of the most well-known scrolls, the Isaiah Scroll, is more than 24
feet long, containing the entire text of Isaiah. Many bleieve this type of
scroll was similar to what Jesus used while teaching in the synagogue in
Nazareth, as described in the fourth chapter of Luke. Among the most
interesting discoveries was a map that listed 60 sites containing hidden
treasure. With no treasure to find, the speculation was labeled a hoax or
possibly the sites were plundered long before.
The biggest debate is why were the scrolls there to begin with? Many
believe that the monastic community known as Qumran was a place where
members of the community engaged in communal acts of worship, prayer and
ritual purification. Scholars assume the main purpose of the scrolls to be
a scriptorium, a place where scripture and other religious writings were
recorded, a type of ancient library used to preserve and store the scrolls.
The remarkable condition of the scrolls proved the cool temperatures of the
caves, as well as the jars they were stored in, to be a benifit to preserve
and protect them.
The exibit will run from 6 to 9:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday at The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located at 1320 Ridgleand Rd. For
more information, contact the church at (630) 505-0233.