Adolfo Roitman, only the second curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been in charge of the ancient documents since 1994 at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Although he is accustomed to seeing the scrolls, delicate documents written primarily on animal skins, he still thrills at their potency -- not just as artifacts, but as vehicles for transmitting thoughts, passions and beliefs from people who lived 2,000 years ago to the present day. [Photo: The Anderson University School of Theology and the Center for Christian Leadership will welcome Dr. Adolfo Roitman on Wednesday for the 31st Annual Newell Lectures in Biblical Studies. Roitman will present lectures focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls.]
Roitman said he feels an almost metaphysical connection to those ancient scholars and scribes and is increasingly convinced that their writings remain relevant and significant.
A native of Argentina, Roitman holds degrees from the University of Buenos Aires and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at several universities in Israel and has been a visiting professor at many universities throughout the United States and Latin America. He is the author of four books on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Roitman will be conveying his passion about the ancient documents at a series of lectures Wednesday at Anderson University. In a telephone interview, Roitman, 55, gave a preview of some of his thoughts and observations.
Question: You often give talks around the globe about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why is that important to you?
Answer: "I'm very convinced that personal contact with people, with different kinds of publics, is important. It's important to speak to different kinds of communities, in accordance with their feelings and beliefs."
Q: The Dead Sea Scrolls are dated to several centuries BC and the first century into the first millennium, before Judaism or Christianity were fully formed as the faiths they are today. How do scholars of those faiths approach the texts of the scrolls?
A: "The scrolls are studied by all kinds of different people -- Jewish, Christian, agnostic. They bring their own input, from their own scholarship. They are not trying to prove the truth of their faith; they are trying to understand the significance of the faith.
"I believe the study of the scrolls promotes interfaith dialogue, because even though people come from different perspectives, they discover how much they have in common."
Q: What about Muslim scholars?
A: "In the past, only if they were looking for information about biblical traditions. The Quran also is very much informed by biblical tradition, so in this sense, the scrolls also are relevant in Islam. And in the past few years, it has been changing, and there is interest in the scrolls being translated into Arabic."
Q: The scrolls are very delicate and already sustained damage and deteriorated in poor conditions in the first few decades after they were found from about 1947 to 1956. How are they protected now, and can people see them?
A: "We must balance the need to protect and preserve the scrolls with the desires of many people who come from around the world to see them, so we rotate them for public view. They are kept behind glass in a climate-controlled environment when on display and in a vault, to "rest," when they are not.
"However, the new technology allows people to examine them even more closely on their computers than they can in person. We have high-resolution photographs available through Google."
"You can zoom in and enlarge and see all of the scrolls."
Q: Recently, there was much excitement -- and debate -- about a scrap of ancient writing that was made public, appearing to quote a man named Jesus referring to "my wife." Does this more recent discovery cause you to think there might be more writings from antiquity to be yet discovered?
A: "You know, I am just a curator and not a prophet.
"But, more seriously, since 1956, no more scrolls have been found. What this recent piece of writing shows, though, that even when you have a tiny fragment, it is able to become very significant for the history and for the research. (One of the Dead Sea Scrolls is seven feet long.) There is no proportion with the size of the document and its significance.
"And it shows that everything is possible in the land of Israel."
— Dianna Penner is a reporter for The Indianapolis Star. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.