Carmody revives Dead Sea Scrolls

Published 4:41 am Monday, February 28, 2005

By by Tim Cottrell
An excited audience flocked to the Trinity Episcopal Church here in Atmore Thursday night to hear a lecture by Dr. Timothy R. Carmody, professor of Theology at Spring Hill College in Mobile.
The lecture centered on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the artifacts that were on display at the Gulf Coast Exploreum in Mobile, and the history of the group believed to have written the scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds in the caves of the barren hills surrounding the Dead Sea. The scrolls contain every book of the Old Testament of the Bible with the exception of Esther. There are also numerous scrolls relating to how the people who wrote them lived.
Carmody talked about the different caves surrounding the ancient city of Qumran found to contain scrolls and the different content of each.
"Cave one is the most famous of the caves," Carmody said. "That's where most of the better preserved scrolls were kept."
Cave one contained two scrolls relating to the book of Isaiah, a scroll called a "Pesher (interpretation) on Habakkuk", a War Scroll, the Rule of Community scroll, and several other famous scrolls.
"The first book of Isaiah you find matches almost exactly with the version in the Hebrew Bible. The second version you see of Isaiah matches more with a Greek version. It makes you wonder if two different versions of Isaiah were floating around the community.
"The Pesher on Habakkuk we believe is an interpretation of the Bible to explain current events, much like people were doing with Saddam Hussein," Carmody joked.
"The War Scroll is a fascinating scroll," Carmody continued. "It describes a world-ending battle. However, this battle pits Israelites and angels against Romans and demons. Its interesting because not only does it describe the battle, it even describes troop formations."
Carmody believed the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were a group known as the Essenes.
"The scroll called the Rule of Community paints that picture," Carmody said. "The ancient writer Josephus had written about the Essenes, and the obsession with initiation and with purity matches up almost perfectly. The scroll describes the life of the people. Most believe it was a community of celibate men. It was a very conservative group. They were very concerned with purity. There were lots of ritual baths. They all ate from separate plates (this was not common at the time) for fear of becoming impure. They couldn't even go to the bathroom on the Sabbath."
Carmody also noted that there were many similarities between early Christians and the Essenes, but even more dissimilarities between that group and Jesus Christ.
"Both put a lot of emphasis on water rituals, such as baptism," Carmody said. "They were both also very communal, in eating and in property. But Jesus would've been hated by them. He broke the Sabbath regularly, and that was something they wouldn't do. He was also all-inclusive, he ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers; and the Essenes wouldn't even eat with each other."
Carmody then closed the program by taking questions from the audience, which exceeded 100 people.
Rev. Sandra Mayer, Priest-in-Charge, Trinity Episcopal Church, was delighted with the evening.
"It took three months to plan this," Mayer said. "When we first learned about the exhibit, I contacted Professor Carmody about speaking here. He's my professor at Spring Hill College."
Mayer said the church had promoted the event to several denominations.
"We sent out flyers throughout Monroe, Baldwin, Escambia, and Conecuh counties," Mayer said. "All area churches were invited to come."
Mayer also said she had received tremendous positive feedback on Dr. Carmody's lecture.
"Everyone wants to know when he'll be coming back," Mayer said. "He will be back soon. He'll come some time around Fall of '05 or Winter of '06. He specializes in the Gospels and Paul. So that will probably be the focus of his next lecture.
"Everyone seemed to mention how engaging and entertaining he was," Mayer continued. "He's very sensitive to his audience. But the fact that he was asked to consult the Exploreum on how to promote and display the artifacts reflects on his credentials."
Mayer also wanted to hear from those who were present.
"It was just a wonderful evening," she said. "I encourage everyone to contact me and give me feedback on what they thought of the lecture."

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