Groundbreaking conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls hosted at UP

Posted on June 05, 2015

The Dead Sea Scrolls for the first time received exclusive attention at a South African conference when the Department of Old Testament Studies in UP’s Faculty of Theology hosted a Qumran Conference on 28 and 29 May 2015. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves near Qumran between 1947 and 1956. The discovery of these texts and others in the Judean desert have improved scholars’ understanding of early Judaism and early Christianity.

Renowned archaeologist William Albright said in 1948 that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the most important archaeological find in our time.  More than 800 manuscripts were recovered, of which about 25% were scriptural manuscripts.

Except for Esther and Nehemiah, at least one copy of each of the books of the traditional Hebrew canon was found among these manuscripts. The scrolls were found in the “holy land”, Israel itself, were written in the languages of “the Scripture” and are some of the oldest original manuscripts that still exist. They contributed significantly to the understanding of early Judaism, by giving information on the different sects that lived in Israel even in Jesus' time, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zadokites. The Dead Sea Scrolls adds a lot to sholars’ understanding of the gospels and also enhances the understanding of quotes in the New Testament, some of them previously inexplicable.

Twelve papers were delivered during the Qumran Conference and the reaction in South African academic circles was astonishing. Proff Jacobus Naude and Cynthia Miller-Naude of the University of the Free State outlined the linguistic elements that characterises the Hebrew of the scrolls, while Prof Pieter Venter, emeritus professor in Old Testament Studies at UP, covered the personified wisdom in Proverbs 8.

Dr Ananda Geyser-Fouché, lecturer in Old Testament Studies at UP, brought the “wicked” qualities of the Wicked Priest in conversation with the “wicked” qualities of the Wicked Woman, while Prof Johann Cook of Stellenbosch University and president of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament reflected on the text-critical and exegetical value of the Dead Sea Scrolls by referring to the major contribution that fragmentary texts can have. 

Prof Gert Steyn, Head of UP’s Department of New Testament Studies, discussed the commonalities between explicit quotations in Hebrews and the Dead Sea scrolls and attempted to explain it in the socio-historical contexts, while Prof Eben Scheffler of Unisa reflected on Qumran, the Jesus movement and the historical Jesus.

The Department of Old Testament Studies plans to schedule such a conference as an annual event on the calendar of the Faculty of Theology and to invite international Qumran scholars to future conferences.

View the conference's photo gallery.

- Author Petronel Fourie

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