A few weeks ago I had the huge blessing to take a day and see an exhibit that’s very special to me. I love archaeology and have a soft spot for a few time periods. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist going to see an exhibit of Dead Sea Scrolls and artifacts from Israel. The exhibit was very well done as a whole – I appreciate that they focused on the historical and cultural, as well as were fair enough to mention all three religions that stemmed from the area. I’ve seen a lot of ancient coins in my time, but it was mind-blowing to see Assyrian spear points, sling stones, idols of Asherah, fabric from a Roman tunic, jars and vessels, and so much more. Seeing history up close like this is mindblowing to me. Sure, I’ve read about things, studied them, know all about them, but to see things in person…to see items from these time periods right up close in front of you…it’s unreal. It’s like seeing someone bigger than a rockstar, bigger than any president or king. It’s an odd feeling of belonging for me…that yes, this is part of the history of the world that I belong in. I may not be from that area of the world, but its culture has affected me and it’s somehow part of me, too. It’s humbling.
And then, of course, there were the scroll fragments themselves. The exhibit not only talked about what each section was about, but how the scrolls were found and the process of interpreting them, authenticating them, and how they ended up where they are now. There was a paragraph that really struck me, though. In a nutshell, it mentioned that in that time frame everything written was sacred and everything sacred was written down. Seriously, to look at these scroll fragments is amazing. A lot of work went into the process of recording things, whether it was a religious document, a legal record, or an interpretation of something. These things are essentially skins so they had to be treated, the ink made and acquired, plus only a few people back then knew how to read and write. The script was so tiny – I couldn’t get over how small the scroll pieces actually are (top to bottom, anyway – essentially they’re unrolled horizontally). The script was also beautiful. I scrawl even on my best day, so to me these paragraphs that I couldn’t even translate were pure art. I was grateful for the translations to the side, but at the end of the day it was mind-blowing just to look at the pieces.
And then there were the ten commandments. The Deuteronomy Scroll was added to the exhibit the day I went. Keep in mind that of course it’s in ancient Hebrew (and my modern Hebrew reading is insanely rusty, so of course this was way beyond me), and in tight paragraph form, but still…this is the oldest version of these in existence. This is it. As close as you can come to seeing an original. What was interesting to me is that the volunteer I talked to said that whoever wrote them down had bad handwriting and might have gotten some things turned around, but trust me…the script was gorgeous – far better than what I could ever do. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t read the words, just being in the presence of it was emotional.
It isn’t just the religious aspect for me. I’m a very spiritual person but these days I subscribe more to the all rivers lead to the ocean school of thought. I don’t get into hashing out my religious beliefs because it’s not an argument I care to have. Still, that aside, the act of seeing writing so old, knowing that someone cared so badly to preserve something so important…
These days we think nothing of jotting out a to do list on an envelope, of writing whatever we have to whenever we want. You can write on tablets, paper, phones, computers..right now it took very little effort to power up my laptop and dash off an entry. Yet how much of what I write – what any of us write – will stand the test of time for thousands of years? Not just in the physical sense, either, but in the sense of affecting so many people. We’re talking about words that are the cornerstone of not just multiple religions, but legal systems, as well. Whoever copied the commandments onto the scroll had a purpose to write, a purpose not often seen in the modern world. After all, countless copies of everything exists, right? What does it matter if one goes away? But to see this up close…to know how much work and care went into it…it’s obvious that it would matter if something happened to it. It was a miracle that the scrolls were discovered in the first place – it was sheer accident. It was also amazing that they were discovered for what they really were – they were almost turned into shoe leather.
It gave me a whole new appreciation for writing – for putting words on paper, for thinking up words, themselves, for having the gift of literacy. It’s not something we often think about except during psa campaigns and such, but think of it. We’re fortunate enough to be able to put together words to form sentences, to copy the things that are important to us, to express the thoughts in our hearts and the ideas in our heads. That’s huge. That’s converting emotion and inspiration into something tangible, something that can be shared with others. To me, it was a reminder that writing isn’t just something you learn, or a dream I have, or something that I do so I don’t forget everything I have to do in a day. At its core, writing is a spiritual act, a conversion of something far deeper than ourselves into something we all can understand.
And I’m insanely grateful for that revelation, and for seeing such an amazing part of history right in front of me.