When a Roman Catholic scholar involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls Project discovers a heretical message contained in one of the Scrolls he hides it. Decades later, a prominent archeologist discovers reference to the scroll in an archeological dig. This discovery spurs the world religions into a dangerous game of cat and mouse, in which all who seek the hidden scroll are mysteriously silenced, leaving the salvation of humankind to a father and son, who must either find the hidden scroll … or die trying.

On Idoltry: Does idolatry manifest itself in other ways?

Sure. Ever wonder why people used to (and in some cases, still do) greet upper tier clergy, royalty, and members of the social elite as “Your worship?” By this phrase, commoners venerate men and women of high worth, position, and social status. So is that worship? According to the definition of the word, yes. “Your worship” meant “Your worthiness,” and conveyed the distinction of high value.

So does this mean the commoners who used this phrase worshipped those they addressed in such a manner? Uh, yes. Yup, that’s about it. Not only did they worship them, they idolized them, and we see this dynamic applied as much to music, sports, and movie stars in the present day as we do to clergy, royalty, and the social elite.

“Oh, come on,” you might say, “You’re being ridiculous.”

No, I’m being precise.

I’m not saying God has forbidden us to honor such individuals; I’m just saying that, yes, addressing individuals in such terms as “Your worship” is a form of worship. However, where this crosses the line into the forbidden zone is when people revere others as gods, or grant them the honor and respect reserved for our Creator. Should they prefer these individuals’ guidance to the laws and guidance of revelation, they usurp God’s authority. Likewise, should they revere such an individual by, oh let’s say, claiming him to be infallible or by bowing down to him (even if just to kiss his ring), they grant him the rights and special honor reserved for Almighty God.

The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

In the spring of 1947 Bedouin goat-herds, searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for treasure, depending on who is telling the story), came upon a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts. That find caused a sensation when it was released to the world, and continues to fascinate the scholarly community and the public to this day.
The Qumran Site and the Dead Sea
The Qumran site and the Dead Sea.

The first discoveries came to the attention of scholars in 1948, when seven of the scrolls were sold by the Bedouin to a cobbler and antiquities dealer called Kando. He in turn sold three of the scrolls to Eleazar L. Sukenik of Hebrew University, and four to Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel of the Syrian Orthodox monastery of St. Mark. Mar Athanasius in turn brought his four to the American School of Oriental Research, where they came to the attention of American and European scholars. 

It was not until 1949 that the site of the find was identified as the cave now known as Qumran Cave 1. It was that identification that led to further explorations and excavations of the area of Khirbet Qumran. Further search of Cave 1 revealed archaeological finds of pottery, cloth and wood, as well as a number of additional manuscript fragments. It was these discoveries that proved decisively that the scrolls were indeed ancient and authentic.
Qumran Cave 4
Qumran Cave 4.

Between 1949 and 1956, in what became a race between the Bedouin and the archaeologists, ten additional caves were found in the hills around Qumran, caves that yielded several more scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls: the remnants of approximately 800 manuscripts dating from approximately 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. 

The manuscripts of the Qumran caves include early copies of biblical books in Hebrew and Aramaic, hymns, prayers, Jewish writings known as pseudepigrapha (because they are attributed to ancient biblical characters such as Enoch or the patriarchs), and texts that seem to represent the beliefs of a particular Jewish group that may have lived at the site of Qumran. Most scholars believe that the Qumran community was very similar to the Essenes, one of four Jewish "philosophies" described by Josephus, a first century C.E. Jewish historian. Some have pointed to similarities with other Jewish groups mentioned by Josephus: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots.

We do not know precisely who wrote those sectarian scrolls, but we can say that the authors seemed to be connected to the priesthood, were led by priests, disapproved of the Jerusalem priesthood, encouraged a strict and pious way of life, and expected an imminent confrontation between the forces of good and evil. 

The Qumran Site
The Qumran archaeological site.

The Qumran library has proven to be enormously informative. From these texts we have increased our understanding of the transmission of the Bible, we have learned more about the development of early Judaism, and we have gained insight into the culture out of which emerged both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. 

Photographs by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research. 

Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg.

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On Idolatry

It is a strange irony that those who reverence stones live in glass ideologies.

~ Dr. Laurence B. Brown

Idolatry—every monotheist abhors the thought, and yet many commit the crime themselves. Few today fully grasp the complexities of this issue, for the definition of idolatry has been buried beneath nearly 1,700 years of church tradition.

The second commandment states, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4–5). Alternate translations employ slightly different, though significant, wording, as for example: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (NRSV, NIV).

The commandment not to make carved images speaks for itself, as does the subsequent decree not to make any likeness whatsoever.

These directives could not be clearer. 

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There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new place.

-- Washington Irving from Tales of a Traveller

Q and A With Dr. Laurence Brown

Dear Dr. Brown, Assalamualaikum,

I accidentally found your email address. I don’t know whether you will receive this message, anyway I will continue.

A non-Muslim friend of mine asked me some questions. The friend is a Buddhist.  I want to answer these questions in an effective way that the friend could understand. Can you please help me ? 

I told my friend that this life is a test for the hereafter, so that is why some are poor, some are healthy and some are rich. Then the friend asked me, “if it is that, what is god's criteria to select who will become rich, who will become poor, and who will be healthy?  Even if it is a test shouldn’t  everybody be tested in the same way?  Why does god test us in different ways? If he decides to test in different ways can't some question that this is unjust?

When Muslim women wear the hijab, some people might be curious to see what is inside (because the whole body is covered) which will cause the Muslim women harm. So can we say that it will protect her?

I don’t know whether these questions are illogical. I need to answer in a logical way so the friend may understand that is why I need your help. Can you please help me answer these questions.

Jazakallah khaire. Hoping to hear from you soon.


Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu,

Every parent knows that different children prefer different rewards, benefit most from different punishments, and demonstrate love through different sacrifices. What works with one child will not work with another. So it is with people. The test of faith works differently with one person from another. One person worships money more than anything else, so this person's faith is best tested by loss of money. Another values his wife more than anything, or his car, mother, or whatever. So the test will differ according to the differences in human nature, and according to what that person is most attached to. Will you take a rich man and test him with wealth he does not need? Or take someone who hates his children, and test him with the loss of one of the children he couldn't care less about? People are tested according to their dispensation.

As for covering women, this man's question betrays his sickness. What is he saying, that all women should be naked to remove all curiosity? That we should take our showers with the door open, in case he wants to see what we are doing? We cover ourselves (men and women) out of modesty. Only people with sickness in their hearts try to mentally undress others.

Best, and salams,