Pres. Trump Should Not Have Cancelled His Masada Trip

Sarah E. Bond has a nice article in Forbes this week about Donald Trump’s decision to skip Masada during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. In it, my colleague discusses the reasons President Trump should have gone to visit the famed hilltop fortress. While it once served as an opulent southern hideaway for the tyrannical Herod the Great, well-removed from the established Judean capital of Jerusalem, Masada is best remembered for its role in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE), and concepts of honor, loyalty, and the Jewish history of perseverance in the face of oppression.

But the president didn’t go.

Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to Masada after he was informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to land his helicopter on the over two-millennia-old archaeological ruins atop the mountain.

Thus, while there are many reasons the president should have visited Masada, there are also plenty of reasons the president should not have cancelled his visit–political reasons, symbolic reasons, and reasons that give us a glimpse into the mindset of our 45th president.

Masada Snake Path

Masada’s Snake Path can be seen below the cables of the Masada cable car, both of which lead to the Visitor Center at the foot of the mountain.

The first reason is simple: it’s Masada. From the Visitor Center, you either walk the Snake Path or take the cable car to the top. For two millennia, Christian and Jewish pilgrims, tourists, and soldiers have made the arduous journey up the mountain to visit this monument to perseverance. Tourists do it. Soldiers do it. Staff members do it. President Trump should do it like everyone else, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

However, when President Trump was told he couldn’t land his helicopter on the famed archaeological remains in order to avoid the heat and sweat of the journey, he cancelled the visit. The fact that Donald Trump cancelled says a lot about how he views himself as opposed to literally everyone else on earth, including other U.S. Presidents.

Second, if riding the cable car is too much work for President Trump, then he wouldn’t be able to see the site anyway. The top of the plateau is massive–over 1.6 million sq. ft., or 36.78 acres! Furthermore, many of the key components of Masada lie on the perimeter of the top of the mountain–with some even carved into the side of the mountain–and these are accessible only by lengthy, rather precarious staircases. Any tourist who has visited Masada knows this. Only those in relatively good shape and possessing strong legs and great balance are able to descend into Herod’s hanging palace. You simply cannot experience Herod’s resplendent extravagance if you’re not willing and able to put in the effort. Even via the cable car, visiting the mountaintop Masada fortress requires some sweat and getting dirty–two things the president loathes and typically lets others do for him.

Masada

The mountain of Masada from the east/Dead Sea. Photo by: gaspa, Creative Commons.

Third, the entire ordeal of President Trump’s cancellation of Masada tells us a lot about how he views the relationship between effort and reward. Like many other things in his life, President Trump wanted credit for the difficult journey, but insisted upon a means of getting there not available to everyone else. (And no, the Russians did not build the cableway; it was built by two Swiss companies.)

President Trump wanted credit for reaching the top of the mountain, but needed more help getting there than others who are required to work for their achievements. And when he couldn’t take the easy route, he quit.

Finally, it is quite telling that when the president was told he could not ascend Masada–a monument to resistance–via helicopter, he backed down. This tells us something. When faced with strong resistance, Donald Trump backs down, because taking on the resistance requires discipline, patience, and persistent focus and effort–all clubs the president has repeatedly demonstrated he does not carry in his bag.

President Trump did a great many other things on his trip to Israel. But sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that say the most about you. And our president has shown us repeatedly that while everyone else must work hard for what they achieve, he will take a shortcut whenever he can. And when he is told he must work like everyone else, he quits.

Masada

The top of Masada, looking south. Photo by: Godot13.

Masada is about perseverance, honor, resistance, and hard work. It’s about being willing to die for what you believe in. And in the end, perhaps it is best that President Trump didn’t visit Masada. This mountain has already experienced one paranoid, conspiracy-laden hegemon, who achieved his position with the help of a foreign power and by agreeing to use his government to pursue their interests. Perhaps it’s best we remember Masada for those who have made the effort and the sacrifice, and not for those who fled when they didn’t get their way.

