President Uchtdorf: Viewing Dead Sea Scrolls “a Rare Privilege”

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 28 February 2014

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, left, and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf are hosted at the exhibit by Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls at BYU, right, and his wife, Camille.  Photo courtesy of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Article Highlights

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls are on display at The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City until April 27.
  • The scrolls have never been on public display outside of Israel before.
  • The scrolls represent an ancient library of 900 religious texts, 200 of which are books from the Old Testament.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit gives excellent cultural and historic insights regarding Israel and its people in a concise and well-presented way.” —President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency

Among the hundreds of visitors who have viewed the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls currently on display in Salt Lake City are President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf.

The Uchtdorfs saw the famous archaeological texts on February 20 at The Leonardo, a museum of science, technology, and art in downtown Salt Lake City. The traveling exhibition has been on display since November 22 and closes on April 27.

“I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the exhibition,” President Uchtdorf commented. “Even though I have visited Israel a number of times and have been to the Shrine of the Book there, the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit gives excellent cultural and historic insights regarding Israel and its people in a concise and well-presented way.”

He added, “As we had the privilege to be guided through the exhibit by a BYU scholar, we learned more of the history behind many scriptural references associated with the Book of Mormon.” President Uchtdorf said, “It was very exciting, educational, and inspiring to see this extraordinary collection. It was also very interesting to see the connection to Utah as presented at the very beginning of the exhibit. The involvement of BYU shows a wonderful connection to the Church.”

He noted that it is the largest exhibition of scrolls and artifacts ever to leave Jerusalem and that the scrolls have never been on public display outside of Israel before.

“The Leonardo is one of just six museums in the United States permitted to display this beautiful collection,” he observed, “with Salt Lake being the most western location. I hope many will take advantage of the opportunity to feel the spirit of these precious ancient documents. Sister Uchtdorf and I are glad we didn’t miss such a rare privilege to view the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.”

He said, “The exhibition offers a self-guided tour with headphones and is presented in a very understandable way for visitors. Our 13-year-old grandson really enjoyed the exhibition.”

Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls at Brigham Young University, accompanied the Uchtdorfs on their tour of the exhibit and shared with them his knowledge and expertise on the scrolls.

In emails to the Church News, he said the scrolls “are astounding and spectacular discoveries.”

“According to many scholars the scrolls represent the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century,” he said.

“The chief difference between the scrolls and other archaeological discoveries, however, is that the scrolls consist of texts rather than monuments or nontextual artifacts. The scrolls comprise an ancient library of more than 900 religious texts discovered between the years 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea; hence the collection is named the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, left, and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf stand at the entrance to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at The Leonardo with Deborah Peterson, vice president of development, and Alexandra Hesse, executive director of the museum. Photo courtesy of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

About 200 of the scrolls are books from the Old Testament—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Samuel, and Isaiah—and the remainder are nonbiblical religious texts.

About 90 percent are in Hebrew, and some are in Aramaic, a language resembling and closely related to Hebrew, Dr. Parry said.

Scholars have dated most of the scrolls from 150 B.C. to A.D. 68.

“The Dead Sea Scrolls build bridges of good will,” Dr. Parry emphasized. “Since their initial discovery in 1947, scholars and popular audiences from various organizations, groups, and religious communities have gathered together to benefit from these remarkable texts.”

He cited a number of reasons why the scrolls are significant, including the fact that they were discovered in the Holy Land, where Jesus and prophets and apostles lived; that they are written in Hebrew, the language of the ancient prophets; and that they shed light on the cultural, religious, and political position of some of the Jews who lived shortly before and during the time of Christ.

He noted that the scrolls feature the world’s oldest Hebrew Bible in that the Old Testament writings among the scrolls are more than 1,000 years older than the Masoretic text from which the King James and other Bible translations are derived.

The biblical writings in the scrolls present new readings that have been lost for about two millennia, including missing psalms and verses, Dr. Parry said. Modern Bible translation committees employ the Dead Sea Scrolls as they prepare new translations of the Bible.

“Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some scholars as well as hobbyists have set forth associations between the Jewish sect who owned the scrolls and the Nephites of the Book of Mormon,” Dr. Parry observed. “However, it should be stated with some emphasis that the culture, lifestyle, and doctrinal framework of the Jews who owned the Dead Sea Scrolls was very different from that of the Nephites.”

In fact, he said, there are many more differences than there are similarities.

With that said, he identified some of the similarities: Both groups possessed scriptural records that they viewed as vital to their respective communities. Both held the law of Moses in high esteem and valued the writings of Isaiah.

Further, he said, both had religious texts that are not part of the Old Testament canon as it is known today, and both had deep-rooted—although differing—views regarding a Messiah.

Temples were significant to both groups, and both had specific teachings about the end of time, Dr. Parry said.

“Beyond the 11 Qumran caves that yielded the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are a number of ancient Hebrew inscriptions from the Holy Land that have a connection to the Book of Mormon,” he noted. “These inscriptions include the following Book of Mormon names: Aha, Alma, Ammonihah, Chemish, Hagoth, Himni, Isabel, Jarom, Josh, Luram, Mathoni, Mathonihah, Muloki, Sam, and Sariah. The names were unknown to the world at the time that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.”

Dr. Parry recounted the involvement of BYU with research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1994 Emanuel Tov, editor in chief of the international team of translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls, invited Dr. Parry and three other BYU professors—Dana M. Pike, David R. Seeley, and Andrew Skinner—to serve as members of the international group.

Now, 20 years later, the four continue to research, write, and publish books and articles on the scrolls.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Dr. Parry, Monte Shelley, and others developed a database of the Dead Sea Scrolls that now comprises more than 900 scroll photographs, the text of the scrolls written in modern Hebrew characters, an English translation, a catalog of the scrolls, and related materials such as the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

“These materials are available online for scholars and researchers, enabling them to examine the scrolls in new ways and from different directions not possible until recent years,” Dr. Parry said. “This database, 20 years in the making, was completed about two months ago.”