SAN DIEGO, Calif. Southern Californian's will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime peek of some of the most impressive ancient artifacts to be uncovered in Israel when the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit opens June 29 at the San Diego Natural History Museum, the only California stop in its national tour.
Carefully plucked from 11 caves the scrolls, which include biblical books, hymns, prayers and other significant writings, were discovered between 1947 and 1956 on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea.
As part of the exhibit, which runs through Dec. 31, a series of lectures and other events are planned. As many as 400,000 people are expected to view the exhibit.
Three Southern California evangelical experts on the Old Testament are lauding the exhibit but are also warning Christians to use discernment when taking in information about the findings.
“I don’t think we can underestimate how amazing (an) opportunity it is to have these scrolls,” said Dr. Brad Kelle, an assistant professor at Point Loma Nazarene University who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament History and Religion.
“Clearly this is a window to the earliest days of the Jewish faith and all that has come to be concerning that over the years and that includes Christianity.”
Kelle, who moderated some lectures on the topic in February, said the university is also offering two courses related to the scrolls, as well as sponsoring four lectures. He said the exhibit provides a significant learning opportunity for students who will get an opportunity to “see the world behind the words on the page.”
“I think one of the greatest benefits of the visit is it does put a little material reality to something from so long ago and so far away,” he said of the artifacts, which date as early as the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. “It shows that the scrolls are not a disembodied, unhistoric abstract collection that fell from the sky.”
He acknowledged that some of the secular presentations will offer perspective contrary to a biblical worldview. He said he sees it as a challenge for his students to broaden their exposure to other views.
“My slant on this is that evangelical students should not be afraid of scientific inquiry,” Kelle said. “We use the precise methods, the precise, same questions. There’s not a sense where we need to have a filter in place.
“Being a person of faith doesn’t mean they can’t have the highest level of inquiry. They are inviting us to a conversation of all groups. Everyone will benefit from engaging and participating in that conversation. We’ll be enriched by it.”
Dr. Richard Fales, Ph.D., founder and president of Biblical and American Archaeologist, an organization committed to promoting the science as it relates to the Old and New Testaments, warns believers against getting too swept up in the hype that often accompanies such landmark exhibits.
“People get all excited and fired up about it but they still don’t know why they should be all excited and fired up,” he said.
Evangelicals, he said, need to carefully evaluate claims by secular scientists, who Fales said often discount evidence supporting biblical history.
“It’s just like with a cult, you don’t jump right in it, you are supposed to step back and examine,” the archaeologist said. “Just because a guy has a Ph.D. hanging on the wall doesn’t mean he’s right.”
The chasm between the biblical and scientific worldview has been aided, he said, by believers who have turned to other professions.
“The Christian church has really fallen down in the past 30 years of turning out scholars that can defend the faith,” Fales said. “They have totally stolen the field from us. We are basically turning over interpretation of the Bible right over to the secular archaeologists.”
As president of Shepherd University and a professor of New Testament Greek, apologetics and archaeology at several Bible colleges in the Los Angeles area, Fales said he’s made it his mission to encourage young evangelicals to explore science as a way to contribute to their faith and restore balance in academics.
“We should have done something about this a long time ago,” he said. “We’re getting ambushed. They are using the evidence to discourage the faith.
“Everywhere I go, in all the talks I give, I try to encourage young people, ‘You need to get into this field.’ We have absolutely turned this over to the secular scientists. We need to be the watchmen the Bible calls us to be.
Seeking young scientists
To help evangelicals understand the original Greek text, Fales has recently published Koine Greek, an illustrated paperback designed for lay people. Other resources he recommends include “The Stones Cry Out,” by Dr. J. Randall Price and the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible by Martin G. Abegg, co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in British Columbia
Professor Thomas Rohm, who has taught Greek and Hebrew at Southern California Seminary since 2001, said he finds himself on a different spectrum when it comes to the pending exhibit.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t get too excited about this kind of thing,” he said. “This is not where our faith lies. It’s not like we have to see all these things to have faith.”
Rohm said he’s encouraging his students to visit the exhibit, appreciate its historical value, celebrate what conforms to their faith and ignore any secular presentations that are counter to the Christian faith.
“The Christian body as a whole is quick to jump onto these type of things,” he said, echoing Fales.
Even so, he admits there is something about a real-time experience that tends to cement faith. Last year, at age 64, he visited Israel for the first time. He plans a return trip this summer.
“I never quite got it out of my mind,” he said. “It makes the Bible come alive.”
If you go:
What: Dead Sea Scrolls
When: June 29 to Dec. 31
Where: San Diego Natural History Museum, Balboa Park
Hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays; 10 to 6 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and holidays.
Tickets: Depending on non-peak and peak hours, the cost is $24 to $28 for adults; $20 and $24 for seniors, students and military with ID and $14 for children ages 3 to 12. Discounts are available for museum members and groups.
Purchase: Advance only by Internet, phone and in person.
For more information: Call 1-877-946-7797 or visit sdnhm.org/scrolls