The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

Alison JamesArticles

I believe that the emergence of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit (NYC) at this time is not without significance.  As I entered with the other visitors on Christmas Day, 2011, I found myself surrounded by oversize screens showing the Dead Sea lapping at my feet.  This body of water is the deepest saline lake on land (1,388 feet below sea level) with 33.7% salinity. In stark contrast, we were then shown archaeologists sifting through the dry, sandy terrain of Khirbet Qumran in the former British Mandate for Palestine, now known as the West Bank. Of course, had the Scrolls been found closer to the water, they surely would not have survived the corrosive nature of the salt (whereas certain health therapies are still helpful to man). It was hidden within a jar at a higher elevation. A stone thrown into a cave, like the stone of David against Goliath, hit home and led to the discovery of the Scrolls.

Perhaps the other visitors, like myself, felt that this particular Holy Day was an optimum choice to get close to such an important piece of Biblical history.  The exhibit devotes much focus and space to artifacts discovered in Qumran and to life in Biblical times, as well as to the Scrolls themselves dating generally between 300 BCE and 70 CE. In addition, a stone from the Western Wall of Jerusalem forms part of the exhibit – and was strewn with small folded pieces of paper holding the prayers of the visitors. The Scrolls, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, mostly on parchment, but some on papyrus, evidence small and very neat writing. The largesse of their significance cannot be overstated however: they form a missing link in the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Thanks to modern technology and the piecing together of the Scrolls, the availability to us of this exhibit is a treasure. While scotch tape and cigarettes were tools of the first handlers of the Scrolls (as shown in a documentary film at the exhibit) painstaking methods to stabilize the many fragments is an ongoing labor of love.  Had the Scrolls been discovered any sooner, perhaps they would not have survived at as well as they have, or even at all. Fortunately today, preservation techniques are enabling the display and dissemination of the Scrolls’ teachings once again. Curiously, as the Divine Plan would have it, the Scrolls were discovered in 1947 when the United Nations was ruling to partition Palestine.  This was followed in May 14, 1948 by the birth of the State of Israel and a unification of the Jewish people.

While some scholars question, others maintain that these Scrolls represent the Essene library; it is generally accepted, however, that the Scrolls are identified with the Essenes. In 75 CE, the historian Josephus lists the Essenoi as one of the three Jewish sects, the others being the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Among the Scrolls there are some 972 texts, not all of which were included in the Bible; those not included are grouped or included in either the Apocryphal texts or the Sectarian manuscripts which are identified as the Community Rule, War Scroll, Pesher (or commentary) on Habakkuk and the Rule of the Blessing. In this particular exhibit, enlarged selections of text, together with translations, are beautifully presented, including the Ten Commandments. The timeless laws that were recorded then are available to us in person once more.

The Essenes’ strict observance of certain customs and observances set their community apart.  They served each other, they were forbidden to sacrifice animals and they lived as a cohesive and peaceful unit.  Community ownership was the general rule, and three year engagements were usual prior to marriage.  The Essenes were the community in which Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Joseph, grew up.  Mother Mary says:

“The important thing to remember is that we were living together for a purpose beyond our own lives.  We wanted to establish our beliefs as a path for others to follow and to “walk our talk” so to speak. No-one, least of all myself, knew we would be so blessed to give birth to and parent our Beloved Jesus.  History turned a new page, just as you are turning one today. Your devotion to your lives and ideals for the future is a wonder to us all and we wish you well.  My heart embraces your hearts, like a mother watching over her children.  I will never leave you.”                ~ Mother Mary