Pre-exhibition event highlights culture of Dead Sea Scrolls discoverers

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – The sound of Arabic pop music and the smell of a campfire drew a crowd of faculty, students, trustees and local media to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 11, for a cultural event demonstrating the life of Jordanian Bedouins, nomadic shepherds who live in the wilderness near the Dead Sea and were the first to discover the Dead Sea Scrolls 65 years ago. The event also gave media the opportunity to see one of Southwestern’s newest Dead Sea Scroll fragments as well as first editions of the 1516 Erasmus Greek New Testament and 1611 King James Bible.

Under the shade of an authentic Bedouin goathair tent in front of the seminary’s MacGorman Chapel, guests were treated to Bedouin coffee prepared by Abu Abdallah, a Jordanian Bedouin whose father is a sheik and who will eventually become head of the Ajrami Bedouin tribe. Abu Abdallah cooked the coffee beans—which he brought with him from Jordan—over an open fire in metal kettles.

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson welcomed the crowd and explained that the event gave a picture of the culture of the original Dead Sea Scroll discoverers as well as their biblical ancestors.

“Most people reading the Bible simply read the words; they see them, but they don’t focus on how it might have been,” Patterson said. He read a passage from Genesis 4:18-19, which talks about descendants of Noah, including Jabal, who was the “father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” Patterson also noted the connection with the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham, who dwelled in tents and kept livestock.

“Right away in Genesis, we’re introduced to what you see right here,” Patterson said. ”For the last 4,000 years, at least, the Bedouin have been living in these goathair tents.”

“The Bedouins who were living in these kinds of tents were there first to discover what we call now the Dead Sea Scrolls, so we thought it would be appropriate for our Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, coming up beginning July 2, for us to have a Bedouin tent here to commemorate and to say thank you to our Bedouin friends for being the discoverers of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Guests were invited sip their Bedouin coffee while sitting on cushions inside the tent. Mannequins adorned in Bedouin clothing stood near the tent opening, and guests could also look at a flatbread stove used by Bedouins today.

Inside the MacGorman Chapel’s Phillips library, media were shown a copy of Paleo-Leviticus, Southwestern’s newest Dead Sea Scroll fragment, which dates back to as early as 150 B.C. and contains writing in one of the earliest Hebrew scripts. Additionally, media interviewed Southwestern’s scholars responsible for researching the fragments.

Southwestern Seminary owns more Dead Sea Scroll fragments than any institution outside of Jordan and Israel. Southwestern will host the six-month Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition in its MacGorman Chapel from July 2, 2012 to Jan. 2013, which will feature 16 scroll fragments, including Southwestern’s collection as well as scroll fragments and artifacts related to the discovery on loan from Israel, Jordan and private collectors. The exhibition expects to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Fort Worth. More details can be found at www.seethescrolls.com.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are arguably the greatest archaeological manuscript find of the 20th century. The first discoveries were made in 1947 and sparked a nearly 10-year search in caves overlooking the Dead Sea near Qumran in what is now Israel. The scrolls date back to the second century B.C. and contain biblical manuscripts, biblical manuscripts with commentary, apocryphal manuscripts and extra-biblical literature.

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