Dead Sea Scrolls create buzz
KANSAS CITY – Hundreds of people recently packed into the chapel at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) to hear scholarly lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) and their relationship to Christianity. The workshop was held Feb. 9-10, with an attendance of 330 during the Friday evening session.
The keynote speaker for the workshop was Craig Evans, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College. Evans founded the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University. He frequently speaks about archaeology and Christianity in lectures, workshops and on television news programs.
In conversation prior to the workshop, Evans noted that there is always a high level of interest in the DSS because of the intersection of history and religion. He believes there is something mysterious and profound about documents that are over two thousand years old, especially since they shed light on both the Jewish and Christian religions.
Evans said that conspiracy theories promoted in popular entertainment such as Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code have raised an awareness of the scrolls. However, it is easy to expose the ignorance and deception of these works. Evans said, “Dan Brown did not do his homework well.” He noted that some of the so-called historical facts of the novel were debunked long before he wrote The DaVinci Code.
Evans has seen the DSS numerous times in Israel. However, he said that the Kansas City Union Station exhibit provided a chance to view portions even he has not previously seen in person. He said that modern technology provides scholars with an unprecedented ability to discover the secrets of the scrolls. For example, the Xerox Corporation has been able to photograph the scrolls with cutting-edge “CSI” technology, bringing out letters and words previously unseen with the unaided human eye.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Phil Roberts explained the significance of the scrolls by saying, “Christianity is a religion based on our belief of God working in history. It is built on historical facts.” Roberts also noted that MBTS has a good collection of unique items in the archaeology department, and he hopes the seminary can be a resource for the wider community.
Stephen Andrews, professor of Old Testament, Hebrew and Archaeology, opened the workshop with a lecture on “The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls”. He unpacked the history of the scrolls’ discovery and placement in proper hands, a story that sounded at times like the script for an Indiana Jones movie.
Evans then spoke on “The Extra-Canonical Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Combining scholarship and wit, he debunked the authority of all five of the Gnostic gospels that received so much press in recent years. He also showed how radical skepticism is a sign of gullibility rather than critical scholarship.
Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek Terry Wilder spoke on the topic of “What do the Dead Sea Scrolls Have to Do with Christianity?” Wilder said, “The scrolls help us to understand the development of the text and canon of the Old Testament, particularly how well the Old Testament was preserved and then passed down to others.”
Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew N. Blake Hearson had the difficult task of presenting a scholarly lecture at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning. He rose to the challenge and kept the attention of the audience as he spoke on “The Essene Connection.” Who were they? Hearson provided historical background for understanding this community, their lifestyle, and what they had in common with Christianity.
Evans returned for his second lecture, this time addressing, “Jesus, Paul, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” He said, “The scrolls have greatly added to our understanding and appreciation of the Gospels as Jewish literature. Significant parallels between the scrolls and the Gospels go a long way in confirming the contention that the Gospels are thoroughly Jewish.” He went on to show numerous texts from the scrolls and how they interconnect with the message of Christianity.
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Radu Gheorghita donned traditional eastern costume and delighted the audience with a dramatic monologue. He acted the part of a first century trader who had recently been involved in weighty conversation with two other men, one an Essene and the other a Christian. Gheorghita’s presentation focused on “The Habbakkuk Oracle at Qumran and in the New Testament” and had a strong Christian Gospel focus.
Participants in the DSS workshop walked away with a greater appreciation not only for the scrolls, but also for the historical foundations of Christianity. It should also be noted that although the workshops presented formal scholarship on a topic such as archaeology, there were numerous points along the way in which a clear presentation of the Gospel was interwoven into the lectures.