Dead Sea Scrolls Inspire Interfaith Event
Contributed By By Jan Hemming, Church public affairs
- Dr. Donald Parry gave a presentation about his two decades of work as a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls translation team.
- Both the Church and the American Jewish Community are eager to maintain the good relations they have built with each other.
Influential leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community gathered with stake and regional authorities of the Church to hear a world-renowned Dead Sea Scrolls expert, author and BYU professor Dr. Donald Parry, at a special evening presentation at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center on June 8.
Declaring that relationships with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a priority with the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi Mark Diamond, regional director of AJC Los Angeles, gave opening remarks along with Elder Jerryl L. Garns, an Area Seventy.
In his greeting, Elder Garns welcomed the interfaith audience as “brothers and sisters,” saying, “All of us are sons and daughters of the same God in heaven.” Elder Garns also emphasized the importance of building stronger relationships within the faith-based community in a world where “faith and religion are being pushed out of our public conversation. We need each other to help make religion and faith more relevant in our communities and nation.”
During an engaging 45-minute pictorial presentation and talk, Dr. Parry shared many personal stories and insights from two decades of work as a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls translation team. One involved an explanation about why the book of Esther was not found among the 900 Dead Sea Scroll fragments. Dr. Parry said the most likely answer was that it did not survive the 2,000-year period after the scrolls were placed in caves near Qumran.
Also noteworthy was the discovery in a synagogue at the Masada fortress of a text that matched the same handwriting as one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr. Parry concluded that before Roman soldiers destroyed Qumran, it appears one or more of the individuals who lived at Qumran fled to Masada with some of the sacred writings.
Dr. Parry first became attracted to Hebrew and the Dead Sea Scrolls upon learning that the Prophet Joseph Smith understood the importance of the Hebrew Bible. The compulsion to study and understand the Hebrew Bible—because of its pure linguistic value—led Joseph to hire a rabbi to teach him and his peers the Old Testament in its original language.
Computer analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed that the contextual word “LORD” appears more frequently than any other content word in the scrolls—“more than house, Israel, king, law, commandment, etc., ” underscoring the core beliefs and everyday focus of the Qumran sect, according to Dr. Parry.
Sanaz Meshkinfam, assistant director for AJC Los Angeles’s interreligious and intergroup relations, said, “I received multiple calls and emails from AJC leaders about your warm hospitality, the substance of the program, and Professor Parry’s flawless delivery of the subject. I could not have asked for better partners to work with and look forward to many more shared collaborations.”
Daniel Inlender, AJC Los Angeles vice president, said, “Professor Parry is clearly an expert, and his presentation was substantive and engaging. The sense of friendship and fellowship last night was inspiring and moving. [The] gathering is further testament to the wonderful bond and warm friendship that our communities share. To see members of both faith groups engage and embrace one another with such ease and with open arms is truly remarkable.” About 150 attended the presentation, including Dillon Hosier, personal aide to the Israeli consul general, and Gary Wilde, director of the Southern California Public Affairs Council.
The idea for the unique event originated in August 2013, when five of the top leaders of the AJC Los Angeles accepted an invitation from Matt Ball of the Church’s Public Affairs Office in Los Angeles to meet with members of the Quorum of the Twelve in Salt Lake City. Included in the three-day visit were tours of Temple Square, the Bishops’ Central Storehouse, Welfare Square, Brigham Young University, and BYU Law School and a visit with the Tabernacle Choir. Rabbi Diamond recalled that the visit “was an incredible experience and a highlight of my interreligious work.” Ron Smith, the director of the Jewish Affairs Committee for the Southern California Public Affairs Council, and his colleague, Dennis Williams, also hosted the Jewish leaders in Salt Lake.
Because of the good feelings generated by the visit to Church headquarters, both groups were eager to continue the relationship. As discussions ensued, it was decided to plan an evening centered on the Dead Sea Scrolls.