KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As thousands flock to Kansas City's Union Station to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in advance of its arrival in San Diego, Calif. this June, the associated lecturers are also proving to be popular fare.
A February workshop on Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, drew more than 330 people to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, filling the chapel auditorium and overflowing into the library for the opening session of the two-day event that marked the start of the exhibit's run in Kansas City.
Craig A. Evans, distinguished professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, addressed the relationship between the Dead Sea Scrolls and extra-canonical gospels, which are those not included in the New Testament.
Evans, author of "Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls" and other books, took time to address popular culture's hype of writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, Egerton Papyrus 2, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Peter and the Secret Gospel of Mark. Too many scholars, Evans said in regard to the authenticity of the canonical Gospels, are "hypercritical when it comes to the canonical Gospels, but gullible and uncritical when it comes to the non-canonical gospels."
"There are lots of people out there with a spiritual hunger, interest in things about Jesus, things about God, but they don't really know where to turn," Evans said about the wide interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls. "They have vague ideas of what Christian faith is all about, vague ideas of the church, and what it stands, for and its mission and so forth.
"So I think you have non-Christians and seekers, Jewish people interested in the scrolls because maybe (they think) the scrolls will tell us something about where it all comes from, maybe the scrolls will shed light on things we ought to know about, think about God."
On the second day of the conference, Evans suggested that the importance of the historic documents could not be discounted.
"What the Dead Sea Scrolls provided us with was the vital linguistic and conceptual background that we needed to sort out better what (the Apostle) Paul was talking about in Galatians," the professor said.
"And when that got sorted out, we were able to resolve the tension between Paul and James. And that's the value of the scrolls," Evans said. "It isn't like, 'Well, now I can believe,' or 'Now I have faith' or 'All my doubts have been answered.' The scrolls help us answer important questions that lead to fresh further-clarifying discoveries, and that's the value."
Seminary President R. Philip Roberts described the Dead Sea Scrolls as "a very critical issue for Christian apologetics. A working knowledge and understanding of them is important for every believer."
Stephen J. Andrews, professor of Old Testament, Hebrew and archaeology for the seminary, lauded the large turnout for the conference.
"(It) reminded me of the great importance of the scrolls for the study of the Bible and for understanding the background of our faith," the professor said.
San Diego prepares
Officials with the San Diego Natural History Museum, which is hosting the exhibit through Dec. 31, are hoping for the same kind of response to its Distinguished Lecture Series, which includes four sessions sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University.
The first of the four PLNU lectures will include "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?" a July 23 presentation by Russell Fuller, Ph.D., professor of Hebrew Bible, University of San Diego. Fuller will examine competing theories ranging from the traditional idea that the scrolls were authored by the Essenes living in intentional isolation from mainstream Jewish society in Roman Palestine to the idea that they are simply an eclectic collection hidden from the Romans by citizens of Jerusalem.
The following week, on July 30, Gene Ulrich, Ph.D., John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, will discuss "The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on our Bible."
According to the lecture synopsis, Ulrich will discuss the dynamic composition of the biblical books, the surprises offered by the biblical scrolls, and how superior readings from the scrolls are improving modern translations of the Bible.
Because of their early day—the Qumran scrolls are a millennium older than previous Hebrew manuscripts—experts say they have illumined a dark period in the history of biblical text and revolutionized our understanding of how the Scriptures grew from national and religious traditions to sacred authoritative texts.
In the fall, PLNU will sponsor "Israel at the Time of the Dead Sea Scrolls," an Oct. 15 lecture by Lawrence Schiffman, Ph.D., Edelman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and chair of the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University.
Schiffman will survey the developments of the Second Temple period and their significance in providing background for the Dead Sea Scrolls, He will also explain how the scrolls have enriched the understanding of the history of this period.
The final PLNU lecture, planned for Dec. 3, will feature William Schniedewind, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages at the University of California, Los Angeles. His topic will be "Interpreting the 'Word of God' in the Dead Sea Scrolls."
All San Diego lectures, which are subject to change, will be held in the Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater at 6:30 p.m. A possible second lecture may be added depending on demand.
Lecture tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers. A package of any six lectures is available for $108 for members and $138 for non-members. Complete lecture series tickets are $330 and $396, respectively.
For more information on the lectures, call the museum's Education Department at (619) 255-0203 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or visit tickets.sdnhm.org. Exhibit information, including tickets, is also available on the Web site.
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit prompts wide range of lectures
In addition to the four lectures sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, the San Diego Natural History Museum will host more than a dozen other talks as part of its Distinguished Lecturer Series. The lectures are in conjunction with the June 29 to Dec. 31 Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit.
Like all fields of scholarship, study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has attracted researchers representing a wide range of theological and philosophical viewpoints. The Christian Examiner does not necessarily endorse the views of all participants in this lecture series, and urges readers to exercise discernment while taking advantage of these special learning opportunities.
July 9: The Ever-alive Dead Sea Scrolls—Shalom Paul, Ph.D., professor, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; and chairman, The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.
July 16: Archaeological Interpretation at Qumran—Jean Baptiste Humbert, Ph.D., director of Excavations and Archaeological Publications, École Biblique, Jerusalem, Israel.
Aug. 6: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Controversies and Theories of Early Judaism and Christianity—Eric Meyers, Ph.D., Bernice and Morton Lerner professor of Judaic Studies and director of the Graduate Program in Religion, Duke University, N.C.
Aug.1: Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Da Vinci Code—Peter Flint, Ph.D., professor of Biblical Studies and director, The Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, Trinity Western University, Langley, B.C., Canada.
Aug. 20: Angels and Demons in the Dead Sea Scrolls—Carol Newsom, Ph.D. professor of Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology and the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
Aug. 27: The War Scroll and Apocalypse—Martin Abegg, Ph.D., chair of Religious Studies Department, Trinity Western University; and co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, Langley, B.C., Canada.
Sept.10: Women in the Dead Sea Scrolls and at Qumran—Sidnie White Crawford, Ph.D., professor of Hebrew Bible and chair Department of Classics and Religious Studies, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Sept. 17: The Qumran Community: The Wicked Priest and the Righteous Teacher—David Noel Freedman, Ph.D., endowed chair in Hebrew Biblical Studies, University of California, San Diego.
Sept. 24: Publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls—Emanuel Tov, Ph.D., J.L. Magnes, professor of Bible, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; and editor-in-Chief, Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project.
Oct.1: Manuscripts from the Ancient Near East in the National Library of Russia—Olga Vasilyeva, Ph.D., curator of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian National Library, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Oct. 8: The Modern History and Importance of the Dead Sea Psalms Scroll—James Sanders, Ph.D., professor emeritus of the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California; and founder of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center.
Oct. 22: Bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls Back to Life—Bruce Zuckerman, Ph.D., director, West Semitic Research Project and associate professor of Hebrew Bible, School of Religion, University of Southern California.
Oct. 29: Messianic Expectation in the Dead Sea Scrolls—John Collins, Ph.D., Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale University.
Nov. 5: The Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians—James VanderKam, Ph.D., John A. O'Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame.
Nov. 12: Mystery and Mysticism at Qumran—Esther Chazon, Ph.D., director of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
Nov. 19: The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls—Jodi Magness, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Nov. 26: Qumran: The View from Jerusalem—David Goodblatt, Ph.D., endowed chair in Judaic Studies, University of California, San DiegoDec. 10: Archaeological Explorations and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Cave of the Treasure and Early Religion in Israel—Thomas Levy, Ph.D., Norma Kershaw Endowed Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands and Professor of Anthropology and Judaic Studies, University of California, San Diego.
Additional reporting by Lori Arnold.
Published, April 2007