*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 22nd of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We’ve got a fun one today. But to get there, I’m gonna need to ask how much y’all know about the Dead Sea Scrolls. A lot? A little? Don’t be embarrassed- so many of the wacky ideas about what they MIGHT ACTUALLY mean are projection and speculation. But I think there is a reason for this… let’s break it down.
1st- the Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of roughly 15,000 fragments found in various caves in the Qumran and surrounding region just Northwest of the Dead Sea in Jordan.
They were first discovered in 1947 when shepherd boys were throwing rocks and heard the breaking of pottery from inside a cave.
2nd- They were held by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and then passed on to the Israel Antiquities Authority. A small group of largely conservative Catholics was given access and the right to restrict access to the scrolls as a matter of intellectual property. Or so that was the claim. Humans tend not to naturally bend in the direction of sharing.
And for decades, the Scrolls were wrapped in secrecy. We could see plenty of them, but many from Cave 4 especially were not made public. The texts from this cave contained hundreds of texts relating to the Hebrew Bible, copies of all the OT books except Esther.
Many believed that the library from Cave 4 belonged to the Essenes- a splinter Jewish group that rejected the Hellenization of Judaism. They were apocalyptic and waiting for a Messiah. And so they are tied to John The Baptist, Jesus, and early Christians. There is no evidence for this- but it is a parallel Messianic Jewish group and that makes it interesting by itself.
But by bogarting the files, the small group of mostly catholic researchers did nothing to stop the constant stream of speculation that these scrolls were some how scandalous and would “bring the church to its knees”. Of course, none of this is true and this is how Christian conspiracy theories begin.
***speaking of which, I will be giving a series of lectures this Saturday on Christian conspiracy theories and the use and abuse of Church history in Sierra Vista Arizona at Immanuel Lutheran church- check out 1517.org for more info***
Ok, so in 1991 if you wanted to see the archaeological discovery of the century you could not. This was not that long ago! I was 12- it was the year Nirvana’s Nevermind and R.E.M. Out of Time came out. It was the year of the crazy Twins-Braves World Series!
So- the Huntingdon Library here in Southern California, a massive research library and Gardens was sent all of the Dead Sea Scrolls on microfiche. And this is my favorite part of the story: it was on this, the 22nd of September in 1991 that the Huntingdon announced that they would make the scrolls available to the public. I’ve gone back to reading various news articles from this day and it is pretty funny to read the people opposed to it- one scholar on the project said:
“for all intents and purposes, the Huntington Library has illegal copies. . . . It’s all quite shocking. . . . We don’t need proddings like this to speed up our work. We are ourselves encouraging our scholars to speed up their work and we are reassigning work that has been with certain scholars too long.”
Dr. Lawrence Shiffman of NYU responded:
"They may be releasing stolen property, but I'm going to use it anyway. Most will regard those who make this material available as Robin Hoods, stealing from the academically privileged to give to those hungry for the knowledge secreted in these texts.”
It was a stunning reversal for the Dead Sea Scroll Cartel when their secret goods were given to the world with the announcement from the Huntington that the Dead Sea Scrolls would be available to anyone- the announcement was made on this day in 1991.
The reading for today comes from the Old Testament- from the invocation in Psalm 121:
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite 1991 song was Amy Grant’s salacious crossover hit “Baby Baby” He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who has a compelling argument that September of 1991 was the greatest month ever for popular music record releases.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.