On peering at the Dead Sea Scrolls

On Sunday I took my parents to see the exhibition The Dead Sea Scrolls & the Ancient World, which as I remarked on Facebook, would more accurately have been titled Cool Old Copies of Biblical Scripture and Other Ancient Texts. Because while there were many old copies of Biblical scripture, including many olde Bibles themselves, of the Dead Sea Scrolls there were truly only four fingertip-sized fragments, and not much to go on by way of historical and cultural context.

As I anticipated, the exhibition was filled with church-going folks, a number of whom were talking about next week's worship session or pointing at extracts from the Biblical book of Isaiah with sagacious expressions. What I didn't anticipate was that after one of the American exhibition curators delivered a short lecture on the place of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the context of the history of Judaism and Christianity, a young man next to me muttered, "Interesting --- the guy is not a believer."

So only believers in the Christian faith (who tend to use that term "believer" in the first place) would be interested in an exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other cool antique Bibles? Admittedly the curator did refer to Jesus as something of a mythological figure, depending on what you believe (I'm not quoting him verbatim here). But for someone to think that without some kind of religious connection, academics or curators or ordinary visitors like me would have no cause for seeing or studying these very old and precious bits of writing --- argh. I can't even begin to articulate why overhearing that kind of parochialism bugs me. It just makes me arghy and --- argh.

Writing, ideas, ideology, even one you don't agree with --- the evolution thereof matters, particularly what scant evidence has survived to this day. Religions and ideologies have an impact beyond that on their adherents. People don't pack the National Museum to see Greek Masterpieces from the Louvre because they believe in Zeus or Aphrodite. You don't have to be Christian or Jewish to be curious enough to shell out $20 to see remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And likewise I'd like to think that more and more, people are willing to see examples of other faiths than their own, because faith is this thing that takes so many forms, and --- argh.

And the fact that the curator speaks about the Scrolls with such enthusiasm and respect, the fact that people with no faith (i.e. me) show up to wait their turn and squint down at these iddy-biddy bits of animal-skin parchment --- does that not suggest that there is a place for faith but also for those without faith, that there are many levels on which words of faith can be appreciated and valued?

I get why the exhibition was advertised as The Dead Sea Scrolls. I get why the church groups show up. I just wish more people would get --- argh.



At 9/09/2009 8:15 am , Anonymous Anders Brink said...

You see, the Dead Sea Scrolls are sacred, sacred texts privy only to the believers. Believers are special privileged people having precious insights into the historial context of their faiths. They are entitled to it, by mere faith.

At 9/09/2009 12:28 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even Christians have differing teachings on how much the bible is to be taken literally as the Word of God. For instance, some believe the bible 'contains' the Word of God (i.e. only those words quoted directly from God or Jesus' mouth were the Words of God); some believe the entire bible, every single word, IS the Word of God.

I tend to think eventually what each Christian really believes about the bible boils down to what he is 'comfortable' with, which is very a product of subjective/anecdotal experience/exposure.


At 9/13/2009 4:34 am , Anonymous Anders Brink said...

Talk about going off tangent. Nobody is arguing about the inerrancy of the Bible. What does the ability of some Christians who can accomodate errors in the Bible have to do with those who think appreciation of the Dead Sea Scroll should be reserved for believers?

Why so defensive? Argh!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]