Southwestern Seminary studies Dead Sea Scrolls with latest technology

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – In a convergence of ancient Scripture with the latest advances in photographic technology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary worked with the West Semitic Research Project to prepare for the study and publication of its Dead Sea Scrolls collection and other artifacts, Sept. 24-25.
The most recent workshop hosted by the seminary’s Tandy Institute for Archaeology featured a team from the University of Southern California’s West Semitic Research Project, which specializes in producing high-definition images of ancient texts and artifacts. During the workshop, this team of scholars made images of Southwestern’s collection of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments as well as some artifacts from the seminary’s Carlson Cuneiform Collection.
“The West Semitic Research Project is one of the best for the digital imaging of ancient manuscripts, particularly Dead Sea Scrolls fragments,” Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum, said.
“Naturally, as the Tandy Institute for Archaeology prepares for the scholarly publication of Southwestern Seminary’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments, we are starting the process by first digitally documenting these rare and valuable texts.”
In January, the seminary announced its acquisition of three Dead Sea Scrolls fragments and an ancient pen discovered with the scrolls. This collection, containing biblical passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Daniel, makes Southwestern one of only a handful of institutions of higher education in the United States to own Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. Gary Loveless, founder and CEO of Square Mile Energy in Houston, provided the lead gift for the purchase of the scrolls.
“It is very exciting to be working with the people here at the Tandy Museum,” Bruce Zuckerman, director of the West Semitic Research Project and associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Southern California, said. “They have been a model of cooperation with us.”
During a lecture on recent imaging technology, Zuckerman explained the multiple benefits of this specialized imaging technology for the study of ancient texts. Infrared photography, for example, can reveal writing on a scroll that had otherwise disappeared because of its age.
In the past, scholars could primarily examine ancient texts only with the naked eye. As a result, damaged or faded texts provided little information about the past. With the appropriation of new technology for examining ancient texts, however, scholars can re-analyze the research of the past.
“For those people who are your age and who are interested in getting into the field of ancient studies, there is no better time than now,” Zuckerman told students. “One of my colleagues said to me, ‘You know what this means? It means we have to do everything over.’
“Wouldn’t it be fun to remake a field of study, especially a field of study relevant to the Bible, and be the ones to dictate how the games are going to be played in the future?”
During the lecture, Zuckerman expressed his excitement that students were able to learn more about this technology and work with it during the seminary’s workshop. According to Ortiz, the interactive nature of the archaeology workshop allowed students “to learn the cutting edge technology and methodology for the research of artifacts and manuscripts.”
“It is just amazing to see what capabilities there are at the present,” Adam Dodd, a student in the Master of Theology program and vice president of the seminary’s student archaeological society, said. Dodd especially benefitted from the workshop, not only as he observed the team from the West Semitic Research Project, but also because this team produced an image that will help him with his master’s thesis.
For his thesis, Dodd is analyzing a medieval manuscript that contains a portion of the Hebrew text from the book of Genesis. The manuscript, however, is stained, and the Hebrew text is overlaid by a later Coptic text. While the manuscript will not change the field of biblical scholarship, Dodd said, “it is perfect for someone who wants to learn the practice and refine their skills in evaluating different aspects of manuscripts. It is perfect for a young student to cut his teeth on.”
Dodd said the new images of the manuscript will help him examine the text more closely and come to more accurate and confident conclusions.

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