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Jodi Magness to Give E.P. Adler Lecture at the University of Iowa as part of National Archaeology Day

Dr. Jodi Magness

Dr. Jodi Magness

Dr. Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be the keynote speaker at the 2012 University of Iowa Department of Religious Studies E.P. Adler Lecture.

The lecture is entitled: “Ossuaries and the Burial of Jesus and James“. In this slide-illustrated lecture, Professor Magness will survey Jewish tombs and burial customs in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, and consider evidence for the claims surrounding the so-called “James ossuary” and the “Talpiyot tomb,” recently claimed to be the tomb of Jesus and his family.

(Click here for flyer.)

The lecture will take place on Thursday October 11, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum. (The gold dome of the Old State Capitol building in the center of the Pentacrest)

A reception co-sponsored by the Dept. of Religious Studies, the Office of the State Archeologist and UI Pentacrest Museums will be held prior to the lecture beginning at 5:00 in the Old Capitol Rotunda. All are welcome.

This year, the E.P. Adler lecture is part of the National Archaeology Day celebrations at the University of Iowa, sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, including the Iowa Chapter.

Don’t miss the new exhibit, Conflict on the Iowa Frontier: Perspectives on the War of 1812, which opens at the Old Capitol Museum just prior to Dr. Magness’ lecture.

On Friday, October 12, Dr. Anna Roosevelt will present an academic seminar entitled, “Amazonia: A dynamic human habitat, past, present, and future,” in Kollros Auditorium, 101 Biology Building East.

Dr. Magness will also give a lecture entitled “Masada: Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance against Rome” on Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Macbride Auditorium.

Visit the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History’s website for more information about the University of Iowa National Archaeology Day, or download the National Archaeology Day flyer for more details.


The full schedule is as follows:

Thursday, Oct. 11

  • 5-7:30 p.m. – Conflict on the Iowa Frontier: Perspectives on the War of 1812 exhibit opening and reception at the Old Capitol Museum
  • 6-6:45 p.m. – Eugene Watkins will talk about Old Fort Madison in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum
  • 7:30 p.m. – Jodi Magness will lecture on “Ossuaries and the Burial of Jesus and James” in the Senate Chamber at the Old Capitol Museum

Friday, Oct. 12

  • 4 p.m. – Anna Roosevelt will present an academic seminar, “Amazonia: A dynamic human habitat, past, present, and future,” in Kollros Auditorium, 101 Biology Building East

Saturday, Oct. 13

  • 10 a.m. -Magness lecture: “Masada: Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance against Rome” in Macbride Auditorium
  • 11 a.m. – Roosevelt lecture: “The First Americans: From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego” in Macbride Auditorium
  • 12:30-3 p.m. – Archaeology activities, tours, and demonstrations in and around Macbride Hall and the UI Museum of Natural History.
  • 1-5 p.m. – Plum Grove will be open Saturday and Sunday for tours of the home and for viewing archaeology displays on the grounds. Visit www.johnsoncountyhistory.org/ for more information.
  • 2 p.m. – Cindy Peterson “Meskwaki-Related Archaeology near South Amana: The Patterson Trading Post and the Village of Wacoshashe and Poweshiek”  at the Johnson County Historical Museum
  • 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. – UI Office of the State Archaeologist laboratory and repository (700 South Clinton Street – free parking)

Sunday, Oct. 14

  • 1-5 p.m. – Plum Grove open hours
  • 6 p.m. – Johnson County Historical Society Museum activities will include an interactive tour of the Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City

the role of archaeology in biblical history (edición español)

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson lectures

The Chilean La Tercera recently published an article entitled “Historias bíblicas: lo que la ciencia ya decifró y las preguntas pendientes,” or, “Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and the remaining questions).” La Tercera offers a link to a digital paper copy here.

The Mexican Jewish website Enlace Judio also ran the story, as did Terrae Antiqvae (complete with pictures).

