Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls

A symposium looking into the past and future of the Dead Sea Scrolls

What is a Dead Sea Scroll and why are people talking about it? Well, on September 3 the students at Christopher Newport got a chance to find that out. A group of highly esteemed professors, doctors and archeologists gathered in the David Student Union from 2-8 p.m. to talk to people about a set of ancient artifacts called the Dead Sea Scrolls. They held sessions on the archeological aspect, social media’s role and the background on what they discovered and how it is still relevant today.   

These scrolls were found in caves in Qumran, Israel, located next to the Dead Sea, hence the name. There were twelve caves in total, but over 25,000 fragmented artifacts were found in the first cave alone. Seven of the artifacts found were the actual scrolls that are now on display in Israel at the Shrine of the Book Museum. These scrolls were the most preserved and complete artifacts, all written in the Hebrew language that have now since been dated back between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls are not what we know now as the modern day bible, as there are so many translations out there, but they are sacred texts written down by the Hebrews that eventually made their way into their Hebrew bible. Most of the stories on these scrolls were not sent around for everyone to read, but instead told by word of mouth from person to person and eventually those stories were written down again in new forms. 

These texts, when compared side by side to the modern bible, align almost perfectly, even though they were discovered long after the first “official” bible was written in the late 1300s.

Dr. Richard Freund is a new professor at Christopher Newport and a renowned archeologist. He was able to organize this event for the school and bring many of the speakers together. 

“It is all about the ‘re-‘ in ‘rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are, simply put, the single greatest archaeological discovery of all time, and after more than 70 years we all realize that we are just at the beginning of a new frontier in Dead Sea Scrolls research,” Freund said. 

As a leader in Jewish studies,  Freund is known for heading the extensive Judaic studies program at University of Hartford for over 20 years and has now given Christopher Newport the privilege of bringing his work here to enrich the minds of students in Newport News. Due to Freund’s connection to the world of Judaic studies he was able to bring Dr. Adolfo Roitman to campus to explain the fascination and history of these scrolls, as he is the curator who looks after the exhibit in The Shrine of the Book Museum.

Roitman was able to sit down for an interview before his keynote speech and gave some insight as to why the museum is so important and the goals the museum has for the public who view the exhibits. 

In his explanation he said, “We try to present, in a coherent way, all this information to the general public. What happens is, you have two different groups, a modern sect of scholars that talk to each other [about the Dead Sea Scrolls] and then everyone else would have trouble understanding what [the scholars] are talking about. Therefore, my museum tries to build up a kind of bridge between people of science and regular people.” This “bridge” is made through different educational programs that The Shrine of the Book Museum has been able to establish, with the help of scholarship money, which allow them to present all this fantastic information in a coherent way, so visitors can understand the meaning and importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

During the keynote Roitman explained what it would be like to take a tour of his museum. He explains that there are three key parts to the experience and two of them do not even include seeing the scrolls themselves. 

In the first room a guide will give a history of the culture and background information on why the Dead Sea Scroll were written in the first place, this room does not even have any artifacts on display. 

The second room contains the first set of artifacts, such as pottery and photographs. This room allows visitors to get to know the people who were around during the time that the scrolls were written. Finally, the tour will end in the third room, what Roitman called the “holy of holies”, it is where they keep the scrolls on display. The room is where the spiritual aspect of the scrolls comes into play. The display is ornate and meant to be admired and to provoke thought. It can almost take a visitor back in time and make them really think about what it would be like to live when the scrolls were written. 

The whole afternoon was full of amazing people who do amazing work to advance our knowledge of history. There were stories, laughter, inquiry and knowledge shared among so many amazing scholars and passed on to the young minds of Christopher Newport University’s students. This symposium was a great look into the possible future of the new Judaic studies program here at CNU and maybe one day, graduates who attended the symposium will go out and make a contribution to the advancement in knowledge of this world’s history, much like Freund and Roitman.

~Allison Wooller, Staff Writer~

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