This week, we thought we’d share with you some questions we asked Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, a curatorial advisor to the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at Discovery Times Square. Dr. Schiffman, a noted Dead Sea Scroll scholar, was a longtime professor of Hebraic and Judaic studies at New York University and is now vice provost of Yeshiva University. Here, Dr. Schiffman talks about how he first got interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the most surprising thing he’s learned about them. And stay tuned for next week, when Dr. Schiffman shares his favorite scroll with us, as well as the scroll creator he’d most like to travel back in time and talk to!
When did you first become interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls?
I began working on the Dead Sea Scrolls when I wrote my senior honors paper at Brandeis University in 1970. Then, when I was looking for a topic for my doctoral dissertation that would combine my fields of interest in Bible and rabbinic literature, I realized that the Dead Sea Scrolls were a perfect area of research for me. Of course, at that time only about one-quarter of the material was available, but there was still a lot of work to do.
Over your decades of study, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls?
For me the most surprising thing was to realize that there was an entire library of texts that somehow didn’t enter the mainstream of Jewish literature and thought throughout the ages but that had been part of Jewish culture in Second Temple times, and which did in fact have important influences on Judaism and Christianity. It was amazing to learn how much could be learned from these texts about the history of Judaism and background of Christianity.
What do you think is the most important question that today’s Dead Sea Scrolls scholars need to answer?
I think we face the challenge of synthesizing what we are learning from the Dead Sea Scrolls with the related fields of study of Hebrew Bible, New Testament and the history of Judaism. The problem that we really face is that we have a small cadre of scrolls experts who have finally brought the material to the light of day and have achieved an amazing amount in creating the necessary research tools for wide dissemination of this new knowledge. We just have to make sure that this knowledge gets to the audience that needs it and can contribute most to its wider understanding. That’s why it’s so gratifying to see so many people coming to the exhibit and learning about the Dead Sea Scrolls.