Dead Sea Scrolls

Portland State University’s Judaic Studies program is hosting a lecture titled “Demystifying the Dead Sea Scrolls” tomorrow.

Rabbi Frank Rosenthal will discuss how findings and translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided many previously unknown connections between Judaism and early Christianity.

A former history professor, Rosenthal’s interest in connections between the two religions led him to pursue information regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls after they were discovered.

The first seven scrolls were found in 1947 in glass jars inside the Qumran caves just north of the Dead Sea. Further investigation revealed more than 25,000 more fragments from over 900 ancient texts, written primarily in Hebrew.

Texts that were found have been published in 39 volumes, and have had a large impact on the religious community as a whole.

“It’s like holding a mirror that is reflecting a world we didn’t know existed,” Rosenthal said.

It is now believed that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the remainder of an ancient library put in the caves by a small Jewish community in an effort to salvage the religious documents. Rosenthal explained members of the community probably put the texts in the caves hoping to come back for them, but never did.

During his lecture, using replicas of the scrolls in a hands-on environment, Rosenthal will also discuss the process that scholars went through while reconstructing the documents. In addition, he will explain how one of the largest challenges for those who translated the texts was the condition of the pieces of parchment that had been unearthed.

“I like to call it the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle,” Rosenthal said. “Imagine these fragments that have been in caves with dust, bats and insects for two thousand years, and you can’t even touch them because they might crumble.”

The lecture is being held in part to raise interest for the course “Demystifying the Dead Sea Scrolls” being offered this summer. The class is part of the Oregon School of Judaic Studies, which offers summer courses at PSU. Students who participate will look more closely at the texts of the scrolls themselves and how they are connected to the Hebrew Bible.

“There were lots of religious movements around that time period,” said professor Robert Liebman, coordinator of the PSU Judaic Studies program. “The question is why some of them became hegemonic religions and others got sidelined as historical footnotes.”

This is the third year Judaic study courses are being offered in the summer at PSU, and Liebman explained that the Judaic Studies program is expecting more growth in the years to come.

Due to a $1 million challenge grant from the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, the Judaic Studies program at PSU is soon going to hire a director. Liebman also stated the program is not yet considered a separate department, it is a hope for the future.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls clarify a dark time,” Rosenthal said. “They give us a first-hand perspective on the history of mankind.”