On Monday, September 24, over 150 SJU alumni, faculty and staff gathered on the rooftop of the Franklin Institute for a sunset reception before touring the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Arguably the greatest trove of ancient texts ever discovered, the Dead Sea Scrolls include the earliest copies of biblical materials that exist. They have transformed our understanding of the development of the Hebrew Bible, the history of early Judaism, and the origins of Christianity. Visitors were guided through the exhibit by faculty experts from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a guest alumnus.
Dr. Allen Kerkeslager used the exhibit’s display of archaeological materials related to Israelite origins to illustrate the benefits of archaeology. These include providing an interdisciplinary forum for dialogue between the sciences and other academic fields; promoting a more critical approach to the agendas in written texts; and offering a window into the lives of ancient people marginalized in the literature of ancient elites, including the lower classes, women, and ethnic minorities. Dr. Bruce Wells explained how the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us with manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible that are about 1000 years older than the vast majority of manuscripts that had previously been available. Some of the manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls match well with the later manuscripts, but many do not. For example, there is a version of Jeremiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls that is about 13% shorter than the version that most readers are familiar with. In addition, the height of Goliath, in the famous David-and-Goliath story, is three feet shorter (6′ 9″ instead of 9′ 9″) in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Visitors were welcomed into the room displaying actual Dead Sea Scrolls materials by Mr. Kevin Hensler ’09 and Dr. Philip Cunningham. Mr. Hensler, who majored in theology at SJU and is now a doctoral student in Semitic Languages and Cultures at the Catholic University of America, spoke about the Jewish community by the Dead Sea that collected and composed the scrolls. Dr. Cunningham, who directs SJU’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, described how the scrolls have contributed to understanding Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism as the branches of biblical Israel that adapted to the Roman destruction of the Land of Israel in 70 C.E.
This special Hawk2Hawk event was co-sponsored by the College of Arts & Sciences, Alumni Relations, and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. The College of Arts & Sciences plans to hold similar events in the future.