Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Link with the Past

A few days ago I drove down to San Diego with my church. The San Diego Natural History Museum was displaying the Dead Sea Scrolls, for what appears to be the last time outside of Israel. I had to take the opportunity to see them before they were gone for good.

On top of that, it was really an outstanding opportunity for fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I developed much closer relationships with some very faithful Christians, and that can only be a good thing. I also had a couple of good talks with Pastor Fred about my walk with the Lord. Overall, it was an incredibly enlightening couple of days.

To be honest, though I was very interested in seeing the scrolls, I thought I would be approaching this in an almost academic sense. It was a chance to see how the people who wrote them lived, and what they believed. The theologist in me was excited.

But I was unprepared for the emotional impact that the exhibit would have on me.

The way the exhibit was organized, we first walked through a gallery of photos of the Holy Land. Next to each photo was information documenting the subject of each photo. I learned quite a bit about Israel this way. Then the exhibit turned to scale models of Qumran, and replicas of the jars the scrolls were found in. There was a full size replica of the tents that the people who excavated Qumran lived in as they worked in the desert. And then there were videos documenting the preservation efforts of the scrolls.

This is where I started losing it.

Just seeing them on video was overwhelming. I was almost dreading seeing the scrolls in person. I'd probably fall to my knees and start blubbering like a baby.

But I bravely soldiered on and moved to the next portion of the exhibit. This part was beyond cool. The area where the scrolls themselves were on display was down in the basement of the museum. The entrance to the area was a replica of the cave the scrolls were found in. Like I said, beyond cool.

Walking past the entrance, we entered the gallery where the scrolls themselves were on display. Only I didn't see them yet. First, more information on the lives of the people that we believe wrote the scrolls. They were a highly orthodox sect of Jews that segregated themselves from the mainstream Jewish population. I got to see how they lived. I saw some of their personal belongings. Their combs, their phylacteries, their cups and plates, and even their money. The upswell of emotion was growing within me. These were people who literally gave up everything they owned, and everything they were, to fellowship with the Lord. They devoted their lives to Him. I almost felt a certain kinship with them.

And then I saw the first scroll. It was an awesome sight. The parchment was brown, cracked, very damaged, but the writing on it was as clear as if it had been written yesterday. I think that's what really got me. These words were being written down on this paper when my Lord and Saviour was walking the earth in human form, I thought. What an amazing thought. The people that wrote these scrolls wrote them under the same skies that saw our Lord Jesus Christ die on the cross. Wow. What else can you say to that? Just, wow.

The whole experience was faith affirming. I'm reminded that, during the time in my life when I was not living as a Christian, one of my "arguments" against Christianity was that the Bible had been translated so many times that it was unlikely that it still said the same things it used to say. Kind of like when you play "telephone" at a party when you're a kid. The message is always wrong when it gets to the other end of the line.

And here are these documents, written 2000 years ago, long before the Bible was translated into anything other than its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. And they say exactly the same things. The Word of God. Unchanging and eternal. Praise the Lord.

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