Parchment mystery


On Saturday the Oriental Institute reopens its east wing, which closed in 1996 for renovations. The new gallery, Empires of the Fertile Crescent: Ancient Assyria, Anatolia, and Israel, explores ancient civilizations including the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Neo-Hittites, the Canaanites, and the early Israelites. Though most of the displayed artifacts were excavated by OI archaeologists in the 1920s and ’30s, one item was purchased by the OI in Jordan in 1956: a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which dates to 50 BC–50 AD. The parchment texts, wrapped in linen and stored in pottery jars, were hidden in the first century AD and recovered between 1947 and 1956. Many of the scrolls contain the earliest known Hebrew copies of Old Testament texts. The OI piece, translated by Norman Golb, the Ludwig Rosenberger professor of Jewish history and civilization, first praises the virtues of Torah study and humility, then decries contrary vices:

1. ..your soul .
2. ..your [hear]t, and in the teach[ing]
3. . you will [re]joice upon it and .
4. . [with] humble heart beseech Him .
5. . and haughtiness of eyes, uncircumcised heart .
6. . haughtiness of heart and anger, anger .

Recent excavations at Khirbet Qumran, where the scrolls were found, show that a controversial theory Golb has long advanced may be true. He has argued that the scrolls were not written exclusively, or even largely, by the poor Essene Jewish sect, as commonly thought, but by a variety of scribes. Ten years of digs turned up artifacts suggesting prosperous inhabitants, not the Essene, had in fact lived there.

By A.M.B.

Photos: the OI case containing the Dead Sea Scrolls fragment also contains a pottery jug similar to the ones in which the scrolls were found (bottom).

Photos by Dan Dry.

January 28, 2005