Making History Come Alive for Your Children
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever. Isaiah 40:8
If you live in the Fort Worth area, or plan a trip there before January 13 (and you should, just to take advantage of this opportunity!) you must be sure to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to the 21 scroll fragments, several of which have never been before viewed by the public, there are numerous photographs and artifacts from the time periods leading up to the scrolls, as well as old copies of New Testament pages and a display of early Bibles.
Every display is clearly labeled, and there are docents present to give tours and answer questions, but if you want your children to come away with the maximum understanding of the amazing story of the scrolls, there are some things you can do before your visit to prepare them. Having been through the exhibit six times now myself, I have come up with some ideas you can use to get your children ready for this once in a lifetime experience.
Geography Show your children on a map of Europe and the Middle East where Rome, Greece, and Israel are. On a map of Israel, point out the locations of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Qumran, and Masada.
The Dead Sea Tell your children that the Dead Sea is so named because its salt content is so high that no plants or fish can live in it. Mix up some salt water and let your children taste it. Put some highly salted water in a shallow bowl and let it sit for a few days. As the water evaporates show your children the salt deposits remaining. Refer to this when they see pictures of the Dead Sea at the exhibit.
Mosaics Explain what a mosaic is. Tell your children that they will see several pictures of mosaics at the exhibit. Give your child a line drawing, small different color squares of construction paper, and glue, and let them make their own mosaic.
Coins Review with your children the second commandment (Ex. 20:4) and tell them that they will see a difference in the coins of the Jewish people and the coins of the Greeks and Romans based on this commandment.
Pottery Tell your children that pottery was used for many things in ancient times. (There were no plastic storage containers then!) Give them play dough or clay and have them try to create a bowl. Guide them to www.potterytalk.wordpress.com to watch a potter throwing a vessel on a wheel.
City Walls Your children will see a model of the walled city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Discuss why walls were important for many centuries, and how the invention of the airplane changed that. Review Bible stories that discuss city walls. (Joshua 6; Acts 9:20 – 25)
Masada This is just one of the many difficult and sad stories from the history of Israel. Discuss what a siege is and what it would be like to be under siege. Older children might even begin to grapple with the events and ethics of the Masada story.
Caves and Shepherds Tell them that the scrolls were found in a cave by a shepherd boy. Discuss what a shepherd does, and why a young shepherd might want to throw a rock in a cave. Younger children might enjoy playing in a “cave” you create from blankets and chairs.
Scrolls Explain the difference between a scroll and a codex (book.) Your younger children might enjoy making a scroll from long strips of paper fastened together and attached at each end to a straw or small stick
Stylus Tell your children that the scribes did not have pens. They will see a wooden stylus and an ink jar that were used at that time for writing. Make some “ink” from food coloring and water and have your child use a wooden chopstick or a toothpick to write a verse on paper. When your child sees the small and precise writing on the scrolls, remind him of the effort it took to write with a stylus.
Fragments Discuss how paper degrades over time. Show your children an old paperback book whose pages are brown and brittle. Compare the age of that book with the 2000-year age of the scrolls, to understand why they are in fragments.
Parchment and Papyrus Explain the difference between parchment (leather) and papyrus (paper.) Discuss how parchment would degrade over time (get darker and rougher) and papyrus would get thinner and brittle. Tell your children that when they see the actual fragments that have gotten darker over the centuries they may find it hard to see the writing; at the end of the exhibit they will be able to play on computers that show how scholars use technology to read and study the scrolls.
Scribes Tell your child that the scrolls were about 1000 years older than any copies of the Old Testament that we had prior to their discovery. Scholars found that there were almost no differences in the scrolls and the later manuscripts. This is evidence of the providence of God in preserving His word for us, it is a tribute to the scribes who were careful to copy the words correctly, and it shows that the Bible we have today truly is God’s word and can be trusted. Have your children copy some scriptures; a younger child might copy one verse; an older child might copy a difficult passage containing lots of names. Compare their copy with the Bible for accuracy.
Hebrew The Hebrew language is written from right to left, and the characters are consonants only; the scrolls contain no vowels. Have your child try to copy a verse writing from right to left. Have an older child copy a verse like this, writing only the consonants. When they see the scrolls, particularly the Isaiah facsimile, point out the even right hand margins and remind them of the right to left writing.
Palimpsest Read to your child about how Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother wrote a letter in The Long Winter, near the end of Chapter 16. Tell your child that they will see an old manuscript written on in this way.
Polyglots Show your child a parallel version Bible that contains several different translations of scripture side by side. Tell them they will see old Bibles that contain several different languages on the same pages.
Printing press Discuss how the printing press began to make the Bible available for more people. Remind them of the painstaking process it would take to set the type, letter by letter, for each page of the Bible, especially when they see the small, closely placed printing in the early Bibles at the exhibit.
When you finish viewing the indoor portion of the exhibit, be sure to take your child to the Qumran dig site that has been constructed. Under the direction of an archeology student your child can dig for himself, learning techniques that archeologists use. The site has been seeded with actual potsherds (pieces of pottery) that are from Israel and are 2000 years old. Your child will be allowed to keep one piece that he finds.
Few people in the history of the world have had the privilege of seeing scriptures that were copied by hand at the time of Christ. Your child can be one of them. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity!
Elizabeth Owens is the wife of Waylan Owens, Dean of the School of Church and Family Ministries, the mother of Blayne, Joshua, Grace, and Mary, and the mother-in-law of Cari. She has served as a nurse, a pastor’s wife, and a professor’s wife, and is in her 18th year of homeschooling. She enjoys reading books and drinking tea – especially at the same time!