Dear Folks,

Nancy and I have been truly blessed in 1998, especially late in the year when our kids helped us celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary by arranging a long-desired trip to Israel. We toured churches marking the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem and the annunciation of his birth to Mary in their hometown of Nazareth, Masada, the Dead Sea area, Jericho, Megiddo, the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem, Lake Galilee and many other famous Biblical sites.

One of the most dramatic encounters was viewing famous Dead Sea scrolls, a rich cache of original, ancient scripture writing found in obscure caves in Israel a half-century ago. This was deeply affecting and we want to tell you about it.

The collection of more than 30,000 scrolls and fragments, some of them dating back two centuries before the time of Christ, is described as the greatest archeological discovery of the 20th Century and represents a powerful instrument of the Christian and Jewish faiths. Every Old Testament book is represented except the Book of Esther
Two of the fragile manuscripts--sections of the "Great Scroll of Isaiah" and the Book of Psalms--are on public view at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. They are exhibited in a special building, the "Shrine of the Book." The roof of the shrine--domelike, rising to a point--resembles the lids of the clay jars which contained the scrolls. The first five scrolls were were found by Bedouin Arab shepherd boys in caves at Qumran, located near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, less than 20 miles from Jerusalem.

Pages of the scrolls are stitched together at margins and are stretched over a few feet behind protective glass. Fascinating to observe, the dark script reads right to left as Hebrew and Arabic writing does today. The parchment is mostly sheepskin and papyrus, but non-biblical texts are inscribed on the hides of other animals, such as ibex (goats), which still wander in the Judean wilds.

Scholars agree on many details concerning the hermitic Essenes, largely men, who are generally considered to have been responsible for the scrolls. There were professional scribes who copied the scrolls, and apparently some women and children at Qumran. Only males were allowed to compose these intricate writings sometime between 167 BC and 70 AD. They did their work in a scriptorium, using pens of sharpened reeds and applying ink blackened with soot, resin, oil and water. Most are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages in an ancient Jewish script.

It's believed that the community hid the scrolls in sealed clay jars in the caves, fled their primitive quarters and vanished after the Roman annihilation of the Jerusalem Temple and the Jewish people. They evidently intended to return and recover the scrolls but were wiped out by the troops.

The common view of historians is that the monastic residents of Qumran had chosen the remote Judean desert locale beginning two centuries before the Roman incursion. Known as the "Sons of Light," their objective was a life of purity, study and worship, separated from the temple priests in Jerusalem, for whom they had lost respect.
Perhaps the most exciting find so far has been an entire Book of Isaiah, which language scholars have identified as matching in every important detail the translated texts we read in modern bibles. That and writings on the other books are regarded as a stupendous achievement because these scrolls have been dated more than a thousand years beyond the oldest literature supporting scripture, the Aleppo, Syria Codex of 970 AD. Some of the oldest scrolls from Qumran are copies of the Book of Jeremiah of 250 BC and Psalms from 100 BC.

Our group leader, Lon Solomon, is pastor of a megachurch: McLean Bible Church, Virginia, which numbers thousands of Christians. A Messianic Jew, he has arranged and accompanied tours to Israel for many years and has had considerable contact with scroll scholars and experts there and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Lon explained how the authenticity of these old manuscripts corroborates the validity of scripture.

Skeptics had claimed the Bible was unproven and had been "retrofitted" concerning Old Testament prophecies. In other words, after Christ's birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, His followers could have back-dated New Testament events of His life into Old Testament books to support claims of prophecy fulfillment.

Justification for such suspicion has been trumped by the scrolls, which have been meticulously dated by language scholars and scientists, using computers and other contemporary technology. Their conclusion: the scrolls were written well before the time of Christ and were not altered in any significant way. Therefore Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah have been borne out in the life of Jesus.

Pastor Lon noted that critics also had demanded proof that the Old Testament scriptures used in Jesus' time correspond with contemporary Bibles. That, too, has been put to rest by the Dead Sea Scrolls. The original autographed Old Testament scriptures have not been found. But with "absolute certainty," Pastor Lon told us, citing an example, "at least from 200 BC on, we can say the copy of the Bible we are reading today is the copy of the Bible that Jesus was reading when he stood" one day in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth. Jesus read the scroll on Isaiah Chapter 61.

(As related in Luke 4, it was this powerful revelation: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor…Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.")

What the scrolls have revealed, Pastor Lon said, "gives us enormous power to argue for our faith," stressing "the importance of this discovery in terms of defending and trustworthiness and the veracity of Biblical texts."
The discovery of the scrolls is a story in itself. The shepherd boys, missing an animal, threw a stone into a cave to roust it. In Lon's words, the sound echoed back as a "clink" instead of a "thud," prompting further investigation by the boys' father. As a result, five scrolls were brought out of the first cave (others came eventually from ten other caves) and were turned over to an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem. He sold them to the Syrian archbishop who asked an opinion about their validity from John Trever, a U.S. scholar at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem.

Trever studied three of the scrolls and contacted American Professor William Albright in the United States to help confirm portions of the Isaiah Scroll. Analysis of the configurations of the Hebrew Semitic writing and language changes over 2,000 years led to precise dating of the scrolls as before the time of Christ.

Realizing they were priceless, Professor Albright urged Trever to obtain the scrolls by any possible means, but he had to leave Israel because the war for independence broke out. The scrolls disappeared until 1949 when the New York Times published classified ads for the sale of ancient Jewish scrolls, which turned out to be the Dead Sea Scrolls. As a result, the Hebrew University purchased the first batch for $250,000, they were turned over to Israel and the rest is history.

Pastor Lon differs with some scholars on the scribing role of the Essenes. He asserts there is a "very good chance" that the scrolls are really originals used in the temple in Jerusalem, smuggled to Qumran for safekeeping as Roman soldiers advanced. In his opinion, it would have been very expensive to mount such an ambitious copying effort by paid scribes. Furthermore, each expensive parchment had to be discarded if there was a single mistake, and it is "illogical" to think the Essenes would have possessed sufficient wealth to sustain such a large volume of scroll production. The Virginia minister expressed the view that temple leaders planned to recover the scrolls but were also killed by the Romans.

Finding the scrolls in any shape for research after 2,000 years in their clay jar repositories is attributed to the hot, dry Dead Sea climate. Rainfall is only two inches yearly. One Israeli archeologist quotes good odds that more scrolls will be dug out of collapsed caves in Qumran, which would probably have blocked access to thieves seeking to loot their contents.

So there you have it, folks, a few of the elements of the amazing Dead Sea Scrolls and their discovery, only one of many adventures we had during our trip. Hope to have a chance to meet up with you down the road sometime and tell you more about them. Meantime, have a fun-filled holiday season, full of good cheer and thanksgiving for what the Good Lord has provided.

Our love to all,

Nancy and Buck