The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit proved to be very thought-provoking for me in ways that I did not expect. I thought that it would be cool to see them firsthand, of course, but what really struck me was the portrait painted by the artifacts that also comprised the exhibit. In addition to some of the scroll fragments, the exhibit showed pottery, coins, household objects, and even a bathtub thought to be used for sacred bathing rituals. These things made everything so much more real than if I had only viewed the scrolls. One of the most moving parts for me was touching the stone building block in the exhibit that actually came from the Second Temple. Next to it they had a live-feed from a camera at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It was dark outside and lights shone on the crowds of people walking past it. I’m not sure what time it was, but it struck me that so many people were still there, even in the darkness, on their knees praying or slipping bits of paper in between the stones.
I had never truly thought about how far the books of the Bible reached. Most of my adult life, I thought of the ancient texts as things that got passed around by storytelling or word of mouth, getting written down every once in a while, and often incorrectly, like an old game of telephone. But seeing and reading some of the scrolls made me realize that even then, those texts got around in written form. It proved to me how important the scriptures were to those people.
The ride home involved interesting discussion, one in particular about events in our lives affecting our view of God, and whether we change our idea of God as a direct result of maturing and coming to deeper understanding or out of a need for God to survive in our thoughts. The example discussed at length involved the Jewish people and their exile from their homeland, and how that changed and affected their view of God. My whole life, I never pictured God as a physical presence on Earth, just like a rock or a tree. But for that culture, God lived in that temple. He literally dwelled there, and it took seeing that huge stone from the wall of the Second Temple to realize how agonizing it must have been to have God’s literal home destroyed and to be carted away from that literal place where God dwelled. Imagine how devastating to be literally and forcefully separated from God! And because of this experience, their view of God changed. The discussion mainly begged the question of whether our view of God mainly changes shape over time due to our developed knowledge and wisdom or if it changes because it has to change when catastrophic or life-altering events happen in our lives in order to sustain our belief. Which is it? Or do we have to choose? Perhaps it is both.
The question can be endlessly discussed. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to gather in that place with those people and generate such questions and thoughts, and to be able to see and interact with those Old-world objects, especially that Second Temple stone. While I placed my hand on it, I could not help but wonder how many people have touched that stone through the course of its existence, and how that connected me with all of those people, all the way back to the person who carved the stone. Who knows? Maybe even Jesus at one point touched that stone, and so did I, and so did the people who built the Second Temple, and so did all of those people I fellowshipped with in that van going to and from Cincinnati.