The article discusses the role of archaeology as a science in relation to the Bible and biblical history. The article surveys many of the recent claims and recounts various archaeologists’ interpretations of these discoveries.

Below is an English translation of the story by Marcelo Cordova and Jennifer Abate.


Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and questions pending)

In recent years, a string of findings has been an unprecedented boost to archeology studying characters and events depicted in sacred texts, from the existence of King David to the tomb of Herod the Great.

by MARCELO CORDOVA / JENNIFER ABATE

After a backbreaking day of work under the Israel sun, the team of archaeologists from Union College in Jerusalem was preparing for a break amongst the ruins of Tel Dan, an ancient northern city. But before resting, Gila Cook, one of those in charge of the team, noticed an unusual shadow on a wall that had been exposed after digging what had been the main entrance.

It was July 21, 1993 and, as the explorer relates the story, approaching the spot, she discovered a piece of basalt protruding from the floor and on it was a text written in ancient Aramaic. Excited, she called loudly to Avraham Biran, chief researcher of the group. His surprise was immediate: it was an inscription about a military victory of the king of Damascus from the ninth century BC which mentioned the “King of Israel” and “house of David.”

This news was a historic and scientific success. It was the first time that a non-biblical reference was found that proved the existence of the monarch, the central figure of the Christian scriptures and recognized not only for his great artistic and warrior skills, but also for being an ancestor of Jesus. After centuries of exploration and speculation, which even talked about David having been invented by Hebrew scribes, a text was discovered that had been written by an enemy of the monarch.

That was the starting point for a string of discoveries which in recent years has launched an unprecedented boost to biblical archeology. A discipline that emerged after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), when scientists stopped considering religious texts as a history that could only be demystified, and started using the Bible as a written compass to guide their excavations.

Recent efforts to search the sacred texts have paid off, achieving the illustration of episodes like the battle of David and Goliath and events related to the life of Jesus, which have been enriched with details that remained lost in time (see graphic). However, in the process scientists have also unearthed and brought to light relics that pose questions to some biblical passages, such as the Gospel of Judas, which seems to show how Jesus asked his apostle to turn him into the authorities. The role of testing and proving and, sometimes of rebuttal, is one of the major challenges of biblical archeology, Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University California, told La Tercera.

“Archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. In the same way that a site visit helps to understand its historical legacy. Sometimes it provides evidence that contradicts it. For example, there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt or of the Flood. But there are many findings in Jerusalem and other places that do support these texts,” says Cargill. He adds: “The idea is not to completely discard the Bible altogether just because some passages can not be verified. This book is an ancient piece of literature that should be examined for what it is: an ancient collection of documents that do not necessarily give us information about what happened then, but about the beliefs of the people from that ancient world.”

Verifying the Scriptures

If one asks the experts what are the most salient findings of recent years, the names of some places and characters tend to be repeated. One of them is one that stunned the world in 2007 when the explorers, led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, announced the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great, in the Herodium, south of Jerusalem. The monarch, who was appointed by the Romans to govern Judea from 37 BC and 4 BC, is described in the Bible as the instigator of the “slaughter of the innocents” (at the knowledge of the birth of Jesus, he ordered the deaths of children under two years old in Bethlehem).

But apart from this notoriously sad reputation, he was known for his grand architectural vision; he ordered the construction of the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and the almost mythical fortress of Masada, the last bastion of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 73 AD.  Most archaeologists assumed that he had been buried at the Herodium, but it was the finding of some monumental steps 6.5 m wide, which were built for Herod’s funeral procession, described in detail by the historian Josephus, which eventually led Netzer to a large broken sarcophagus 2.5 meters long. While inside it no human remains were found, the detailed ornamentation and the surrounding buildings of that place causes the experts to claim that the body of the monarch did lie there.

