The Dead Sea Scrolls have been invaluable in helping scholars understand the Bible. Yet for each question they answer, they raise many others, says Shalom Paul, professor emeritus in the Department of Bible at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Answers to each question “would comprise a lecture in and of itself,” said Paul, who on Nov. 15 will speak on the topic at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff.
Thanks to the scrolls – the first of which was found in 1947 and the last, “so far,” in 1956 – “a whole new Jewish literature came to light which sheds light on a period that was similar to a dark age in our history and our literature.”
“It opened up entirely new vistas on the understanding of Judaism and Christianity,” said Paul, the first speaker in the Wyckoff congregation’s second annual Food for Thought distinguished speaker series, sponsored by the Fred Emert Memorial Adult Education Fund.
A trustee of the Albright Institute of Archaeology and chair of the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation, the speaker received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary and received a doctorate in Oriental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
“We always knew that early Christianity was [affected] by Judaism, but we did not have the sources available to prove it,” said Paul, adding that the scrolls have been helpful in this regard.
In his talk, he will deal with such questions as: When were they discovered? How? How many were found? What languages were they written in? What materials are they written on? He will also address literary genres in the documents and “why there was such difficulty initially publishing them and how a drastic change took place after the 1967 war with the reunification of Jerusalem and the scrolls being totally within our hands.”
Paul said he will also explore different versions of the Bible and show that the scrolls represent “an intermediate stage in the development of the Bible.”
“Who are these people who produced these scrolls?” asked Paul. “Who are they, living at Kumran, by the Dead Sea, who produced these scrolls [and] composed a Judaism that heretofore was unknown to us? What was their social organization, the rules of their community?”
Paul described his most recent book, “A Study Guide to the Bible,” as a “popular book” on “how [the Bible] came to be, history, literary genres, poetry – everything you ever wanted to know about the Bible.” He said he agreed to the project because he realized that such a book was not available, with existing texts “either highly technical or else not written by competent scholars.” He will sign copies of his book at the Nov. 15 presentation.
Also scheduled to speak at the Wyckoff synagogue is Rabbi Michael Chernick, Deutsch Professor of Jewish Jurisprudence & Social Justice at Hebrew Union College (May 14) and Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News (May 2).
Sharon Weiss, chair of the shul’s adult education committee, explained that the idea of a three-part lecture series was developed to accommodate the congregation’s diverse membership.
The scholar-in-residence program “got a little challenging,” she said, noting that the shul chose to discontinue that approach last year. “We relooked at the model and decided to vary the offerings.”
Now, rather than commit to an entire weekend highlighting one speaker, congregants – and members of the public – can choose among different speakers, talking on different themes.
“We did a little survey of what would interest people and gathered some topics,” said Weiss, noting that Paul is a scholar while the other two speakers will address current events and issues specific to the Jewish community.
“We put a lot of thought into it,” she said, pointing out that the series is dubbed “‘distinguished speakers’ rather than ‘distinguished scholars’ to avoid intimidating anyone.” The series name, Food for Thought, was also consciously selected to indicate that the Sunday morning lectures will be preceded by breakfast.
“Our intention is to make this a time to come together socially as well as for Jewish learning,” she said. “The whole concept in reinventing and growing the model is for more people to be exposed to Jewish learning,” she added. “We’ve got about 460 family units including people from traditional Conservative to Reform and interfaith couples. What we’re trying to do is develop the educational component of synagogue life and be known as a center for lifelong learning.”
For additional information, call (201) 891-4466 or visit www.bethrishon.org.