Missing goat led to discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls, anthropologist tells Steamboat audience
March 28, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Calling it arguably the most important archaeological find ever, anthropologist Stephen E. Nash was in Steamboat Springs Tuesday night to talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Pairing a Steamboat vacation with public outreach, Nash, the museum’s senior archaeology curator, stirred the crowd's curiosity about the one-of-a-kind exhibit that can only been seen in Denver until September.
"It's dramatically presented,” Nash said. “We tried to create a communal experience."
Curiously, Nash started his presentation with the image of a goat. After all, it was a missing goat that prompted herders in 1947 to throw a stone into a cave, hoping to hear it bleating. Instead, a peculiar crash led the shepherds to a broken antiquated jar and a cave full of pieces of ancient manuscripts.
And as they say … the rest is history.
The exhibit is organized to actually lead visitors on a 3,000-year-old journey from the time the scrolls were found to how they came about.
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"We’re trying to establish a historical timeline for you before going in to see the actual scrolls," Nash said.
The goat is just one of many fascinating insights into the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is the oldest version of the Hebrew Bible or the old Testament as Christians call it.
The Scrolls — actually fragments of manuscripts mostly torn and reconstructed over decades by scientists — were written between 300 and 100 BCE.
"That is actually 900 years older than previous known copies of the Hebrew Bible," Nash told the packed room at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
Audience members asked if the Dead Sea Scrolls writings were similar to other versions of the Hebrew Bible, and Nash explained it was virtually the same.
"What happened in the scrolls, happened about 600 years earlier," Nash said, explaining that oral traditions and beliefs were actually one of the most reliable ways that civilizations preserve history before writing became more common.
Nash advised visitors to buy tickets for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit before planning a trip since the exhibit is even more popular than they expected and is always sold out.
The exhibit is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to limit the amount of light shone on the antique documents. The museum will have 10 pieces of the scrolls laid out in a special case, with the actual writings re-printed in its original language along with an English interpretation of the writings.
They'll change out the documents for other documents in June. Each time, there will be one piece of the Scrolls that has never been seen by the public.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written 85 percent in Archaic Hebrew, 13 percent in Aramaic (the locals' language at the time) and 2 percent in Ancient Greek.
Nash said all books of the Hebrew Bible were found at the site of Qumran about 20 miles due east of Jerusalem, except for one – the Book of Esther. Other non-bible writings were also found.
It's believed a mostly male, strict Jewish sect called the Essenes were responsible for writing and preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls. Speculation about the missing Book of Esther includes it being destroyed; being excluded because God wasn't mentioned in the book; or the fact it was a female hero, among other theories.
While the Denver Museum has touted the exhibit as an archaeology, history and religious exhibit, there's no doubt the Dead Sea Scrolls profoundly impact half the world's population.
"I'm not religious. I may be spiritual at times, but if it moved me — and you're religious — it's going to move you," Nash told the audience.
The exhibit will also include the largest collection of artifacts from the Holy Land outside of Israel, including terracotta figures, weapons and religious items.
The Steamboat presentation was sponsored by Har Mishpacha, The Jewish Congregation of Steamboat Springs, Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
To get tickets for the exhibit, visit dmns.org.