Netzer explained in 2007 that this discovery put an end to 30 years of research and gave support to the legendary ambition of Herod. Herodium is the only site that carries his name and was chosen by the king to immortalize himself, integrating a huge palace located in the desert hilltop. “This finding is significant because it puts into perspective Herod, a key figure in Christianity,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrating how a king produced a majestic tomb helps – Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the U. Tel Aviv, told La Tercera – the specialists to delve into the economic, social, political and demographic contexts that marked this era in which these texts were written. A view shared by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (USA), who told La Tercera: “If we take the example of an opera, the Bible is the script and archeology is the setting in which it takes place.”

While in recent years there have discoveries made in various parts of Israel – including a synagogue in the town of Migdal where Jesus would have prayed regularly, and 2,000 year-old houses in Nazareth that reveal a village of just 50 homes of humble lifestyle. The vast majority is concentrated in Jerusalem. Remains of pottery and other objects show that the city was inhabited from 4000 BC, although it was King David who established it as the capital of the united kingdom in 1000 BC.

And it was his son who built the first temple of the city. The Book of Kings recounts how Solomon brought his Egyptian wife to the city of David, where he built his home and a large wall. In 2010, archaeologists found a big wall in Jerusalem from the tenth century BC providing support to the existence of a royal palace and a fortified capital under the control of a king. In addition to an outdoor structure, which is 10 m high and 70 m long, a monumental tower and a large entrance were found.

“This is the first time we’ve run into a structure that conforms to the descriptions of the works of Solomon. This fits into the biblical story and it enhances our ability to establish a link with the wall of Jerusalem. It is very probable that the Bible, as the stories of many dynasties, preserves a core of truth,” said archaeologist Eilat Mazar to Haaretz news group.

The Chapter on Jesus

The evidence found that is tied to the most recent Scripture passages – especially to that of the life of Jesus, his family and apostles – is also coming to light in the form of objects and texts. In 1968 explorers found the remains of a man in his twenties in a cave northeast of Jerusalem. The find was considered unique because although the Romans were known to have crucified thousands of rebels, thieves, and deserters, a victim of this technique had never been found. And his remains corroborated the biblical description of such execution: the man’s left ankle had a nail that went through 11 cm and a small wooden box between the bone and the nail head to prevent release of the cross leg.

This evidence not only corresponds to a similar period as that of the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, but, according to experts, it verifies the description of his funeral. For decades it was believed that the Romans were limited to throwing the corpses into mass graves to be devoured by animals and thus impose fear.  But, this body showed that, on occasion, funeral proceedings were permitted similar to those mentioned in the Scriptures.

Recent explorations in and around Jerusalem have uncovered not only references linked to the death of Christ, but also to the image that his miracles propagated and to the characters that surrounded him, such as John the Baptist.  Seven years ago, works in the neighborhood of Silwan gave the location of a pool where, according to the Bible, Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in 2008; while underwater archaeologists recovered from the Bay of Alexandria (Egypt) a vessel of the late 1st century AD that says Dia chrstou o goistais (“Christ the magician”).

According to Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, it would be the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible. The words in this inscription further illustrate how Christianity and paganism were intertwined during the first years after the crucifixion. The investigator told Discovery News that it is very likely that some magician had inscribed “Christ” in the bowl to legitimize his own powers by invoking his name: “It is very probable that in Alexandria, where one also found one of Cleopatra’s palaces, the existence of Jesus and his legendary miracles were known.”

In 2004, archaeologists found a clue to the legacy of John the Baptist, when they located a cave in Jerusalem that may have been used by him for some of his ceremonies. The site, 21 meters long, was excavated between 800 and 500 BC and includes a series of carvings from the 5th century A.D. depicting the image of a man with a staff. There is no direct evidence of the link between this place and John, but the British archaeologist Shimon Gibson told Fox News that the carvings, combined with a stone used for foot washing and the proximity to the place where John lived, suggests that the cave was used by him.

