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The Dead Sea Scrolls

Stephen Pfann, a member of the International Team of Editors for the Dead Sea Scrolls* and the founder of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity, visited with managing editor Ken Horn in Jerusalem.

Evangel: You attended Bethany College of the Assemblies of God. What brought that about?

Pfann: I felt clear direction from God to go to Bethany College [in Scotts Valley, Calif.]. It was just the right springboard for me in terms of academics and the spiritual demeanor of the college.

After graduation I went to Israel and worked on my doctorate at Hebrew University. I felt we were to build a school here where people could study the background of their Christian faith. A lot of the Semitic/biblical culture is still alive here, so we can actually get a clear picture of what it was like in biblical times.

Evangel: You are one of the editors working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tell us about the scrolls.

Pfann: About 60 scholars have different amounts of text assigned to them. I have 11 or 12 scrolls to publish.

I came in 1982, and in 1983 I was in the scroll room examining the text of Daniel that hadn’t been published. Since then I have started working on other manuscripts. I became assistant to the editor in chief in terms of cataloging some of the photographs and created a database on the scrolls.

Some manuscripts were written in scripts which neither of us could recognize. The editor in chief assigned these. A scholar who had worked in ancient scripts looked at them and said he couldn’t do anything with them.

I knew another scholar had already worked on them to some extent and had made transcriptions of one of the three scripts known as Cryptic scripts. Manuscripts are written in three different scripts. He said I should be the one to publish them. So I did. The language is Hebrew, but there is a substitute alphabet using symbols no one had ever seen. These were the private library of the head of the Essenes.

Evangel: You recently made an exciting find.

Pfann: I was walking on property where we had talked about making a visitors center and a village, similar to the time of Jesus, when I noticed this terracing. I started picking up Roman potsherds. I found a winepress and a double winepress down below.

Within the year this was going to be built over. Now we are excavating a farm in Nazareth that was contemporary with Jesus — less than half a kilometer from the traditional home where He lived. It is a complete farm. This is a farm that helped provide Jesus with the images He had in His parables. This is where He spent most of His life; these were His surroundings — 12 acres of virgin farmland that haven’t been touched by modern man.

We are going to gain so much in the Galilee area — the place of Jesus’ childhood and the beginnings of His ministry.

Evangel: Tell us about the Center for the Study of Early Christianity in Jerusalem that you founded.

Pfann: The center’s goal is to illuminate the New Testament, particularly the life of Jesus. We have short-term programs for those interested in study tours in the land and also a forum for scholars. We now have an archaeological department in our institution and are directing our first dig in Nazareth.

Evangel: Should people be concerned about coming to Jerusalem or the Holy Land?

Pfann: In general, no. The San Francisco Bay area is approximately the same population as Israel and is far more dangerous. I would say a person is risking his skin more wherever he is in the United States than he is coming here.

Evangel: Anything else?

Pfann: It is exciting to realize how much there is still to be excavated that will tell us about the life of Jesus and the Early Church.

*Editor’s note: The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in caves in Israel at Qumran near the Dead Sea. They contain manuscripts of the Old Testament much older than any discovered before that time and are considered by many the greatest archaeological find of the last century. The Essenes, the Jewish sect at Qumran, were the source of the scrolls.

 

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