Saturday, July 14, 2012


I had the opportunity last weekend to go with a friend to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit on display there.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are well over 900 scrolls of Biblical and extrabiblical texts first discovered sixty-five years ago and dating back 2,000 years. 

We both had mentioned an interest in going a little over a month ago.  We both arrived a little early -- they were doing timed entrances -- and we sat down a chatted a bit.  When our time came, we went straight in. After an initial presentation, we were ushered in...and we were not disappointed.

The entire exhibit was nothing short of amazing.  In addition to the scrolls -- more on them shortly -- there were artifacts dating back roughly 3,000 years.  There were coins (shekels, among others) that were smaller than the American penny.  My uneducated guess would be that some of them were the size of an old two-bit piece, maybe even smaller. 

There were clay jars -- some used for storing food, some similar to those inside which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found -- on display, some even four or five feet tall, that dated back to 1st century B.C.E.  (There were even some various kinds of pottery that were once possessed by kings, labeled "Belonging to the King", that were from the 8th century B.C.E.)  There were ossuaries (boxes into which families placed the bones of departed loved ones and were placed in family tombs) that dated back to the same time period as the clay jars.

There was even an example of an altar -- I'd say no more than a couple of feet tall -- that was used for religious rituals.  (You could even the scar marks where incense had been burned!)  I have seen pictures of excavations of homes in and around Israel that had altars inside of them for worshiping at home, not in the Temple.  There was a pair of sandals also dating back to the time of the clay jars I mentioned earlier (1st century B.C.E.), with one looking in really bad shape and the other looking more like a sandal than the other.

There were examples of weapons of the time: arrow heads and slingstones dating back to 701 B.C.E., during the Battle of Lachish (the Assyrian takeover of the Judean town of the same name).  There was even what they said was a three-ton stone from the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), although I have to admit that my first thought was when the floor was going to give way. 

There were all of these things and so much more.  Then there were the scrolls themselves.  Actually, there were ten sections of the scrolls.  The scrolls themselves, even though many describe how well they had been preserved...that is, considering the passing of thousands of years...are very fragile.  Even though I don't read any of the languages used in the writings of the scrolls (mostly Hebrew, but also Aramaic and Greek), I would have done myself a favor to have brought a magnifying glass because the print on them was so small.  The pieces of the scrolls were encased, of course, but I have to say it was truly awe-inspiring to be in the presence of something so important and from so long ago.  To be just inches away from the scrolls was an experience I will never forget.

My previous exposure to connecting with the past, save for videos of old television series and movies on YouTube, had been art museums.  In 2003, that changed during my trip to Romania, in which I not only got to see a book by Spanish physician and theologian Michael Servetus that dated back to the 16th century, but I actually got to hold it!  In addition, I got to visit churches which dated back even dating back to the 12th century.  Needless to say, this exhibition far outdid all that.

It is amazing to me that people like myself can learn about people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago before I even existed.  (I'm sure it is even more amazing to those who study such things regularly and actually work onsite.)  It is truly fascinating and humbling to be able to connect with the past that way.  It is fascinating because it shows us from where we've come, as well as in what we have changed and in what ways we have stayed the same.  It is humbling to see items of war, royal pottery, religious artifacts, as well as something as simple as a pair of sandals to be covered by sands and forgotten in time.  As I not only learned about peoples of those eras, I thought about how the sands and time made everything the same...each item's purpose insufficient to elevate it above the elements and the passing of time.  I thought about how what we are, have, use, and possess, etc., can also be covered over by the elements and passed over by time.

It was then that I thought of connecting with the past in a different light.  It wasn't from where we are now looking back, but rather as though where we are now was the past that people 2,000 years from now would be looking back at to study.

And I wonder what those walking through that exhibit 2,000 years from now would learn about us.


P.S. -- If I wrote about everything there, even cursively, I might give War and Peace a run for the money.  Instead, what I will say is that, if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to see this exhibit which will be at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until mid-October.  (See link above, first paragraph, for more information.)

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