scrolls of the dead

I did get to see some of the Dead Sea scrolls last weekend, in the Minnesota Science Museum.

If you haven’t heard of the Dead Sea scrolls before, they’re an extensive collection of ancient Jewish documents discovered in some caves near the Dead Sea in the 1940s. No one is quite certain who hid the scrolls in the cave (most people think it was the Essenes, a monastic Jewish sect), but the scrolls were almost certainly hidden in the caves to hide them from the swords and torches of the Roman legions during the First Jewish Revolt in 66-70 AD.

(Considering what the Romans did to Jerusalem, this turned out to be a good idea.)

Asides from the obvious historical significance, the scrolls also have some the oldest extant copies of the books of the Tanakh & Christian Old Testament

The museum had five scrolls, or more specifically, five scroll fragments. You could tell they were valuable, since they were guarded by two St. Paul police officers with very large guns. Specifically:

-A part towards the end of Genesis, when Jacob asks to see his son Joseph’s children.

-The part of Leviticus where the Lord forbids the Israelites from sacrificing their children in the fire to Moloch.

-An apocryphal psalm of David.

-An excerpt from the Book of Enoch.

-An excerpt from the Community Rule, the rulebook for whatever religious community (possibly the Essenes, possibly not) gathered the scrolls and hid them in the caves.

It was really rather a humbling experience, looking at the scrolls. After all, if you think about it, they outlasted the civilization that destroyed the civilization that wrote them, which is quite an achievement. What was once Roman Judea has been held by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Sassanids, the Arabs, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, and the Ottoman Turks, and they’re all gone now.

But the scrolls are still here.

Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words shall never pass away.

He wasn’t kidding.

The Museum’s exhibit also had a lot of other good stuff, and artifacts from the time period of Roman Judea, mostly jewelry and pottery, since that stuff lasts forever. My favorite thing?

Some clay roofing tiles.

Yes, roof tiles. They were stamped with “LXF”, for Legio X Fretensis – the 10th Legion of Imperial Rome. This Legion was named for Julius Caesar’s famous 10th Legion, Legio X Equestris, the one that served as his personal bodyguard on several occasions, and helped carry him through the conquest of Gaul and the Roman civil wars. The Fretensis 10th Legion was named for Caesar’s original 10th Legion, and it was at the conquest of Jerusalem, and it was the Roman legion that besieged Masadda, forcing the defenders to kill themselves. I’ve been reading about the 10th Legion for years, so seeing some of their artifacts up close was quite an experience.

-JM

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