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Seminary’s Dead Sea fragments go hi-tech

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a convergence of ancient Scripture with the latest in photographic technology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary worked with the West Semitic Research Project this fall to prepare for the study and publication of its Dead Sea Scrolls collection and other artifacts.

A workshop hosted by the seminary’s Tandy Institute for Archaeology featured a team from the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California that specializes in producing high-definition images of ancient texts and artifacts. The scholars made images of Southwestern’s collection of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments as well as some artifacts from the seminary’s Carlson Cuneiform Collection.

“The West Semitic Research Project is one of the best for the digital imaging of ancient manuscripts, particularly Dead Sea Scrolls fragments,” said Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern and director of the Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum.

“Naturally, as the Tandy Institute for Archaeology prepares for the scholarly publication of Southwestern Seminary’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments, we are starting the process by first digitally documenting these rare and valuable texts,” Ortiz said.

In January, the seminary announced its acquisition of three Dead Sea Scrolls fragments and an ancient pen discovered with the scrolls. This collection, containing biblical passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Daniel, makes Southwestern one of only a handful of institutions of higher education in the United States to own Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. Gary Loveless, founder and CEO of Square Mile Energy in Houston, provided the lead gift for the purchase of the scrolls. Three more fragments were added this fall through a gift by an anonymous donor.

Bruce Zuckerman, director of the West Semitic Research Project and associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Southern California, said Ortiz and others at Southwestern “have been a model of cooperation with us.”

In a lecture on recent imaging technology during the Sept. 24-25 sessions at the Texas seminary, Zuckerman explained the multiple benefits of specialized imaging technology for the study of ancient texts. Infrared photography, for example, can reveal writing on a scroll that had otherwise disappeared because of its age.

In the past, scholars primarily could examine ancient texts only with the naked eye. As a result, damaged or faded texts provided little information about the past. With the latest technology, however, scholars can re-analyze the research of the past.

“For those people who are your age and who are interested in getting into the field of ancient studies, there is no better time than now,” Zuckerman told Southwestern students. “One of my colleagues said to me, ‘You know what this means? It means we have to do everything over.’

“Wouldn’t it be fun to remake a field of study, especially a field of study relevant to the Bible, and be the ones to dictate how the games are going to be played in the future?”

Ortiz noted that the interactive nature of the archaeology workshop allowed students “to learn the cutting-edge technology and methodology for the research of artifacts and manuscripts.”

“It is just amazing to see what capabilities there are at the present,” said Adam Dodd, a student in the master of theology program and vice president of the seminary’s student archaeological society. Dodd said he benefitted from the workshop not only in observing the team from the West Semitic Research Project, but also because the team produced an image that will help with his master’s thesis.

For his thesis, Dodd is analyzing a medieval manuscript that contains a portion of the Hebrew text from the Book of Genesis. The manuscript, however, is stained, and the Hebrew text is overlaid by a later Coptic text. Dodd said the new images of the manuscript will help him examine the text more closely and come to more accurate and confident conclusions.

While the manuscript will not change the field of biblical scholarship, Dodd said, “[I]t is perfect for someone who wants to learn the practice and refine their skills in evaluating different aspects of manuscripts. It is perfect for a young student to cut his teeth on.”
Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).

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