Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 20: May 29 Back in the classroom

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

Psalm of Ascent 133

We're on the bus by 7:20am. The lateness of a few puts us into rush hour traffic, where Shimon starts and stops the huge bus without incident. Jeff discusses questions about the Essenses and the Hebrew concept of Sheol (OT place of the dead). We talk about the development of the ideas of the afterlife, angelic beings, etc. during the Babylonian exile. 1 Enoch (apocryphal book) says the three places for the dead are for 1) the righteous, 2) the unrighteous, and 3) intermediary place for those between. (RC purgatory?)

We pick up Ilan and "Adolpho" at a bus stop. More on Dr. Adolpho Roitman later.

Ilan discusses the security fence (English title), also called the "Separation Fence" (Hebr.) By defining the separation between Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli ones, the minister in charge created a reality. The fence has been effective in stopping suicide bombings. However, it is hated by right-wingers who want all of biblical Palestine for the Jews, by left-wingers who think it violates human rights, and by Arabs who are inconvenienced and offended by it. (If your field in front of your house was cut off by the fence, you may have to drive 20 miles to get around the security wall to farm ... if it was not taken for fence easement.)

We drive parallel to Wadi Walt, the walk from Jericho to Jerusalem traditionally called "the valley of the shadow of death." Soon after, we dip below sea level on our way to the Dead Sea area and Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered by Bedouin shepherds.

Our privilege and highlight of the day (or perhaps of the trip) is our guest lecturer, Adolpho Roitman, curator of the Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book. He explains how archaeological findings, assumptions, and speculations are displayed and interpreted after we watch a video on Essenes (and John the Baptist who may have been influenced by or part of the Essenes.) "You will see the originals of these copies at the Israel Museum," he promises

Qumran cave
In 1946, 7 scrolls were found. A Syrian acquired 4 scrolls for $97.50 and took them to St. Markus Monastery; the other three were purchased by Israeli Eleazar L. Sukenik. After some time, the Syrian smuggled his 4 to New York and placed a "for sale" ad in the Wall Street Journal. Yegal Yadin, son of Sukenik, bought them for $200,000 and returned them to Israel.

More discoveries were made up to 1957, thousands of fragments resulting in hundred of documents. The oldest copy of Isaiah, relatively intact, was 1000 years older than previously found copies. 8% were in Aramaic, 1-2% in Greek, and the rest were written in Hebrew. Older (inherited) scrolls and ones scribed more recently have been found.

Qumran was destroyed by the Babylonians about C6 BC and abandoned for 500 years before repopulation in C2 AD. Essenes were a Judaic sect of men who eschewed wine, sex, and money and headed for "the wilderness" to become "a human sanctuary," a new idea beyond temple buildings as the sanctuary of God. They built a community with a scriptorium (Scribe's Room where 2 inkwells were found), possible library and reading rooms (a lot of oil lamps found here), a NW to SE channel for water, and a big refectory (dining room) for quiet, communal meals, according to Josephus' observations.

Josephus also mentions that Essenes prayed toward the rising sun in the morning, that would be east, similarly to the Qumran community, their backs to Jerusalem.

Te priest would pray before and after meals. "You know for Jews keeping quiet at meals is a miracle," jokes Dr. Roitman. He's funny, a wealth of information, and treats us like students in a masters program. (What an honor! Marc and Jeff studied with him.)

Vespasian the Roman general reached Jericho (10 miles north) in 68 AD before heading for Jerusalem. The community disappeared around that time. Did the Essenes live in Qumran or did it house Jerusalem rebels in hiding?

Only Jerusalem has more ritual baths and cisterns. If this was a religious community of Essenes, they would have bathed twice a day for purification purposes. They believed that the spirit needed purification before physical immersion, similarly to John the Baptist and his confession of sins and baptism. The desert is hot hot hot and dry - the water would have been collected in cisterns. (A reminder: this area gets 3-5 days of rain annually!)

Roitman talks about the importance of purity and perhaps a spiritual priesthood for those who had left behind the corruption of the late 2nd Temple Period (Herod's temple and Jesus' era). People were seeking a spiritual identity, whether they searched in wilderness communities or at the Jerusalem temple.

Most devout Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for sacrificial worship at the temple, but other argued against the corruption and political appointments of priests. David had not been permitted to build a temple for God (prophecy against by Nathan) 1 Sam 7. The ancient God of Israel was in nature until Solomon built the first temple. However, the temple became more central with Hezekiah's consolidation of power in Jerusalem and destruction of the high places used for sacrifice to JHWH and other gods.

When Cyrus gave Jews permission and backing to rebuild the temple (Temple 2, phase 1), some were not convinced that the time was right for rebuilding, even when the temple was dedicated in 515 BC (Haggai).

We walk over to a view of Cave 4, which has 2 sections and housed the best scrolls. Inhabitants had to go through the buildings to get to the cave, so it may have been an exclusive area with access only for full members. The Cave 4 scrolls were released with some controversy in 1990; these contained some new documents so it took great skill to puzzle them together, whether religious or biblical texts, pseudo graphical materia (15 copies), apocrypha, mystical instructions, pesharism - Habbukuk, Naham, etc.

