Expert to discuss Dead Sea Scrolls and period importance

A world-renowned expert on the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be on campus today to discuss the significance of the period in which the scrolls were written and the site in which they were discovered, a Brite Divinity School official said.

Jodi Magness, an endowed biblical archaeology professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will give a presentation about the importance of the scrolls, a set of Old Testament manuscripts, and Qumran, their place of origin, said Nancy Ramsay, dean of the Brite Divinity School.

According to the UNC religious studies Web site, Magness is best known for her work on early Judaism. She has written six books on Jewish history and its archaeological background, including her most recent book, “The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” which won the 2003 Biblical Archaeology Society’s Award for Best Popular Book in Archaeology, according to the site. In 2008, she was given an award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the Archaeological Institute of America and is currently working on her seventh book, “The Archaeology of the Holy Land (586 B.C.E. – 640 A.D.)”

Ramsay said students, faculty and members of the Fort Worth Jewish community have been invited to the event. She said she hopes they are able to gain a greater understanding of the scrolls and their history.

“This event will be valuable for anyone interested in the religious heritage of Judaism and Christianity because the Dead Sea Scrolls contain fragments of Jewish scriptures that Christians sometimes call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible,” she said.

Ramsay said the scrolls are important for the spiritual and religious customs of Jews 200 years before and 100 years after the beginning of the Common Era.

According to a news release from Brite Divinity School , the remains of more than 900 scrolls were found in 11 caves near Qumran between 1946 and 1947.

Magness’ presentation will contribute additional information for the faculty in Brite’s Period of Early Judaism program, for which Brite is currently seeking another faculty member, Ramsay said.

Scott Langston, a religion professor who teaches biblical archaeology at the university, wrote in an e-mail that Magness is an important figure in Near Eastern archaeology. He said those attending the event should leave with a greater knowledge of ancient history as it relates to Judaism.

“Hearing Dr. Magness will be a great opportunity to learn more about Jewish life and thinking in the late Hellenistic/early Roman periods,” Langston said.

Before the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946, the oldest manuscripts were from the medieval period, Langston said. The scrolls contain some of the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament, which sheds light on how the Old Testament books developed, he said.

Harrison Smith, a senior economics major who is in Langston’s biblical archaeology class, said he will attend the event. He said he has learned mostly about the Greek and Roman periods, so he is looking forward to learning more about early Jewish history.

“I’m going in with an open mind,” he said. “I’m hoping to hear some good, concrete evidence.”

He said he hopes the presentation will provide him with information to help in his class work.

“I’m always looking for new opportunities to diversify the papers I have to write,” he said. “This will be a good way to make some connection and see some later dates.”

Scheduling conflicts prevented Magness from commenting on the presentation.

Ramsay said the Brite Divinity School is glad to have Magness come and speak.

“Dr. Magness is not only recognized internationally for her expertise in the Dead Sea Scrolls, she also is an exceptionally good communicator,” Ramsay said.

The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls with Jodi Magness

When: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Kelly Alumni Center