Scroll 4Q41 - The Ten Commandments Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls Collection
The ancient scrolls had arrived at the science center under armed guards. On loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the scrolls dated back to the time when Jesus walked among us and included the most important archaeological discovery in history, the oldest existing copy of the Ten Commandments.
For a long time I stood gazing at the scrap of papyrus, yellowed and crinkled, some of the words not even legible, and I was transported back two thousand years and half a world away, to the wind-swept caves high up in the cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea, where scribes worked silently, the quiet broken only by the scratching of the styluses on the papyrus as they meticulously copied the ancient words that had been handed down from the time of Moses. And now the precious surviving bits and fragments of their work had made the long journey from Israel to the Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, Alabama to be displayed in an exhibit that would be viewed by over a quarter million visitors.
Judaean Desert near Ein Feshkha
Northern shore of the Dead Sea
Scrolls date from last three centuries BCE
and first century CE
Discovered in 1946-47/1956
Just before the doors opened, I hurried off to the center’s new virtual reality theater where I was thrilled and honored to be able to share the fruits of my many years of study conducting tours of 1st Century Jerusalem and the Herodian Temple Mount.
Through the efforts of the foremost archaeological architect Leen Ritmeyer and the team at CalTech University, visitors to the theater would experience a guided tour of the streets and markets and public buildings of Jerusalem, and see and experience the places where Jesus once walked, the scenes of so many events recorded in the Gospels.
And after exploring the city I led the audience up those monumental stairs to the top of the Temple Mount, to step from beneath the towering, shaded porches out onto the broad, sun-lit courts, to mingle with pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. And through modern technology we were able to do what would never have been possible in the past … to enter the gates beyond which no foreigner was allowed to pass on pain of death, and with bated breath step into the Holy Courts of the Sanctuary, to see firsthand it’s walls and porches and gates and hallowed courts and buildings.
And finally to climb those fifteen steps to the upper court of Israel and to gaze with reluctant curiosity at the innermost courts where priests were busily engaged in the slaughter and sacrifices offered up each and every day, white robed and blood spattered, ascending and descending the towering altar to place the offerings on the fire, the smoke rising into the blue skies.
And finally our gazes were drawn to the Sanctuary, soaring above all the courts and buildings high above the city, gleaming white like a snow-capped mountain, as Josephus described it, the golden grapevine entwined over the gates and the gold-tipped turrets sparkling and striking fire in the morning sun.
It is with humble and grateful heart that I now share my life’s work with a broader audience through an upcoming series of novels, study guides, and Sunday School curricula dedicated to a deeper and richer understanding of the “faith once delivered,” and that long-ago world as it existed during The Life and Times of Jesus.
A Personal Note
I have always loved books. Especially old books. Dusty, cracked leather bindings that groan when you open them, yellowed pages filled with words written by people from ages past, whose bodies long ago returned to the dust but whose voices still echo down the centuries through the words that fill the pages.
The entire theater always fell silent as we scanned the facade of the Sanctuary, the massive gates that opened into that holy place beyond which even our virtual program dared not enter as each and every one of us contemplated that once, many years ago now, the God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus, once dwelled beyond the heavy veil in mysterious gloom and glory.
The Herodian Sanctuary
and inner courts
So it was only natural when I became a Christian early in my life to dive headlong into the records of the ancient manuscripts and original documents of the world where the Master lived and walked and taught. To study first-hand the testimony his followers left, those who saw him, heard him teach, knew him, and loved him. And to reach out even further, to all those who lived in those days and were witnesses to those times and have so much to share with us about that world, a world that now lies buried deep beneath the rubble of war and desolation, a land swept clean by the unforgiving winds of time.
When I’m not immersed in that world of long ago, I live a quiet but full life with my children, grandchildren, and large extended southern family in a modest home I have filled with books and flowers and things that make me happy. In addition to my passion for studying New Testament history and archaeology, I am an avid gardener on a two-acre spot of earth God has given into my keeping, and I love the birdsong and flowers that fill my gardens and my days. I look forward to sharing occasional glimpses into my life through my blogs and postings and hope that through them, more than writer and reader, we might become friends.
On a final personal note, I would like to say that my greatest hope and sincerest prayer is that in sharing the fruit of all my years of study, those of you who read my humble offerings will find your faith edified, in the one who is the subject of these stories and studies, but also in the historical accuracy of the Scriptures themselves, and in Christendom’s historical observances of those most precious times and seasons of the life of Jesus, our Maker, our Master, the Messiah.