Much of this interest is due to the controversy and conjecture surrounding the ancient texts, which has found its way into most newspapers and the leading magazines. Claims and charges over the manuscripts have excited many throughout the world for a variety of reasons, and no field of the humanities, and no aspect of biblical scholarship, has fascinated so many as Dead Sea Scroll studies.
In 2007 TBA visited the San Diego Natural History Museum when it hosted an exhibition of authentic Dead Sea Scrolls and many other artifacts from the period. This year, thanks to the generosity of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the California Science Center in Los Angeles is currently hosting Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition. Including our several important archaeological finds as well as ten Scrolls which will be on display over the course of the exhibition. Temple Beth Ami will be making a special journey to the museum on June 14th and we will have a chance to see this exhibition along with accompanying IMAX movie: Jerusalem.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in a desert cave west of the Dead Sea by an Arab shepherd boy in 1947 in Palestine just before the establishment of the state of Israel. Since then scrolls and related objects have been found in eleven caves near ruins, called Khirbet Qumran, just west of the Dead Sea. These ruins were excavated in the fifties by Father Roland de Vaux. Scholars now recognize that the ruins are the remains of a center for Jewish priests who were forced to live in the desert because they were exiled from Jerusalem and the Temple. The leader of this exiled community of priests, the Righteous Teacher, who may have once served as high priest in the Temple, was apparently persecuted by "the Wicked Priest" on the Day of Atonement at his desert retreat.
These priests, and other Jews who later joined the community, worked at Qumran (often living in nearby caves) from approximately the second half of the second century B.C.E. to 68 C.E., the third year of the great Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70). Archaeological data and literary evidence have enabled us to determine the date 68 with considerable accuracy. The buildings at Qumran were burned by the tenth legion of the Roman army. This destruction is attested by the discovery of charred timbers, ash, and Roman arrowheads within the remaining stone walls. More recent excavations at Jericho, only a few miles north of Qumran, also reveal impressive evidence of destruction by Roman soldiers. Ash, Roman iron arrowheads, and broken jars from the early first century were found in and around Herod's palace. These archaeological discoveries confirm the report of Josephus, the famous first-century Jewish historian, who described the Roman devastation of Jericho and its environs in 68 C.E.
The priests left or were driven from the Temple in Jerusalem were legitimate priests. They claimed to trace their line back to Zadok, the high priest of kings David and Solomon, and even to Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first Israelite priest. These priests followed one powerful, articulate, and charismatic leader. In the Dead Sea Scrolls he is called the Righteous Teacher, but we do not know his name and cannot identify him with any known person in history.
While it is difficult to know what Judaism was like during this period, the Qumran texts do give us a glimpse at what life was like for at least one group of Jews. Josephus and other ancient historians attested to the Qumran sectarians, but they were outsiders commenting on a group that lived very differently from them. The Scrolls, however, are first hand reports, and are therefore much more thorough than the reports we did have. In addition, they confirm that the ancient historians were not far off in their description of this group.
We do have to be careful though in drawing too many conclusions about what life was like for most Jews in ancient Israel from these texts. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent at best a partial testament from one, or more likely a few minority groups. In a modern context, it would be like reading only the publication of an ultra-orthodox group in order to understand what Jewish life was like in 21st century America.
Join us on Sunday, June 14th at 11 AM at Temple Beth Ami as we carpool and caravan to the California Science Center for a screening of the IMAX movie Jerusalem at 12:30 PM followed by tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at 1:30 PM. The cost for adults is $20.75 and college students and younger is $15. Please RSVP to the Temple Beth Ami at 661-255-6410.