“Apparently, this site was adopted by John the Baptist, who wanted a place to bring people to perform his rituals and propagate his ideas about baptism,” added Gibson. Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told La Tercera that despite the lack of confirmation of the link, such findings illustrate the customs and rituals of that time: “Now we can reconstruct how people lived, how they viewed their settlements and what their economic and social structures were.”

Subject for Dispute

It is clear that these findings have not been without controversy, and they are almost always preceded by sensationalistic media. One of the most iconic episodes in this regard came last year when it was announced that Noah’s Ark had been discovered atop Mount Ararat (Turkey). After a series of criticisms for its inconsistencies in terms of dating, this finding was branded false.

Something similar could be taking place with the announcement a few days ago of the alleged discovery of two nails used to crucify Jesus. The documentary, guided by Simcha Jacobovici (who years ago said he had found the tomb of Jesus), mixed evidence with a series of assumptions to announce the discovery of these objects in a tomb explored in 1990 and which, for some unknown reason, ended up at an anthropologist’s laboratory in Tel Aviv, where they remained forgotten.

The main argument of the filmmaker is that an ossuary was also found in the tomb that has scientific backing and a connection with the death of Jesus: an receptacle with human remains and the inscription “Caiaphas,” the name of the High Priest who organized the capture of Jesus. Robert Cargill, who is part of a committee of U.S. archaeologists that refutes baseless claims, tells La Tercera: “These type of assumptions are made by amateurs, not professional archaeologists. Usually, they are scams to earn money or convince people of a certain faith claim.”

The subject about which scientists have not yet achieved consensus is the Gospel of Judas. The full text, which is 1,700 years old and written in Egyptian Coptic Christian, continues to cause controversy, not because they doubt its authenticity, but for its meaning. While the Bible portrays Judas as a traitor, the initial translation shows the apostle as the closest friend and disciple of Christ, who sacrifices his teacher at his request; this involves a reinterpretation of biblical texts. Another analysis, however, postulates that the text does not say this, but rather that Judas was a “demon” and that he, in fact, betrayed Jesus.

Researchers are divided in their analysis of what remains to be discovered. Some speak of cities or more details of King Solomon, but the same Robert Cargill says the key requirement, such as it has been until now, is discovering more about the daily life of the society in which the writings were produced: “A dream find would be something like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that opens a new window to understanding how these people thought and interacted thousands of years ago. I’d love to find something written in a new language and decipher it, or find a palace or a temple, because no serious explorer ever says he has found the Ark of the Covenant, the cross of Christ, or the Holy Grail.”

‘writing the dead sea scrolls’ to re-air on national geographic channel december 11, 2010

Dr. Robert Cargill appears in "Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls" on National Geographic ChannelWriting the Dead Sea Scrolls” is scheduled to re-air on NatGeo December 11, 2010. I’ve previously posted about this here.

If you’re interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the show to watch.

Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls Airs on National Geographic Channel: Some Reflections

Dr. Robert Cargill appears in "Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls" on National Geographic ChannelNational Geographic Channel aired the documentary Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls this evening, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. It was accompanied by a UCLA Today story by Meg Sullivan and an article entitled, “Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved?” by Ker Than on National Geographic News.

I wrote about the making of this documentary in a blog shortly after returning from filming it in January 2010. I’ll let others critique the show (you’re also welcome to praise it, but such is usually not the nature of Qumran studies ;-). I shall offer here just a quick summary of what the producers were trying to do with the show.

What This Documentary Explores

The point of the documentary was to highlight the most recent scholarship on Qumran and to get the different, often warring sides talking to one another. As a relatively young scholar in this field, I was asked to investigate the new claims to see what they have to offer.

