I had the opportunity through work to drive down to Philadelphia over the weekend and help host an event centred around the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think most of you who might read this blog know about these scrolls--they were found in jars of clay in a cave by a shepherd in the near past, and are the earliest pieces of scripture found yet. Abrahamic faiths find them very important.
Driving the seven hours it took due to bad weather, construction, and moronic drivers (myself naturally not included in that definition) was still a lovely drive. I've driven that way so many times I think I could do it with my eyes closed--though I would like to say I have not ever done so. In fact, I've driven it so often that even with traffic, I can still predict timing to locations along the way (and the final destination) within minutes of accuracy. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to do that. I have my favourite stopping points (only 2!) and the same order. I should probably vary it up one day just to avoid too much predictability. The road gives me in itself a sense of home. Funny that should be, but so natural at the same time.
I don't know what I enjoyed most about the event we held. Last time I was in the Franklin Institute, I was 8 years old, with my parents and a sister, got sick at the I-MAX theatre, was horrified by the display of real babies, and was fascinated by walking through some kind of pumping red heart. This time, I skipped most of the institute, drove myself there (wandered around the streets in circles unable to find the right parking for a quarter of an hour!), and while I went alone, was not without good company. We had a lovely alumni event there, and it was so much fun to be in a lovely old library room with alumni from even back to the 40's--to have this kinship with people I never knew, and to wander around learning about other hearts--the hearts of all these people who attended the same uni that I did. There were members from every decade up through the 2010's! And while each decade was so very different from every other, there was still this same sort of rhythm beneath it all.
After our presentations in the library room, we made our way together to the scroll exhibit. I remember hearing about the Dead Sea Scrolls over the radio back when I used to live in the Caribbean. I don't remember what was said, just that they were talked about. Now I finally got to see them. It took me back to days in London, standing in the British Library and looking at the first press prints of the Bible, of the Magna Carta (the English always did mix Religion and Politics!), and of other absolutely beautiful pieces and many gorgeous illuminated scriptures and texts. The exhibit itself, full of pictures of countryside, of multi-screen video displays playing insinc; of endless patched-together clay jars and ceramics and bathtubs from cult places mentioned in the Bible and of earrings and old coins--all oddly enough also took me less to Ancient Israel and more to places I have been before--to the Roman ruins scattered across Austria and Slovakia, where I grew up playing or walking around and even over. To the island of Crete and the even more ancient ruins there. And to days in Kenya, my own experiences in the desert and with pastoral and nomadic tribes.
It was not wonderful, or thrilling, or exciting to see the exhibit. It could even border on the boring--how many clay jars patched back up do you care about seeing, really? How many deep and impressive voice recordings playing at you theatrically do you want to hear? And I can't really help but analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibit and what I would do if I were the curator or whatever the particular term in this case would be.
But it was wondrous; it was slightly chilling--looking at these fragmented and fragile oh-so-ancient texts in a language I cannot speak, in someone's real-life long ago personal handwriting--their ink and sweat and effort. The holiness of the time they set aside to write at all these very words. These words which survive to effect so much of the world, through centuries. Words lost for so long, hidden remotely in clay jars, that when uncovered, still ring true--even to ring true to the copies of them from much later on in the years--that transcribing and copying them did not dilute their message. It was a goosebump moment to remember.