Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Blending of Science and Religion

Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit, June 12 - July 5, 1965
Garrison Theater, Claremont Colleges, California

For 2,000 years a collection of nearly 900 ancient manuscripts, some in fragments lay concealed in the Qumran desert caves near the Dead Sea. It is believed that the Essenes had hidden the manuscripts in the caves, and they were not discovered until 1947.

Recently I read about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the controversy that appears to be going on over an exhibit in Toronto, Canada. And that brought to mind when I attended the Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit years ago that was held June 12 - July 5, 1965 at Garrison Theater at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California. The exhibition was arranged by the Smithsonian Institution in cooperation with the Jordanian government and the Palestine Archaeological Museum.

For many years I lived a few short miles from the Claremont School of Theology and the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions in Southern California. And there is located the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (ABMC), a non profit corporation whose purpose is to serve as an archive for accurate copies of original source material of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Their mission is preservation and research while seeking to foster greater accuracy in textual work on the Bible.

The ABMC holds the world’s most extensive collection of Dead Sea Scroll images and they distribute both digital and photographic images of the Dead Sea Scrolls in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

While reading about their program I was interested to see that in 1994, ABMC collaborated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena, California, a few miles from Claremont, to use state of the art digital image technology to elucidate previously illegible text on the ancient and deteriorating Dead Sea Scrolls.

NASA’s Dr. Gregory Bearman used multi-spectral digital imaging to identify the region within the spectrum of light in which text could or would be legible.

Apparently, in visible light both the ink and the blackened animal hide reflected equal amounts of light and therefore there was no contrast and the text was invisible. Dr. Bearman discovered the text would become visible at 900 nanometers into the infrared as a contrast occurred between the ink and animal hide.

In a 1993 press release Dr. Bearman stated in regards to the use of a solid-state sensor and computer image-processing in examining the fragments from the 2,000 year old manuscripts, "This approach allows us to see details that are invisible using traditional photography on film. Archeology is just beginning to learn about digital imaging technology, and it should prove to be a very powerful tool."

According to the ABMC website, “In its climate-controlled vault, the ABMC preserves one of the world’s largest photographic archives of manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament, or Tanakh) and the New Testament Scholars and students worldwide consult our collections, which can be used either on-site or by Interlibrary Loan. The ABMC also curates the films of the International Greek New Testament Project (IGNTP), distributing them to assigned collators in North America and Europe.”

They also house the John C. Trevor Collection. Dr. John C. Trevor was the first photographer of the Dead Sea Scrolls in February and March, 1948 . His photographs are still considered the best photographs of the Scrolls. In 1981, Dr. Trever gifted his extensive collection to the Claremont School of Theology, which in turn placed them in the ABMC’s custodial care.

When I saw the exhibit I do remember feeling awe in seeing the manuscripts and realizing these scrolls had been hidden away for safety, no doubt, for centuries and may have contained historical facts, opinions, and wisdom.

While science and religion have most often been in opposition, in this case, they married, and that marriage is very good for humanity, for we may have learned something we did not know before as the hidden text came into the “light.”

It would be a few years later before I encountered other things even older, about twice as old. In fact, the oldest living things on earth. And that was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains of eastern California. Some of those pines, with their gnarled and twisted branches and trunks, have for more than 4,600 years, fought the harshest of weather conditions to maintain life.

I wrote an article about the Ancient Bristlecone on my website if you'd like to learn more. And my poem about the ancient trees:


O ancient Tree so gnarled and bold,
How strong you stand, how long you hold,
'gainst bitter winds across your face–
All perils that contest your place–
So much of life that you have seen,
So much of strife where man has been,
From tools of stone to fossiled bones,
You've seen the flames, you've heard the groans;
The Patriarchs have come and gone,
While you, O Tree, have struggled on.
To understand Eternity,
I need but talk with thee, O Tree.

–Linda Pendleton

© Copyright by Linda Pendleton, All Rights Reserved



Mark said...

I love how all have come together to preserve and understand the Dead Sea scrolls. Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Interesting about the science and how they can now read more of the text. Science and relogion came together with the shroud of Turin, although I read somewhere that because the Vatican only allowed a piece to be taken near the edge it may have skewed the results. Apparently the edges are where people have held the shroud over the years and so likely to be contaminated. So the debate rages on!
I love bristlecone pines – they are so beautiful in their gnarled and twisted shapes. One thing you might want to investigate are the yew trees of Britain. There is some controversy over their age because they hollow out as they get old, but some experts say there are specimens that may be as much as 4000 years old or more.

Ricky Kendall said...

What a beautiful poem, Linda. I could almost see the tree, yet I don't think I've ever really saw one. You're good. Loved it.

Linda Pendleton said...

Science and religion can work alongside each other when they allow it, huh?

Stoneweaver, it is amazing when something like these trees can grow for all the centuries.

Ricky, thank you--glad you liked the poem and "felt" the trees.