Unlocking the Dead Sea Scrolls - P1/2    
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Welcome, esteemed viewers, to A Journey through Aesthetic Realms.

Today, we will visit the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation in Jerusalem which takes care of the preservation, exhibition and publishing of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also called the Qumran Scrolls, these precious documents have even been regarded as the most important archeological finding of the 20th century. They are by far the oldest existing scrolls of biblical scriptures studied in three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

My name is Pnina Shor and I’m a head of a new unit that the Israel Antiquities Authority established to take care of the Dead Sea Scrolls. So the unit is called Dead Sea Scrolls Project, and what we do is we take care of the scrolls physically, meaning conservation and preservation of the scrolls. We do all the curatorial work. We are in charge of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions all over the world. And we are in charge of this big, huge digitalization project that we are about to begin.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of hundreds of documents from the Hebrew Bible as well as religious texts which are not part of the biblical canon.

My name is Emanuel Tov. I am a professor of Hebrew Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. I teach Bible and I teach Dead Sea Scrolls.

Some 20 years ago, I’ve been appointed as the editor-in-chief of the International Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Committee. Before that time, I studied the Dead Sea Scrolls in general and I also published some scrolls, but at that point 20 years ago, I was appointed to oversee some 50, 60, 70 people in the whole world that were involved with the publication of the scrolls.

It means that we look at the little fragments and we try to read them. We call that “to decipher” what is written on each small fragment, and we try to combine the fragments to a larger picture. And we then try to understand. And since the scrolls are fragmentary, we have to reconstruct what is found in the places that have not been preserved, and we write a commentary on each scroll.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, that’s the name we give to these fragments which have been found in 1947 in a cave, and then afterwards in several additional caves near the Dead Sea. That’s the lowest point on Earth, a very hot area in Israel. And because it was a hot area, the fragments have been preserved very well. It’s an enormous amount of material. We now reckon that they are more than 900 different scrolls, although sometimes only small pieces of a scroll have been preserved.

The scrolls were first discovered in 1947 at Khirban Qumran on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea by a Bedouin shepherd boy. From 1947 to 1956, many scrolls were unearthed in several locations, mostly along the western shore of the Dead Sea. In the 1960s, more scrolls were found during the excavation of the ancient fortress of Masada. And even in the last decade, there have still been a few new findings of scrolls.

They give us a very good life picture of literature that was used by the Jewish people 2,000 years ago. They are written in ancient Hebrew, and ancient Hebrew is the language of the Hebrew Bible. And a smaller group is in Aramaic. That’s a language that is related to Hebrew, and some of the books in the Hebrew Bible like Ezra, Daniel are also in Aramaic.

And Aramaic was the language that was spoken by Jesus. So it’s a very important language. Some scrolls were written in the Greek language, the language that was the language of the period. The proper conservation of these unique scrolls is an elaborate task and an enormous responsibility which requires a lot of dedication.

My name is Elena Libman. I am the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls conservation laboratory of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. Shortly after the discovery, they were re-placed from the desert to the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. And a team of eight scholars dealt with the scrolls and when deciphering and putting the right position to the million fragments, unfortunately they used tape.

Actually nobody wanted to do any harm to the scrolls, but the fact is that harm was done. Let me show you the sample of such a plate with more than 30 I think, tiny fragments written in Hebrew and put in between two sheets of plain glass, window glass. And you can see the tape glued on the back side of each fragment, sometimes several layers, one upon another. When two or three parts of same fragment were found, unfortunately they were joined in such an inappropriate way.

First thing which was done when we became conservators here – it was almost 20 years ago – was to replace the fragment from glass plates to acid-free cardboards. Most of them are now in acid-free cardboards but there are some, about 10 or 15 plates, like this one, remained in glass plates. Why? Because in this case, the fragments are stuck to the surface of the glass and it’s impossible for us to open it. When the scrolls were replaced from the glass plates to the acid-free cardboard, as this is the sample, the scroll looks like this one.

This is very tiny, very small fragments of tefillin, what, maybe you know, religious Jews use when praying. We put it in a tiny box here on the forehead, and on the left hand. So this is a head phylacteries for the forehead, and it is prepared to be exhibited in such a way we have to put fragments inside two layers of such a sort of polyester net. Each fragment is sewn around, not touching it, with the same thread.

It is written on both sides, that is why it is possible to see it from both sides. Now it is opened because it is back, not exhibited. In case when it is not written on both sides, it is put on the background of a linen.

A cornerstone for the foundation of Judaism and subsequently for Christianity was the Ten Commandments, which were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. We were indeed lucky to have a chance to see the only Dead Sea Scroll which contains the oldest existing writing of the Holy Ten Commandments!

This is a very interesting scroll, the Deuteronomy scroll, the one and only scroll with the Ten Commandments, written 2,000 years ago. Here it is. It is written, “Honor your father and your mother.” Here.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written during a crucial time in history. Ms. Pnina Shor explains: The scrolls are manuscripts that were written between the end of the third century BC and until the first century CE, until the year 70 – the destruction of the Second Temple. And the majority of them were written in the first century BC and the first CE. And this is the crucial time in history, when both Judaism and Christianity were formalizing as we know them today. Therefore, these scrolls are very, very important both to the Jewish world and to the Christian world.

Who were the people who wrote the scrolls? What information do the scrolls give about them?

They include all of the books of the Bible and more than one copy of them, except for the Book of Esther. They include a lot of non-Biblical material, apocryphal, apocalyptic writings, sectarian writings or writings that were written by a certain sect at the end of Second Temple times. They called themselves the Yachad, which mean “togetherness,” and they’re one of many such groups that formed at the end of the Second Temple times.

And early Christians were such another group. So there’s a lot of writings, especially the sectarian writings or the apocalyptic writings that talk about the Messiah, about the world at the end of the days that the Christian world relates to. But there’s no actual copy of the New Testament within the scrolls because the New Testament began to be compiled only about a century or two later.

The public in the world usually thinks that the Dead Sea Scrolls [are] only the scrolls of the Bible, because they’re so important. And indeed, the Bible has been found there and many, many copies. But there are also other scrolls that we call briefly “non-biblical scrolls,” and these scrolls aren’t just anything. They could be sectarian writings describing the life of the people who lived near the Dead Sea. Some of them are psalms (hymns).

Some of them are calendars describing the work in the imaginary temple. And through that work in the temple and the names of the people that had to work in the temple, we understand about their calendar, which was different from the calendar in the remainder of Israel. Other scrolls are commentaries on the Bible. Other scrolls are simply works that are, you might say, notes. Other scrolls describe theological issues, how to relate to God, how to worship God, prayers to God. And what God will do with us at “the end of days.”

This concludes the first part of our program featuring the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation. Thank you, gracious viewers, for being with us today on A Journey through Aesthetic Realms. Please tune in again next Sunday, July 3, for the 2nd and final part of our exploration of the fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls.

We will find out more about the digitalization and online publishing of the scrolls, and about the beliefs of the spiritual group who wrote these valuable religious testimonies. Now, please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television for Our Noble Lineage, right after Noteworthy News. May Heaven’s abundant blessings be upon you.

To find out more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, please visit: Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation: Israel Antiquities Authority: Prof. Emanuel Tov’s website:
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