The basic working hypothesis, says Dr. Roitman, is that Essenes are equivalent to the Qumran community though there is no unassailable proof. Oh the sun is hot and the air is dry! What would those monkish men have experienced here?

We're on the way to the Israel Museum and lunch in their cafe by noon. The enormous Dead Sea ripples below, the haze of evaporation blurring the Jordanian hills on the other shore.

Traditional "Tomb of David"
The scale model of Old Jerusalem in the 2nd Temple era is astonishing. A PhD student explains the model for about an hour. There were perhaps 80,000 people. In 586 BC, Babylonians destroyed the first temple. (David lived about 1000 BC.) C6 BC wa the beginning of the second temple period, and by C1 AD Jerusalem had grown north and expanded just before the temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. The scale model was constructed from 1962-66 because Jews couldn't get to the Western Wall. Within months of completion, the 1967 War gave them access again to the Temple area. The Western Wall is most dear because it is closest to where the Holy of Holies was located in temple days.

There are small inaccuracies, but by combining scriptural descriptions, similar edifices in other parts of Europe and the Near East, and descriptions by Josephus and other ancient scholars, Aviona the architect and archaeologist completed the model. The temple mount was the largest sacred site in the Roman Empire after Herod the Great (entered Jerusalem in 37 BC and ruled until 4 AD) built a huge retaining wall and filled in the temple mount area to make a huge plateau.

Scroll jar
In 2006, the Israel Museum opened the Shrine of the Book complex. The vision of the shrine is to explain the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in dramatic fashion. We begin with a 5 minute documentary summarizing the find. The second movie, "Human Sanctuary," explores the development of persons as the holy habitation of God in Qumran and the Essene theology of "sons of light" (themselves) and "sons of darkness" (everyone else). The architecture includes a black wall representing the darkness and a white dome shaped like a scroll jar lid representing the light.

The scrolls found included those made of animal skin (80%); nearly 20% of papyrus, and a few pottery pieces with back (or occasional red) lettering. The oldest copy of Isaiah, written about 2000 years ago, and other precious scriptures were among the finds.

One of the treasures in the shrine is the Aleppo Codex, a Masoretic text. It was smuggled from Jerusalem to Egypt in C11 AD. In C14, the Aleppo Codex was taken from Egypt to Aleppo, Syria, becoming the most important possession of the Jews in Syria, attributed with magical properties and locked in a box in "the cave of Elijah." It disappeared in 1948 when the synagogue was burned by Arabs.

Ten years later, it reemerged in 1958 with 200 pages missing. I think I overheard that it was smuggled back to Israel in a washing machine. (That's almost too bizarre to be untrue.) A new museum installation today is a fragment of the scroll that was used as a talisman by a Syrian family and only recently returned.

Central installation with
Dead Sea Scroll manuscript
in glass viewing case
Dr. Roitman explains parallels and differences between Essenes, John the Baptist, concurrent religious leaders, and Jesus. Avi, Blue Bus' Israeli tour guide, takes notes along with the rest of us. Most of us will never again hear this famous scholar or have access to the Israel Museum as we do today.

He speaks of the Dead Sea Scrolls as "the Mona Lisa" of Israel, the second-most visited site next to the Holocaust Museum. These scripts are part of human history. Like those in the crises of the 2nd Temple era, people still search for spiritual significance, spirituality, and meaning beyond self.

The central sculpture under the skylight in the "Jar Lid" dome is an enormous fixture of wood, stone, and glass. At eye height, an unrolled scroll is protected by a curved glass barrier. Photos are forbidden, but my sketchbook is at hand.

W and I share a carrot cake (4$) before we head off to the archaeology museum. Many of the things that we had heard about and see replicated elsewhere are ... here. W takes out his camera.

The we're off to fill my heart in the fine arts section. Wealthy donors have contributed their Picassos, Rodins, Henry Moore sculptures, Warhohls, Rubens, Pizarrios, Cezannes, Klees... and other treasures too numerous to mention. The colors and presentations are stunning. Everyone but we meets back at the bus 1 1/2 hours after the end of the lecture. I'm still enthralled by the artwork.

The president of the Museum is giving a private tour to two donors. We have a chance to thank him for the pleasure and treasures he's collected. Shofars are being blown (badly) and children sing nearby as we wait near the exit while a policeman calls us a taxi.

We get home just in time to eat supper before the dining hall closes. On our way up, someone mentions a visit to Nancy, a Kenmore native and nurse who's in hospital with an outbreak of skin welts. She's been in for two days and they cannot release her until her skin is clear, treating her with hydrocortisone. I get to join the visit; she's cheerful and encouraging about God's plans for her where she is (since she's not where she planned to be.) We pray for her healing and God's purposes and are home before 10pm. I fall into bed without copying the day's writing to the blog.

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