Goldstein/Leibson Scholar-in-Residence 2009 Dead Sea Scrolls

[Archived from March 20, 2009]

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

More than 80 people filled the Patio Gallery at the Jewish Community Center for the final lecture by 2009 Goldstein/Leibson Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Joel Hoffman, and stayed afterward for an animated question and answer session.

With his trademark rapid-fire delivery interwoven with humorous anecdotes, Hoffman reviewed the history of the scrolls’ discovery and the twisting path they followed until reaching their current home in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Hoffman also discussed similarities and differences between the scrolls and the Bible as we know it, and their importance and meaning.

According to Hoffman, in 1928, couple of young Bedouin shepherds pursuing a stray goat stopped for a moment, and one of them threw a stone onto the top of a hill. Instead of the expected thunk of the rock hitting earth, they heard a bright ping. Returning to the spot later, they discovered the first of the Qumran caves and the treasure trove of scrolls it held.

Those scrolls, and those subsequently discovered in nearby caves, changed hands many times before reaching the scholars, and even then, their questionable provenance caused many squabbles.

When the academic world first examined the scrolls, they were thought to be about 2000 years old, about twice as old as any other known Biblical artifacts. This dating was authenticated in the 1990s.

The scrolls contain a variety of writings, including rules, halachic text dating from the second century BCE to 70 CE (halachic text is explanations of the application of the rules), eschatological literature (dealing with the end of the world), exegetical literature (explanatory text similar to Midrash), parabiblical literature (writings that look like they might be parts of the Bible, but are not part of the cannon), poetic and liturgical texts, biblical material (all the books of the Bible except Esther and Job), and a copper scroll.

Hoffman said much of the material confirms the Biblical texts we use today. Small differences, he indicated, may be attributable to scribal errors that have occurred over the years. An example he cited occurs in Deuteronomy 31, where Moses speaks to the people and then, in the text we use today, it says and Moses went and spoke to the people. In the Qumran text, the Hebrew would be translated, and Moses finished speaking to the people. This difference is the result of the transposition of two letters in Hebrew.

In other instances, like a section of the book of Samuel, Hoffman says the Dead Sea Scrolls help clarify a confusing section about an eye-gouging incident because they contain some text that is not found in the text we use today.

He also noted that similar wording some of the liturgical texts we use today, and the presence of t’fillin found at the site suggest that the worship of God using words instead of sacrifices has its origin before the destruction of the Second Temple, and some of the rituals we observe today have roots that extend back at least as far as the community that created the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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