North Dakota theologian react to dead sea scrolls

Published: Mar. 21, 2021 at 10:48 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Dead sea scrolls have been in the news recently because previously undiscovered fragments of them were found in a newly excavated cave in the Judean Desert by archeologists working for the Israel Antiquity Authority.

The find is the first in 60 years and has created a lot of excitement among both archeologists and also those who study the bible. We asked a North Dakota theologian why it’s big news for Christians.

Hundreds of caves dot the landscape in the Judean Desert south of Jerusalem, many of them still unexplored by archeologists.

For hundreds of years, nobody was particularly interested in them. Then, in 1947, Bedouin herders discovered clay jars inside Palestine’s Qumran caves. Those jars contained thousands of decaying manuscripts, put there, researchers believe, by a group called the Essenes, some two thousand years ago.

Fr. Nick Schneider, Director of the Office of Divine Worship, Bismarck Catholic Diocese - “There was a religious community of Palestinian Jews around the time of Christ who lived near the Dead Sea, and the Dead Sea scrolls are a collection of the writings of that community.”

Those scrolls contain a library of books from the Old and New Testaments, but also outline the Essenes’ religious practices and lay out a calendar system that differs from the one commonly in use during that time.

The manuscripts hold particular importance because they highlight the relationship between early Christian communities and their biblical Jewish roots.

“Since they were discovered, there have been comparisons of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Christian scriptures, the Gospels, the writings of the New Testament,” said Schneider.

Fr. Nick Schneider with the Bismarck Catholic Diocese has studied the topic extensively and says the manuscripts help to explain some of the dating discrepancies found among the gospels themselves.

Differences that in the past have caused some to question whether the gospels really highlighted actual events in the life of Christ and the apostles.

“For instance, the dating of the Passover in John’s Gospel is different than the other three gospels, but the dating of the Passover in John’s Gospel reflects the dating system that was used by the Essene Community....the discovery of the Essene documents from the Dead Sea show there were different calendar systems that existed at that time and the gospel writers were basing their writings on different systems,” said Schneider.

Much has been discovered in those caves, but what really excites archeologists is the knowledge that there are still hundreds of them yet to be explored. The fragments found recently add pieces to the puzzle, and the hope is that more of those pieces are still waiting to be uncovered, with possible answers to ancient questions.

Archeologists said they’re in a race against time but also against cave robbers who are intent on getting there first. The good news is that they are tough to access.

Scientists are using drones and climbing techniques, but are concerned as thieves get increased access to similar technologies.

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