No one theory answers all of the questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and no one Qumran scholar owns the whole truth. The traditional Qumran-Essene Hypothesis – where Essenes built Qumran and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls there – has slowly been losing support over the past decades. Other theories have been offered in its place, but many of these theories take extreme positions claiming, often rancorously, that the scrolls have nothing to do with Qumran and that the scrolls are the products of anyone but the Essenes. These alternative theories have just as many problems, if not more so. This documentary hopes to show that the answer lies somewhere in between, and that only when all sides work together as professionals and actually talk to one another in a professional dialogue can we begin to reach a viable solution to the question of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There is a tremendous congruency of ideology within the sectarian manuscripts, which make up a significant portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a congruent, yet unique messianic expectation (or expectations), interpretation of scripture, halakhic interpretation, and a unique, but consistent calendar present within the sectarian manuscripts recovered from the Qumran caves. It is difficult to explain this congruence – the use of a solar calendar, references to the Teacher of Righteousness, Community Rules for life together in the desert, and especially the very low view of the Jerusalem Temple priesthood – within these sectarian documents if one argues they came from disparate libraries in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Origin Theory (defined as: the Dead Sea Scrolls were in no way a product of anyone living at Qumran and came, rather, from various Jewish libraries throughout Jerusalem) creates more problems than it solves and has been dismissed time and time again. It fails to explain the congruency of ideology in the sectarian manuscripts. Likewise, the Jerusalem Temple Library theory (which argues that the scrolls are the product of the official library of the Jerusalem Temple) has also been discounted as it fails to explain why the Jerusalem Temple priests would preserve and copy literature that so negatively portrays their activities and emphasizes their illegitimacy.

At the same time, it is difficult to explain some of the ideological diversity present within some of the scrolls if one argues that all of the scrolls were composed by a single sectarian group at Qumran. For example, why are the scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek if they are the product of a single sectarian community? Likewise, the Copper Scroll from Cave 3 is from a later date than the rest of the scrolls, is written on a different medium, and in a different dialect (some say language) of Mishnaic Hebrew. We simply cannot consider the Copper Scroll the product of a community of Jewish sectarians living at Qumran.

Therefore, it is possible that more than one group or groups hid documents in caves surrounding Qumran. Based upon the evidence, it is possible that a group of sectarian Jews took up residence in the former fortress that was Qumran, brought scrolls with them to the site, copied and penned other scrolls, and hid them all in the nearby caves during the suppression of the Jewish Revolt by the Romans. They may or may not have been Essenes (although the Essenes are still the best candidate for the sect at Qumran). The theory examined in this documentary (a Multiple-Cave, Multiple Author theory, or whatever you choose to call it) explains both the congruence and the diversity within the scrolls, and it explains the development of ideological and theological thought contained with the scrolls from one of strict halakhic interpretation to one that incorporates and develops apocalyptic and dual-messianic expectations, as well as rules for life together as a community. This is not to say that the Multiple Cave Theory is not without problems. The statistical analysis is still in need of serious review and critique, and a theory that argues that different caves “belong to” or “represent” different sectarian groups may be overly simplistic. However, it is a new attempt to explain the congruency and the diversity of the Dead Sea Scrolls and is worthy of examination.

Simply put, some of the scrolls could be the product of a sect within a movement (if I may so summarize John Collins) that resided at Qumran, and other scrolls may be the product of other groups that hid scrolls in many of the caves nearby Qumran. This explains the congruency of sectarian ideology and the diversity of the scrolls, as well as their presence in caves both in Qumran’s backyard (Caves 7-9, 4-5) and those some distance from Qumran, as well as explaining the nature of the archaeological expansions made to the site of Qurman, which appear to be in a communal, non-military fashion.

On this last topic (the archaeology of Qumran), I shall dispense with the equally difficult discussion about the origin and nature of the Qumran settlement. While some have argued that the Essenes built the settlement from the ground up at a date ranging anywhere between 150-50 BCE, I have argued that Qumran was initially built as a fort, was abandoned, and was reoccupied by a small community of Jewish sectarians who were ultimately responsible for collecting, copying, and even composing some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (In fact, I can recommend an excellent book on the subject. ;-) You will notice, however, that I nowhere in the documentary touted my own theory. Rather, my job was to investigate other scholars’ claims and to assess all of the evidence fairly and without prejudice. The producers chose the interviewees and setup the interviews, and I had the opportunity to talk to this diverse assemblage of archaeologists and scientists and ask them about their research.

