Yesterday I had to appear at a deposition in San Diego, and used the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, in magnificent Balboa Park. Tickets may be purchased in advance, and all tickets are for appointed times at 15-minute intervals, in order to avoid overcrowding the exhibit.
One of the more hopeful aspects of the exhibition is that scrolls are on loan, and displayed along side one another, from both the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Department of Antiquities of the Kingdom of Jordan--a rare public manifestation of Israeli-Arab cooperation at a tumultuous time. That is perhaps all the more surprising giving the Palestinian campaign to deny Jewish historical links to the land of Israel, which the Scrolls richly symbolize. Indeed, the Dead Sea Scrolls collectively (all of them, not just the scrolls in this exhibition) include fragments from every book of the Jewish Bible--what Christians call the Old Testament--except for, curiously and perhaps appropriately, the Book of Esther, which takes place in Persia at the end of the Babylonian Exile. The Israeli-Jordanian cooperation also is fitting, because the first scrolls were discovered by a Beduin shepherd boy in 1947, just prior to Israeli independence and the first Arab-Israeli war that followed. Sold to a Bethlehem Arab dealer in antiquities, they were first viewed by Professor Eleazar Sukenik, an Israeli archaeologist and scholar at Hebrew University, and the father of Israeli archaeologist, soldier and politician Yigdal Yadin, at a distance through a barbed wire barrier that separated Jewish and Arab Jerusalem.
It struck me how the Scrolls demonstrate the logical fallacy, currently rampant among Middle Eastern revisionist archaeologists, to derive proof for their propositions from the absence of evidence. For example, because of the absence of archaeological evidence for the entry of the tribes of Israel into Canaan, they question whether the exodus from Egypt ever occurred, and the existence of Moses and Joshua. They also doubt the historicity of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They even call into question the Kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon.
And yet, to give just two examples, the findings in the caves of Qumran demonstated that in the second century before the common era, Jews already wore tefillin--the prayer boxes that traditional Jewish men wear during their morning weekday prayers--even though secular scholars previously had assigned the origin of tefillin to a time some centuries later. (Of course, Jewish tradition holds that tefillin originated with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.) Also, one of the scrolls is a first century B.C.E. Aramaic translation, or targum, of the Book of Job. Scholars had previously declared with confidence that the first such Aramaic translations appeared in the first centuries of the Common Era. Yet the evidence from the Qumran caves that conclusively proved both those prior scholarly conclusions to have been wrong was incredibly fragile, and its discovery completely fortuitous. When the Beduin shepherd boy who found the clay pots containing the scrolls brought his uncle to the cave, the uncle initially smashed the clay pots that held the scrolls, hoping to find treasure. He chose to take the fragile and perishable parchment scrolls to an antiquities dealer; in a different mood, he might have thrown them into a fire or left them exposed to rot.
Lowell and his co-religionists will especially want to examine the Papyrus Bar Kokhba 44—the Alma Scroll, a lease of land that the document states was previously owned by the government of "Simeon Bar Kosiba, Prince of Israel." That dates the scroll to 134 C.E., during the rebellion against Rome led by Simeon Bar Kosiba--also known as "Bar Kochba," whose regime held sway over parts of the land of Israel before being crushed by Hadrian's legions. The commentary on the scroll remarks, "Latter-Day Saints find this scroll of particular interest, because it specifies 'Alma son of Judah' as one of the people involved in the agreement on the fourth line and at the bottom of the document. This text contains the oldest known occurrence of the name 'Alma' outside of the Book of Mormon."