Having had "the honor of opening up all of the Dead Sea Scroll exhibitions throughout the United States, each time with a different introductory lecture," said Paul, professor of Bible emeritus at the Jerusalem university and chairperson of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, "there are several things that are very unique about this exhibition."
"First of all, this is the first time ever that there is an exhibition taking place at a seminary.
"All of the others throughout the United States, from coast to coast, have been in museums. And I think that is really a feather in your cap. ... That is very, very special.
"Also, you will be surprised to hear that there are scrolls here that have never been exhibited before, that have never left the safe-deposit boxes before," Paul said. "And that is something very unique, that you can be aptly proud of -- that you can display to the community things that are unique."
During his lecture, Paul recounted why the Dead Sea Scrolls have value for understanding the Bible, early Judaism and the birth of Christianity.
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, he said, the oldest copy of the Hebrew Old Testament available to scholars was transcribed 1,000 years after the birth of Christ. After having been copied and recopied by hand for more than a millennium, could this copy of Scripture have preserved the text as originally written?
"Then came the Dead Sea Scrolls, which now gives us manuscripts which are 1,000 years earlier ," Paul said. "And the amazing thing is that, when you look at the gigantic 22-foot Isaiah Scroll, it is very close to what we have today."
The Dead Sea Scrolls also give scholars insight into the diverse forms of Judaism that existed at the time that Christ walked the earth, Paul noted. These forms of Judaism provided the "matrix" in which early Christianity developed. The group from Qumran that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls also shared some beliefs with early Christians, although these two groups differed in significant ways. For example, the Qumran group looked forward to the coming of a messiah -- actually, two messiahs -- and they believed in an imminent apocalypse.
Paul's July 10 lecture opened the Joan and Andy Horner Lecture Series, underwritten by Premier Designs and scheduled every Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the exhibition in Southwestern's MacGorman Performing Arts Center.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony, July 2, marked the beginning of the exhibition, which runs through Jan. 13, 2013. Representatives from the state of Israel, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Texas Senate and the city of Fort Worth were in attendance.
Guy Cohen, cultural attaché to the Consulate General of Israel, shared a word of greeting on behalf of the state of Israel.
"I want to thank Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hebrew University in Jerusalem for making this piece of life possible to travel from the Dead Sea in Israel to being seen here in Fort Worth, Texas, so far from where it was found," Cohen said.
"Discovering and learning about our history is the most significant step toward understanding our present and building toward our future," Cohen said. "We all know this and yet would rather deal with the present and plan for the future without acknowledging that the source to our present and our future is based upon the past, and the deeper we dig, the more significant the findings are."
Kristi Wiseman, a representative from state Sen. Wendy Davis' office, read a Texas Senate proclamation celebrating the occasion. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price also voiced a welcome to those gathered and expressed her appreciation for all the work put into bringing the exhibition to Fort Worth, especially the efforts of seminary president Paige Patterson and his wife Dorothy.
Patterson shared the significance of the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls over the years, saying, "By careful operation, these scrolls have been preserved."
"Why are they important? Why would they bring together the Christian and Jewish communities? They bring us all together because they represent the Word of the Lord, preserved now miraculously for more than 2,000 years so that we can know that what was written initially is essentially, exactly what we have today in your Bible -- the Word of God for God's people wherever they may be."
The exhibition includes a simulated archaeology dig site, which is a scaled replica of the ancient site of Qumran near the Dead Sea where the scrolls were found. The Smithsonian Institution donated 20,000 pounds of potsherds, which can be taken home by children who unearth them as they dig.
To learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition and the corresponding archaeology dig site and lecture series, visit seethescrolls.com
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews). Benjamin Hawkins is the seminary's senior newswriter.
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