The Ancient Hope

By: Ian Werrett  

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls - occurring on the eve of the birth of the modern Israeli nation-state in 1948 - provided a deep and meaningful symbol for the Zionist movement’s claims to the land and its sovereignty. Not only were the scrolls written by Jews who lived in the Judaean Desert some two millennia earlier, but these documents record the beliefs and practices of a pious community who understood themselves to be the rightful heirs to the Abrahamic Covenant and the one true Israel.  Like the Jews of the Diaspora, the Dead Sea Scroll community lived in exile (albeit self-imposed), struggled under the weight of foreign rulers, and wrestled with their co-religionists over the right to define what it meant to be a Jew.  In short, the Dead Sea Scrolls have, according to Neil Asher Silberman, provided the architects of the Israeli nation-state with a “poetic validation for modern Jewish settlement …” In this paper, I will compare the nationalistic aspirations of the Dead Sea Scroll community with those of the modern state of Israel and show how archaeology, and the scrolls themselves, have been pressed into service by politicians and patriots alike in an ongoing effort to buttress the legitimacy of the nation-state.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Nationalism, Archaeology, Israel, Judaism
The Politics of Religion
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Ian Werrett

Professor, Religious Studies, Saint Martin's University, United States
WA, United States

I am currently a full professor of Religious Studies at Saint Martin's University, in Lacey, Washington, USA. My areas of expertise include the Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Ancient Judaism, Early Christianity, and Ritual Purity. I teach a wide range of classes, including Intro to Religious Studies, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Comparative Religion, Christianity and the Arts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Biblical Hebrew, and Koine Greek. I received a BA from Saint Martin's College in 1996, a MA in Biblical Studies from Trinity Western University, and a PhD in Biblical Studies and Second Temple Judaism from the University of St Andrews in 2006.