The Point of This Exercise

The point of the documentary and of the producers’ approach was to do less of this, and have more of the professional exchange of ideas and more of the kind of scholarly and public dialogue that a documentary like this can generate. It is possible to discuss Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls without resorting to aliases and anonymity, without abusing one’s position to suppress new ideas, and without doing drive-by hit jobs on the personal lives of graduate students and scholars with whom you disagree. This documentary is an example of how one can facilitate a discussion amongst a number of scholars – many of whom disagree strongly – and present the new information, responses to these new ideas, and allow the viewer (both scholar and non-specialist alike) to make an informed decision. It is hoped that this documentary can shed light on the new research surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and can serve as an example of how scholarship can be done professionally and collaboratively in this new age of modern media and the Digital Humanities.

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls are important because they are the oldest known copies biblical manuscripts we have. They are important because they demonstrate the length Jews were willing to go to protect what they considered Scripture. The scrolls are important because while they have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity (i.e., nothing to do with John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Jesus, or the early Christian community), they demonstrate that the Christians were not the only Jewish sect reinterpreting Hebrew scripture and applying it toward their leader (the “Teacher of Righteousness” as opposed to Jesus), awaiting a Messiah (actually, two Messiahs were expected at Qumran as opposed to only one (Jesus) in Christianity), engaging in ritual purification (cf. baptism in Christianity), holding property in common (cf. Acts 2:44-45), and awaiting a final, apocalyptic battle (cf. the War Scroll at Qumran and the New Testament book of Revelation). The Dead Sea Scrolls show us the importance of scripture and its interpretation to Second Temple Judaism.

Thank You

My thanks to Executive Producer Ray Bruce and CTVC for producing the show, choosing the scholars, and allowing much of their new research regarding Qumran to come alive. Thanks also to Producer, Director, Writer, and fearless leader John Fothergill for his excellent direction, script, vision, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm in making this project. Thanks also to associate producer Paula Nightingale, who made everything happen when it was supposed to, and to Director of Photography Lawrence Gardner, who shot a beautiful show, and to Sound Engineer David Keene for making the show sound so wonderful (as well as for the many great late evening laughs). Thanks also to Israeli producer Nava Mizrahi and to Antonia Packard for making everything in Israel pleasant and expedient. May we share many more adventures together.

more on ‘writing the dead sea scrolls’

With Shrine of the Book curator Adolfo Roitman (left), Professor Cargill looks at the longest segment of the actual Isaiah Scroll, the oldest copy of any book of the Bible known today. Only a few select scholars are allowed access to the document.

With Shrine of the Book curator Adolfo Roitman (left), Professor Cargill looks at the longest segment of the actual Isaiah Scroll, the oldest copy of any book of the Bible known today. Only a few select scholars are allowed access to the document.

the ucla press room has a short writeup by meg sullivan on my coming nat geo documentary probing the question of who wrote the dead sea scrolls. the documentary will appear on national geographic channel, tuesday, july 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM. you can read more about the show here or preview clips form the show here.

writing the dead sea scrolls to air july 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm on national geographic

Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls on Nat GeoWriting the Dead Sea Scrolls” will air on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM on the National Geographic Channel. The NatGeo website has complete details of the show, including a synopsis of the program, photos, quick facts, and video clips from the beginning and the end of the show.

I mentioned my trip to Israel and the West Bank earlier this year to make this program in a previous post.

National Geographic Israel previously featured the UCLA Qumran Visualization Project in 2008. The QVP resulted in the digital model of Qumran, a 3D virtual reconstruction of Qumran that was a central component of my doctoral research at UCLA. The UCLA Experiential Technologies Center website has a description of the Qumran project, complete with a video introducing the project, which can be viewed in the virtual reality visualization portal on UCLA’s campus.

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