Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fuller alumni at Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit

We went to a Fuller Seminary alumni/ae gathering this morning at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh which is hosting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit through December 28.

Cave 4 at Qumran, where the largest number of textual treasures were discovered in 1952
The exhibit was really good, and several texts were on display that I found interesting including a fragment of Exodus 3 of the burning bush where God reveals Himself as YHWH, "I Am." There were also some Isaiah fragments on display as well as some of the many fragments relating to life in the Qumran community. The oldest fragment I noticed was an Isaiah fragment dating from 150 BC. Amazing.

The kids made it through the exhibit pretty well, though Amanda didn't see much of it herself. Still, she says she's thrilled we all went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. It felt a little strange to see a wall-sized photograph of Qumran's ruins overlooking the Dead Sea and tell your wife you've walked through the building pictured.

Here are a few Qumran pictures I took in 1999: 1, 2, 3, 4, Whole album.

At the end of the exhibit, Duke University had on display a 1560 Geneva Bible, the first study Bible published, and a 1522 Complutensian Polyglot, a very important Bible with six columns on each page in various languages. Most people walked by both of them without a clue as to the significance of what they were passing.

I'm not quite sure exactly what the purpose of the Fuller alumni/ae gathering was now, since we didn't hear anything about what is going on at Fuller in the various schools of Theology, Intercultural Studies, and Psychology.

And even though the scholarly presentation on the Qumran Community in the first century was engaging, I still have not quite figured out why the alumni office flew New Testament scholar, Dr. Joel Green, across the country to talk for only a little over an hour on the Old Testament. Why burden a New Testament guy with a primarily Old Testament textual subject? He did well with his assigned task, and he is obviously brilliant. (Pictured: An Aramaic portion of Daniel of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

Dr. Green talked about the issues of interpretation in coming to a Scriptural text, and that everyone has one's own interpretation. For example, at Qumran there was an Essene interpretation of the Old Testament and elsewhere there were diverse Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament, such as the Pharasees' interpretation and the Zealots' interpretation, the Sadducees' interpretation as well as even a 'Jesus' interpretation.

He illustrated it by pointing us to contemporary interpretations: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyan, Baptist, Presbyterian, even Jehovah's Witness interpretations. "You just need to decide what interpretation of the authoritative Scripture you will choose," he said as if all interpretations are on level ground and all you have to do is make your selection from the buffet since all are equally valid perspectives on the text.

Excuse me, but they aren't all equally valid. The interpretation that Jesus brings to the text is the preeminent and accurate one. Others have rights to their opinions, but the most accurate interpretation is the one Jesus gives the Scripture. (Pictured: The Great Isaiah Scroll, incredibly preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls.)

The idea is not that radical. If Jesus is indeed Lord, then His interpretation should have the supremacy over the Pharisaic, rabbinic, Essene, and Zealot interpretations as well as Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Baptist, and (oh stop my heart, even) Calvinist interpretations of the Old Testament (and the Scripture as a whole).

It seems to me that a close reading of Jesus' hermeneutic methodology (and by extension that of the early church recorded in the New Testament) should not just inform, but should determine our own interpretation of both the Old and New Testaments. Problem is, we often view the New Testament and even Jesus' own reading of the Old Testament documents an aberration and not normative. Matthew, we are told for example, can get away with taking those OT passages out of context and matter-of-factly saying they prophesy the Lord Jesus because he had special Holy Spirit-inspired permission to break the rules that one time. Huh?

I certainly don't understand these issues as I want to, and I want to learn and think and keep probing and keep seeking the face of Christ in His Scripture, and as much as possible from His perspective. Everyone else's perspective is respected and appreciated and thank-you'd, but Jesus' perspective on the Bible is preeminent since after all He had some input in its production.

Shifting gears to my days at Fuller, its three schools were quite compartmentalized and competitive when I was there in the mid nineties. We didn't really seem to like each other that much. I hope that has changed, but I'd be surprised. The schools seemed to compete on every level.

The School of World Mission (SWM) folks, where I was, all thought that they were more conservative and Biblical. Because many of the SWM students were international, we thought ourselves more tuned in to what the Holy Spirit was doing around the world. The School of Theology students seemed to think they had the academic theological market cornered, and they seemed to know more, but they couldn't ever answer a question on anything that mattered without giving you three to five possible options that you can choose based on your own perspective, background, religious heritage, and personal mood that afternoon. They did seem to know more about how to use the library than the SWM folks did. The School of Psychology people seemed to peer deeply into everything and see themselves.

In the SWM we had this joke: "In the SWM, I know for sure that it is not about me. In the School of Theology, I don't know for sure if it is really all about me or not. In the School of Psychology, I have no doubt that it is all about me." I wonder if things have changed these days.