Two leading scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls — one Christian, the other Jewish — will spend four days in the Caldwell area discussing the scrolls at three churches and a synagogue.
“People love the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are an opening to discussing a lot of interesting issues of Judaism and Christianity as well,” said Lawrence Schiffman, vice-provost of undergraduate education and professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University.
The millennia-old biblical and sectarian texts shed light on the “relationship of early Judaism in Second Temple times to the later development of Christianity and the early relations between Jews and Christians,” said Schiffman. “The scrolls are related very deeply to the development of Christianity.
“Christianity being related to Judaism is also a major factor in the improved relations between Jews and Christians today.”
Schiffman will begin the lecture series at Notre Dame Catholic Church in North Caldwell on Thursday, Feb. 14.
A day later, James VanderKam, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame, will speak at the First Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, and again Feb. 16 at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Essex Fells.
The program will conclude with a joint appearance of the two scholars at Congregation Agudath Israel Feb. 17.
The two men are coeditors of the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of many volumes of the “Discoveries in the Judean Desert” series, the official Oxford University Press publication.
The scrolls date as far back as 408 BCE. The parchment, papyrus, and bronze manuscripts were unearthed in the late 1940s by Bedouins from a cave near Qumran — about a mile from the Dead Sea, in the Judean desert. The scrolls include some of the oldest copies of parts of the Bible, as well as a portrait of Judaism in Jesus’ time.
“The scrolls give us our earliest copies of books in the Bible, and they tell us a lot about Judaism at that time,” said VanderKam. “They describe different groups in the society at that time and what their specific teachings were, and how they were productive in both Judaism and Christianity.”
Schiffman, who has been a friend of his Christian colleague for some 40 years, said the partnership sponsoring the program is indicative of a larger positive movement. “The fact that the churches and the synagogue will spend this time studying and being together,” he said, “is a sign of the relationship that exists in this country and sometimes elsewhere between Jews and Christians.”
Phil Kruger, a member of Agudath Israel, organized the program and will moderate the discussion between VanderKam and Schiffman.
“This program is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” said Kruger, who has led other interfaith dialogues and programs at the Conservative synagogue. “Bringing these two professors together is a dream come true.”
Kruger said it is important for both Jews and Christians to learn more about the scrolls and the history they represent.
“Unless you study this period in some depth, you are not getting a full picture of how Judaism and Christianity emerged and how we got from there to here,” he said.