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Church displays Dead Sea Scroll fragments

By: Sena Christian Gold Country News Service
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GRANITE BAY — When a pastor at a local church saw fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls in person, he knew he had to bring this archaeological treasure to Granite Bay. So he did. Bayside Church is hosting the fragments as part of an exhibit called “From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America.” These earliest-known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible are considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, or for Pastor Ray Johnston and many other Christians, of all time. The texts date back to around 150 B.C. “When I saw (the scrolls) for the first time, I got chills,” Johnston said. “I’m inches away from the real deal.” The exhibit features five scroll fragments and dozens of other biblical items, including parts of the oldest Greek New Testament papyri, a 17th century Hebrew Sefer Torah scroll, a 5,000-year-old cuneiform tablet, an original King James Bible from 1611 to 1640, the Eliot Indian Bible and the Bible that flew to the moon aboard Apollo 14 in 1971. A Gutenberg Bible leaf will also be on display. This was the first major book printed with movable type printing, making the Bible available to the mass population. Several other displayed artifacts highlight life in the region during the period when the scrolls were written. “It’s a chance to get up close and personal with thousands of years of history that forms the foundation of our faith,” Johnston said. Bayside Church renovated a building at its complex on Sierra College Boulevard to serve as a temporary museum. Visitors wander through a darkened cave-like setting, which depicts the caves of the northwest rim of the Dead Sea near Qumran, where a Bedouin shepherd boy found the scrolls in 1947. As shepherd boys looked for a lost sheep, one threw a stone into a cave and heard a clinking sound, soon discovering the artifacts. Archeologists un-earthed roughly 15,000 fragments comprising 900 scrolls between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls were hidden in the caves when the Roman army invaded the ancient settlement of Qumran — east of Jerusalem — in 68 A.D. Bayside Church’s makeshift museum features about 25 stations and takes an hour to go through, said ministry development manager Denise Belden. She expects between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors before the exhibit closes in mid-May. “People will come for a couple of reasons,” Belden said. “They’ll come for the historical connection and they’ll come for the faith connection.” Bayside Church is hosting the exhibit in conjunction with Azusa Pacific University, which acquired the artifacts in August 2009. To supplement the exhibit, the church will host two guest lecturers from William Jessup University: Academic Dean Dr. David Nystrom and professor Dr. Merilyn Copland. Johnston hopes the exhibit and guest speakers will give his congregation and other visitors a reverence for Christian history and the Bible. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.