Visiting professor extols benefits of database of Dead Sea Scrolls

Soon, students of the Dead Sea Scrolls - both scholars and the public - may be able to study these ancient Jewish manuscripts with the aid of an electronic database.

The impact of such a database, and the history and importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discussed in Utah during lectures and a press conference given by a visiting professor from Jerusalem's Hebrew University.Through the sponsorship of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Professor Emanuel Tov spoke to Church leaders, BYU and FARMS officials, and Church members during two lectures on Feb. 21 and 22, the first of which was the annual FARMS lecture at BYU. Before the second lecture in Salt Lake City, a dinner was held in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in honor of the visiting scholar. Professor Tov, editor-in-chief of the scrolls publication project and chairman of The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, based in Jerusalem, delivered the same address at both locations.

Attending the dinner on the 10th floor of the building and at the lecture in the chapel of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building were several Church and auxiliary leaders and noted Church members, including Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve, Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and Henry B. Eyring of the Seventy, and Elder Jacob de Jager, emeritus General Authority. Also present were Elaine L. Jack, Janette C. Hales and Michaelene P. Grassli, general presidents of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary, respectively; Patricia P. Pinegar, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency; and Hugh Nibley and Truman Madsen, both well-known LDS scholars.

Accompanying Professor Tov to Utah was Dr. Weston W. Fields, executive director of The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.

Conducting a short program held after the dinner, Elder Holland acknowledged the interest and support of President Howard W. Hunter and Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve, advisers to the First Presidency on matters involving the state of Israel.

During the program, Dr. Noel B. Reynolds, president of FARMS, presented Professor Tov with the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. In accepting the gift, the scholar expressed gratitude to FARMS and BYU. "Their help is kind and makes our enterprise easier," he said.

In his address, Professor Tov spoke of the importance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are fragments of some 800 compositions found near Qumran in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea between 1947 and the present. The scrolls are written in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and they date back to 250 years before the Christian era and continue into the first century after Christ.

"Until 1947, we had no records in Hebrew from antiquity in the Hebrew Bible," he related. "You might say we had no really good evidence of what the Hebrew Bible looked like. The first time that we were able to see what a Hebrew Bible looked like was after these documents were found near the Dead Sea."

"We now know that the text was written in a scroll, and when we say scroll, we really mean something which was rolled. We mean that these were sheets of leather sewn to each other or glued to each other."

In explaining the origin of the scrolls, the scholar noted: "Too often the Qumran scrolls have been described as the Library of Qumran. . . . We should not forget that the great part of them have been written outside Qumran and have been imported, so to speak. . . . I think that if we take into consideration that they came from various places in ancient Israel in Palestine that we have a very good picture of the manuscript situation in this early period in Palestine."

Continuing, Professor Tov explained that although there are quite a few differences between the Qumran texts and the Bibles of today, "the message of those biblical books remain the same, but not, of course, with regard to the details. I mean, if the text says that God stopped His work on the sixth day or the seventh day, that's a detail. And, indeed, there are such readings. But the message, or course, is more or less the same."

During a press conference earlier in the evening, Professor Tov fielded several questions, including a comparison of the Qumran community to the Christian community. He answered this by explaining: "There are parallels in some of their ideas, but this will not be as far as to say that the Essenes [believed to be the residents of QumranT are an early Christian group. They are parallel, not that one descended from the other."

During the press conference, the Dutch-born professor also extolled the benefits of a comprehensive electronic database of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related materials on CD-ROM, a project currently being developed by FARMS, in conjunction with BYU. "This will be of importance for us, not for me personally only, but for all of our colleagues," he said.

A recent BYU news release explained that the most important components of the database will be a concordance, transcriptions of the scrolls, their translations and photographs. All four elements are intended to be displayed simultaneously in separate windows on a computer screen. FARMS expects that the first edition of the database will be available late this year.

In speaking of the database, Dr. Fields, who was asked to offer some remarks both during the dinner and during the press conference, said: "When you stop to think about it, you have scholars all over the world who are publishing various parts of the scrolls, and if there's not a concordance, one person in Israel may be working on a difficult phrase. That same phrase theoretically could be in another scroll, which is being worked on in Holland, and these scholars won't even know about the sharing of that phrase because there's not a complete concordance of the scrolls."

Dr. Fields explained that about 60 scholars throughout the world are currently working on translating and preparing the remaining scrolls for publication.

He added that the publication project "has not only significance for us, who are connected with the Christian tradition, but also for anyone who can see importance in the Bible or is interested in the history of the Jewish people."

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