End Things

<webmaster> As you think about the scrolls, and then about email or the web, what do you think about the "perceived" permanence or longevity of a piece of writing? What did that mean to the scroll authors, and what does that mean to us now?

<scrollmaster> When the Jews living at Qumran thought about the future, they believed they were living in it. When they hid the scrolls from the Roman soldiers in the spring of 68 A.D., they probably had mixed feelings. Some marched out to meet the enemy thinking that this was the final battle, which would bring an end to all normal time. Others may well have thought that someday they would return to recover the scrolls. They had concealed them carefully, wrapping each scroll in a linen cloth (we have some) and then placing it in a clay jar whose lid would be sealed.

<webmaster> So the great care they took in writing/storing/preserving the scrolls had to do with cosmological and theological reasons as well as pragmatic protection from the Romans?

<scrollmaster> The Qumranites believed that they were in the wilderness preparing the Way of Yaweh and living at the End of Time. Time was pregnant with meaning. Time had run out.

<webmaster> How do you think they might react knowing that we are reading them now, 2,000 years later?

<scrollmaster> Such an idea would never have entered their heads. Future for them was the present. There would not be another 2,000 years - and certainly no 1947 and 1997.

<webmaster> Can you tell something about the people who wrote the scrolls? Our language, even in this email, tells something about us, but it will evaporate in a few minutes...

<scrollmaster> When I hold a piece of leather on which Hebrew was penned over 2,000 years ago I sometimes think about the person who prepared the skin for writing, and the one who bent over and wrote the Hebrew consonants. Some of the scribes strike me as rather old with failing eyesight. There were no glasses then, and the mistakes I see are the ones I would have made. Words are erased, crossed out, and sometimes other words are written above the line. The humanity of the anonymous ancient scribe comes to life.

<webmaster> Now that is interesting. I'm jealous of your chance to hold the leather manuscripts. I can't hold much of anything I write for the web. One interesting idea is that you are here in the U.S. holding something buried in the Middle East, 2,000 years later, and it still has a strong sense of purpose and passion for you. Even through all that time and distance, something is transmitted. A "message in a bottle," so to speak. That's just been accelerated and made easy by email-there's no real time-distance barrier any more. How has technology helped you get deeper into the scrolls?

<scrollmaster> Very simply: only technology allows me to see the ancient words. Until I see something, I cannot translate it. Let me explain. You and I see from roughly 400 to 700 waves of light. The new digital Kodak camera my colleagues at Xerox use sees from 100 to 1000 waves instantaneously. For example, there is a copy of Daniel from 100 BCE. Most of the letters on it are impossible to read. Then, click and click - the sound of digitizing and computers - in three seconds I can see, read, and interpret what no eye has seen for 2,000 years.

<webmaster> That is amazing. One last question: what is your hope for technology, the web, and the Dead Sea Scrolls?

<scrollmaster> To help the professors here at PTS... without technology, we cannot prepare the critical texts and translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Equally important are scholars and assistants who dedicate themselves to labor-intensive research. We can now announce that most of the Bible (OT) has been accurately transmitted to us over virtually 2,500 years. And in those days no one could xerox, photograph, digitize, or computerize the data. Having said that, I still tip my hat toward the Qumranites. They knew what was really important: firm and total commitment to God and his approaching Kingdom (but then, another Jew made such a proclamation his central message).

Copyright 1998 Princeton Theological Seminary
The URL for this page is http://www.ptsem.edu/read/endthings-3.1.htm
webmaster@ptsem.edu | last updated 01-15-98


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