By LINDA M. LINONIS
Dr. Adolfo Roitman catego- rized the Dead Sea Scrolls as “a spiritual treasure of humankind” during a lecture earlier this week to some 200 people who attended a Lunch and Learn program at the Jewish Community Center, 505 Gypsy Lane.
The curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which houses the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls found, punctuated his presentation with humor.
“People know the scrolls are famous, but they don’t know why,” he said.
He added he was impressed with the turnout – wondering aloud if it was for the lunch or the lecture.
Scholars and students usually are the audience captivated by the scrolls, Roitman noted, and he wondered if audience members just wanted to find out why the scrolls were important.
The ancient manuscripts were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves near Khirbet Qumran on the northwestern shore the Dead Sea, hence the name of the scrolls.
“This is one of the driest areas on earth,” he said, adding that atmosphere probably helped in preserving the scrolls on parchment and papyrus.
Roitman said the important religious, secular and linguistic discovery came by accident when Bedoins went into a cave and found 10 jars. Eight were empty, one was filled with earth and another had three scrolls. Four other scrolls also were discovered.
Thousands of fragments were discovered as the caves were explored; Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francais and the Rockefeller Museum expeditions were led by the Rev. Roland de Vaux, a professor.
The scrolls and fragments are mostly in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and a small number in Greek.
The design of the Shrine of the Book building symbolizes the jars and is the work of American Jewish architects Armand P. Bartos and Frederic J. Kiesler. Roitman also mentioned the work of the architects and cited additional details on the museum website, www.english.imjnet.org.
The website notes that the “white dome symbolizes the lids of the jars in which the scrolls were found.” And it further notes a “corridor leading into the Shrine resembles a car, recalling the site where the ancient manuscripts were discovered.”
Roitman said among the scrolls is a biblical manuscript of the Book of Isaiah.
“It’s quite a big book with 66 chapters,” Roitman said. It is well-preserved. The scroll dates to 125 BCE (before common era) and is the only nearly complete biblical book ever found.
Another copy found was fragmented.
“They are in Hebrew and are readable text,” Roitman said.
He said a key issue with the Book of Isaiah is the “identification of 2,600 variant readings” — which are in letters, words and sentences.
Roitman said study of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides “a new perspective on ancient Judaism.”
One scroll refers to “the community,” which reveals a communal and strict way of life.
The manuscripts are the oldest evidence for the text of the Hebrew Bible, the Shrine of the Book website states.
About 200 copies of biblical books, most in fragments, also were found and represent most of the books of the Hebrew Bible.
Roitman showed a short drama, “The Human Sanctuary,” on the community.
“The movie is based on scholarship and knowledge from the scrolls,” he said.
He also said the museum’s website offers a digital Dead Sea Scrolls. Five of seven scrolls have been digitized. The scrolls are the Great Isaiah, the Community Rule, Commentary on Habakkuk, Temple and War. They can be magnified and studied, and details are made possible through high-resolution photography. An English translation, along with other languages, is available.
The site also has interactive tours of the museum including a segment with Roitman showing the vault where scrolls and fragments are stored.
“We have to recreate the climate of the caves to preserve them,” he said. He added the scrolls and fragments are not on constant exhibit.
“We rotate them to give them a rest,” he said. “They are organic material and fragile.”