May 142013

DeadSeaScrollIn the 1940s a Bedouin searching caves above the western shore of the Dead Sea discovered urns with scrolls inside.  He knew right away they were both ancient and valuable and sold them.  When they turned up in the antiques market, archaeologists started searching for similar caves.  When archaeologists weren’t there Bedouin continued hunting.  The scrolls, hundreds of them, date from the first centuries BCE and CE making them contemporaneous with the life of Jesus.  Christian scholars have analyzed the texts for clues to the lives of early Christians.  Jewish scholars, when they were finally permitted to examine the scrolls, look to the texts to learn about the lives of Jews just prior to the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.  Complicating matters is the adjacency of the archaeological site of Qumron, an Essene branch of Judaism that decisively separated itself from the Priestly cult of the Pharisees.  This account is more of an academic summary article of the state of the archaeological and analytical affairs than it is a book worth curling up with.  It is most fascinating for its insight into how historians of the period attempt to piece together archaeological and historical evidence to paint wildly contradictory canvases of life at the time.  The lesson, not surprisingly, is that most of us peering back into the past find what we expect to see, oftentimes overlooking what might actually be there.

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