In conjunction with the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Library of Congress (see “The Scrolls Are Here!”), the Library and Baltimore Hebrew University on April 21st and 22nd sponsored a symposium on the current state of scroll research. Ten leading scholars, representing a cross-section of opinion, delivered papers.
The tremendous public interest in the scrolls was very evident on the symposium’s first day. Television crews and newspaper reporters were busy interviewing scholars. Who could have predicted a few years ago that the specialists in the small and arcane world of Dead Sea Scroll studies would be so sought after by journalists? And who would have thought that some of the specialists would be so adept at honing their scholarly opinions into the brief sound-bites so dear to the media?
Joseph Baumgarten, of Baltimore Hebrew University and an editor of scroll texts, wondered in his welcoming remarks how the authors of the scrolls would have reacted if they had prophetically foreseen today’s keen interest in their work. “Would they have been pleased,” Baumgarten asked, “or would they have wished that they did a better job of hiding them in the caves?”
Baumgarten then posed the central question in scroll studies: Do we have in the scrolls the ideas of a fringe group or a broad religious spectrum typical of Second Temple Judaism?